I bid you welcome gentle readers. Yes, it’s still January and no, we’re not in Daytona yet, but soon. February will be here before you know it, and so will that annoying football game for which they keep interrupting all those great new commercials. This coming weekend, the Sports Cars will be rolling around the road course at Daytona for a full day of fun and frolic, exhilaration and disappointment, victory and defeat. Go Scott Pruett!!
But speaking of Daytona, which all of us seem to be as we wait out the doldrums of winter across our great country and wish for spring to make an early entrance into 2015, I came across an old article, 2006 vintage, I’d written just about this time of year. That year, like most others, the teams were testing at Daytona in January. Does that sound exciting to anyone? Well then, here’s the dirty little secret that NASCAR won’t tell you, but I will. Aside from watching cement harden, there is little in this world that can induce a greater degree of ennui than Daytona testing. Here then, I promise is a very accurate description of testing at Daytona, as it was 9 years ago and as it would be now, had NASCAR not decided to cancel it in favor of a rousing game of pinochle.
Ah, the roar of engines is heard in Daytona; the smell of gas and rubber permeates the air and all is right with the world. What’s that you say? Oh, it’s only Daytona testing. Well, that sure takes all of the excitement out of it.
I’m sorry gentle readers, but this isn’t the Lady in Black; it’s just an old lady in Georgia that feels like talking about racing. After all, it’s been a long time since the last real race. How many years back was that? I have trouble remembering sometimes. Okay, that was a cheap shot but I took it anyway. There really have been some good races in the past few years, just not a good racing format.
Moving right along, we race fans are slowly being dragged from hibernation, back into the world of speed on four wheels. Heck, this winter, we even get speed on ice skates and downhill slopes, but that’s a bonus.
Don’t be fooled though, into thinking that I’m making any sort of case for Daytona testing being anything like interesting or exciting, because it’s not. Even the drivers are bored to tears by it and some, like our reigning Cup Champion, prefer to race in the desert rather than test at Daytona.
First, in order to be thrilled in any way by watching the testing, your favorite color in the world had best be primer grey, as almost all of our beautiful rolling billboards show up sporting nothing but a car number with no decals or color, as we are accustomed to seeing them.
Next, forget about the thrill (if you are moved by this sort of thing) of side by side racing on a restrictor plate track, because that won’t be happening. Instead, the drivers take their dull grey cars out one at a time, drive a few circles and bring the cars back to the attention of crewmembers and engineers with lots of computers. Then, while those folks go over whatever data they’ve gleaned from the car’s short outing, the drivers get to sit on their thumbs and watch someone else turn circles, or if they’re lucky, maybe play cards or grab a snack. Whoopee!
That same scenario continues for about eight hours, for two out of the three days of testing. On the third day, some changes occur and the cars are allowed on the track for “drafting practice.” Unfortunately, only about half of the cars are even at Daytona, and out of those, maybe half will be on the track at the same time. If you’re not yawning yet, you should be; the drivers are.
I’ve never been quite sure why NASCAR even bothers with the drafting practice. Any one of the drivers will tell you that drafting with a pack of 12 cars is nothing at all like drafting with a pack of 43 cars. Think of it this way; you don’t get the same effect when two or three steers start running as you do when a few hundred of them stampede. Trust me; that’s a very good comparison.
When the new but not improved TV contract was in its infancy, all of the hype was about how many hours of Daytona coverage we’d be seeing live for the first time, including the testing sessions. You’ll notice that all of that “excitement” has now been condensed into one half-hour show per day on SPEED and even that contains more talk than action on the track.
Now, I’m no engineer, and I don’t play one on TV, but you don’t have to stay at a Holiday Inn to figure out that all that I’ve described is just plain boring! Someone somewhere insists that it’s necessary, but I still remain skeptical. Despite all they “claim” to learn from testing, here’s a little factoid for you to consider. Unless NASCAR has changed the rules lately (And we all know they never do that) when the cars go there for testing, they are not inspected, at least to the degree that they would be for a race or even for practice before a race. Yep, that means they can take a car down there in pretty much any body-configuration someone thinks is cute or attractive; they can generally run whatever type of motor pleases them and no one gives a rip. They do still make them run with a restrictor plate; we wouldn’t want to see a racecar going too fast. DUH!
Sure, most teams will take what the wind tunnel has shown to be their best effort of the winter, so the guys in the horned rim glasses can get performance readings on how the car runs on the track. Notice that I didn’t use the term “in race conditions”, because that won’t exist until all 43 of them are on the track together in the Daytona 500.
If you don’t live in a cave and have watched racing for over a year, then you’ll be familiar with the term “sandbagging.” It’s an old card game term, meaning that someone holds a very good hand but plays as though he holds little, only to pounce at the end and take the pot. This term has become almost synonymous with Daytona testing over many years, and has actually become quite sophisticated. It almost never applies to a single car any more, but rather to an entire group of cars, usually designated by manufacturer.
