A Voice for the Fans ~ Am I Still A Race fan?
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and send a warm smile to our assigned NASCAR reader of the day. This one should prove easy for you, as this lady does not care one whit if Brian France and the boys at the Beach like it or if they don’t. This scribe has never once dressed, cooked, preened or written to please anyone named France, and that won’t change in the next several hundred words.
I am confused. Oh, not the kind of “elderly” confusion that leaves me wondering when I’ve just entered a room but have no idea why. All my friends tell me that’s normal in advanced years, and they do it all the time. No, this is different. My confusion does have to do with auto racing, so bear with me if you will. In my position as a literary contributor to the world of motorsports, it is only expected of me to read the offerings of many of my contemporaries and listen to their thoughts before voicing my own. It always helps to know what you’re talking about before opening your mouth, and that’s a lesson a whole lot of folks should learn.
Read them I do, and happily, I enjoy most of what I read, but of late, some of the things I read and hear are becoming somewhere between mildly and deeply disturbing. The part of the racing world centered on NASCAR stock car racing will be saying farewell to two of its “elder statesmen” as Jeff Gordon withdraws from the fold at the end of this season and Tony Stewart plans to do likewise at the end of next season.
Calling those two elder statesmen is quite difficult for me, as I watched each of them in turn rule the world of sprint car racing (the real sprint cars), midget racing and Silver Crown as well, when they were in their teens and Don and I were preparing to retire and move South, where all the racetracks were… then.
Now, 20 years or so later, what was a wildly popular and ever-growing sport, NASCAR stock car racing, has withered on the vine like a waterless flower. That will happen to any living thing when you cut it off at the roots. Please, no 20-somethings commenting on how I don’t understand that “it’s a business, not a sport.” Really? Less than half the fans of 20 years ago now warm seats with their fannies at most tracks, but I will guarantee you that not one single one of those left is there for the express purpose of enriching the coffers of the Family France! They come to see the race, or perhaps the show, for those with short attention spans, but none come to watch the bookkeepers balance the books or play sleight of hand between the books of NASCAR and ISC. Business it may be… everything is… but what propels the entire thing is racing. You’ll understand that one day, when you’re older.
I listen to the youngsters, learning that some actually like the way some of their “idols” butcher the Anthem of these great United States of America. I watch a knee-jerk reaction to one senseless act of violence by an obviously insane perpetrator, attempting to ban the Stars and Bars, the Confederate battle flag of Virginia and Tennessee in the War Between the States. That became a joke when folks of good southern stock were told they could not fly that flag at NASCAR tracks, and the laughter reached a crescendo when the race came to Darlington, home of the Southern 500.
Funny… a friend and fellow journalist just dropped me a note asking if I could click my heels a couple of times and whisk us all off to North Wilkesboro instead of Kansas, yet another 1.5-mile repeat of Charlotte. I would if I could, and there-in I think, lies the basis for my confusion. If some of the young folks are difficult for me to understand, many of my own generation, and that baby boomer bunch right behind, just downright befuddle this old girl.
I am in contact with a great number, at least in the hundreds, of folks my age, and by far a greater percentage of them seem to live only in the past, which somehow enables them to curse the present. Many brag about how long it’s been since they visited a race track and how they would not go if admittance and food were free. Well, on that score, they have no worry, as that will never be tested. The strangest thing about all of that is that with totally straight faces, and seeing no contradiction whatsoever, they call themselves “race fans.”
They belittle and make fun of today’s racers, pointing out such pointless things as how they drive now with power steering, not like the “real men” of their era did. Well, I come from that time when there WAS no power steering, but by gum, I drove, and at that time I weighed in at around 110 lb. soaking wet. A car without power steering is only hard to drive if it is equipped with power steering and that feature, for whatever reason, ceases to function. THEN, you have your hands full, and your biceps, triceps and rotator cuff muscles as well. Grab a handful of steering wheel, hold on tight and ride ‘er down!
To these folks, most racing ceased to exist right around the time that Richard Petty and David Pearson were no longer on the track. I really don’t get that part at all. I watched those gentlemen race, along with the Allison brothers, Cale Yarborough, Fred Lorenzen, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts and oh, so many others. Still, to my aged mind, racing got better from maybe the late 1970s all through the 1980s and 1990s. The cars became trimmer and the tracks got smoother and the tires didn’t blow as often; we came to understand aerodynamics… and that Junior Johnson really was not some sort of magician, he just found it first. The drivers… and I think there is a key here… still came from middle class beginnings and were of blue-collar mentalities.
I apologize to those that disagree, but my constitutionally guaranteed opinion is that drivers of the era that included Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Awesome Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Harry Gant, Geoff Bodine, Ricky Rudd, Tim Richmond, Terry Labonte and even to an extent, Jeff Gordon, were probably the best combination of pure driving talent that ever graced the race tracks sanctioned by NASCAR.
Notice that only one of those mentioned died on a race track… and that death brought about so many of the safety features that today’s racers take for granted. That doesn’t make them weaker because they don’t race convertibles in their shirtsleeves, with only a lap belt to secure their body from harm. It makes them lucky! I don’t know a better word for it, but being lucky does not mean being inferior.
