How About a Swap?
Your Charter for a Couple of Future (Talladega) Draft Picks
Been reading lately about how NASCAR’s heralded “Charter System” has deteriorated into an incomprehensible mess of buying/selling, leasing, partnering, swapping and sleight-of-hand moving about under three identical cups and making you guess where the charter is at the end. Some of my colleagues here have expressed their displeasure with charters being handled in ways that don’t jive with what we were told back when the system was set up.
Find the red ball and win your very own Charter.
I don’t disagree, but I think the problem is less the charters themselves - not that there aren’t enormous problems with the whole system - but rather with NASCAR’s entirely predictable and entirely faulty attempt to govern how these things are used.
Remember that charters were supposed to give a race team some “value,” so that if your sponsors left and you ran out of money, you’d get back more for your investment than just the auction value of all your cars and other equipment. That was awfully optimistic thinking to begin with, but it all got much worse when NASCAR (“Our ideas are always the best ideas.”) threw in a rulebook that governed the buying/selling and leasing of charters. Talk about asking for trouble.
Say you hold a franchise for something - that’s what the charters are, after all - and somebody tells you what you can and can’t do to protect your investment. Are you going to respond by saying, “Thank you very much,” or are you going to find ways around the rules that better protect your money? We are dealing with human beings here, folks.
As long as the charters are worth something - which may not be long the way things are going - we’ll have a new way of moving them around every year. Maybe NASCAR could print charters on cardboard, and owners could flip them like we did with baseball cards when I was a kid.
Actually, as I recall, flipping cards was a lot more fun than chewing that awful bubble gum that came with them.
Actually, here’s my slightly more serious idea: get a charter (buy-lease-partner-flip-blackmail), then “partner” with any number of teams (up to 36) that want to try their luck at Monster-or-Whatever Cup Racing, and each one can show up at one or more events (depending on the partnership) with car, driver and crew, lacking only my car number, which we could apply to the car ceremoniously, to please the sponsors. At its worst, this charter would make seats available to more rich buy-a-riders, but we might also be able to make decent cars available to drivers from other series or up-and-coming youngsters who aren’t necessarily rich.
Of course, I need a little money to get this started. Maybe I should offer charters.
“Anybody remember where we put the splitter? Oh, yeah, and how are you coming with getting that charter?”
Points and Predictability (for better or worse)
Those of us with enough “experience” that we are occasionally discussed on “Antiques Road Show” remember when the Bob Latford-devised NASCAR point system was in effect (which was used for the longest time of any point system yet), and some recall that one of its purposes was to make sure drivers ran at least close to the whole schedule, not just the half-dozen or dozen highest-paying races.
People like me look back at the earlier point system and harrumph about the inequity of David Pearson running fewer than half the races in 1967 and still finishing seventh in points, earning nearly twice as many points as 22nd-finishing Bill Seifert, who ran nearly twice as many events. That, however, wasn’t NASCAR’s worry. Its problem was that, while most superspeedway events had full starting fields of 44 (Daytona had 50), nine of the 49 races in 1967 drew fewer than 20 cars, and three of those only had 16. Two years earlier a Grand National race had only drawn 14 starters, and a couple of years before that, one had just 12.
In 1967, Pearson finished seventh in points despite running in only 22 of 49 races. NASCAR changed its point system in part to discourage that.
Poor ol’ Bill Seifert raced in 40 of 1967’s 49 Grand National races yet finished 22nd in points, trailing eight drivers who ran in fewer than half the events.
The problem was that the old point system gave a race points to coincide with how much money it paid out, which meant a lot when the richest race of the year paid 40 times what a couple of weekly tracks paid for their 200/250 lappers. The new Latford point system was supposed to force more teams to run the smaller races.
We could probably go back to the old money-based point system today and not see much difference. Percentage-wise, there’s not nearly as much different between race payouts, anymore, and NASCAR does much more than set up points to benefit those who come out every week. That means no more 12-, 14- or 16-car fields, but it also contributes to the sameness that I think works against our sport today. It’s one reason that my idea above about a “charter-for-hire” isn’t really a silly thought.
At many tracks, part of race promotion years back was having a local ace or two join the field to challenge the “big boys,” and for several years, Charlotte’s Richard Howard had his “Big Chance Special” cars. All the “fixes” being enacted from above today seem to assume that the basic product is not in need of change, but I’m not buying that.
Last year Fernando Alonso expressed some interest in running a NASCAR race. Forty years ago, Formula 1 champion Jim Clark ran with the good ol’ boys at Rockingham. Could it happen again? Would it be good for NASCAR?
Frank’s Digital Lug Nuts
One topic that comes up here from time to time is the future of all motorsports, given the changing nature of cars and humankind’s relationship with them. Here’s what might be another piece in that puzzle.
Frequently when I’m at a short track, I still see a kid on the ground in front of the first row of bleachers playing with a bunch of Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars on a tiny track carved out of the dirt. I remember doing that as a child, and I still find the occasional car in our yard from when our son - now 32 - did the same thing. I wonder how prevalent that activity is, though, in this era of video games.
I’ve read that Mattel now has a racing game that starts real and then goes “virtual.” It’s called Hot Wheels MindRacers, but all that’s “real” are the six cars that come with a set and a starting gate. When the cars enter the gate, they come out on a screen, animated, and that’s where the racing takes place.
We all laughed kind of nervously last year when Dover brought in drone racing, because… well… what if one day we were actually watching Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell and William Byron behind joy sticks instead of steering wheels? This might take that scenario one step farther.
The next stars of NASCAR?
So you pay for your ticket, then sit in an air-conditioned “stadium” with a big TV screen that shows the drivers at their consoles on the bottom one-third and the virtual cars on their virtual track on the top two-thirds.
Wouldn’t be my cup of tea (or beer), but I don’t have a smart phone TV screen surgically fixed about 12 inches away from my face all day, either, so who’s to say it’s not the future?