Let’s Talk About Indy Instead of Homestead
I bid you welcome gentle readers, as we approach the now much anticipated end to another NASCAR racing season in the era of the new millennium. Your scribe remembers other times, and other years… oh, so many years… when this time of the year was nothing if not bittersweet. The Holidays were fast approaching, bringing all the sights and sounds of family, frivolity and good cheer, but… in my life and that of many others my age… this time of year was also darkened by a feeling of separation and deprivation, as we knew we would not see racing again until Daytona.
Have no fear; I’ll not be comparing stock car racing with the birth of the Savior, but for me, it seriously rivaled the fat man in the red suit many years. There were times, when Ruth was small, and again when my Angel Babies were the same, that the Christmas Spirit won hands down. Alas, those “babies” are about to turn 20 and 17, so there are no more paw prints in the snow, left assuredly by the tiny reindeer pulling the sleigh that ran over Grandma. But just as the magic of Christmas loses a bit of its luster when the little ones come of age, so too has much of the magic gone out of racing.
If you follow the writers on our site… and I sincerely hope you do, as we have an excellent and well-informed staff… you will have read many diverse suggestions, both for what went wrong and for how to “fix” it. Some are good, some maybe not so much, but all are interesting and well-intentioned.
You know that feeling you get right before you come down with some sort of flu or “bug.” You’re not sick… yet… but something just isn’t right. You can’t quite put your finger on the problem, but it becomes more apparent with each passing hour. Does one take a pill? Two pills? Pills to cure what? There’s nothing wrong… yet. This old fan has been suggesting that NASCAR see a doctor, or at least be checked by a nurse, for well over a decade.
Your scribe has no magic solutions; no elixir for what ails racing, only logic… and a whole lot of years of experience. Allow me to give you a “for instance.” I read today (Tuesday as I type), that NASCAR is considering trying restrictor plates on the Xfinity cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to see if that will “make the racing more exciting", since passing in that race is pretty much a forgotten entity. Let’s just examine that for a minute…
One time, in the modern era, they tried a restrictor plate race on a flat track. Granted, New Hampshire is only a mile, not the 2.5-mile monster that is Indy, but does anyone remember the results of that race? It was run, as stated, at New Hampshire, in September of 2000. That time, it was the sanctioning body’s “shoot from the hip” approach in response to the deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin at that track earlier in the year. There was ONE lead change in that entire race, and it occurred on lap ONE. Bobby Labonte sat on the pole, but was immediately passed by Jeff Burton, who started on the outside pole. Burton led that lap, and every one of the 299 more that followed, leaving everyone grateful that it was a short race because it certainly was not a good one!
What’s that old saying? “Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Close enough! I have no clue whose clever idea this one is, but I can promise from experience that it’s not going to work. Not only will it not work, but will produce the direct opposite of the intended goal. I can hear my co-conspirator David Nance yelling down the hall, “More Cowbell!”
This scribe has pointed out several times a couple of unfortunate things about the Indy race in question. The first is that the race is a stinker, and has been from the word “Go.” At the risk of inducing a comatose state for those that have heard this so many times, flat tracks and stock cars are not a match made in Heaven. Quite the opposite end of that spectrum, as a matter of fact, and yes, that applies to the Cup cars as well. NASCAR enjoys the status that Indy brings, but the racing is just plain BAD!
Until a few years ago, the Busch/Nationwide/Xfinity series didn’t run at the “big track.” They, and the trucks as well, ran across town at Indianapolis Raceway Park, (Now known as Lucas Oil Raceway) a sweet little half-miler that always produced good racing for both series. It was someone’s idea to move the Xfinity kids to the big track to boost interest in the Cup race. Seems like a whole lot of fans had figured out what I’d known all along about stock cars and flat tracks. (Note, this does not apply to little bullrings such as Martinsville. It’s flat, but the racing is anything but. They just keep knocking each other out of the way.)
