Is There A Beginning in This End?
So here we are, nine months since we were looking for what the Daytona 500 might tell us about the 2019 Monster Energy Cup NASCAR Series and whether we could possibly see the start of our beloved sport climbing out of its dug-but-not-yet-covered-up grave.
In the final days building up to the 500, I was writing about the need to scrap the charter system so more teams could get into racing and challenge for supremacy in a meaningful way. I also was complaining about the decision to use Camaro/Mustang/Supra bodies as NASCAR’s identify – and about how big V8 engines no longer meant anything to the coming generations of – we hope – fans.
I’m confident that NASCAR listened to all those suggestions and has implementations planned . . . even if nobody is saying that, yet.
I’m also confident that lottery winnings will make me a millionaire within the next week . . . even if I haven’t bought a ticket.
As we approach the final weekend of the season, it seems to me that we’ve not had a year that will stand out in any way. The good part of it is that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Occasionally, TV ratings crept up a bit, and a few races had decent attendance. There was less of a sense of gloom and doom.
On the other hand, NASCAR continues to nibble at its problems rather than chomp. The sense that we can accomplish anything with enough complicated rules still prevails, confusing fans and offering little positive. The desperately misguided notion that everything will be fine if we make everybody equal still hangs on. I’m sorry, but we tried that once, and it was called IROC. Remember IROC? Remember anything good about IROC?
Here’s the “stock” in stock car racing: at left is a NASCAR version of the Toyota Supra, and beside it is a real Supra race car. They look like twins, don’t they?
Now we’re told teams will buy their parts from common suppliers, which is supposed to cut costs and will certainly cut jobs – although I don’t see any of the cuts involving people who wear suits. But that’s a nibble; the chomp would be to bring back more STOCK CARS, not the all-but-Formula 1 creations we now stuff into something we semi-seriously call a stock car body.
I’ve been ranting about most of this all season – please forgive the repetition – but here’s a little higher philosophy to go with it.
NASCAR racing is no longer a sport. It is a corporate enterprise offering competitive motorized entertainment. (Its problems involve how competitive and how entertaining.) As such, it plays by modern corporate rules, and one of those is to maintain the value of your business by having “moats” that protect you from competitive pressure. NASCAR’s gotten pretty good with moats. The charter system clearly is “Moat #1,” but it’s not the only moat. The owners may complain about costs, but those costs are what keep competitors out, so they don’t see any benefit from cutting costs beyond what’s beneficial to their bottom line. Thus, a nibble here and a nibble there is better than a chomp that might post risks.
When I first joined NASCAR as a non-competitive member in 1965, I received a copy of the rule book, which I recall being about 4”x6” and maybe 64 pages. I’m guessing it looks more like this today.
To the sanctioning body, as long as the competition and entertainment bring in the fans (and the money), who cares about the moat situation.
(Here’s a quick history lesson. We complain incessantly about the point system and the playoffs, but NASCAR’s first big effort at change in that area had nothing to do with the championship race. Rather, it was an effort to entice/force more top teams to run all the races. The old point system favored the big-money events so much that, in 1965, Marvin Panch could finish fifth in the standings while running fewer than 40% of the year’s races. Fans were responding negatively to small starting fields and top driver no-shows, and if Bill France wanted their money, he had to fix things. That attitude hasn’t changed.)
When Ned Jarrett won the 1965 Grand National (Cup) Championship, he was the only driver to run every possible race. That’s one reason the point system changed the next year.
What has changed is that, with race attendance having dropped so much, TV ratings are paramount, so today’s fixes have to satisfy the TV audience before then butts-in-seats fans.
None of that bodes well for the future, at least if your “future” is based on the strengths of stock car racing that harken to its past. I’ll continue to complain and propose solutions to problems that the powers-that-be don’t necessarily see as problems, but I’ll likely end each season with a look back that reveals few changes of the type I’d like to see.
All that makes me sad. I wish I looked forward to each week’s Cup/Xfinity/Gander event the way I look forward to a trip to my local short track, but at least for now there’s enough to keep me moderately interested. I hope I’ll be able to identify with and cheer for at least a couple of the next generation of racers at the top level, because when the ones I’m following now are gone, it might get quite a bit more difficult to get excited.
I still remember four years ago when we moved everything out of my mother’s house, the home I’d lived in from age 14 until I went out on my own. One of the saddest moments was closing the door to my old room one last time – the door with a 1965 NASCAR decal on it (that was the first year I got a non-competitive NASCAR membership). It was all symbolic of closing a significant chapter in my life, and I just hope as we end the 2019 season that I never have to feel that I’m closing the door on the NASCAR fan part of my life.
Let’s see what next February brings.
Until Daytona, if you need a NASCAR fix, I’d suggest YouTube, where you can look at old Southern 500s, Daytona 500s and just about anything else. I never fail to be entertained.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
I’ve found reason to use a couple of photos of Ned Jarrett lately, but I should have used another a couple of weeks earlier to wish “Gentleman Ned” Happy Birthday. He turned 87 October 12. There hasn’t been a better human being involved in this sport.