Thoughts and Memories from an Aging Mind
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a sincerely warm welcome to whomever the task falls to keep us on the right NASCAR path this steamy hot day in North Georgia. Back in New York, I know the leaves are falling and the shorter days probably bring out jackets as September grows late and October approaches, but here in Georgia we’re still in the grasp of summer, though mornings are a bit cooler, but it doesn’t last.
And… so much for discussing the weather. I just typed the words “Working Title” with my name under them and let’s see where that takes us. I watched the wreck-fest at steaming-hot Las Vegas and was glad I was in my living room, as I doubt I’d have survived that. Who makes these schedule changes and why is no attention paid to weather when they are made? Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s single race was moved from late July to early September, ironically to escape the summer heat… to become the last race of the “Regular Season.” The Regular Season became a day longer as a deluge buried the track in over 5 inches of water in a two-day period. No one likes Monday races except perhaps Brad Keselowski.
After suffering through that long-drawn-out mess, it was on to Las Vegas and the much-heralded second race for that track. Oops! Fans were asked to sit through one of those races that refuse to end in temperatures well past the triple-digit mark on the thermometer. Many photos and videos show vast numbers of the scant crowd that braved the heat all INSIDE because the heat was unbearable despite the empty claim that it’s a “dry heat.” No one at that race was dry! Oh, and by the way, when you stop sweating better get help quickly because that’s a sure sign of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Guesstimate says the “crowd” numbered 45,000, the lowest ever for a race at LVMS. Even NASCAR appears to be giving up on keeping empty grandstands a secret.
The race itself tried hard to rival the “Tiregate” affair at Indy in 2008, and it came fairly close. Twelve cautions for 59 laps, none of which came in the first “stage.” That would have been a great place to end it, with all warriors still in the battle. By the time the checkers flew, 12 of the Exalted 16 had been involved either in their own problem or that of someone else. Some recovered to soldier on, but others didn’t. I count 15 that were involved in crashes or grass, though Ricky Stenhouse was in there twice. Kevin Harvick, my pick in our little Fantasy game here at Race Fans Forever went into the SAFER barrier courtesy of a blown right front tire at lap 149 and took Erik Jones with him for company in the garage. It was all on from there and it wasn’t pretty or quite frankly much fun either.
On Monday, I saw a stinging little tweet from Dave Moody (Sirius XM Radio) with some cute math about how many tires DIDN’T blow, therefore there was no tire problem. An answer soon came from Rodney Childers, crew chief for the SHR #4 driven by Kevin Harvick. He was in a position to ascertain this because his car spent much of the long afternoon in the garage, out of the race… from a blown tire. Rodney did some checking!
“They just all happened to be the same shift code… And for the people that say teams were pushing the camber— it was a dual zone tire and you don’t add camber to make it turn better… It wasn’t a camber problem…”
OK, for those not familiar with the term “shift code” it is a number code put on every tire, which indicates the date the tire was made and on which shift that occurred. If “all” the ones that blew were carrying the same shift code #, it’s fairly easy to see that there definitely WAS a tire problem, and why everyone didn’t suffer from it. Tough to realize that our Championship “Playoffs” are dependent on tires created by someone with a hangover, or maybe the flu! I see that as one more reason for a full-season Champion. This is the 15th year of that nonsense and we can all see the results in the empty seats and almost negative TV ratings.
And then there’s this… on January 20, 2004, NASCAR held a press conference at which were revealed the plans for what was to be called the “Chase for the Championship.” Until that presser, fans were abundant and the new Chairman and CEO sounded promising in his spoken thoughts on the future of the sport, saying all the right things… or so it seemed. This announcement didn’t need a second shoe to drop. It went straight through the floor to the sub-basement! It was a fairly long conference, as one might imagine, but one I’ve never forgotten. I’ve taken one excerpt from that conference because it coincides with my feelings on the whole “Playoff” thing. You’ll recall that last year we were told, by Brian France, that we were to drop the term “Chase” and call it what it really was, the “Playoffs.” Here then, is Brian France addressing that very thing in 2004:
Question: “Is there a seeding process for the Top 10 with ten to go?”
