The Voice Of One Fan Only
I bid you welcome gentle readers, though at this moment, I’m not yet sure to what. Like most of you reading this, I listened to and watched the “Announcement” on Monday evening, and heard and read comments for the rest of the evening. Most of them ranged from negative all the way to incendiary. Unlike most, I came to the party with an open mind and actually listened carefully to what was said along with who was saying it.
The first thing I’m going to give you today are links to both a transcript of the entire affair… boring perhaps, in that written words lose the power of inflection or facial expressions that once accompanied them, but good for reflection and for quoting exactly… and a YouTube video of the entire announcement, including the Q&A session that followed. That part is usually the most attention-deserving part, as those pesky journalists usually manage to come up with the most pertinent questions and sometimes leave the brass scrambling for answers.
And there you have the same groundwork with which I begin to opine. As earlier indicated, I approached this “announcement” with the mindset of a journalist, not just as a fan, but I assure you, I am both. Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, I pulled up to my keyboard following the initial “Announcement” of “The Chase”, not to be called a Playoff… yada, yada, yada. (I’ll spare you the Jim Mora thoughts on playoffs, just because I know that my partner Jim is waiting for it) The result of that session was an article called “NASCAR Doesn’t Love Me Anymore.” Today’s reaction is a bit different in that it’s not as definitive or decisive.
I will say that if you came expecting to hear that NASCAR would be moving back to the 1950s or 1960s, then you probably went away disappointed, but perhaps you shouldn’t have been. For those of us old enough to remember… and I’m told I probably remember when the Rock of Gibraltar was a pebble… we had some similar formats come and go in those decades. Points were paid for the Daytona Qualifiers and also for laps led at predetermined points in a race. Under some formats, points varied by which track held the race. At some points, it was actually quite similar to what we heard on Monday evening.
Some of you old-timers do have short memories and some of you youngsters have so much yet to learn. If anyone is under the impression that Big Bill or Billy never tried anything new, you are mistaken. This is more a case of “Everything old is new again.” But then there is the fact that none of those formats lasted very long and the racing world was grateful for the Latford Point System, which lasted over 30 years, with provisions made (actually called “Provisionals”) for high profile drivers to race after failing to qualify for whatever reason.
This one isn’t as new as folks think, though it does still incorporate that evil “Playoff”, never to be called “Chase” again. Don’t you just love “buzz words?” There are actually meetings held, testing done and statistics kept, suggesting the public reception and reaction, be it positive or negative, to certain words. It’s as though Madison Avenue now runs the sports world. How many times during the Monday night presser did you hear the word “Moments?” Twitter has an entire category called “Moments”, though I am totally unaware of what they are. It tells me that I haven’t created any “Moments” yet, and I think to myself, “What they don’t know won’t hurt me.”
What they mean of course, is excitement, and at the risk of repeating myself, that is something that cannot be created or magically brought about by contrived means. Alan Kulwicki’s winning of the 1992 Championship at the Atlanta finale was not planned, nor can it be duplicated using any scoring plan known to man. It just happened! Likewise the battle of the ages, between Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven at Darlington wasn’t planned, but we all watched it and were thrilled when it did happen.
Notice that every “Moment” to which they refer is generally centered on or built around a double-file restart. You know, gentle readers… when the cars are all bunched up together for a couple of laps. Every time the cars are stopped, that gives one more chance for a “Moment.” As to the incentive to race harder, I am still laughing at the “rule” insisting that a driver give 100% at all times, yet somehow, riding around the back for 90% of a plate race is not considered breaking said rule. This scribe told you the day that statement was made that it was impossible to enforce… and so it is.
Another buzz word… “Incentivize.” Is that even a word? I guess it is now, as everyone is using it. “Stakeholders!” The translation of that is anyone making money from or for NASCAR. That way, they manage to include the fans, I guess. Speaking of “fans”, I’ve heard many times over the question of which fans they are referring to when stating that this newest format is what the fans have asked for. I will state for the record that it is now Tuesday morning and I have not found a single fan anywhere that ever asked for what we have been given, yet those good folks claim it was loudly applauded somewhere, by someone.
NASCAR has what they call a “Fan Council.” I’ve no first-hand knowledge of what that is or what one has to do to become a member. As a member in good standing of NASCAR Media, I am not eligible to be considered a “Fan” as well, which strikes me as rather strange. One might think they’d want us on their side, but… it is what it is.
