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.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tearing Up The Track: Daytona Edition

Asphalt can be used to caulk boats. The first ever photograph involved asphalt in the printing process. Of course, asphalt can also be used to pave roads… or racetracks. In 1979, asphalt paved Daytona, but it’s gotten in rough shape in the 31 years since. It’s time for a change.

I’m not going to go into a discussion of this history of this particular surface – if you’ve managed to find this blog, I’m sure you already know.

Every driver this weekend lamented over Daytona’s imminent repaving, all of them remarking about the incredible “character” the track has. Instead of purely racing each other, the drivers have had to race the racetrack the past few years as well.

Here’s the thing: it was going to have to be repaved eventually, and the time has come. Asphalt doesn’t last very long – trust me, if you had to drive on an interstate with 31-year-old asphalt, you would try to find a detour.

Daytona’s asphalt was beginning to degrade – eventually, given a little rain, the cracks in the surface would become “weepers,” continually pumping out underground moisture while workers try fruitlessly to dry the surface.

We saw in February the damage that could be done by too many cars bottoming out in one spot. While that spot has been fixed, the track isn’t getting any smoother. NASCAR cannot afford another snafu like that in another Daytona 500 anytime soon. Grand-Am races the 24 Hours of Daytona, not NASCAR (and Grand-Am has racing for the full 24 hours).

The track surface had gotten so worn out that it now has absolutely no grip. That, combined with a bumpy track surface, had drivers absolutely out of control on old tires Saturday night. At the end of a run, TV viewers could see drivers simply lose it with no one around them. At Daytona’s speeds, that is wreckless, and it’s not going to get better with time.

Yes, the track had some great character and it’s a shame it can’t stay like that forever. But, Daytona has to fix it before it develops some serious problems. We’ve seen tracks with serious problems before (Martinsville, Darlington, etc) before, and NASCAR cannot afford to let Daytona get that way.

You know what? The racing on the old surface was great, but a new surface will bring about a style of racing that is also great for the next few years.


The Tool of the Week

This week’s Tool of the Week is the Jay Robinson Racing crew member in the Nationwide Series that left the lead/tungsten ballast loose in Mark Green’s no. 49 machine.

As Green was entering the track, the ballast flew out of the car directly into Reed Sorenson’s, no. 32, path. The ensuing carnage also collected Steve Wallace, no. 66.

Last week, I wrote about the perils of debuting the new Nationwide Series car at Daytona. Though it wasn’t a big wreck from pack racing that destroyed a good chunk of these team’s limited fleets of new cars… the fact still remains that these teams still have a limited fleet of new cars. The last thing anyone needed to do was run over a chunk of lead.

Look: remove the cover, insert the lead, put the cover back on, and screw it in.

What a tool.

Do you have a better Tool of the Week? Let us know via Twitter or Facebook.


The Racing Tool Goes to Chicagoland

This Friday and Saturday, the Racing Tool will be in Chicagoland for the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series races.

Follow @racingtool on Twitter and Facebook to see live tweets and pics from the tracks.

-David Dubczak