Do NASCAR’s Screw-ups Even Matter If Motorsports Have No Future?
I’ve said this here before, but it came back to me this week as I was staring at the computer screen seeking inspiration for this article: criticizing NASCAR has gotten boring, because it’s just too easy. As that segment of motorsports many of us have loved for decades slowly sinks into the sunset (or the septic pond), there’s no challenge to picking on those who aid and abet its decline.
What does anyone need to say about the creators of a point system that no one understands or would give two craps about even if they did? Other than, “What were you THINKING?” I’m not sure any commentary is needed.
The planning process for NASCAR’s current Monster/Cup point system.
When you’ve got a rulebook that makes chess look like rock-paper-scissors, what does a critic accomplish by pointing out that this draconian complexity might be hurting the sport?
When you virtually cut the sport off from its roots - weekly and special-event short track racing - and create a completely separate pay(-a-LOT)-as-you-go system of bringing up new drivers that nobody knows or cares about, does anybody really need to point out that drivers with no fans aren’t going to fill seats in NASCAR’s stadiums?
Scenes like this at short tracks everywhere build fans for winning drivers. Unfortunately, they no longer lead to rides in the NASCAR “big time.”
When you’ve got stock car racing with cars that hardly look like their on-the-road namesakes - and then only because of decals - do you really need to point out that those Chevy-fan-versus-Ford-fan Monday morning break-room debates aren’t happening anymore?
So let’s talk about something else, OK? How about this: Is the whole sport of auto racing (including trucks, motorcycles, off-roads, etc.) getting ready to croak?
Before you answer, you might want to Google “driverless cars.”
“Ahhh,” you say, “but even the Waymo project is only looking to offer ride-sharing and only in Arizona where it doesn’t snow.”
True, but that’s just the starting point, and things can move really fast in this technological age. Step back a bit, look at your cell phone, and think about how much it has changed the world in just a decade.
Once we get driverless cars - and it’s hard to make the case that we won’t - how long will it be before there aren’t enough of us geezers left who remember driving to follow a sport based on it?
Or… will a sport based on racing driverless cars (or driverless somethings) find an audience?
This is actually a concept drawing of a “hovercraft” Formula 1 car of the future, just one of many possibilities for motorsports in the decades to come.
My guess (and hope) is that some kind of competition between motorized objects of some sort will continue, but I’m not sure it will draw even the not-what-they-used-to-be audiences NASCAR enjoys today, and they won’t get big TV audiences (or dollars), so we might want to second-guess Denny Hamlin’s call for drivers to earn what baseball and basketball stars do.
Look at what a big deal track & field was at one time. It was already in decline when “extreme” sports came along, but we still have both traditional track meets and “X-Games” - it’s just that neither is as big a deal.
Another example: Some northern communities still hold festivals with competitions built around traditional logging skills, even though logging is mostly done by machine now. The competitors don’t make what LeBron makes, though, and you don’t see those competitions on television.
I think you’ll still be able to follow a sport that’s more-or-less like today’s auto racing (maybe not today’s NASCAR), but it won’t have celebrities singing the National Anthem before fly-overs, and FedEx won’t spend millions on it (sorry, Denny).
I could be wrong, of course, but I could be right, and you could discover that you kind of like it that way. In the meantime, maybe we should try to enjoy what we’ve got, while we’ve got it.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
Special Photo-Only Edition
When I was looking for “futuristic” race cars, I came across this - a once-futuristic depiction of Petty Enterprises racing one of Chrysler’s turbine cars in the early 1960s. Wouldn’t that have been something? Whoooosh!
Before anyone else points it out, driverless racing certainly isn’t new, only its potential scale.
Only problem I see here is seating capacity.
You know, given how much this set-up would reduce Junior’s risk of another concussion, maybe he wouldn’t have to retire with driverless cars, and that might help save NASCAR.