Last week’s "Big Announcement" has come and gone and we are left with many unanswered questions. One question asked but never answered was about the "Collaboration" process used to develop the "Enhanced Race Format". The answer was unfortunately avoided... until now.
Read on and see how the members of the panel we saw on Monday, January 23rd came together to forge a new race procedure that radically changes racing as we know it.
Date: Thursday, December 1, 2016
Location: Las Vegas in an unnamed meeting room in an unnamed casino
Brian France, followed by Mike Helton walks into the room filled with the collaboration group of officials, track owners, team officials, broadcasters and drivers.
BRIAN FRANCE: Please be seated. I want to thank everyone for being here for this working meeting to finalize the changes to the race format of our top three series. The January 23rd media tour will be here before we know it and as I said in my text, I'm expecting to see a finished product today. So drop the formalities and show me what you've got.
STEVE O'DONNELL: Mr. France... um, I mean Brian, I'm very proud to say this group of stakeholders have collaborated very hard over the last six months. Lots of good ideas, lots of give and take to finally arrive at these enhancements...
FRANCE: Save the fluff for the January 23rd. Let's get one with this.
O'DONNELL: Of course. You'll find this handout describing the New Enhanced Race Format, how it's applied and its benefits. While you are looking it over I'll quickly summarize. We took the current Chase format and applied it the races, so each race is essentially a "Mini-Chase". The Race is divided into five segments. Instead of "Win-You're-In" it's now "Lead and Advance" as lap leaders are rewarded here like race winners are in the Chase. We have Eliminations after each segment reducing Chasers from 16 to 12 to 8 to 4 for the final segment to contend for the win. It's truly a Chase within a Race, so to speak. I'll give you a few minutes to review and digest and then we'll open it to discussion.
FRANCE: (mumbling to himself)... Segments... winners/leaders advance... eliminations... four for the win... (looking up addresses the group). It's all in there Steve, Collaboration Group, I don't know how you did it but you got my Chase into each and every Race. I love it. How could I not... it is my Chase you know.
One question though. Do we really want to only have four cars competing for the win in that final segment?
O'DONNELL: Again correct and I understand your concern, but realistically with the aero dependency issues with our current cars that's what we now have in a position to win after the final debris caution.
FRANCE: I see your point. So we can hide the aero issues behind this new format? Brilliant. OK what do the Track Owners think?
MARCUS SMITH: SMI is in. Humpy (Wheeler) never did this, so we're good.
JOIE CHITWOOD: ISC is in as well. The multiple breaks would enhance the at track experience for those fans who attend. They are going to buy more track food and souvenirs if they know they can leave their seats and get back without missing any action.
FRANCE: Good points. Car owners?
STEVE NEWMARK, President of Roush Fenway Racing,
MARSHALL CARLSON, President of Hendrick Motorsports,
DAVE ALPERN, President of Joe Gibbs Racing,
BRETT FROOD, President of Stewart-Haas Racing (answering in unison): We're in!
FRANCE: Great. First time I've seen you guys agree on anything. So, let me hear from my drivers.
DENNY HAMLIN: Under this format every single race matters. There is no taking off. Every single lap of every single race matters. All laps matter.
FRANCE All laps matter... I like that. I really like that. But it's too similar to another popular saying. Denny, you can say it all you want but I had better not see it on any of our apparel. Hear me - if I see "All Laps Matter" on a T-Shirt, hat or sign they are gone. Is that clear?
HAMLIN: Crystal, sir!
O'Donnell turns, dials his cell phone and whispers, "Marketing? O'Donnell here. Stop the “All Laps Matter” T-shirt order immediately! That's an order.
FRANCE: What do you think about it, Junior?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I agree with Steve and Denny. The new format is going to be exciting. It's going to be exciting racing, exciting strategies, exciting season, exciting Chase, exciting TV, exciting fan track experience. Exciting, exciting, exciting.
FRANCE: OK, so you find it exciting. That's what I'm looking for... Tell me what you think, Brad.
BRAD KESELOWSKI (KEZ): I want to win. Segments, Races, Chase - I don't care. I just want to win and this gives me more chances to win so I like it! I know the racing will be better, so the fans will like it. Better racing means better TV, so the networks should like it. More fans means the track owners should like it. And you should make more money so you should like it.
FRANCE: I DO like making more money. Mike, you have been pretty quiet. Thoughts?
MIKE HELTON: I like it as well. Two additional Enhancements. Include yellow flag leaders as well. It adds additional strategies on caution stops. Plus, with our aero package, green flag lead changes are pretty sparse. This boosts the number of lap leaders. Another thing is I'd cut the segment times down from five minutes to two minutes each to address the shorter attention spans of our target demographics. The networks will still get more commercial time with the designated breaks
FRANCE: Good points, Mike. Steve, add these in. I really like this. It IS like the Chase. Steve, make it so. By the way, do you have a name for it?
