Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let's Go Racin'

With the end of the baseball season coming fast and furious and football just around the corner, I thought I would take the time to remind everyone that the NASCAR "Chase to the Checkered Flag" was about to begin. You say you don't care????????????? Well, That's the problem. The biggest news out of NASCAR has been Danica Patrick. I think Patrick is great for the sport of racing, but what does that say about the foundation of the sport when it's centered around the GoDaddy Girl. I think it's up to the JDaddyDu Army to fix NASCAR!

When you are long in the tooth like JDaddy, you actually have what I call “Sports Memories B.C. (Before Cable). I can even remember when we did not even get the UHF channels. By the way, one of the first UHF programs I ever watched was bullfighting. Talk about the odds being stacked against you.  But it was in those days of our black and white TV that I first watched stock car racing. Now I am not a gearhead at all. In fact, my new truck doesn’t even have a gas cap anymore and I think Ford designed that just for me. But I enjoyed the show. We usually only got to see a few of the big races. The Daytona 500 was on each year as was the sister race from Daytona, the Firecracker 400. I seem to remember  the Labor Day, Southern 500 from Darlington and after that they seem to blur in my memory. Any of us who did get to watch the races were treated to the great Chris Economaki give us the from the pits scoop on Petty, Pearson and Jarrett.

Some will say that NASCAR has come a long way since then. Every race is televised, the drivers are now rock stars and there is big money everywhere you look. ESPN brought NASCAR to the forefront and just as happened in the NFL; FOX came in and made each race a major event. But NASCAR also got in the act. North Carolina Speedway (The Rock) was not good enough anymore and there is certainly no reason that Darlington should have two races a year. Not when the new markets like Vegas were emerging. It is true that NASCAR lost its biggest start with the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, but in their darkest hours, they had new and bigger stars on the way like California golden boy Jeff Gordon.Gordon, they said, would be the Tiger Woods of racing. And if we thought the "Intimidator" was big, Dale Jr. would take the Earnhardt name and the sport to the stratosphere. There were still enough holdovers from the years to keep that audience (Wallace, Rudd, Labonte and good old Jimmy Spencer), but it was Gordon, Dale Jr, Tony Stewart and the rest of the young guns who would lead the charge. Yes NASCAR was racing towards the big time.
But somewhere on the way to the Emerald City, stock car racing has lost its way or like they say in Television land they have “Jumped the Shark”.  While it looked great for a while, the chinks in the armor began to show quickly. Some have been self-inflicted while others were completely unexpected.
Just as is currently the case with Danica, the sport seemed to put all of its hopes on Dale Jr. Unfortunately, as is the case most of the time, the sequel can't measure up to the original. We saw it with Kyle Petty and Michael Waltrip. The task bordered on the impossible and while he remains the fans most popular driver, his on the track performance has not matched the build up.
Jimmy Johnson’s dominance has been terrible for NASCAR. Not because of the dominance, but because it is Jimmy Johnson. Has there ever been a more boring champion? If it had been the lightening rod Gordon or the Legendary Dale Sr., it would have been different, but, instead it was the cardboard cutout Johnson who found a way to pile up Championships. Not only did he not relate to the established racing fans, he does nothing to bring new fans to the party.
The “Mega-Teams” have also played a part in the decline of the sport. As a NASCAR fan, I don’t want to hear about teammates. I can get that in team sports. Racing is not a team sport! NASCAR!!!! Get that through your heads!!!! Lost is the competition between individual race team owners. While the sport has attempted to keep the number of cars per team down, they have not gone far enough.
Next on my list of problems is “The Chase”. Until Golf’s “Fed-Ex Cup” was developed, The Chase was the stupidest attempt at a sports rating grab as I have ever seen. If a viewer wants to see the most obvious evidence of how this “playoff” format has ruined the sport, they can watch what happens during the last ten races. Cars not in the finals, pull over and let the Chase competitors drive by instead of racing them as they would any other race. It takes all the legitimacy out of the last 10 races. Nearly 1/3 of the season.
But from my stand point, the biggest mistake NASCAR racing has ever made has been wrapped around its attempt to “even the playing field”. Now there is no question that the leadership has comes leaps and bounds in the area a driver safety. Unfortunately this seems to have been jump started by the death of Earnhardt. But, there was a time when a Plymouth was a Plymouth, a Chevy was a Chevy and a Ford a Ford. They looked different, they handled different. At first these were in the local shops of the team owners and evolved into a manufacturer’s battle for supremacy on the track. But NASCAR did not want any car to have what they deemed and “unfair” advantage and began a series or rule changes that 15 years later have turned stock car racing into Indy Car Racing (and we know how that is working out). Gone are the Torinos, Chevelles, and Chargers. The motors are built in the shops of the mega teams, the bodies hand molded so that they all fit in a template to make all the cars look the same. What has this brought us? Fuel mileage races and pack racing. Short tracks still provide some of the old thrills and chills, but NASCAR has shown that they will abandon those as quickly as the next 1 ¼ mile tri-oval is built.  In it’s quest to spread the sport, NASCAR has moved away from it’s core values and when any organization does that, the decline will follow.
But I will not cast stones without having an answer that cures all of NASCAR racing's ills.
1.   Divide NASCAR into three divisions. And I mean DIVISIONS.  Cup-Nationwide- Trucks. 32 teams in Cup racing, 32 in Nationwide and the rest in trucks. Each year the bottom 12 teams  in Cup racing move down to Nationwide and the Top 12 teams in Nationwide move up to Cup racing and the same with the Nationwide/Truck. A driver may only participate in one series. Teams will be limited to 5 participants total in the three categories each year and it would be up to the team owner who would drive the car in each. Teams in Cup and Nationwide automatically qualify for each race
2.   All cars are not created equal. Mandate the safety features (driver cockpit, roof flaps, fuel cell, spoiler and even engine size etc.), but then let imaginations run wild. Get rid of the restrictor plate, get rid of the templates, and quit worrying whether the car is ¼ inch too close to the ground. Build a big box. If the car and driver fit in the box, they are good to go racing!
3.   Eliminate the “Green-White-Checker Finish. If there is a late race caution, bring all cars into the pits and let them leave in the order and interval that they came in. These mysterious late race yellow flags are beginning to look a little suspicious and liken themselves more to professional wrestling than professional racing.
4.   Leave the road courses in the dust and go back to some of the vintage tracks.
5.   Return to the full season champion. With the much needed change in the point system this is the only fair way to do it. But…. Add even more points for wins, top 5s and top10s. And just to add a little more common sense. Leading one lap is not the same as leading 20 laps. Do something about the awarding of points for laps led.
6.   And last but not least. More Saturday night racing. The races that have moved to this format have a much bigger draw on television and in person.

Stock car racing is an American sport. But I am not sure it belongs in Vegas, Kansas City or California any more than I struggle to understand hockey teams in Phoenix and Dallas. The death by over exposure is real. Ask “Batman”, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” or Barbie Benton.
I think NASCAR needs to look at the past to prepare for the future before they give Fonzie the ski rope and crank up the Evinrude…………………….. JDADDY


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