If Ford (Or Dodge or Chevy) is looking for some sort of consideration or concession from NASCAR, then we will see all of the Fords (Or Dodges or Chevys) run times well below those of the competition. This enables the chief whiner for whichever manufacturer we’re speaking of, to go to NASCAR and plead his case on the basis of low testing times. It seldom works, but it never seems to stop.
Then of course, there is the other side of the coin, the psyche-out. If sandbagging comes from cards, this move probably comes from chess. The idea behind the psyche-out is to convince the competition, through chicanery of course, that they might as well give up because this car is unbeatable.
The most stellar example I can think of as to how this works comes from Richard Childress. This particular move didn’t come at Daytona, but at a testing session at Atlanta. That makes no difference; testing is testing, except that at other tracks, more than one car goes out at a time. The year was 1990 and the battle for points was extremely close between Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin.
In this particular chess game, Roush brought as many cars to the track as he legally could and even enlisted the aid of fellow Ford owners, attempting to find the best possible car for Martin. Childress brought one car and Dale Earnhardt.
When testing began, the #3 Goodwrench car did not immediately take to the track. In fact, the car went out for its only run when the day was half over. Dale Earnhardt brought the #3 up to speed, ripped off a couple of unbelievably fast laps, knowing that every team there (Especially Roush) would have a stopwatch on him, and pulled back into the garage, all smiles. The Goodwrench team immediately loaded the #3 onto the hauler and went home.
What Childress had done was have the crew mount left-side tires on the right side of the car. Don’t ask me to explain that beyond telling you that the reason it’s not legal in a race is that it makes the car a whole lot faster. Folks are still talking about it as one of the best psyche jobs ever pulled in racing, and since it was only a test session, it was perfectly legal.
Perhaps because of that exhibition of speed, Roush opted to “borrow” a car usually driven by Davey Allison for Robert Yates, for Martin to drive in the final race of the season. Remember, there was a time when those two did NOT share that famous Yates horsepower…or even the same oxygen if they could help it, but on that occasion, it was all about Ford.
Despite experiencing a problem early in the race because Davey set something in his car differently than Mark was used to, Martin went on to finish sixth, but Earnhardt finished third, thereby clinching his fourth Winston Cup Championship. (Lord, I love saying that) Sure, he very well could have won it anyway, but without the psyche-out, Martin would have been in his own Roush car and wouldn’t have lost ground early on.
I know that little anecdote had little to do with Daytona, but it had everything to do with testing. Besides, I thought some of you younger fans might enjoy hearing it…or some of you old-timers might enjoy remembering it. Aw, come on, you knew I couldn’t resist telling you one little story about the days gone by.
This year, the best thing I can say about Daytona testing is that from Tuesday on, it will be followed immediately by the Barrett-Jackson Auction on SPEED. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but this old gal can sit and drool over some of those old beauties for hours on end. What a trip down Memory Lane some of them can bring. It almost makes me wish I were rich…in money that is…I am indeed rich in friends and family and that’s what matters most. Still…I remember a 1956 T-Bird ragtop last year…
Now it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout, and mostly because I unearthed one of his “Greatest Hits” CDs in the car yesterday, I realized that I can’t remember every playing one of this artist’s songs here. The 1950s had their own sound in Pop Music, with the introduction of Rock and Roll. Some of that spilled over into the Country genre with the Rockabilly sound of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and even Elvis Presley, but Country had its own sound in the 50s as well. Call it blues, wailing, moaning or whatever, but it was there and very popular, featuring artists such as Hank Williams, Hank Snow and the gentleman we’ll feature today, Webb Pierce. Webb became a huge star in that golden decade, and we were fortunate enough to see him perform at least twice. What comes to mind immediately is that in one of those shows, co-starring on the billing with Webb was Tammy Wynette. It was greatly reminiscent of watching a ventriloquist perform. There were songs filling the auditorium, but no one’s lips were moving. Matthew, I can hear you start to giggle as I type, but it’s true. Neither of those stars of Golden Oldies time ever perceivably moved a lip.
First up today is the one that started it all for “The Wondering Boy”, “Wondering.”
So many songs; so little space and time. This one is sure to have been one of his most requested, though not one of my personal favorites. Please enjoy, “There Stands the Glass.”
Another of Webb’s huge hits was this one, entitled “More and More.”
And finally, because I just can’t leave out my personal favorite, is this old love song from 1954 called, “Slowly.” Did you ever notice that some songs can take you all the way back to when both you and the song were brand new? Enjoy! I always have…
Just one last thought; I came across this today and thought how very simple, yet how very profound… “Today I’m the oldest I’ve ever been, yet I’m also the youngest I’ll ever be.” Yes, I like that perspective. I also like the line from a Country song that says, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” (Toby Keith)
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!