This past week there was a video on a Social Media Site that stirred a tremendous number of comments. The video was taken at Indy and involved two of the sport’s top drivers and a fan. The scene was this: A female fan, probably in her 40s or so, was standing by one of the sports big stars when another of the stars came walking up. The lady extended what appeared to be her program for the star’s autograph. The star not only very rudely almost pushed the fan away, but also turned his back and he and the other star walked away from the wide-open pit road with no other fans or drivers around into the seclusion of the garage area. The fan was dejected. What may have happened with the other driver with whom she was standing when the video opened is not known but it appears he and she had been standing there more than a few minutes so I am assuming she got that stars autograph. In the interest of deflecting what is sure to be many responses from the fans of these two drivers, I will decline to name them. In fact, for the purposes of this Legendtorial, I will not name any of the drivers for whom negative comments will be directed.
As I said, there were numerous comments made to the video, most favoring the position of the poor fan that was denied an autograph from someone she isn’t likely to encounter again and, frankly, may no long want to encounter. I admit, watching the video, I was appalled by the actions of this “star” but then after thinking about it and all I have witnessed over the past few years, it should have been no surprise. What it takes to get an autograph these days is far more effort than I am willing to expend for any one of those out there driving today. Period.
The word “autograph” comes for Greek roots with the combination of “Autos” meaning “self” and “Grapho” meaning “write”. The most basic definition is a transcript totally written in the handwriting of the author. The earliest known “autograph” is that of a scribe, Gar Ama, found on a Sumerian clay tablet from around 3,100 B.C. The first autograph of a major historical figure yet discovered is that of El Cid from 1098 A.D.
The reference of your signature as your “John Hancock” of course, goes back to the signer of the Declaration of Independence of the same name. Old John signed his name big and bold with the “K” at the end having a tail that underlined his name. And he did all that without instructions from The King.
In researching what information is available about autographs and autograph seekers, which, by the way, is very interesting, I discovered many facts that surprised me. Two of those were that Joe DiMaggio, that baseball player dude, made more money charging for his autographs than he did playing baseball. Comedy Star, Steve Martin, declined to autograph anything for anyone, but did have business cards, which read, “This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny”. Wish I had known that when my new business cards were being printed!!!
In fairness, I can see both sides of this autograph seeking problem. There is a time and place for that and when a driver is getting in his car or just gotten out, that is not the time to ask for one. However, when there is nothing going on and a poor lady is standing on pit road with her program, what would it have hurt to take two seconds to scribble your unreadable signature on the program? The lady would have been happy and the video would not have negatively reflected your lack of courtesy and your ability to be a first class jerk. Hope your sponsor takes note of that. I’m betting that lady doesn’t shop that sponsor’s store any more.
The other side to the autograph argument is the obtaining of autographs and then placing them on an on-line auction site for sale. Just for fun, I checked out that site before writing this Legendtorial and I was shocked and amazed by what I saw. I can totally understand a driver, or any celebrity having to keep a database of folks who are repeatedly requesting autographs and then placing them for sale. We race fans are, or at least were, incredibly fortunate that our stars and heroes don’t charge for autographs. Although most times when you encounter today’s stars, it is through some arranged appearance and it does cost you money to get in that line and work your way to the driver for a quick two second encounter when. Most times, he, or she, doesn’t even look at you while scribbling that name on what is usually a poster you are required to purchase before getting in line. Still, I have to side with the celebrities who decline to sign autographs when they suspect, or know for a fact that someone is going to profit from the sale of those autographs.
Taking this one-step further, I learned from someone I know, who is employed by a major corporation sponsoring one of the super-stars teams, something that really shocked me. The “Star” was to appear at the sponsor company function in behalf of his “Foundation” and there were about 200 of the sponsor employees allowed to attend. When the meeting started, the “Star’s” Handler walked up on stage, alone, and announced that this was a “NO TOUCH” appearance. No hand shaking, no autographs, and no other personal interaction other than a 15 minute question and answer session at the end of the speech by the “Star” touting all the major good points of his foundation. For the record, this was not Howie Mandell, the television freak who cannot stand being touched and will not shake hands, this was one of OUR superstars. I was disappointed to find this out.
Another thing about “autographs” or signatures that amazes me is the power that a signature carries. When you sign a check, it empowers the bank to pay funds from your account to the payee. And think of this: After all the carnage and death unleashed upon the world in all the wars, they are ended with two or more individuals affixing their signature to a Surrender Document. That allows the war to stop. Watching the Japanese surrender to McArthur all sitting at the table on the U.S.S. Missouri, McArthur in full dress uniform and the Japs in top hats and tails, signing a document that ended a war that almost ended the world. Autographs are powerful.
I am not exactly sure how I got into the autographs collecting phase at some point in my life. I think the first person I ever asked for an autograph was Richard Petty after his first race. I don’t think I had thought about that before but I think what keyed me into asking that night in July 1958 was seeing something on television where Elvis was besieged for autographs. That was shortly before Richard’s first race. I would tell you all some of my Elvis stories but Jeff has forbidden me from ever doing that on RacersReunion®.
In any event, I began getting autographs about 1958 and would just randomly approach drivers whenever I happened to encounter them. Sometime in 1967, I went on a massive autograph collecting campaign, mostly to show all those Yankee guys on my ship in the Navy, that race drivers were much more approachable than their football and baseball stars. I had a little red autograph book, about 4X6 inches with about 100 pages. During my trips to races that year, I was collecting autographs at every opportunity. Please allow me to share a few of those driver encounters.
First of all, Wendell Scott. I approached Wendell at Columbia Speedway. I had been around Wendell much of his career as he was short of help most times and although I had to sneak into the pits to do it, I helped him and his sons push his car to the starting line more than once. I remember asking Wendell for his autograph while holding my little red book and ballpoint pen out to him. He looked at me with this quizzical look on his face like “why would you want my autograph” but he accepted the book and signed his name. Wendell was always humble and kind to everyone he encountered to my knowledge.
Next, I remember a special encounter with big John Sears. He had just finished qualifying at Rockingham I think it was, and after he had talked with his crew member, he turned around and almost knocked me down because he didn’t know I was there. He was so apologetic and I can still remember his deep concern that he had hurt me. He not only signed the autograph, but we talked for some time.
Jabe Thomas and Earl Brooks are two drivers I always enjoyed interacting with. After the first time I asked Jabe for an autograph and presented my book to him, if I ever saw him after that, he would ask me where my book was. If I had it, he would ask to see his autograph he has signed. His page became so dog-eared it was easily recognizable. I remember Earl Brooks as a true Southern gentleman. He autographs my book almost seeming to be embarrassed to have been asked. What great memories.
As I wind this up tonight, I want to mention two things:
When I became “The Legend” for RacersReunion®, I was allowed to participate in autograph sessions and interaction with fans at several different venues. Being on that end of the autograph pen, I can tell you it is such an honor to be asked for my autograph. I can never imagine tiring of that honor. I fully realize I am not a “Star”, but I am The Legend because Jeff says so.
Ok, folks, we are at the end of the very last Legendtorial to ever be presented. I will be busy for the next few weeks posting all my Richard Petty collection of autographs on the auction site and if what is currently posted is any gauge, I expect to be a multi-millionaire by Labor Day. Maybe then, I’ll start charging for MY autograph. All you faithful listeners will, however, be entitled to one free autographed “hero card”.