Sunday, July 25, 2010

Want a Successful Drive for Diversity Program? Cultivate Older Drivers

SOUTH BOSTON, VA - OCTOBER 13:  Michael Cherry squeezes into his car during the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine at South Boston Speedway on October 13, 2008 in South Boston, Virginia.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

NASCAR’s drive for diversity program began in 2004 as a way to attract and cultivate female and minority drivers into the sport and bring them up through the ranks. Through the years, the program has had its share of successes and failures, but remains minorities’ best shot at coming up into NASCAR’s top ranks.

However, none of the drivers participating in the Drive for Diversity program have ever competed in the Sprint Cup Series, and it wasn’t until 2009 that a member, Paul Harraka, won a regional touring series race.

Now, granted, it takes time to cultivate a driver to compete at the top levels of NASCAR. You can’t take a driver from the Whelen All-American Series to the national level in a year.

Though all of these drivers have the backing of the sanctioning body itself, all of them lack experience.

So what can NASCAR do about this? Find some experienced drivers.

On some short track, somewhere, is some African-American driver who has been racing late models for 15 years. America has many regional touring series, most not affiliated with NASCAR, and one of them has to have a minority driver who has been racing off-and-on for the past decade. Auto racing is also alive and well in Latin-America. ASA competed in South Africa over the winter.

Let’s face it: there are no NASCAR teams at high schools and you can’t go to college on a NASCAR scholarship. The only way to break into NASCAR is to do it yourself, and spend a great deal of time cutting your racing teeth.

Today’s NASCAR talents, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, the Busch brothers, Joey Logano… they have all been racing something or another since they could show you their age on two hands (or one). Logano is 20 years old, but has 14 years of racing experience.

It will take at least that for any driver, minority or not, to run up and compete with Logano. Most minorities don’t have the opportunity to begin racing at age 6. That’s why it’s been difficult to cultivate these young minorities.

So, take that African-American that’s been racing late models for 15 years that I mentioned earlier, though he may be 35 years old and not 20, and bring him into the Drive for Diversity program. Though he hasn’t raced in the K&N Pro Series, he will know how to wheel a racecar, and just never had the chance to move up to the big leagues.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Don't Be So Fast to Dis the Mile-and-a-Halfs

Short tracks are the home turf of NASCAR – little dirt slingers some old bootleggers built in an empty lot somewhere. I, like many in NASCAR grew up on short tracks. Short tracks are where today’s NASCAR stars cut their teeth, and still provide the foundation of racing across the country.

Short tracks also provide some of the best racing one will ever see; packing that many cars with that amount of horsepower into that small a space is a sure recipe for carnage, the carnage that many a fan whoop and holler for.

Because of their well-known thrills and spills, the lack of short tracks in NASCAR’s highest levels is a point of contention between NASCAR and its fans. In the Sprint Cup Series, the highest form of auto racing in the country, only three short tracks sit on the schedule, comprising only six of 38 race weekends.

Meanwhile, 1.5-mile tracks comprise 11 of those 38 weekends.

The reason why drivers like racing on these 1.5-mile tracks is the very reason why many fans detest them: they provide enough room to make passes without beating and banging.

But, you see, 1.5-milers offer a far different kind of racing that needs to be viewed differently. Long races are a chess match at any kind of track. As the phrase goes, “to finish first, you must first finish.” No sense in beating up your equipment in the first 450 miles and take yourself out of a chance to win in the last 50.

I want to add to that (though not with quite a sexy play on words): to finish first, you must be in position at the end. If a car behind you is much faster, it’s far more worth it to a driver to let him pass, then make adjustments on your car to make it better later. Ready for another cliché? You can’t win a race at the beginning, but you can lose it.

There’s a problem with trying to let faster cars past you at short tracks, however: many short tracks are one-grove, and letting a faster car past might get you freight-trained another 10 or more positions. That’s not as easy to make up.

At a 1.5-miler, a fast car can move forward unimpeded, but a slow car can also move back unimpeded. At a short track, every car is an impediment to someone… and the chrome horn can take many good cars out of the race.

Case in point: this past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series raced in Chicagoland. The race started in the heat of an Illinois day, and ended under the cover of night. Any NASCAR fan knows how the track changes under these conditions. Some cars handle it better than others.

Your top two at Chicagoland were David Reutimann and Carl Edwards. During the day portion of the race, both drivers were unimpressive, Edwards in particular – he spent a lot of time moving backwards.

At a short track, Edwards would have gotten punted with the chrome horn and been out of the race, or at the very least so far back getting up to second would be impossible.

However, at Chicagoland, Edwards had time and room to nurse his car, fix his car, and move back to the front.

When it came down to the last 5 laps, Edwards slung his car around the outside of Chicagoland Speedway like nothing else I’ve ever seen before… and it was awesome. I was in the stands myself, and I could visibly see him pick up speed. There is no way to describe what driving on the edge looks like, but that’s what Edwards was doing.

I’m not saying short-track racing is poor because it’s not. I’m saying that speedway racing isn’t inherently boring.

What do you think?

-David Dubczak

Tool of the Week

No one this week. Good job everyone.

Something Else I Noticed

There’s nothing like actually sitting in the grandstands at a Sprint Cup race. Here’s something I noticed: the Hendrick engines screamed about an octave louder than anyone else at the top of their powerband, and it was just the Hendrick engines – not even the other Chevy engines sounded the same.

With about 30 laps to go, Jeff Gordon lost the lead and started losing other positions. At the same time, his engine stopped screaming and sounded normal. Hmm…

Don't Forget

The Racing Tool was in Chicagoland last weekend. Make sure to visit the Racing Tool in Chicagoland page to view our gallery of pictures.