Fontana to Martinsville and All About the Fan Experience
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a warm cordial welcome as well to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR. Well, the talking heads, or boobs on the tube as I’ve become fond of calling them, will have to find a new topic to talk to death. Kevin Harvick is human after all, and did not make it 4 in a row in the wins column. I’ll just remind everyone… that’s the reason we run the race. The winner is never predetermined and this scribe wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, everyone comes back east from the Western Swing, and we go to my favorite spot on the schedule as the haulers roll up to Martinsville, the best little track by a railroad track and far and away the best track on the NASCAR circuit. I’ve written about her several times over the years. Last fall, I retitled probably the best thing I’ve ever written, calling it “The Little Track by the Railroad Track.” Whatever one calls her, her racing is usually the best of the year.
This spring race is the one we always attended, though back then it was the last week in April rather than the 3rd week in March. That might be just a little ambitious on someone’s part, though for sure no weather comes with any sort of guarantee. Even that much later, there were a couple of memorable times that demanded long johns under the blue jeans, a winter coat and a tightly wrapped scarf protecting head and neck from icy winds.
Then there was the year that broke many long-standing heat records. Saturday found me in the ladies’ lounge being tended to for heat exhaustion by the young girl whose duty it was to hand out paper towels. Does any other track have someone doing that? I don’t think so! I recall that my garb that day included a pair of black Capri pants with flowers scattered throughout. The sunburn attained “through” those pants was amazing… in a very comical sort of way. Funny the things that stay with us over the years, isn’t it?
Every year I look forward to seeing the racing at “my” little track and this year is no exception. Just hoping that NASCAR can get off one good race that doesn’t turn into a laugh-fest. I refer here, of course, to Inspection-Gate, which occurred over the past weekend at Fontana. Thirteen cars never took a qualifying lap and were placed at the rear of the field… but ahead of a couple of cars that had to start back-up cars. Y’all know the story. Starting out back wasn’t really punishment, as those cars had sticker tires… a HUGE benefit at cranky old Fontana, the oldest racing surface in NASCAR, excepting one would think, the ceremonial “Yard of Bricks” at Indy. Cars that had passed inspection were then “permitted” to “purchase” a new set but had to turn in the scuffs with only a few laps… and of course, cough up the $thousands that a full set of new Goodyear racing tires costs today. NASCAR announced that failing to qualify for the Xfinity race later in the day would get you not only a seat in the rear of the class, but a pass-through penalty at pit road speed on lap 1. They “said” that would be extended to the Cup cars this week at Martinsville. Then… they changed their minds. This week the new inspection method will happen after qualifying and will be combined with pre-race inspection.
So… everyone qualifies. Cool! BUT… if you fail in that inspection following qualifying, your time will be disallowed and you’ll start in the back. No further mention of the pass-through penalty, so apparently that was a one-race wonder and is now gone… or maybe waiting in the wings. To this old fan, it doesn’t matter when the cars are inspected. Any car that fails gets to go home early. Real early! “Sorry, but your car is illegal. Try again next week.” That goes for failing post-race inspection as well. “Nice try! Next man up!” But the Charter system guarantees Mr. Sponsor a spot in the show… and that, dear Brutus, is where the fault lies.
That was last week. Now we shift gears and subjects, to talk about “Buzz words”, always one of my favorite things to rip apart. Remember “Encumbered?” “Edgy?” “Engagement?” It seems someone’s dictionary doesn’t go to “F” and all things considered, that’s probably a good thing. The one being pushed hard in this still-young season is “Experience.” That would be “Fan Experience” to be more specific. It seems that NASCAR has given up on attendance and ratings, which continue their downward spiral at an astounding rate. Now, gentle readers, the company line is that attendance doesn’t matter. It’s all about the Fan Experience and coddling the little snowflakes with “cozy” surroundings.
HELLO? Call me crazy… it’s happened before… but when I went to a racetrack, the Fan Experience was the race! I can’t recall a single time that we went racing to hear the music. If there was any, it was distorted by open-air mics and not very pleasant to listen to. We could Experience hot dogs and burgers near home one heck of a lot cheaper. This old “Core fan” cannot imagine there aren’t more folks like me out there, who enjoyed the entire atmosphere of being At the Track. The sound of those snarling V-8 engines roaring by and making the ground rumble in a way that could be physically felt throughout the body. The smell of racing fuel and burning rubber intermingled with the aroma of meats cooking on a grill and hot coffee being brewed. What more “Experience” would anyone want?
Personally, I think the mistake being made is calling a lot of folks “fans” that are just not. I have to wonder if the increase in the popularity of Dirt racing today isn’t a direct social comment on the prissiness that has developed in NASCAR. Stop making up words or qualifying them to mean something quite different. There is no such thing as a “Casual fan!”
Daytona has “Risen” and Richmond is being “Reimagined” even as Phoenix has become ISM and in the throes of a $178-million revamp of seating and the start/finish line that also does away with all infield parking. Methinks someone better talk to Lesa France Kennedy. Each of those tracks wears the ISC brand. Lesa is one smart businesswoman. ISC is spending $millions, not to coddle the racing non-fans, but to make the venues far more suitable for other varying forms of Entertainment Experiences. Watch for that to continue. If there is one thing this scribe intensely dislikes, it is dishonesty. In short, don’t tell me that attendance no longer matters. It’s NOT all about the fans or the “Fan Experience!” It’s all about the bottom line, just as it’s always been.
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and we have something a bit different this week. It’s a biography of one of Classic Country’s greatest, The Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb. I do hope everyone will enjoy it.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling.
It looks so good on you!