A Voice for the Fans ~ The Penthouse and the Outhouse
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and of course, a warm welcome is also extended to that lucky soul that gets to read this as part of a NASCAR assignment to keep all of us media types reasonably respectful. I really would hope that this one is always found that way. Well… almost always… sometimes, anyway.
We certainly enjoyed a varied menu of racing this past weekend, and this scribe turned on the F1 race in Monaco shortly after arising on Sunday morning. Not being an early riser, I was only able to catch the final dozen laps or so of that one, but it was enough to do a bit of cheering for Lewis Hamilton, who has been playing the uncustomary role of second fiddle to teammate Nico Rosberg this year. Don’t get me wrong; I like Nico too, but even surf and turf can get boring if it’s on the menu day after day.
Then we left the land of private jets and luxury yachts for the more familiar track in Speedway, Indiana. Oh yes it is, before you leap to correct me. Speedway is an incorporated suburb of Indianapolis, and that is where the track is located. I’m not sure that Speedway even has a post office; I’d guess that the mailing address is Indianapolis, with the proper zip code, but Speedway exists, and there is a huge race track in the middle of it.
Sunday in the good old USA was a day of remembrance, set aside to honor those that gave their lives for our freedom in any war ever fought in the name of the United States of America. In lieu of that fact, there is always much pomp and circumstance at Indy preceding the 500-mile race that then becomes the star of the day. This year that race gave us a surprise winner in the person of a young rookie named Alexander Rossi, who is just barely old enough to sip Champagne, but settled for the customary milk at Indy instead, and at that moment, I’m sure he didn’t know the difference. He’d just won the Indianapolis 500 and his face will forever be emblazoned on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Then it was on to Charlotte and the World 600… or Coca-Cola 600 in honor of the entity picking up the check for the whole affair. This race has been known to have its moments. Sometimes, even as long as it is, it will come down to a fuel-mileage affair at the end. Sometimes, apparently strong cars will fall out with engine failure, usually in that last 100 miles. In years past, the idea of the 600-mile race was to challenge engine builders to build one that could stand the strain of high-speed racing over that length of time and miles. It also challenged crew chiefs to care for those engines and keep them running until the end… and all that in spite of drivers with 40-pound right feet that only knew or cared about F-words… “Fast” and “First.”
In today’s IROC style cars, much of the reason for even having a 600-mile race is lost. The engines within the identical cars with different decals are basically as much the same as are the cars. Those engines would no doubt last a thousand miles, so 600 is a snap unless someone messes with something he ought not to touch.
When asked in early week what I might write about, my answer was “Anything that doesn’t involve Martin Truex.” Don’t take that the wrong way! I adore Martin Truex. He’s a Jersey boy and I’m a New York girl, so we’re neighbors from the Northeast. It was just that I knew that the motorsports press would be brim-full of stories about Martin’s feel-good win and the precious scene of both he and Sherry in tears in Victory Lane. I saw it and I loved it, but had no intention of being the skatey-eighth writer to tell you about it. In that respect, I failed a bit, as in order to get to my point, I had to at least make mention of Martin’s win at Charlotte Sunday night. So, congratulations Martin, on a great win with a superbly fantastic racecar!
And that, gentle readers, will bring us to the point I’ve been working toward all this time. You know how I’ve always insisted that the “good ol’ days” were never quite as good as they have become in our memories? Well, I’ve discovered one thing that was actually much better in the old days. Back then, not every element of every race had to be micromanaged and controlled. Each race was allowed to play out and be rated on its own merit, and to be sure, there were some 5-star Oscar-worthy performances and there were some real stinkers.
Please allow me to recall one of each, for comparison’s sake. Most everyone is now familiar with the 1992 finale at Atlanta, which stands in my book as a top candidate for the best race ever run. Never was there so much riding on one race and so many back-stories going on at the same time. Davey Allison, the odds-on favorite to win was taken out by “Swervin’ Irvan. Bill Elliott won the race, but Alan Kulwicki won the Championship by staying out to lead one more lap than Elliott, and oh, by the way, he did it with a bad transmission and had to be push-started from the pits after the last stop. It was the first Cup race for a young rookie named Jeff Gordon, and the final race of NASCAR’s “King” Richard Petty. The former crashed out early and the latter went out in an unintended “Blaze of glory.”
