We're already halfway through "Menarch," which is celebrated by the members of the Paul Menard Empire.
Not familiar with Menarch and the Empire? Don't worry – you're not alone.
"I haven't heard of the Paul Menard Empire," Richard Childress Racing driver Paul Menard said Friday. "There's something on Facebook about 'Menarch,' which I have no idea what that is either."
The Paul Menard Empire is a group of Menard fans, nearly 600 strong and growing. They maintain a Facebook page to salute their favorite driver and his unique sideburns, which they refer to as "nardburns."
"Menarch" – a combination of "Menard" and "March" – is the Empire's month-long celebration of all things Menard. Some of the group's Facebook postings include Menard-oriented expressions like this:
Menarch came in like a lamb and will go out like a neon yellow roaring lion with spectacular facial hair.
The group was originally started as a satire, but has evolved into a community of fans who are proud to follow Menard and participate in his Empire.
It began a year ago, when University of Wisconsin pharmacy student Jory Fleischauer was moderating a message board for sim racers. The conversation turned to drivers who had underperformed in their careers, and a debate began over who had underachieved more: Menard or David Stremme.
To settle the score, users made a bet: If Menard's 2010 Las Vegas finish bested Stremme's '09 finish at the same track, Fleischauer said he would change his message board avatar to a picture of Menard for one week.
Menard beat Stremme's finish by one position, and Fleischauer held up his end of the deal by putting up a Menard avatar. Other users followed suit, changing their own avatars to a picture of Menard's face. Eventually, the number of people with Menard avatars grew to a few dozen.
"Early on, someone quipped that there wasn't a Menard Nation, there was a Menard Empire," Fleischauer said. "With that statement, I decided that there truly should be a Paul Menard Empire, which is where the Facebook page originally arose from."
At that point, though, the Empire still was supporting Menard somewhat out of humor. Users tried to find what Fleischauer called "the most spectacular pictures" of Menard's facial hair – or even adding the 'nardburns to other pictures.
Fleischauer freely admits the idea was "crass." But then, something funny happened – Menard started running well.
The week after the Empire officially began, Menard led a lap at Atlanta and eventually finished fifth – only his second career top-five.
"Naturally, later that night, we were discussing what had happened," Fleischauer said. "Could it be mere coincidence the creation (of the Empire) coincided with one of the best runs of Menard's Cup career?"
The focus of the Empire had suddenly changed. Some users began to grow their own 'nardburns, and they began to actually pull for Menard, not just celebrate his facial hair.
"What had started as callous discussion had evolved...into an actual following," Fleischauer said. "We were actually now cheering Menard on on a weekly basis. It was an odd feeling realizing that as soon as I would get home from work, the first driver I would check on would be Menard."
Fleischauer said the year-old Empire is "serious in its support for Menard" despite the sarcastic humor. He plans to attend his first race this year and is creating some Paul Menard Empire shirts for he and his fellow Menard fans to wear. The group even sponsors Menard's statistics page on racing-reference.info.
"I have no idea if Paul is even aware of the fact he has his own Empire," Fleischauer said. "I would hope that he finds it as humorous and fun as we all do each day. As we celebrate the first anniversary of Menarch, the Empire is extremely proud to see Menard sitting sixth in the standings thus far."
He added a reminder to "never doubt the power of the 'nardburns."
As for Menard himself, the driver said he planned to look up the Empire's Facebook page and find out more about his burgeoning group of fans.
"I gotta reach out to those guys," Menard said.