O'DONNELL: Yes sir. The "Race for the Checkers"
FRANCE: Catchy, but why not "Chase for the Checkers"? Has a much better ring to it and this is based on my Chase you know.
Silence. Nervous glances around the room.
O'Donnell clears his threat and mutters, "The 'Chase for the Checkers' is taken, sir. It's not ours."
FRANCE: Steve (with voice rising) What do you mean it's taken? Who knew about this? Denny, have you been blabbing again?
HAMLIN: It's not me! It's all Brad's fault. Brad and his momma!
KEZ: You leave my momma out of this. She was just trying to help. Besides it's your fault we're here to begin with. Your teammates riding around in the back at Talladega so you could points race your way into the next round. If Busch and Harvick don't push and block for you Austin Dillon would be sitting here right now!
HAMLIN: Why you... (Lunges at Kez getting him in a headlock before being separated by the rest of the group)
FRANCE: Now stop it. What is going on and what does Brad's momma have to do with this? Is she on the Fan Council?
O'DONNELL: (audibly exhaling) OK, here's the deal. We have been working months on this and had nothing. I mean nothing. The best thing we could come up with to increase excitement at the races was to guarantee a ride for Todd Bodine in all three series...
FRANCE: Good gosh, we don't have that kind of money. Keeping him in sheet metal would bankrupt us.
O'DONNELL: We know that we can't afford vehicles for Todd and that is why we ruled that out and were left with nothing coming into this meeting. You take it from here, Brad.
KEZ: I was really down over not having anything. Everyone had worked so hard. I was talking to Momma on the phone and she could tell something was bothering me. She asked me what was wrong and when I told her what I was working on, she texted me a link to this article on this web site I had never heard of - Race Fans Forever. On it was an article on this very format. I sent it out to the group. We talked about it and decided to present it to you today. That's what you heard today.
FRANCE: So you mean to tell me that after six months you had nothing and this came from some off-beat web site? (Choking on the words) Race Fans Forever? Let me see that site. Somebody call up the article.
O'Donnell reaches into the inside jacket pocket and pulls out his cell phone and punches a few buttons. He stops and shoots a glance over to Jr.
DE JR.: Go ahead and give it to him, Steve. We've got nothing and he is going to find out soon enough. http://www.racefansforever.org/time-for-a-new-chase.html
O'Donnell passes the phone over to France, who reads it).
FRANCE: (reading out loud to self) Race Fans Forever... David Nance... race fan... writer. Is there anything we've got to control him and keep this under wraps? Is he on the Fan Council? Citizen Journalist?
O'DONNELL: No sir, he's not.
FRANCE: What about that web site. I'm not familiar with it. Maybe no one goes there. Maybe no one saw this.
KEZ: They are listed on Jayski's. My momma saw it and goes there! She says they may be small but they have a loyal following. Some have been fans since back when your granddaddy ran this series. More importantly, they don't forget anything.
FRANCE: If Brad's right we're in big trouble. So he's not the one of us or one of ours? We can't threaten to pull his press credentials ... (France passes the phone to Helton).
BURTON: (interrupting) I could tell you he's not one of us from his article. There is not a single "Enhancement", "Moment", "Collaboration" or "Incentivize". I don't know how he did it but he's definitely not one of us.
DE JR.: Jeff, you use "Incentivize" in every breath. Why? I'm not even sure it's a word.
BURTON: It's a word alright. Lost a bet with Ward at our weekly Scrabble game. He used it for the win and I challenged him on it. I said, "Ward, that's not a real word" and he said, "Wanna bet?" I lost the bet and the game and now I have to use the word every chance I get for the entire season.
HELTON: Did you look at his bio? He's from Owensboro, KY. Isn't that where DW, Mikey, Mayfield, the Greens, David Keith, come from? Maybe we could get DW to...
FRANCE: Not another pain in the butt from Owensboro. Good gosh, except for David and Mark Green they have all been pains in one way or another. DW and his "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity" nonsense has set us back 15 years. And now I have to deal with this one.
HELTON: Maybe we could get him downsized out. The site is RaceFansForever.org. Who do you want me to contact - Jim Fitzgerald, who is the Founder, Ownership Partner, Senior Editor, Senior Staff Writer or PattyKay Lilley, Ownership Partner, Senior Editor, Senior Staff Writer, Information Administrator?
FRANCE: (color leaving his face) Did you say PattyKay Lilley?
HELTON: Yes sir. Do you want me to contact her and see if we can make a deal?
FRANCE: No ... No... Never mind. Leave him alone. Steve, I want all this but you all are going to have to repackage it to make it ours. If we implement some fan's idea or worse yet implement it and claim it's ours and folks know otherwise we'll have a revolt on our hands...
Helton leans to Chitwood and whispers, "As if we don't already."
FRANCE: I want it all, the Enhancements, the Moments and...
BURTON: ...and Incentivizations!
DE JR.: Now come on Jeff. That's not a word!
BURTON: I don't know if it is but I'm going to try it on Ward at this Friday night’s Scrabble game. I'll let you know.
