Friday, October 30, 2009

NASCAR is in the Entertainment Business

This week, we come back to Talladega, perhaps one of the spookiest places on the NASCAR circuit with or without it’s supposed hauntings (see my comments in “Other NASCAR Notes” below).

But, every year when we come to Daytona and Talladega, we face the inevitable discussion of restrictor plates, pack racing, and the car-mulching “big one” the plates cause. Many wonder if we should even be plate racing. After all, the potential exists for a team to have to build a new car for every plate race, should their driver be unfortunate enough to be in the big wreck every time.

I argue yes, and a resounding yes! While the drivers and teams may not favor it (save for Michael Waltrip, whose only four career wins come on plate tracks), it creates great racing for the fans, which is what is most important.

You see, NASCAR is in the entertainment business. Big Bill France recognized that, in order for people to sit through an entire 500 mile race (the first NASCAR race was 7 hours long, by the way), it would have to be entertaining. Bumping, banging, and cars and drivers on the verge of losing control is what the fans wanted to see.

Talladega is the ultimate NASCAR track, a place where drivers make 10 decisions a second, and his success depends not largely on his ability to make them correctly, but on someone else’s.

NASCAR has, in recent years, gone away from the entertainment principle somewhat, and should go back. The double file restarts were one way, but a whole host of options might present themselves if one thinks hard enough.

WAIT!!! STOP!!! Before you accuse me of being a NASCAR-basher, let me give NASCAR a little defense here… read through the next few paragraphs.

Maybe NASCAR can add 50 pounds to each car that wins a race every time they win a race like some short tracks. I guarantee Jimmie Johnson might be more equal to Reed Sorenson if his car weighed 4000 pounds.

They could flip a coin before each race to determine the direction around the track, as some other short tracks do.

Heck, maybe even turn a few random fans loose with the Toyota Fan Controller. Who knows?

The problem with these however is that they might be what NASCAR can’t do – turning the Sprint Cup Series into a circus.

Lowe’s pays good money to see Jimmie Johnson competitive every week. NASCAR can’t risk alienating the sponsors that drive the sport by penalizing teams that are good.

Using the coin-toss and, God forbid, the fan controller (what a nightmare that would be) would alienate sponsors as well. The sponsors need some sort of predictability – once again, Lowe’s pays their due because they know Jimmie will contend every week, or just about.

Remember earlier this season when Mark Martin was on the verge of falling out of the top-35? He was running well, but kept having problems through no fault of his own.

Now, imagine it hadn’t been wrecks or equipment failures hurting Mark; what if it had been the Fan Controller, the giant fly-swatter, or any number of novelties NASCAR could come up with, that caused Mark to have such terrible results. I’m willing to be Carquest and Kelloggs would have had something to say about that.

The sponsors don’t want anything extrinsic, other than the racing itself, to affect the outcome of the race. They need to know that the good cars will outperform the not-so-good cars most of the time.

But that doesn’t mean NASCAR can’t do little things, like the double-file restarts.

And, for God’s sake, don’t change Talladega.

Other NASCAR Notes

OK, change Talladega a little bit. You see, Talladega is haunted because it is built on an old Indian burial ground, and the land was cursed by a Creek medicine man while being driven from the site by Andrew Jackson.

Drivers have complained of downright creepy stuff happening over the years, for example; two drivers, who were the only ones on the track and were on separate ends, crashed at the same time…

A tornado once chased a car down the backstretch…

Bobby Issac once heard a voice telling him to “get out” in the early 70’s. He immediately went to pit road and followed orders…

A fan once stole the pace car (can you imagine if it was the Lamborghini used in the Las Vegas truck race a few weeks ago? He might have won!)…

Well, Talladega decided to play it safe rather than sorry, and last week got another Creek medicine man to bless the track, thereby lifting the curse and restoring balance to the land.

For the sake of the catch fence, I hope it works.


I just want to say quickly, I don’t think the rollout of the new Ford engine is being handled well. For an engine that’s been ready to at least test in race conditions since the end of the summer, I’m surprised no one will be using it until Talladega this weekend.

You’re telling me that Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Jamie McMurray, Bobby Labonte, or Paul Menard (all non-chase drivers) were in a good position to test this engine?

Ford worries about the durability since it hasn’t yet been tested in true race conditions. So… give it to a non-Chase driver.

Ford worries it will be a burden to the teams to have to obsolete their current inventory of engine parts. So… give it to Richard Petty Motorsports to try out the rest of the season – they don’t have a current inventory of Ford engines!

The more I watch, the more I’m convinced this old engine is the reason Ford hasn’t won since the second race of the season. At Lowe’s two weeks ago, Matt Kenseth was racing Jimmie Johnson for quite a few laps; Kenseth handled as well, or better than, Johnson in the corners, but it looked like Johnson had 200 more horsepower on the straights.

C’mon Ford! You’re the only American automaker who didn’t go bankrupt. Now, don’t do this to your teams!

1 comment:

  1. It use to be racing years ago but now Its getting very close to being like the WWE sports entertainment business, I think Tony Stewart was right a few years when he made the same comment,some people may not like Tony but he tells it like it is