In Our Never-Ending Effort to Save NASCAR, We Present:
PLAN B – (or maybe C or D or even G) – Since nobody seems interested in doing anything the real experts – Us – have suggested to save NASCAR, let’s look at some “baby steps” that might help; steps that don’t require the blessing of the powers-that-be.
We need more drivers with nicknames. I know that Fireball Roberts got his nickname (substitute for Glen) while playing baseball as a youth, but it still was a great name for a race driver. He wasn’t alone, either. In the first Southern 500, Fireball was joined by Red Byron, Cotton Owens, Shorty York, Pee Wee Martin, Slick Smith, Bub King and Buck Baker. Pap White failed to qualify, and I’m not sure whether Tex Keene or Hub McBride used a nickname or the real thing, but I know it was great to have a driver whose real name was Jesse James Taylor, too.
This is a great photo. That’s Fireball Roberts (22) on the outside pole (beside Marvin Panch) and eventual winner Buck Baker starting third in 1957 at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. Great racing, great cars, great nicknames.
Let’s face it, how many Coles, Austins and Ryans do we need? (I have nothing against any of them, but I kind of wish one would start going by “Ace.”)
Nicknames make everything more colorful, and they might even keep the conversation going during a boring race… not that we ever have any of those.
We need drivers who race under assumed names. I’m not quite old enough that I know of former Confederate officers racing under fake names, but I know that, back in the day, we had Perk Brown, a high quality modified driver, who ran 28 Grand National/Cup races over the years and whose real name was Jack Thomasson.
Here’s a day when Perk Brown probably wished he had a completely fake identity, not just an assumed name.
Brown used to show up at Southside Speedway on occasion with his modified. Across the pits would be the late model of Joe Buck, who should have picked an assumed name that didn’t sound so obviously fake.
In the mid-1960s, NASCAR also had “Johnny Wynn from Detroit,” whose real name was Jack Lawrence. He popped up from time to time after his sporadic racing career as a critic of NASCAR’s lack of a pension plan for drivers. See an article with more about him here.
I also recall singer Marty Robbins occasionally competing as Martin Robinson, but I think that was more of a joke than an effort to hide his racing from Mom or his Better Half.
I could be wrong, but I think the last Cup driver to race under an assumed name was Joe Fields, whose real name was Joe Lisfeld (and he WAS trying to keep Mom from finding out), who made his last big-time start in 1986, wrecking on the first lap at Dover. A couple of years earlier, he’d had his career-best finish on the Monster Mile, finishing 14th (a ton of laps back of the winner).
Joe Fields at speed (from the FieldsRacing.com website – take a look)
Fields had earlier been a regular late model racer at Southside Speedway in Richmond, where he was modestly successful, especially for somebody who had absolutely no racing experience before stepping into a late model stock car and who probably was one of the lowest-buck teams on the circuit when he made his handful of Cup starts. (Rob Kauffman no doubt would have disapproved.)
In 2007, the Richmond Times-Dispatch did a “catching up with” story on Fields, which I was able to access here.
Eleven years later, I hope he’s still doing well, because we’re the same age.
We need the tracks to lighten up and take part. Going back to Humpy’s school-bus jumps wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I’m thinking more of Nutsy Fagan.
Unless you’re old and from New England, this one requires a little explanation. First, “nutsy fagan” is a slang term that loosely translates to “crazy,” like: “That weekend in college when we drove up to The City on a Tuesday night and made it back for class the next day was nutsy fagan.”
Where that seems to lead is to Rene Charland, the immortal modified driver from Agawam, Mass., who was NASCAR’s National Sportsman Champion (more-or-less the ancestor of the Xfinity Series but an entirely different type of racing then) but who chafed at NASCAR’s policy of penalizing drivers for racing at non-NASCAR tracks. As a result, when Charland raced outside the NASCAR world, he did so as Nutsy Fagan.
Rene Charland was known as “The Champ” in NASCAR modified and sportsman racing and occasionally as Nutsy Fagan on non-NASCAR tracks.
Years later, when Martinsville was running its great Dogwood 500 and Cardinal 500 late model and modified doubleheaders, it would run tiny photos of the expected entrant drivers in the program, and one was always a guy with a bandana covering his face. His name was Nutsy Fagan. It was a cool “in” joke and – if you think about it – a little dig at NASCAR.
If only we could be a little irreverent like that today.
We need bounties. Yeah, I know, even Kevin Harvick isn’t dominating Cup racing enough to put a bounty on his head, but wouldn’t it be cool if somebody did?
Hey, back in those days, $100 was real money.
This is another one of those “anything to be different” ideas, which might succeed in fighting the “same old, same old” feeling about Monster/Cup racing today, with the same drivers every week. If we can’t have Curtis Turner’s speed bump on the backstretch, then let’s see if we can make things more exciting this way.
One caveat: There are plenty of “old days” stories of drivers plotting with rivals to allow someone to win a bounty and then split the booty. With sports betting heading toward us so fast that Art Arfons and Craig Breedlove are running a distant second and third, we might want to be careful about such arrangements.
I went to a short track a couple of years ago where the announcer had come up with nicknames for every driver. That was overkill, but just a little of each of these ideas in the competition/entertainment mix, and maybe we could sell an extra seat or two. Maybe?
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
In the “misery-loves-company” department, we note the recent announcement that the Washington Redskins no longer have a waiting list for season tickets and in fact have come up with some incentives to bring new ticket buyers into the fold.
It wasn’t that long ago that a Washington Post sportswriter, who had signed up for the waiting list in college and forgotten about it in the decade or so that followed, received a letter informing her that her name had come up, and she had three weeks to act. If she didn’t, her name would go to the end of the list and “would not come up again in your lifetime.” The ‘Skins bragged of a list of anywhere from 80,000 to 200,000 desperately waiting. No more.
Like NASCAR tracks, FedEx Field has had some seats removed, but either a lot of people went to the bathroom at the same time, or this Redskins game was a little short of a full house.
It’s a good thing NASCAR got a former ‘Skins coach as a car owner and not the current team owner. Talk about a reverse Midas touch! If you ever see NASCAR and Daniel Snyder mentioned again in the same sentence, find another favorite sport. Quickly.
One last note: The rains held up in South Central Pennsylvania last weekend, and I finally made it out to Lincoln Speedway. Saw some good sprint car racing but more flips than I can remember in a single night. I’m thinking I remember seven or eight cars going over in at least four or five incidents, including this one in the first 358/360 sprint heat race. It kind of gave us fair warning of what kind of night it was going to be. Everybody walked away.