Let me take you on a little trip down memory lane. It was February 1979. For the first time in its history, the Daytona 500 was being broadcast live, flag to flag. People had seen bits and pieces of live racing coverage in the past, and there were recap shows that aired after the fact, but this time the race would be seen on broadcast TV in its entirety.
Keep in mind this is just months before ESPN launches as the first all sports cable network. Most people didn’t even know what cable TV was — maybe something for those folks out in the sticks, right?
At that time NASCAR was a regional sport based in the Southeast with a rabid but small following. The cars were colorful, the drivers wore uniforms with sponsors all over them, and a lot of them talked kind of funny. Then, an act of God intervened. A huge blizzard buried the entire eastern seaboard and millions of people were holed up in their homes. What did they do? They watched the race and fell in love with racing.
Flash forward some 41 years. Everyone is holed up at home due to an unforeseen act of God — the pandemic — and there are no stick-and-ball sports to watch on TV. But there on ESPN2 is a live Bassmaster Elite Series fishing tournament.
Who’s going to watch guys fish? That would be like watching guys drive in circles for hours on end. But those NASCAR guys didn’t drive like us, and these Elite guys don’t fish like us. They have cool, colorful boats, and electronics, and jerseys covered with sponsors. And they catch fish, a lot of fish, and big fish too. And millions tuned in, and millions stayed tuned in.
Now I’m not suggesting that the Bassmaster Elite Series could be NASCAR — or am I? One of the things that made NASCAR such a hit in the early years was the characters that drove the cars, their accessibility, and the feeling that they were regular folks like us.
That’s what the Elite Series has going for it as well. Sure, Elite anglers have better equipment and more experience. But hey, I can catch a hog-molly every once in a while, and look, they are on my lake ... or a lake I can go visit. I may not be able to turn a lap at Talladega anytime soon, but I am only 50 minutes from launching my boat at Goose Pond, or in Dayton, Tenn., or for many of you, any of the great waters we have around the country.
I’d love to someday see folks wearing hats promoting their favorite anglers, or wearing their replica jerseys and buying diecast boats. Does it sound crazy? Maybe. It sounded crazy in 1979 too.