Racing Like It Used to Be
Not a day goes by that I don’t read the comment “I want racing like it used to be” in the news or media. And with each of these comments the “talking heads” of racing, be it NASCAR, Lucas, or World of Outlaws all jump on board saying that “Times have changed and so has racing.” While this is true on one hand, it can also be true on the other… Wait let me explain this.
When people, fans, racers say they want racing “like it used to be” they don't always mean that they want the exact same cars back or formats back like it was way back when. What lots of fans really want, is racing back when it was fun; back when the rule book wasn’t 3974 pages long and written by a lawyer; they want racing when the cars didn’t look exactly the same; they want racing where innovation still matters.
They want racing where high dollar teams aren’t the only ones racing… where the little guy still has a chance. But, sadly, those days are gone. Long gone.
Let’s take dirt late models for example. Nowadays, to be a front runner, you will need at least $200,000 headed into a race. $45,000 for a car, $10,000 for shocks and $50,000 for an engine, and at the least $100,000 in a hauler just to get it there. The days of the big traveling series showing up at your local track, and your local guys really having a chance to make the show are gone. Nowadays the only way your local guy makes the show is if a full field of the traveling superstars don’t show up. Your local drivers would be field fillers. It’s hard for a team who all work full time jobs to gear up with that kind of equipment and be ready to race against the super teams. It just isn’t going to happen.
Look at NASCAR.
Nowadays you’ve got to have a “Charter” to compete; you’ve got to have one of the latest and greatest cars to be able to run competitively; you have to have a team of engineers for each part on the car, pit crews that have trainers, race shops that look like a NASA lab. The days of guys like Hershel McGriff loading up his Winston West car and going to make the race are gone… the days where a guy can load up a car he built, gather up a crew of volunteers and go make the race.
Look at the recent attention that Matt DiBenedetto got when he performed well at Bristol, look at the fans he gained! Why? Because he was the little guy, the guy no one expected to make it to the top. THAT is what fans want.
But if you think that Matty D. was a little guy, then you may need to look at racing in general; take a deep look. Without the help from the big “super team” Leavine Racing would have never been there. They are nothing more than the smaller fish in the big pond. Leavine Racing is not your local little guy. Are they well-funded? Not really. Are they a “Super Team?” No, but they do have lots of help FROM the “Super Team.” Without it, they would have never been where they were at Bristol.
Is there really an answer to the looming question of how do we fix it? No, the cat is already out of the bag, on all levels. Racing has become a stand-alone business that is thriving on some levels and driving the cost higher and higher out of reach of the little guy.
This is the reason people think racing is dying… It has become a sport for the “Elite”, a sport for the “Super Teams”, the teams who have secured the $$$$$$ funding. Gone are the days of a driver with talent, working his way to the top; gone are the days of race teams using skill and passion, to make it to the top. Now it's nothing more than how much money can you bring to the table, that is what drives racing today. No matter if it’s your local “Hobby Class” Drivers or NASCAR, or Lucas Series. It’s all driven by money and how much of it you can bring to the table. Gone are the days of paying your dues as you work your way up the ladder of success.
I think this has led to the way fans view drivers. A young gun who shows up at 18 years old and suddenly he is in a NASCAR Truck, then in one or two years presto he is in an Xfinity car and looking for a Cup ride. Not based on his talent level but based on his ability to bring money to the table. 25 years ago, teams would have been lined up to offer “Matty D” a ride based on his skill set, which he put on display at Bristol. But now, he is left sitting without a ride for next year, until some pieces fell into place putting him in the #21 car with the famed Wood Brothers car.
Matt DiBenedetto is the shining example of what NASCAR needs, a chance for the little guy to shine! A way for the lower funded teams to still have a chance; the Mike Harmons or the Matt Tiffts to actually be competitive instead of “also rans.” Look at how when the underdog teams have limited success, the fans jump on board! Look at how the fans flooded social media with support for Matt. Did you see the surge of attention that NASCAR got? How can the powers that be at NASCAR not see this?
Now before I get blasted on the fact that “Racing Cost Money” train of thought, I know this, probably better than most; that it is an expensive sport, oh how well I know. BUT to save racing cost cutting measures will have to be put in place to cut cost and save the sport.
Lots of people tell me I am living in a “Dream World” hoping to turn back time. Who knows? Maybe I am, but I know one thing… I know what has killed racing… I know what the common fan wants, and when I say “Common Fan” I mean the very people who made NASCAR what it is today, the very people who made Lucas Series what it is today. The common fan who works their butt off each week to afford to attend a race to see their heroes compete. They want a “hero” they can relate to; one that shares the battles and tough times, paying their dues to get to where they are. THAT is what the fans want.