BRIAN FRANCE: “The seeding process is how you finish after the 26 events. That's the seeding process. You did see that we did reward… if you finish first, you have got a 45-point lead over the 10th place competitor after 26 and five points for every position in sequence, so we have… we won't call that a seeding because what we're not going to call this is a Playoff. It's not a Playoff. It's not a single elimination. It not a win or lose and you are out. Not a best three out of five. It's better than all that because it still has consistency; still has 10 tracks over two and a half months to compete. We think we have got something that's better than the Playoffs.”
Alright then! How does a journalist deal with that and keep a straight face? The only way I’ve found is to tell the truth and let those not telling it deal with the consequences. I have the entire transcript available for your reading pleasure, should you so desire. It’s a very interesting transcript and more complete than the televised version to which we were first treated.
For those that are too young to remember this, and I know you’re out there, it’s important to keep it in context with 2004. Brian France had just taken over the NASCAR leadership from his dad Bill Jr. the preceding fall. NASCAR was on top of the world… the sports world that is. We were second only to the NFL and they played 16 games a week, while we raced one race. For as long as the two giant sports had enjoyed TV coverage, one never really interfered with the other, and all was fine. Race fans watched the race of the day, which in most cases started around 1:00 on Sunday and was over before supper. Time for those in the Eastern Time Zone to get home from church and have lunch before settling down to enjoy a race. Then switch to the later NFL game and most were happy. So, where did all that go wrong?
Double-speak, such as I just pointed out drove fans nuts. Through 2004, attendance was still on the rise. Race fans were very fair in wanting to give the strange new system a chance. By 2005, attendance got a little shaky, but nothing drastic… just a steady decline from then until now, and a decline beginning in 2005 cannot be attributed to the “economy”, as NASCAR would have us believe. It was totally related to the many changes that tumbled down on the once-proud sport.
Rules of the “Chase” changed or were “tweaked” annually. The “Car of Tomorrow” was introduced in 2007, to the total dismay of race fans. “Squat COT! Beautiful it was not!” It was a fat little thing with a wing on the back, which my friend Bob referred to as a “Pregnant roller skate.” Not to disappoint, it quickly did what things with wings do. It flew… quite literally. The car was a disaster, but it took until 2013 for NASCAR to introduce what we were taught to call the “Generation-6 cars” which was quickly shortened to Gen-6. Over the time of the COT, the Chase was extended from 10 qualifiers to 12 and again later to 16, though one year, 2013, it held 13, because Brian added Jeff Gordon, with the now infamous quote, “Because I can.”
Today we have a “Playoff” that never was a “Playoff” and we couldn’t call it that, which hosts 40% of the entire field and “eliminates” but only on paper, 4 drivers every 3 races, then culminates at Homestead with only 4 remaining eligible for the now meaningless “Championship.” And I haven’t even mentioned the “Lucky Dog Rule”, the “5-minute clock” or fairy-dust points… speaking of which, at the end of the Las Vegas race, the “winner”, Brad Keselowski scored 50 points. The 3rd place car, driven by Martin Truex Jr. is listed as scoring 52 points. I know it happens, but gentle readers… that just ain’t right! We have the only sport on the planet where the winner isn’t the winner! Unintended consequences can be a bear!
Now I wonder why we’ve lost a large percentage of the NASCAR fan base…
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout and it couldn’t come at a better time… for my blood pressure! This week we’ll be treated to something a bit different. This is just Part 1 of a 2-part “Salute to Ralph Emery”, and the list of performers included is staggering. Some truly Classic and some that came later, but stars every one… so many of whom have left us now. This is a true musical extravaganza! Please enjoy!
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!