The “Other shoe” as it were, for the Xfinity cure for insomnia at Indy is the race immediately preceding that one. On the Wednesday evening before the Saturday race at Indy, the trucks run a race at a little track not very far away. It’s called Eldora! It’s a little half-mile dirt track, and those trucks put on one heck of a race every time they run there, complete with qualifying heats and all that is part of regular old “Saturday night racing” except it’s on Wednesday. The race is always a sell-out with even “standing room only” at capacity. Then comes Saturday, and I could accommodate the crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in my back yard with room to spare.
Somehow, what is so obvious about that simple comparison fails to make an impression on anyone in Daytona Beach or Charlotte. NASCAR seeks to play to “larger markets,” but here again is where that pesky logic intervenes. We race at a huge track in a huge metropolitan area, and the stands, even for the Cup races are for the most part, empty. We put the trucks… the third tier, as NASCAR refers to them… on a tiny unpaved track in the middle of nowhere, and the stands can’t hold everyone that shows up to watch.
Why doesn’t that tell someone something? Three days apart, and the fans… those good folks that pay the way for everything else… make the choice so obvious and resounding that it can be heard like thunder from the heavens… but no one at NASCAR hears it. They pay $Millions for studies to tell them the preferred “buzz word”, but they somehow cannot hear what’s left of the fan base… begging and pleading for simpler times. I’d say that what’s being missed is simple. Gentle readers, the race IS the show. Eldora puts on fantastic racing, and the fans respond. Indy puts on parades, time after time, and the fans respond. Those responses are such polar opposites, someone should hear and see the difference and take the meaning that a blind man can see.
Sunday evening, with Phoenix in the rear view and bedtime on the horizon, I sat at my laptop in the living room watching Seattle put a trouncing on New England, and I jotted down a note to myself and emailed it to the already sleeping desktop in the office. It was simple and short, but something I thought I might want to share with you, my gentle readers, later in the week. This is what it said…
“I'm sitting here, wishing it were 20 years ago or maybe even more. I'm wishing that Dale Earnhardt and Bill France Jr. were still here. I'm wishing… oh Lord… I'm wishing that I still loved racing the way I did when those men were still an integral part of this sport!”
All of that and not a word about Homestead, the center of so much hype, spin and make-believe, it’s almost like Christmas… almost, but not quite. I think I’ll wait for the real thing. I have just one thing to say to anyone out there with ears or brains… “NO! Do NOT run restrictor plates at Indianapolis. Stock car racing there is already dead. Let’s not throw more dirt on it!” Oh… wait a minute! Come to think of it, with enough dirt to cover and bank that big ol’ track, just maybe…
And that, of course, means it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout. In a couple of weeks we’ll be adding another “C” to that, as Christmas draws near, but today I’d like to present some good ol’ down-home gospel music to point out that there’s nothing wrong with a little dirt in life, and there are places that shouldn’t be paved. If your horse were named Mr. Ed, he’d tell you that to pave the barn floor is to cripple your horse.
With that bit of wisdom out of the way, here is Merle Haggard with his offering of “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven.”
Next, no Country Gospel collection would be complete without something from Jim Reeves, he of the voice of soft velvet. Here is Gentleman Jim with his beautiful offering of “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.”
Talk about your Classic Country! Next up we have Hank Williams, the Original, with a song that he both wrote and sang. Here then is the leader of the Drifting Cowboys singing, “I Saw the Light!”
Now let’s give a listen to a wonderful medley of Country Gospel as done so beautifully by Johnny Cash, June and Anita Carter, Mother Maybelle and the Statler Brothers… a star-studded presentation to be sure. In the beginning, Johnny does a spoken intro that really tells us what it’s all about… to be Country and to have Religion. Please enjoy…
And finally, because it’s my column, and my favorite song, here’s one that my friends and family have heard many times before, but it never grows old. This is the incomparable Red Foley, doing this song as only he can… “Peace in the Valley”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!