Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: NASCAR Hall of Fame Can Learn What Not to Do From NFL

This past weekend saw the induction of six individuals into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Whether they were players or owners, their presence in the sport made a difference for their teams and for the fans. During the induction weekend, it would seem like a Hall of Fame should celebrate the fact that the fans are there because of these people and allow those fans to celebrate with them. Unfortunately, in the case of pro football, it seemed to be more about fleecing the fans for everything they could. Hopefully, the NASCAR Hall of Fame took note of how that was handled and will do things a little differently for their fans.

Heading to Canton, Ohio for the induction of Rod Woodson into the Hall of Fame was a special trip for me. I went to school at Purdue while Woodson was there. I saw the amazing things he could do on a football field every Saturday and continued to follow him when he went into the NFL, even though he played for the Steelers. As I drove down the road toward Ohio, I was filled with the anticipation of rubbing elbows with so many men who are the very best to have played in the NFL. I assumed that there would be all sorts of my heroes walking around the Hall and talking to fans about their exploits during their careers.

I could not have been more wrong.

The Football Hall of Fame is very much like the league, it is all about the Benjamins. There wasn’t anything going on this past weekend that was free except tours of Army helicopters. As usual our armed forces do as much as they can to show the citizens of this country what they do for them.

But while the Army was showing off some cool toys, the Hall of Fame was hitting up the fans for every dime they could milk out of them. The enshrinees’ dinner, the Hall of Fame Luncheon, the induction ceremony, the football game, the Hall itself, the autograph session with the inductees for this year, all of them required tickets that fans had to pony up their hard-earned dollars for if they wanted to have a chance to mingle with their favorite stars.

They weren’t cheap tickets either; the autograph session with Randall McDaniel, Bruce Smith and Woodson was $200. $200 to have three guys sign a football for you. And there was no mention of the money going to charity. It very well may have, but it was not advertised that way and one would think that if it was the case they would make a big deal of it.

As I was walking around the stadium before the Induction Ceremony, I bumped into Winston Kelly, the president of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. He was in the company of some Hall of Fame employees and was obviously getting a feel for how the NFL does things. As always the NFL does do some good things and the facility is very nicely done, although some of the descriptions of their exhibits are obviously very outdated and in need of revision. Hopefully, Kelly was able to realize that all of the events that he was privileged to attend were a large cash drain on the fans taking part.

When the time comes that NASCAR opens their Hall next year, let’s hope that Kelly takes a page from the successful recipe of the sport that it celebrates and makes a lot of the activities free for the fans. There’s no doubt that the Hall will need revenue to run and run well, but there can be excess. It would be great to see autograph sessions that are free for fans, just like the drivers currently have at the tracks. Certainly they can hand out wristbands and limit the number of people who can take advantage of it so that the inductees don’t spend an entire day signing autographs, but at least make it free.

If it isn’t free, please donate part of the proceeds, if not all of them, to charity. Set up a fan experience with simulators and show cars for fans to experience for free. Have some of the current stars of the sport on hand to interact with the fans that can’t make it to the tracks, but can make it to the Hall. Give them a chance to see their heroes up close without having to buy special tickets. Doing it inside the Hall, so that fans have to purchase admission to the building would be fine, just don’t make it an additional expense.

The thing that has made NASCAR special for all of these years has been the access that the fans have to the drivers. The inductees into the Hall of Fame are the best of the best, and it would be honorable to have the fans get to interact with them, without having to buy a special ticket to do it. Winston Kelly is a smart man. Let’s hope he doesn’t try to mimic the NFL when it comes to fan access at the Hall of Fame.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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