This fan will have to see this new/old Point System in play for some time before deciding whether to love or hate it, so look for no decision from me any time soon. For now, I’d like to have a closer look at the new rule in its entirety, but cannot find it anywhere to which I have access. Apparently, ESPN has access, because there are points made there that were not mentioned in the Press Conference. For instance, there is this little gem that says nothing and everything all at once:
“NASCAR won't allow teams to replace body panels during a race, and teams will have additional limitations on crash repair that likely will mean most drivers who have to go to the garage won't return for that race.” Say what? To me, my mind goes instantly to 1973 at Rockingham, where Hall of Famer, Benny Parsons (I love typing those words) won his only Championship, because after a wreck that opened the right side of his car like a can-opener opens a can, many teams contributed to the effort to get the popular driver back on track and keep enough points under that system to win the Championship. I’m surely glad that little hidden clause isn’t retroactive!
The way I translate that, if you have a “Moment” with another car or with (hopefully) a SAFER barrier, your “Moments” on the track pretty much end when you make that hard left turn for the garage area. Anything worse than a flat tire and you’re out? Brian, Steve… guys, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!
This scribe kind of gets the Point deal… to a point. First, we took a working system and reduced it to simpler terms, which I’ve always called, “Counting by onesies.” A vast number of fans were critical of that one, and your scribe tried to calm your fears by pointing out that with just a tiny bit of math one would see that it worked out almost perfectly to a ¼-scale of the Latford points. Now, we’re going to sort of keep but sort of scrap that way of doing points by adding bonus points for “Stages” within a race (Old stuff there), and also awarding another set of bonus points to carry over into the “Playoffs” that used to be called the now forbidden word “Chase.” (Told you so!)
At this juncture, that part is OK with me, pending further review at a later date, as long as nothing is added later “Because I can”, and the first time I hear the word “Tweak”, I’m off the bandwagon and marching on Charlotte… or Daytona Beach, pitchfork in hand.
Monday night, we all saw a great number of influential and supposedly intelligent folks on that stage. A great number of them are folks I respect as part of what has made this sport great. Others hold high places with various organizations and teams within the structure of the sport. On their recommendation, this old fan is willing to give it a chance. As they say on TV, “Your results may vary”, which is why I’ve written this piece strictly from my own perspective and unlike some, do not purport to speak for you today.
One thing we need to be very clear about is that all of this Hoopla, Bread and Circuses applies to only a single facet of stock car racing… the way it will be scored moving forward. Aside from messing yet again with the Point System, nothing has been done to address the cars or tracks involved in the sport. This scribe/fan is duty-bound to add that if NASCAR were truly listening to the majority of the fans that are left, they would be addressing the problem of “aero-push” beyond taking away a bit more downforce; they would perhaps realize that cars so identical that they have to be measured in metrics with laser beams are likely to perform identically on track; they would hear the fans… and the factories… asking that we once again be able to tell the difference between an Ford and a Chevy at 20 paces, without checking the front decal; they would be addressing the fact that the fans are clearly bored with so many 1.5-mile tracks…
In other words, there are far more problems with today’s racing than a simple rearranging of the points awarded can cure. I hear the fans and most times, I speak from the point of view that prevails among them. This time, I simply don’t see this Point thing as being the evil personified that many of you believe it to be.
Last night (Monday), I penned the following words, directly following the Press Conference, and posted them on my website. I’ll offer them here in closing…
I will say that for now, I can see some good things and some pitfalls. Then, there are always those unintended consequences. It was pretty much what I expected, but it wasn't all bad.
I realize that when I first went racing, the microwave oven had yet to be invented. The auto factories had only recently retooled and reopened after WWII. There were no Interstate Highways and automatic transmission was a new thing.
Times have changed. Football players of that time wore little leather helmets that wouldn't pass for helmet liners today. We are old folks, living in a young folks' world. Think back and realize... all of you... that the folks you most closely aligned with when you were a budding adult were those that saw you coming and respected the new world you lived in at that time. For folks my age, those were the folks that once had a use for buggy whips and butter churns.
The world is constantly evolving, and in order to succeed, we can either evolve with it or bury our heads in the past and let today's world pass us by entirely.
In short, there is some good in everything, but usually, some bad as well. I'm for waiting to see how this plays out on the tracks, and I mean well beyond Daytona.
After that closing, it occurred to me there is one song that just belongs here, and this is it… “Georgia Mules and Country Boys” by the Osborne Brothers.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!