Following the death of his father, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named “Most Famous Driver” from 2003 until his retirement in 2017. Since then, another son of racing legend, Chase Elliott, has received the most prestigious accolade.
Like Earnhardt, Elliott grew up completely surrounded by the world of NASCAR. The Georgia native is the son of NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Bill Elliott, who won 44 races and the 1988 Cup Series championships during his career.
While such accomplishments may seem like hard work to follow, the younger Elliott has already established himself as one of NASCAR’s top drivers.
He won the Xfinity Series title in 2014 – and ironically leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Then he won his first Cup in 2020. He has now 13 race victories at the highest level in the sport.
But being the face of sports comes with a lot of pressure. The pressure to win comes naturally. But there is also pressure to help grow the sport.
In a recent profile for Sports Business Journal, Hendrick Motorsports Vice President Jeff Gordon said he wants the team’s drivers to expand their horizons – by interacting more with fans and sponsors.
“He wants us to grow — not just for ourselves individually, but our sport as a whole,” Elliott said. “If drivers grow their following, the sport will likely benefit from that as well.
“I think he’s just trying to help everyone win. At the end of the day, if we all get a following or popularity in a different area that we wouldn’t normally be in, you’ll probably benefit. And most likely, we’ll all benefit.”
Gordon knows all about the development of motorsports. When he broke into the ring in the early ’90s, he quickly became the face of NASCAR, appearing in everything from Pepsi ads to cameo movies and even as the host of Saturday Night Live in 2003.
As the current face of NASCAR, would Elliott be willing to do the same?
“Yeah, I mean we all have a comfort zone, for sure,” Elliott said. “I guess for me, I don’t mind stepping out of my comfort zone.
“Where I find it hard sometimes to want to do things, I want to feel like those people want me there too. You want to feel like someone cares about making you a part of their program or whatever that might be; not just to check a box for them.”
“When I feel valued and respected, I am in everything and will go outside my comfort zone as often as they want.”
Elliott admitted that he was sure there were some opportunities he had turned down before. But tango takes two people and it is believed that the best marketing opportunities arise when both parties are on the same page.
“I feel like we usually try to make it work,” Elliott said. “If they have an idea of something that is going to give you some visibility or whatever that might be, I feel like nine times out of ten, I find a way to make it happen.
“When a partner gets active with you, it doesn’t just benefit from it. If you are activated nationally, you also benefit by just being there. It goes both ways.
“Also, I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had — to get to that point and be able to do it; and it’s all because of a potential partner.”