By admin | November 3, 2009
By Richard Allen
Just before the Martinsville race this fall there was a panel type show in which Larry McReynolds, Chad Knaus and others from the SpeedTV network sat down with NASCAR Competition Director Robin Pemberton to discuss the state of the sport as they see it. That roundtable session, along with this past weekendâ€™s race in Talladega, convinced me that those most entrenched inside NASCARâ€™s upper levels are completely out of touch with the reality that is todayâ€™s racing scene. And by â€˜most entrenchedâ€™ I mean NASCAR officials, team members and high level media members.
That conversation as well as other writings, television appearances and radio programs seem to always produce the same lines in regard to the sportâ€™s present condition.
According to the insiders, NASCAR is in the best shape it has ever been in. Teams are learning the new car, fans will be back when the economy turns around, the Chase is great for raising interest and the competition level is high.
To address the first point that those on the inside want to push on a public which is becoming more and more resistant to this sort of talk, the Car of Tomorrow is a major part of NASCARâ€™s problem.
However, those in Daytona Beach and elsewhere have completely misread the signs coming from the fans. Those who pay the bills are not, nor ever will be, interested in whether teams get a grasp on the new car. The problem with the car is that is lacks character. Fans do not want to watch identical looking prototypes race around identical looking tracks. NASCAR fans are Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and even Toyota enthusiasts, not fans of molds with nothing more than stickers to distinguish them.
People want to be able to gloat that the car in their garage at least has some similarity to the one that won last Sundayâ€™s race.
Add to the complaints that NASCARâ€™s mandating of so many of the parts and pieces on the car has taken away one of the most interesting aspects of the sport, ingenuity. With the rules as they are in todayâ€™s NASCAR there will never be another story like the rise of the Elliotts in the 1980s or Alan Kulwicki in the early 1990s.
And no, if things remain as they are the fans will not be back when the economy turns around, at least not in the same numbers as before. So many who respond to my columns or send me e-mails offer up the same story. â€œI used to go to X number of races a year but I havenâ€™t been in two years and it has nothing to do with the economy,â€ is a common statement.
As for the Chase for the Championship, it is only rivaled by the CoT in terms of dislike among long time fans. While at first the notion of tightening up the field with ten races remaining seemed like an idea worth taking a look at. However, what the Chase has managed to do is turn every race into a points grab rather than a race for the win. Drivers have become far too content with top-10 or even top-15 finishes. Even races on once exciting tracks like Bristol and Richmond have suffered as a result.
But of all the arguments made by those who insist that NASCAR is better now than ever before is that of the number of cars on the lead lap at the end of a race. McReynolds, Pemberton and Knaus pointed to this in their discussion.
Well, it is easy to keep large numbers of cars on the lead lap when teams have so many of the vital pieces of the carâ€™s set-up dictated to them. And more, the use of well timed â€˜debrisâ€™ cautions can serve to keep the field bunched.
Those who would profess that people such as myself are overly critical always contend that people such as myself spend all of our time arguing that racing was better back in the â€˜good ole daysâ€™. Those who canâ€™t see any further than that completely miss the argument. Itâ€™s not that racing was better back in the day but it is that the sport had personality and soul before and those elements have been taken away.
There is nothing in todayâ€™s NASCAR to inspire passion. The drivers are the same. The cars are the same. The tracks are the same. There are far too many rules and mandates. The personality and ingenuity have been taken from racing and replaced with corporate language and looks.
The reason I have written with so much negativity of late is that I hope those on the inside will finally see what is happening and save the sport I have loved since my childhood. Those such as myself are not seeking to destroy NASCAR but to save it from itself.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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