NASCAR needs a new hero.
If you listen to fans and marketing experts, the current hero template calls for a racer blessed with old-school connections, new-school cool and a touch of attitude.
That’s part of the reason why Chase Elliott was voted as the sport’s most popular driver in 2018.
Of course, the biggest check mark for Elliott is his famous father.
Bill Elliott earned NASCAR’S most popular honor a record 16 times from 1984-2002. The man dubbed “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” was fearless, humble and homespun.
The adoration for Bill was based on several factors. Some observers admired the record-breaking speed runs and success at superspeedways with his family-operated team while others fell in love with Elliott’s southern twang in post-race interviews.
From Junior Johnson and the late Dale Earnhardt to Dale Earnhardt Jr., drivers from the Deep South have long struck a chord with fans.
Perhaps we can call it the Dukes of Hazzard effect.
Chase Elliott may have roots in the North Georgia mountains, but this second-generation racer spent part of his youth in the mountain town of Edwards, Colorado.
The younger Elliott, who graduated from a private school in Alpharetta, Georgia, honed his racing skills while also hitting the ski slopes of Colorado with longtime girlfriend Kaylie Green, daughter of former NASCAR racer David Green.
After finding his need for speed at age 8 in a go-kart, Elliott made the difficult jump to a full-bodied Late Model Stock car in the sixth grade. Yes, the sixth grade. No time for Barney the Dinosaur here.
At age 20, Chase was tabbed to drive the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet for the Hendrick Motorsports empire. The same year, he earned his private pilot’s license and multi-engine instrument rating.
From magazine cover stories to wide-ranging features on television, Elliott has been promoted and cultivated as the new face and crossover voice of NASCAR - minus the southern accent.
Since his debut at the Cup level, Chase has been somewhat of a reluctant hero who would much rather race than answer questions in a press conference. Don’t expect headline-grabbing sound bites or theatrics from this reserved guy.
Dynamic personality or not, Chase Elliott has earned a prized spot on the NASCAR marquee.
And judging from the way he navigated his damaged No. 9 Chevrolet to victory at Watkins Glen earlier this month, Bill Elliott’s son is gradually earning his hero stripes the old-fashioned way.
Stay tuned, this story is just in the first chapter.