It's All about Tradition
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a cordial greeting as well to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR on this fine day. No, it’s not Friday, so don’t consult your calendars. This is what’s known in newspaper parlance as an “Extra.” Something just caught my attention over the past weekend. Actually, it was hard to miss, but I want to make sure all of you saw or heard what I did.
First up, I had to do a fast read on Dover International Speedway. The track gets a lot of admiration from this scribe just for being one of the three that have so far escaped the clutches of both ISC and SMI. (Pocono and Indy are the others) At one time, the track held up to 140,000 fans and sold out at that number. The track today lists capacity at 85,000, which means some 55,000 seats have been torn out or rebuilt to accommodate America’s giant economy sized buttocks. They had what I’ve heard described as “a good crowd” on Sunday, but it was easy to tell that there was no sellout.
Please understand, I’m not picking on Dover or singling it out in any way. I like that track, though today’s cars don’t put on much of a show there. It just happens that Dover shared the past weekend with another race. You might have heard about it or even watched it early Saturday evening. It’s called the Kentucky Derby, and each contestant is limited to one-horsepower.
This year’s Derby was presented with most unfortunate weather. At post time, and a few hours leading up to it, Louisville was the recipient of a torrential downpour of Biblical proportion. Unlike autos that run on slick tires, horses can and do run in the rain, and this was the “Run for the Roses”, the wreath bestowed upon the swiftest of the swift each year. What really caught my eye though, was the grandstands… full to overflow with folks wearing what in my much younger days I’d have called “Dress-up clothes.”
Another “thing” that goes with the Derby are the fancy hats sported by a huge number of females on hand for the race. I did see a few clear rain parkas in the crowd, but for the most part, those folks were just soaking wet and not shying away from it one bit.
What was the attendance to watch 20 horses circle the track in a downpour? 157,813… and not one of them was “downstairs shopping!”
Gentle readers, we’ve all seen the sad “crowds” at too many of our NASCAR races, as the numbers dwindle away and fewer and fewer folks make the trip to the track… or the TV. In this direct comparison, it was easy to see what the difference was. Think about this. This was the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby, and everything about it, from the Mint Juleps and “My Old Kentucky Home” to the post parade to the bugle call to post were the same on Saturday as they were 143 times before. Only the hats were new!
For the benefit of anyone at NASCAR not familiar with tradition, just know that the fans treasure it. The fans of NASCAR have been begging and pleading with the powers that be, not to meddle with stock car traditions. Instead we were handed probably the worst oxymoron ever uttered… NASCAR was going to “Modernize tradition.” Really? Think about that! Modernize tradition? What actually happened is that NASCAR trashed tradition.
We had a winning formula. We were the second most-watched sport in North America in 2003. Today, we’re not even a blip on the radar. You’ve tried every other gimmick in the book, and none of it has worked. Maybe… just maybe, you might consider dropping everything instituted from January 2004 to date… and you might want to drop that Lucky Dog thing as well.
We could return to having a full-season Champion. That would be refreshing, as would a scoring system that someone below a calculus major could understand. There would be no need for “fairy-dust” points as a friend calls them, because there would be no “Stages.” Just start racing at the green flag and at the checkers, we have a winner. No overtime. A race that ends under caution does so for the sake of safety. We fans are tough. We can deal with it. If you simply must change something, how about changing the cars? You could actually make them look like their street counterparts and let the manufacturers worry about “Parity.”
Your scribe could easily stretch this out to a full-length novel, but I think everyone gets the idea. 157,813 sat or stood through a drenching rain for most of the afternoon to see the favorite go out and prove why he was the favorite. It was Justify, ridden by Mike Smith and trained by Bob Baffert, bringing Bob home his 5th Derby win and he looked fine wearing the wreath of roses, even if both it and he were a bit soggy.
It’s all about tradition!
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling.
It looks so good on you!