By admin | April 24, 2008
Racing legend gives thoughts on todayâ€™s NASCAR
By Richard Allen
One of the things I like to do when talking with people who have been involved in racing for a long time is to get their perspective on the sport as it is today.
L.D. Ottingerâ€™s racing career spanned over five decades. He has seen the sport go through major changes since the time he drove his first race in 1958.
â€œI watch it if Iâ€™ve not got something else going on,â€ Ottinger responded when asked if he keeps up with NASCAR now that he no longer drives.
L.D. does watch enough to see the biggest differences between the racing of today and the time when he was dominating the Late Model Sportsman division in the 1970s. â€œMoney and people are the biggest difference,â€ he said with a chuckle. â€œThereâ€™s a lot more people and a lot more money.
â€œBack when we were winning all those races we just had me and a couple more working on the car,â€ he continued. â€œNow, theyâ€™ve got all these engineers and other people who work full time.â€
And what about the difference with money? â€œThereâ€™s just so much more money nowadays,â€ Ottinger declared. â€œI still had a job at Stokleyâ€™s when I was racing.â€
Itâ€™s a good bet there are not many drivers in todayâ€™s NASCAR who have to hold down a regular job other than driving. But, could todayâ€™s drivers have succeeded years ago?
â€œSome of â€˜em could and some of â€˜em couldnâ€™t,â€ Ottinger said. â€œBack then we didnâ€™t have power steering and had to run on bias ply tires. You had to be pretty strong to drive one of those things.
â€œAnd it was hot,â€ he added. â€œThere werenâ€™t any cool suits.â€
Besides power steering and cool suits, numerous safety innovations have been added by NASCAR. â€œI donâ€™t like the full face helmets,â€ L.D. admitted. â€œI like to be able to see whatâ€™s beside me, but I like all the other stuff theyâ€™ve done. Itâ€™s a lot better from the safety standpoint.â€
With racing being more technical, the money being much better and the improvements in safety, would Ottinger rather drive today or in the earlier era? â€œToday,â€ he laughed, â€œbecause thereâ€™s more money in it.â€
Aside from the money L.D. enjoyed racing when he did but he adds that he would have liked to try todayâ€™s racing as well. He points to the difference in todayâ€™s cars as opposed to the cars he drove. Also, he finds the level of competition to be compelling.
Ottinger competed throughout most of his career in NASCARâ€™s Late Model Sportsman division, the predecessor of todayâ€™s Nationwide Series. So, what does a former driver in that series think about so many Sprint Cup drivers in the second series? â€œItâ€™s all right, I guess,â€ he says. â€œIt brings in more money. Besides, you know that when you beat them youâ€™ve beat the best.â€
Ultimately, Ottinger was a racer and he enjoyed racing. And more, he enjoyed the competition of racing. However, he has one particular beef with the way NASCAR conducts the sport today.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s good for â€˜em to watch over everything so close,â€ he says. â€œThey control so much that you canâ€™t hunt an edge. Itâ€™s like a big IROC.â€
L.D. Ottinger does not drive race cars anymore but his opinion on the sport is still a valuable one. After all, the best way for the sport to find its future is to look to its past.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
*This article is part II of a two part series. To read the first article go to the website’s front page.
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