During his long career in motorsports, Mike Helton has worn many hats.
From the sports director at an AM radio station in his native Virginia to public relations director at Atlanta Motor Speedway to general manager at Talladega and a path that eventually led to president of NASCAR, the first person outside the France family to oversee the day to day operations of the sport, Helton has been a fixture in NASCAR for over three decades.
Today Helton is the voice of authority and reason in the NASCAR garage overseeing the race weekends for America’s largest stock car auto racing sanctioning body. In the time he has been in NASCAR Helton has seen the sport weather many changes.
And Friday at Daytona International Speedway as even more changes loom on the horizon, Helton reminded everyone of one very important thing.
“One of the things we might have overlooked for a while is that we’re all fans,” Helton said while addressing the media. “Everybody in this room in some form or fashion is a fan of NASCAR. And not NASCAR as a company but NASCAR as a lifestyle or a sport.”
“The guys in the garage area are fans,” he added. “They got in because they like to be competitive, whether it’s a driver or a crew member or a guy on pit road that’s changing tires. They were energized to get into it from being a fan.”
“Now, everybody in this room and in the garage area makes a living in this sport,” Helton said. “So that sometimes maybe distracts us from the fact that we’re fans.”
“It catches you the moment you drive through the tunnel at Daytona International Speedway because you know you’re pulling into a place that your heroes, past, present, future,” he said. “It could be Richard Petty and David Pearson, or it could be Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, or Dale Earnhardt Jr., it could be Joey Logano or some kid we haven’t heard about yet. Their ambition to win the Daytona 500 is what inspires the start of the season. And we sometimes forget we’re all fans.”
And despite what some may think, Helton said the connection between those who run the sport and those who watch is strong.
“When you talk to fans, and most of our conversations face-to-face are at the racetrack, so those are the real fans,” he said. “But even through the Fan Council, those that get to participate at the racetrack but also follow it on television and have opinions of it, it helps to be reminded of the fact of our responsibility.
But the fun part about it, it also reminds us why we’re fans and why we’re in this business and that’s fun.”