Fans of Busch, Junior clearly defined


Queen Calypso
Apr 29, 2009
LONG POND, Pa. -- Rain had been pouring for what seemed like days and nearly every subject imaginable had been broached Friday when Jeff Gordon marched through the Pocono Raceway media center and was asked if the rivalry between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was real or contrived.

"To me, rivals really are the guys who are battling on the racetrack and have sort of a unique fan base to themselves," the four-time Sprint Cup champion said.

"And that is definitely true among Junior and Kyle, because I'm pretty sure Kyle's fans aren't the same as Junior's fans."

So I wondered: What exactly is the difference between an Earnhardt and a Busch fan?

Does one like twangy Conway Twitty country music and the other Pete Townshend guitar-smashing rock 'n' roll? Does one like greasy spoon joints in small towns and the other upscale cloth napkin restaurants in big cities? Does one dress like a model in "GQ" and the other belong on "What Not To Wear"?

Does one go out of his way to be humble and the other out of his way to be arrogant?

These are answers we need to know to fully understand why those in Rowdy Nation are called Dale Haters and those in Junior Nation refer to Busch as Cryle.

The Pocono infield seemed like a good place to begin looking. This wasn't a scientific survey. Earnhardt fans were identified by No. 88 Amp paraphernalia. Busch fans were identified by No. 18 M&Ms garb.

It started with Doug Adams, a 24-year-old Busch fan from Roxbury, N.Y.

"I'm more immature," he said. "I hate to lose. That's why I cheer for Kyle. I see his immaturity when he loses. I have that same immaturity when I lose. I love that."

Adams also loved that Busch smashed the Sam Bass-painted guitar he received for winning Saturday night's Nationwide Series race in Nashville, Tenn.

"No offense," Adams said. "The fans of one driver has wins and the fans of the other does not."

Scott Mitchell said he is a Busch fan because Busch "has an attitude like me."

"When he loses he pouts off," Mitchell said, referring to what has become a common occurrence this season. "He's cocky. That's what I like. And the guy is really passionate about driving. I like Junior as well, but I decided not to pick him because everybody likes him."

That Earnhardt, 34, has more fans than anybody is a given. He represents about 40 percent of the merchandise sales, making him a solid first over Tony Stewart, who has risen to No. 2 with fans buying the new No. 14 Stewart-Haas stuff to replace the No. 20 Home Depot stuff.

Busch, according to Joe Gibbs Racing licensing, ranks among the top five in at-track merchandise sales this season. He's not that high in overall sales but is in the top 10, according to Joe Mattes, the president of Motorsports Authentics.

Earnhardt's overwhelming edge in popularity was evident at Pocono by the number of 88-clad fans compared to 18-clad. Junior's supporters outnumber Busch's by more than 3-to-1. Such is life when you're compared to the most popular driver in the sport.

That brought up another difference in the two. Many Earnhardt fans are carryovers from his dad, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. They are older and typically more blue-collar, and don't shy away from tattooing the driver's number on their body.

Busch fans tend to be younger and new to the sport. They have tattoos, but more in the art realm than numbers.

Earnhardt fans typically stand out more in a crowd simply because there are more of them.

"One reason you see more Earnhardt fans is it's harder to get Kyle's stuff," said Mitchell, wearing a black M&M's shirt with No. 18 on the front and back. "It took me a year and a half to find this shirt.

"You can find Earnhardt stuff everywhere."

Kevin and Debbie King looked like the hood of Earnhardt's car, they were wearing so much Earnhardt paraphernalia. They can't tell you what the difference is between fans of the two drivers, but they can tell you the difference in the drivers.

"One is very immature and arrogant," Debbie said. "When Junior has a bad race he stays and talks to the media. We all know what Kyle Busch does. He runs and pouts."

Busch fans, it appears, are more concerned with backing somebody who wins in seemingly everything he drives. Some might call them front-runners.

Earnhardt fans appear more passionate about the driver and what he represents than where he ranks in points or wins. Not that they don't want to see him win. They do. That's why there was such uproar last month to replace crew chief Tony Eury Jr.

That's why there still is uproar.

For the record, Busch is ninth in points with three wins this season. Earnhardt is 20th with no wins. Since Earnhardt left Dale Earnhardt Inc. for Hendrick Motorsports last season he has one win. Busch has 11 since he left HMS for JGR.

"I kind of feel like Junior is in it for the money now," said Peter Fawcett, an 18-year-old Busch fan from Long Island, N.Y. "Kyle is in it to race."

Earnhardt fans are loud when their driver comes out for prerace introductions. They're even louder when Busch appears, drowning him with a chorus of boos.

Busch fans aren't quite as vocal about Earnhardt. Many have nothing personal against him or his fans and don't mind hanging out with them while waiting for a glimpse of their driver.

"They're both good people," said Adams, standing next to the Kings at the entrance to the Pocono garage. "It's not Junior's fault the expectations are so high."

Sarcasm is something fans of both drivers apparently share. They don't waste an opportunity to take a shot at the other even when dishing out a compliment.

Keith Makar, 20, said being a Busch fan is like a love-hate relationship. There are things you hate to see him do, but you love that he has the passion to do them.

"And I feel Kyle fans stick together better," he said. "We have to. We don't have as many to back us up."

That's an understatement. More than 39,000 fans pop up when you go to "Fans of Dale Earnhardt" on Facebook. Click on "Fans of Kyle Busch" and there are 14.

Becky Hopkins, who has run Busch's official fan club the past four years, says it has a couple of thousand members and has grown significantly since Busch moved to JGR.

