Like everyone else on the planet, I saw a lot of pre-game Super Bowl TV coverage on February 7, because there was no racing that day and I had nothing else to do.
And like everyone else in NASCAR Nation, I got all excited and fan girlish during the portion of the broadcast when celebrities were giving their picks, and some of “our” drivers were included in that group.
Tony Stewart’s segment was predictable, as he reminded everyone that he’s an Indiana boy and therefore had to go with the Indianapolis Colts. He looked and sounded good. Score one for the home team.
A few seconds later, Mark Martin filled the screen. His prognostication went something like this: “I don’t even know who’s playing in the Super Bowl, but if Brett Favre was in it, I’d pull for him.”
I hung my head. I closed my eyes. I may have groaned aloud. Surely I hadn’t heard this right. One of the most respected, successful and popular drivers in the entire sport of NASCAR did not just tell most of the world that he had no clue who was playing in the Super Bowl.
Yes, he did.
This, in my spontaneous and very reactionary opinion, was going to be a PR disaster. As NASCAR continues to fight for dominance in professional sports -- a battle in which it is performing quite well -- it is vitally important that our athletes be visible, approachable, articulate, and relatable.
But then it hit me, like one of those smack yourself in the head “Wow, I could’ve had a V8” moments. The day before the Super Bowl, Martin went out and won his first-ever Daytona 500 pole, becoming the oldest driver in history to start NASCAR’s No. 1 race in the No. 1 spot.
I couldn’t help but wonder, if someone had asked New Orleans Saints and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees on that afternoon before the game who was sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500, would he have known the answer?
I’m no Vegas odds maker, but I’m thinking probably not.
Sometimes it seems that what gets not only athletes, but people in general, into hot water, is the scattershot approach we take to getting the things we want.
The ability to identify your goals, making a plan outlining how you’re going to achieve them, and setting that plan into motion is a critical key to success. This is often described as the sniper-versus-shotgun tactic. You only hit one thing instead of a bunch of random ones, but it’s the one thing you were aiming for.
This is a great definition of how NASCAR drivers and their teams work. They set their sights on their target, and they don’t allow themselves to get sidetracked. You don’t hear stories about them jetting off to Monaco with global superstars, because they don’t. Their numerous alleged girlfriends aren’t being interviewed on tabloid TV shows, because they don’t have any. They aren’t going out to bars and shooting themselves in the foot, because … that’s just dumb.
A handful of them did go off their heads and got really wild during the off season, doing crazy stuff like going off and racing in other series; can you imagine? But for the most part, when the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was in the record books, they had some Christmas dinner and got to work on 2010.
Mark Martin has never won the Daytona 500; that was his immediate target, his one and only interest. If he had won the thing 25 times, he would still feel the same way. But so did the 42 other drivers on the track with him on February 14.
So what if Martin didn’t know who was playing in the Super Bowl? His mind was on something much more important to him, that day and every day -- stockcar racing.
For one of NASCAR’s most beloved drivers to publicly admit he wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening over in someone else’s world didn’t demonstrate an attention deficit, or a lack of interest.
Instead, it was a glorious example of what absolute, immovable focus looks like, and that’s the best PR a sport could ever hope to have.