Lack of a true, intense rivalry hurts NASCAR's popularity
I was recently watching the Formula 1 documentary “Senna”, which focused on the career of legendary driver Ayrton Senna and his rivalry with Alain Prost. Both were tremendous drivers, at one point teammates, and for a long time they hated each other’s guts and had some intense battles both on and off the track.
And it hit me -- this type of rivalry doesn’t happen anymore in NASCAR.
Back in the day, Richard Petty hated Bobby Allison, and the reverse was also true. They were intense rivals.
In the 1980s, Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine had an intense battle; and later Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon fought on track quite intensely, even though they did have a personal respect for each other. You were either an Earnhardt fan or a Gordon fan. Couldn’t be both, and the fans even hated each other. (I was on the black team back then; no rainbows allowed)
The days of intense rivalries like this are gone, in basically all forms of motorsport.
There are little spats like Brad Keselowski had with Carl Edwards or Denny Hamlin, which are usually sorted out within a season and don’t linger for years. After a while everyone is friends again.
Why? That’s easy.
These guys are all millionaires, and have no reason to hate each other. Even if they get wrecked, they might be mad for a minute, but then they are joking with the guy who wrecked them in a week or two.
I’m not saying I want them to be scrapping with each other like in 1979 and cursing each other’s name, but I think these guys are all too fat and happy, and sadly I don’t see any real rivalries developing any time soon.
I’d like to see just one, an intense battle week after week between two top competitors who truly don’t like each other. That would drive ratings more than any gimmick NASCAR could every come up with.