Earnhardt's official fan club has 15,000 strong, according to Thayer Lavielle, the vice president of marketing for JR Motorsports.

When it comes to demographics, Lavielle has them all on Junior Nation. Did you know that 80 percent of his fans are between 26 and 55, with 53 percent women and 47 percent men?

Or that in 2006, when a complete demographic breakdown was performed, 32 percent of Earnhardt fans made under $30,000 and 26 percent between $30,000 and $50,000?

Or that the fan base hasn't really changed since Earnhardt left Budweiser for Amp and National Guard?

"That was something we had our eye on just because of the ramifications of leaving DEI and the connection with his father and his family," Lavielle said.

No such detailed information was available on Busch fans. NASCAR's Brian Moyer, who tabulates many of these numbers, said not enough data has been collected.

But numbers collected by Motorsports Authentics do indicate Busch fans are much younger and male driven. As a result, he will be featured prominently this weekend in a new kids-only merchandise trailer at Michigan.

"If you're getting into the sport and want to pick a guy, the son of a gun drives Friday, Saturday and Sunday and he wins all three days," said Mattes, who also runs Earnhardt's merchandise program. "If you're a new person you pick the hottest pistol.

"That's a real positive for him long-term. If he grabs them at 5 they're going to be fans when they're 25 when they're spending money."

That doesn't mean Busch, 24, doesn't have older fans. One of his biggest was a 92-year-old woman named Anita, who lived in a nursing home until passing away while Busch was at HMS.

Busch met Anita on a commercial flight and she immediately became one of his biggest fans.

"Kyle sent a No. 5 yellow wreath to her funeral," Hopkins said. "We still keep in touch with the family."

Earnhardt fans, as the financial figures above suggest, are more blue-collar. That in part explains why his sales are down across the board this season while Busch's sales are on the rise.

"Who is getting bloody noses more than anybody in the economy?" Mattes said. "It's the blue-collar guy that gets hit in the face and doesn't have a job for 13 months. He's not buying the Dale Jr. hat."

That hasn't gone unnoticed by Lavielle. She is working to make changes in the membership fee, currently $34.88.

But the Junior Nation membership is a bargain considering Rowdy Nation, or the Shrub Club as some refer to it, costs $35 to join.

The bottom line: Both sets of fans are passionate about their driver. They'll stand in line all day for an autograph. Busch fans arrived at 7 a.m. for a 4 p.m. session earlier this year in Busch's hometown of Las Vegas.

Many Busch fans love that he smashed a guitar that Bass estimated was worth $25,000.

"A couple of them wanted to know if they could get a piece of the guitar," Hopkins said.

Earnhardt fans love that their driver is authentic and down-to-earth. They love that he wouldn't consider smashing the trophy after a win.

"He resonates with people because he's not afraid to swim upstream and be who he is, but at the same time he seems to be just like they are," Lavielle said.

Bass, who was disappointed to see his artwork destroyed, has an appreciation for both.

"Kyle Busch fans like the fact that he walks to the beat of a different drummer and does things his own way," he said. "He's one of the most phenomenal drivers I've ever seen.

"His fans truly appreciate his driving ability and they applaud his talent and whatever he does after the race, during the race or before the race they just kind of overlook and throw it into the look-how-talented-he-is category."

And that differs from Earnhardt fans how?

"The Kyle Busch fans are fans of someone with aggression and out there to win," Bass said. "They like to follow winning drivers. Dale Jr. fans are incredibly, incredibly loyal to him. I don't think there are any more passionate fans, for sure."

So Gordon was right. Earnhardt and Busch fans are different, as if we didn't know that already.

They are, as one fan described, countercultures. It's hard to cheer for one if you are a fan of the other.

"We're just different," said Joel Quintana, an Earnhardt fan. "Just different."



Well-Known Member
Nov 6, 2008
Liked the article but it left out those of us that are fans of both or really for that matter, generally fans of all drivers. Jr. is the driver that I root for every week but I also see that Kyle is a good person to have in this sport. While I don't agree with some of the things that Kyle's done, he gets people talking. For the most part, this sport has always had the good guy -vs- the bad guy. This sport would not be very good with 43 politically correct drivers.


Well-Known Member
Oct 13, 2008
Canada Eh!
"To me, rivals really are the guys who are battling on the racetrack and have sort of a unique fan base to themselves," the four-time Sprint Cup champion said.

"And that is definitely true among Junior and Kyle, because I'm pretty sure Kyle's fans aren't the same as Junior's fans."

I'm a Jeff Gordon fan but I gotta disagree with him here. This isn't meant to be a knock aginst Jr. but in the last two years they've hardly battled on the race track. Maybe one race (Richmond? I think when Kyle spun him out?)
The fans? Ok they seem to be rivials but its hardly been a contest on the race track these past two seasons.
I'd say Kyle and Carl are more rivials. Although when you think about it once the fall comes its EVERYONE Vs. Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team.


Cheeseburger Connoisseur
Oct 11, 2008
According to the article, the majority of Jr. fans are middle aged cougar women :shock:


Cheeseburger Connoisseur
Oct 11, 2008
I missed that race so I was just going off my (crappy) memory.

Let's relive a (crappy) memory :)

[ame=]YouTube - Kyle Busch Wrecks Dale Earnhardt Jr!![/ame]


2000 Man
Oct 23, 2008
That exact kind of "racin' event" happened this year at Richmond and I think it involved Jimmie. But nobody said that JJ "took out" the other driver. :rolleyes: