Joe Maddon, Richard Petty

Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon (70) jokes with former NASCAR driver Richard Petty before the Devil Rays' baseball game against the Texas Rangers on May 16, 2007. 

When their regular job ends, a short track racer will often work into the early morning hours preparing for a weekend event.

A minor league baseball player devotes countless hours each day sweating in the summer heat to refine his craft.

Any true sports fan should be able to appreciate those underdog, chasing-the dream narratives, which unfold right here in the surrounding Bristol area.

The trick is capturing and holding the attention of folks in this ME-generation age of 10-second attention spans and 140-character tweets.

It’s all about looking at the big picture and giving people a reason to look beyond their own front yard.

The situation has become grim in motorsports this summer with the closure of four short tracks. Earlier this week, the owners of Concord Speedway in North Carolina, listed their historic quarter-mile oval for sale.

Three dirt tracks, including Clay Valley Speedway in Coeburn, Virginia, have also bit the dust.

While the NASCAR Cup series continues to drift along with predictable events featuring well-connected youngsters and a handful of all-powerful owners, racers at the grassroots level must struggle to cobble enough money for tire bills.

The tracks that survive and thrive, such as Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have mastered the vanishing art of promotion.

Sadly, few short track owners can afford a full-time public relations director or broad-based marketing plans but certain elements are a must.

From Late Model to Pure Stock, every driver has a story.

We need to engage new and old fans by sharing those stories of toil and triumph through pit-road interviews and informative booklets that include the car number, hometown and assorted other tidbits on each driver.

A charismatic public address announcer can work wonders before, during and after events.

There is nothing routine about racing. It’s a daring and dangerous spectacle that requires courage and skill. Those daredevils should be celebrated.

From dirt tracks and motocross courses to asphalt tracks and drag strips, there are dozens of local heroes who deserve attention and respect.

The same holds true for minor league baseball. The area allegiance to high school and travel teams is strong, but these are professional athletes competing for Major League Baseball organizations.

At the least, stadium and radio announcers should let fans know the hometown, college or high school of each player that appears in a game. Stat packages, which go beyond batting averages and won-loss records, can be mind-numbing.

Without that sort of simple introduction process, the minor league players and coaches are basically faceless robots in a spiffy uniform.

It’s definitely worth noting if an athlete has a local connection or competed for an ACC or SEC school.

Just like short track racers, every minor league player has a story.

Some folks are attracted by the purity of baseball or the passion of racing, but we need to give fans a reason to leave the monster television screen, put down the smartphone and actually attend local sporting events.

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agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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