The next race stands out in my mind as the complete antithesis of the race at Atlanta. This one took place at New Hampshire in September of 2000. For reasons we can discuss another day, NASCAR had seen fit to mandate that the cars run restrictor plates for that race. Mind you, New Hampshire is only a one-mile track and probably the flattest track on the schedule. Thankfully, they only ran 300 laps that day because Jeff Burton started from the outside pole, bested pole-sitter Bobby Labonte to lead lap 1 and went on to lead all 300 laps of probably the most boring race ever run.
There you have the yin and yang, the Alpha and Omega, the Penthouse and Outhouse, the epitome and the pits of racing. The races were run, and we moved on to the next race, without feeling the need to change something about the cars after every single race. Most years, rules were set before the Daytona 500 and they stayed until the end of the season. Today those that make such decisions within the sanctioning body feel the need to micromanage every single race on the schedule, and much of that is not done by anyone that necessarily knows a solitary thing about cars or racing, but by folks in suits in some board room in New York City!?! (You all remember that commercial! Insert prolonged laughter here!)
I don’t think that Martin and Sherry had had time to dry their tears following the race and here comes Steve O’Donnell announcing that NASCAR is taking the cars “Back to the drawing board” because one car dominated Sunday’s race so strongly. Well, we can’t have that! NASCAR needs every single race to be a barn-burner and/or a cliff-hanger, in order to get back all those fans that have turned us off.
Steve, Mike, Brian… anyone listening with a modicum of common sense… please hear out an old-time fan… one that is still here… and at least consider what I’m saying. We’ve run 13 races so far this year, or half the regular season if you want to look at it that way. The low downforce setup on the cars has seemed to be working well. Drivers have said they love it and fans are applauding. We had one race that was arguably not the most exciting one ever run, but it’s just one race. Every race simply cannot be that Atlanta finale.
Finish out this year with what we have. Changing things from week to week merely costs the teams a small fortune because those changes don’t come free, nor does the labor to accomplish them. Test along the way, as happened last year. That’s fine, but don’t make mandatory changes on a weekly basis. After Homestead, then go ahead and take away more downforce, as that’s where it seems to be heading.
One more thought, and we’ll be done for today. The biggest problem with today’s cars is that they are far too aero-dependent. You know it, and even this old lady knows it. Make a date with your history book or maybe just run some YouTube videos of races from maybe the 1970s. You will see very little aerodynamic influence on those huge boxy cars with square corners and high enough off the ground to run a woodchuck under and leave him unharmed. Oh, and you know what else you won’t see? You won’t see those cars fly! That’s a plus in anyone’s language.
That’s enough for today. All that logic and common sense coming from an ancient female will likely be tossed aside as drivel by those that make such decisions, but there are thousands of fans reading this and shaking their heads in agreement. The solution doesn’t have to be complex. For goodness sake, try simplicity first. Sure, you’ve heard this a million times over, but they are called “Stock Cars” because once upon a time, that’s what they were, back when racing was fun. It was a contest, not only between teams and drivers, but between manufacturers as well. Please keep in mind what I’ve said while bending over that drawing board. Simple is not synonymous with wrong.
The happy little banjo means it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout for today. The disc that was playing in my car yesterday was one containing the hits of Grandpa Jones, who was singing and cracking jokes a long time before Hee-Haw was born. I guess Grandpa’s style would be called “Blue grass”, but he doesn’t sound like Bill Monroe. He’s more just good old-fashioned downhome Country.
Let’s start out with Grandpa’s ideas on marriage. This one is called “The Bald Headed End of a Broom.”
This is one of his very own songs, and when you heard that hound dog, you knew it was Grandpa doing “Old Rattler.”
Terrific! I found a live performance of a fairly young “Grandpa” doing “Are You from Dixie?”
I guess Grandpa felt he had to record this one, and he had some fun doing it, I’m sure. I personally prefer a much older version by Phil Harris, but for today, here is Grandpa Jones, singing “I’m My Own Grandpa!”
And finally, my all-time favorite Grandpa Jones offering, performed here live. The lady with the guitar is his wife Ramona, who often performed with him. Please enjoy this swinging rendition of “Good Old Mountain Dew!”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!