A Voice for the Fans ~ NASCAR Doesn’t Love Me Anymore
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and extend the same warm welcome to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR related. As editor here on Race Fans Forever, it’s part of my “duties” to see and approve all written content seen on our pages. That’s one of the reasons that I love my job! We have such talented and well-informed folks writing for us that it’s truly a pleasure to read their work, most of which doesn’t need editing by me because they’re so good. A few days back, I received an article from my long-time friend, Vivian Simons, and it took my mind back to another time in racing… the time I’ve sometimes described as “When it all began to unravel.”
As I read her thoughts from June of 2004, my mind took flight and lit on a piece that I had written in January of that year, directly after hearing the “State of the Sport” message delivered by Brian Z. France, the “new” CEO of NASCAR after the retirement of his Dad, Bill France Jr. due to failing health. If anyone among us is a true glutton for punishment, you can read the transcript of that press conference in its entirety by simply clicking somewhere around here.
With that said, and possibly read, I’d like everyone to read at least one answer delivered during that conference by our new “Leader.” As happens with pressers at times, the question asked was inaudible, but the answer, given here word for word, speaks volumes… and begs for a teleprompter and a ghost writer all in the same breath.
BRIAN FRANCE: We weren't in a position to share all the details because we didn't have all the details, so as a consequence, anybody who was thinking about what we were going to do, didn't know all the facts. But that goes with the territory. What also goes with the territory is when you make changes, and I am no different as a sports fan or my favorite restaurant or whatever it is, and you tell me you are going to change it, I immediately get a little bit nervous. But over time I will get comfortable with whatever changes there are and so will our drivers, if it's the right thing to do, and it is, they are going to get comfortable with it. Our fans are going to love it because it's going to make racing even better than it is today. So you know, while we look at that, it's not something that deters us from moving ahead and doing the right thing.
Yes, I think that explains the machinations of the brain that conceived what I’ve always referred to as the “Chase for No Sponsorship.” My alter-ego, The Lady in Black, christened it as such with her very first article of 2004 and I’ve never argued for a minute with the veracity or accuracy of that name.
Now, with the stage set, so to speak, here is my article, which appeared 4 days after the Press Conference, January 24, 2004 on the pages of Insider Racing News. When it ran that first time, there was music playing softly in the background. The song then was Auld Land Syne. If Weebly cooperates, the music today should be Faded Love.
NASCAR Doesn’t Love me Any More
Jan. 24, 2004
By: PattyKay Lilley
I don’t think that NASCAR loves me anymore. Now, what would give me that idea? It is simple logic combined with telltale behavior. Do you remember your high school dating days? (Those of you that are now out of high school) All of us, at one time or another, have had someone break up with us.
About the time that you think that you and your steady companion are destined to spend the ages together, he or she slowly becomes less sensitive to your needs and wants. Finally, you hear those dreaded words, “I think we should start seeing other people.” He or she tells you that it is not your fault; that you are actually too good for them. They try to convince you that it is being done for you and it will be a good thing in the end. Shortly after that, you find yourself on the scrap heap of teenage romance, while some flirtatious young thing is with your “used-to-be” and is sporting the ring that you always dreamed of.
Well, that is exactly what I sense is happening to my relationship with NASCAR. Considering that I live in Georgia and have been hanging around with NASCAR for some fifty years, they see me as a comfortable old shoe, but are interested in seeing other people.
Certainly, they have become insensitive to my needs and wants. As a fan from the “old school”, when they asked my opinion of some things they were contemplating, I gave it willingly, but it was as if they never heard me.
They asked me about the “Gentlemen’s agreement” and I told them that I thought it was ridiculous. There are no more Ned Jarretts on the track. They listened to me that time, after a nearly calamitous situation, and did away with the barbaric practice of racing to the caution flag. Somehow, they forgot to ask me about the new concept of “giving” laps back that is being referred to as the “Lucky dog rule.” Instead, they just went ahead and did it, knowing all the while that it would hurt my sensibilities.
They asked me about taking a race away from storied old North Carolina Speedway and it made me cry but they took it anyway. It’s not the first time that has happened either. They have taken away Hickory, Bowman Gray, South Boston and of course, that granddaddy of all short-tracks, North Wilkesboro.
They asked me about taking the Southern 500 from Darlington and moving it to the left coast. I told them that tradition was worth more than money, but they didn’t listen. Then they asked me my thoughts on the point system and I shared them willingly. I told them that most of what had been discussed earlier was to my liking.
They talked of giving a point bonus to the winner, so that he would outscore the second place finisher every time. I liked that and suggested that it be a meaningful bonus that would make winning something to strive for, 25 or even better, 50 points for a win. They grudgingly granted 5 (F-I-V-E) points more to the winner, a lukewarm response at best.
They talked of freezing points at the rear of the field, which would have given the rolling wounded no reason to crawl back onto the track. Perhaps because I liked that idea, they never implemented it, opting instead to institute a minimum track speed to discourage the rolling wrecks from coming back out. It was my impression that there always was a minimum track speed.
Then they asked me my thoughts on something they must have dragged out from behind a goalpost somewhere. Someone that sits in a high place (Are your ears ringing, Brian?) thought it would be a wonderful idea to institute some sort of play-off scenario. I waited patiently for an explanation, even when others were feeding the rumor mill with stories. It was difficult for me to understand how one could have a play-off when there is only one series. Play-offs in the stick and ball sports are used to determine the best of several divisions. One does not play off against oneself.