This scribe has been chastised many times over by some in my age bracket for telling the youngsters that the “good old days” were not necessarily all as advertised. They seem to conveniently forget the deaths that occurred over the years, several of which were pointed out by our Dave Fulton in his column on Daryl Dieringer and the things he did to promote and ensure safer racing. Of course, I’ve also been told that I have no right to an opinion of any kind on racing because after all, I am “just a writer” and have never driven or built a racecar. To that particular “gentleman” I say, “Up yours!”
Several of my young acquaintances are feeling very sorry for themselves about now, as they are “fans” of either Jeff or Tony, and oh, whatever shall they do when their idol is gone? For whom will they “pull?” To those afflicted with that dilemma, I say, don’t be sad; be thankful. Once your man is off the track, if you find yourself idly searching the field for his car when they come to green, you can be secure in knowing that he is in the broadcast booth, telling those at home about the race… or he is in the pits, wearing the hat of a full-time car owner. I never got that chance. On occasion, at strange times, I still find myself mentally searching for a black car that hasn’t been there since 2001, and will never be there again.
Today, I’m not sure what to call myself, nor am I even sure of my own feelings. I refuse to live in the 1960s, that decade from Hell that forever changed the innocence and morals of America. Looking back, for me the only really good thing to come out of the 60s was my precious Angel, Ruth. Well, as far as racing goes, the 1960s did see the end of the convertibles in NASCAR, the invention of the tire inner-liner, the rubber fuel bladder and some far more sophisticated seat belt harnesses. Thanks for that… for the “Tune in, turn on, drop out” mentality… not so much.
Does racing thrill me and keep me on the edge of my seat, or more likely, out of it, as it used to? Not by a long shot. There was a time when race day in my home was sacred… literally. Nothing, but nothing interrupted the race. Today, if the football game is more interesting, then I’m more likely to be found watching that, as was the case this past Sunday when Charlotte presented us with a run-away race that entailed not one single on-track pass for the lead. Not ONE! Sorry, but I don’t get my “jollies” from two guys named Kyle having a meeting of the fenders while entering pit road. Does anyone think that’s the first time that’s ever happened?
Still, I continue to write about racing, which is something I have truly enjoyed for many years, but I find it harder and harder to find something not only interesting about which to write, but something that makes sense as well. NASCAR has a set-up (Not “package”) for the cars that has proven to provide better racing and far more passing ability, which we saw at both Kentucky and Darlington this summer. Both drivers and fans gave it two thumbs up and a standing “O.” So… NASCAR decided that they’d go with the set-up they’d been using all year instead. Keep that up and you’ll be playing to an empty house. Don’t empty seats and ratings in the toilet suggest anything at all to you Mr. France? Oh, and by the way, the Charlotte ratings just came out. How does 1.4 fit with the plans for advancement and betterment?
Well, at least I still have my writing, and that is dear to my heart. But gentle readers, you all know that I am nothing if not honest. Truth has always been my byword, and this year, I’ve seen something that I’ve not experienced in my career. Right up until it was time for the Chicago race, all of my articles were well read, and for that I thank each and every one of you. However… from Chicago until now, the readership has steadily decreased bit by bit until the last article drew about 33% of what many did over the summer. Either I’ve suddenly lost it, or a whole lot of folks have just turned off their reading along with their TVs. The latter, we know for sure. Brian, if they don’t even want to read about it anymore, what does that tell you? Of course, maybe it’s just me they’re not reading. I’m sure that the folks at FOX and NBC are doing just fine, but we’ll never know.
Let’s sum it all up, shall we? They show us that the racing could be better… then take that away and hand us the same old crap. Someone please make sense of that for me?
The young folks are already worrying about missing their idols, though they are still racing, and when they occasionally visit a track, they do so to watch a business; the old folks are still missing their idols to the point of distraction, and it makes some of them downright cantankerous and nasty. Like me, they no longer go racing, but they wear that as a badge of honor and brag about it.
And here I sit, lost somewhere in the middle. I’m someone that has always loved racing, but have not been able to attend a race in years, due at first to my husband’s ill-health, and now due to my own inability to walk much of any distance, let alone climb to the aeries we used to reserve to view a race. I don’t go to races, but it’s not because I wouldn’t like to do so. It is just no longer feasible. The “product” on the track has deteriorated to the point that it’s difficult to describe it as racing. It’s become unrecognizable from the old short track races I always preferred. Of the few short tracks left on the schedule, only Martinsville continues to offer what folks sometimes call “real racing”, and even that little beauty can no longer fill those seats on the backstretch.
So… I no longer find the racing to be as compelling, as interesting or as thrilling as I once did. Add to that the fact that I couldn’t get there if I wanted to, and if I could, I’d have no one my age with whom to go. I have no desire to watch a business and not much more to watch a parade lacking any sort of competition, such as we saw at Charlotte. My readers no longer seem to care, as they are not reading. Either that or they have simply lumped me in with the whole racing fiasco and tossed it all out like last week’s garbage.
Suddenly, it feels quite cold and lonely out here. You tell me… am I still a race fan? I have no idea…
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout. First up is one so filled with truth, simply called “Time” as performed by Bobby Bare and The Old Dogs.
Next up, here are Lulu Belle and Scotty (Wiseman) singing one that’s older than I am… “Rocking Alone in an Old Rocking Chair.”
Finally today, let’s listen to my Mom’s favorite song. Here is the incomparable voice of Jim Reeves, offering his version of “Scarlet Ribbons.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!