GORDON: Whatever you do, don't bet him. Your network can't stand another ratings hit.
BURTON: How's that "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity" working for you all, Jeff?
FRANCE: ...And whatever Jeff said. (Burton turns and sticks his tongue out at Gordon). I want it all but I want it mine. Change it all but keep it all. I want it so different that no one gets the idea where it came from. I even want the name changed.
O'DONNELL: Name change? To what may I ask?
FRANCE: He calls it a Chase... Name it Playoffs or something like that. It's been a Playoff for the last three years anyway. Steve, you know what to do; now get to it. Come on Mike, we're late for the Donny & Marie Show. I paid extra for those seats you know. Men, I want to see something after the Awards Banquet tomorrow night... or else. Come on Mike.
HELTON: Yes sir. (As he opens the door for France to exit, he looks back to the group and rolls his eyes).
HELTON: Steve, one piece of advice on this.
O'DONNELL: Sure Mike, what is it?
HELTON: Whatever you do, never, ever say "It is what it is", OK?
O'DONNELL: Gotcha. Thanks Mike.
Helton exits leaving a stunned and speechless Collaboration Group. Finally, Steve O'Donnell breaks the silence...
O'DONNELL: Well! I thought we had it pulled off.
HAMLIN: Me too, but Brad and...
BURTON: Shut up, Denny. If you don't quit I'm going to turn Kez loose on you.
GORDON: Look, I think we can save this. Nance has five segments, we can do three. His long segment is at the beginning; we'll put ours at the end. His segment breaks are two minutes long. With the reduction in the number of segments we can lengthen the breaks back out to 5 minutes in length.
KEZ: But I can't win as much.
DE JR.: That's OK Brad. You'll get your chances. You'll still have more chances than you have now. But, Jeff's right, we can save this. Nance rewards the leaders and the more you lead the better you are rewarded. Why don't we give bonus points to segment winners? Let them apply to the Chase.
HAMLIN: (frowning) but then all laps won't matter.
BURTON: Ssshhh! Don't tell anyone. Just keep saying that they do and don't say otherwise. If you say it often enough they will not question you.
HAMLIN: But that’s...
O'DONNELL: But that's PR! Just keep saying it though. Man, I wish Carl Edwards was here. No one questions him when he says something.
DE JR.: Denny. Look at it like this. With these segment points being applied and carried over to the Chase they replace lap leader rewards which means all laps do matter. It'll be OK.
HAMLIN: OK, Thanks Junior. I can do that.
DE JR.: He lines up the next segment based on the lap leaders and finishing order of the segment. Let's put the pit crews back in and do it in the order coming off the segment pit stops.
BURTON: Junior, I think you are onto something there.
GORDON: Now, we can't do Separation Laps at all. What can we do in its place?
CHITWOOD: Why not consider the points to replace elimination. If you run in the back you don't get points and eventually get eliminated.
DE JR.: We'll make it work. Let's add a Chase, I mean Playoff point system. We could give segment winners and race winners’ points to apply to the Chase.
GORDON: Close enough. Man, this is getting pretty complicated. Do you think fans will understand this and all the math, much less go for it?
HAMLIN: I think that there's a lot of different things within this; you don't necessarily need to know how a watch works; you just need to know what time it is. I think they're going to see better racing on the racetrack, and that's all that matters.
O'DONNELL: Denny, that is brilliant. Just keep repeating it. It is complicated though. Fans can get confused if they want to get into the weeds on math. Is there anything we can do to help explain it?
GORDON: I'm on it, Steve. Firing up my laptop now to build a PowerPoint as we speak...
The collaboration went on through the night. Rough edges smoothed. Complications made, well, less complicated. When it was all said and done, NASCAR had a playoff system and an enhanced race format, loaded with Enhancements, Moments, a process Incentivized to the max. On January 23, 2017, the Collaboration Group forever changed stock car racing when they presented the finished product to the motorsports world.
Is this the way it really went down? Maybe. Maybe not. We can only speculate and this was some fun speculation. We may never know.
But there are three things we do know. First, we have a new Race protocol. Second, in less than two weeks it will be put to the test as the first races under it will be run. Then and only then will we all see if it works and if it will improve racing and bring the fans back. Only then will we know for sure what the "it" in "It is what it is" really "is".
Finally, we know that within this sport there is still a group of drivers, car owners, track owners, sponsors and officials who still care, who are fans, who will give and take and "collaborate" to find solutions to the sport's challenging situations. I commend them and thank them for their passion, dedication and hard work. The sport will need them again as it tackles the other significant issues facing it, like aero dependence, driver health and safety, improving racing and race coverage, reducing costs for fans and teams, improving sponsorship appeal and reducing entry costs for new teams to name a few. Together, when properly "incentivized", I believe they can find solutions and make the sport better for all "stakeholders".
I close hoping you enjoyed a bit of speculation and hope it brought a smile. Race fans, no matter what level can always use a smile.