When the explanation came, they told me not to call it a play-off. It would be known as “The Chase for the Championship.” That is a nice synonym for “disaster” in my book. They will take the top ten drivers in the point race and anyone else that is lucky enough (or good enough) to be within 400 points of the leader and rearrange their points, so that they will be unreachable by the rest of the field. The leader will be given 5050 points, the second place driver, 5045 and so on down the line, with points diminishing in 5-point increments. [Please note, these were the original rules of the Chase]
One has to wonder why the leader or anyone close to him over the summer would try very hard to extend a point lead that will only be erased after Richmond. Have they simply then, given a reason for “stroking” to move into a different time frame? Unless their particular driver is in that precious top-ten, there will not be a happy sponsor in the series. In reality, the only entity that will be enhanced by this format is NBC, and that leads us to assume that despite statements to the contrary, they are the puppeteer pulling the strings.
Then, they went on to tell me that in the long run it would be good for me; that they were really doing it all for me. Are you beginning to follow the logic in this? NASCAR is telling me, as gently as possible, that we are breaking up. When I raised questions as to just how it would benefit me in any way (or the drivers and sponsors, for that matter), they merely told me, “It is what it is.”
Well, NASCAR, with full knowledge of “What the meaning of ‘is’ is’”, let me tell you that what it is, is BS! I am reminded of Popeye, with a pipe sticking out of the corner of his mouth, singing, “I yam what I yam,” but this time he bears a strong resemblance to Mike Helton.
While all this was happening, NASCAR was already seeing other people. What has caught their fickle eye now is no longer the race-loving southerner that has been their bread and butter for all of their years. It is a generation of youngsters that know nothing whatsoever of the history and tradition of the sport, nor do they care.
Everything NASCAR does now is for them. All of the shiny new stadiums are for them, while I remained content to visit the ones with concrete bleachers and few working rest rooms. The music played at on-track concerts is no longer of the Country genre, but a loud, coarse sounding clamor having no understandable lyrics. At most of the newer tracks, even the Star Spangled Banner has become an assault to the ears of the old fans, with performers knowing neither the words nor the tune.
Out on the track, gone are the cars that looked like they could have been driven from your garage to the track and then entered in the race. In this new and more polished racing series, the “SC” in NASCAR now stands for Standardized Chassis rather than Stock Car.
Gone too are the drivers with differing personalities and almost all of the drivers that dare to have taken more than forty turns around the sun. Today’s driver is a young, good-looking and well-spoken little corporate soldier whose primary duty is to represent his sponsor in a politically correct manner. If he can drive fast, that is even better. Great drivers like Tiny Lund would not be welcome in today’s NASCAR, nor would they fit into today’s cars.
It’s rather sad, but I think you will agree that NASCAR doesn’t love me anymore. We are about to break up, but it is not of my doing. Now, gentle readers, test your memories. How many of you have any idea whatever happened to that lost puppy love that you used to know? How many of you even care? There are not a lot of hands waving out there, but there was a point to my question.
NASCAR, you can break up with me if you think it’s for the best, but don’t think for a minute that I will still be available when your young love dumps you for the next craze down the road. It always hurts to feel unwanted, but the disease is no more fatal than a hangnail. Your old fans will be just fine, with you or without you. Think it over and choose wisely.
That final bit of sage advice is not part of the original article, but something from my files that I believe made an apt signoff for that treasured old piece that held and still holds so much of what I think and feel. Throughout that year of 2004, this scribe wrote a large number of articles on an equal amount of changes that the new regime brought about, and not all of them were bad. More might have worked, had they not been based on bad advice, given I’m sure at great expense, but wrong, nevertheless.
It was the feeling of folks in New York City boardrooms that the “older generation”, now longingly referred to as “core fans”, couldn’t hope to keep up with technology or life with computers and smart phones, and so the target demographic became geared to the 18-35-year olds and we old farts were quite rudely put out to pasture. Every step of the way was exactly as I described above in likening my (Our) relationship with NASCAR to a failed romance.
That, gentle readers, is where NASCAR got it so wrong. This old fart is not allergic to change and in many cases has willingly and happily accepted each new part of life as it came along. Today I am a 78-year old female, well versed in technology, with my own website, 2 computers and a smart phone, all of which I can and do put to use every single day. Along with that, I stand as a proud member of the generation that has and uses the largest amount of disposable income on planet Earth. That’s another thing that Brian and the boys on the Beach overlooked when they tossed us cavalierly aside.
You’ve read the words written well over a decade ago, and today you cannot help but see the empty grandstands and the well-published and plummeting TV ratings. What say you gentle readers? Is this scribe just a crotchety old woman, out of step with society, or did she have it right from the start and has everything she predicted come to pass?
Today, I write only for the race fans. This lady is not and never was a shill for NASCAR, and she has never seen their tyrannical rulers as perfect. Quite the contrary, there have been some major missteps and total blunders at the hands of the France family down through the years, but NASCAR itself always survived and grew, either because of or in spite of them. This third generation though, has taken what was a good thing and turned it into merely a tax write-off for losses suffered.
That’s enough from me, for today, tomorrow, next week and maybe next month. I’ll close by simply pointing out one more time that there is a vast… astronomical… astounding [ feel free to add your own superlative adjectives here] difference between being a race fan, which I have always been and will always be, and being a NASCAR fan. As some tend to do, there was a time when I might have confused the two, but since the ascension of Emperor Brian to the throne, the difference has become abundantly clear.
Today gentle readers, our Country Classic Closeout will consist of a single song. This is Patsy Cline, sharing with us her hauntingly beautiful rendition of the old Bob Wills favorite, “Faded Love”… so very stirringly lovely.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!