We Need a Little Less Perfection
I have this idea about what ails our beloved Monster/NASCAR Cup Series and its siblings that’s a bit different, and I’m going to have trouble explaining it, so please bear with me while I struggle.
I saw this book title: “Be Happy without Being Perfect.” That’s what we need, I thought. NASCAR today is too perfect, but we’re never happy because it’s not perfect enough, and since we’ll never find total perfection, we’ll remain unhappy.
Please note that my “perfection” has nothing to do with rules enforcement, points/championship systems or executive sobriety skills. I speak of something else entirely.
The perfection I see in excessive amounts is that which brings predictability. It’s sterile. Eventually, it gets boring. We need some imperfection to make it more interesting… to be happy.
Think of it this way: In a race today, nearly all the cars finish, and they’re all so close to the same speed that nobody can pass, and the same drivers are there every week, so there’s no uncertainty among them about each other (OK, maybe about Joey Logano every now and then), so why sit down on Saturday evening or Sunday morning to watch something that completely lacks unpredictability?
The start of the Daytona 500 these days consists of perfect but not so interesting cars, compared to the diversity of starting line-ups decades ago.
Back in my Stone Age racing glory days, cars were blowing tires, blowing engines, losing sheet metal and generally being so unreliable that it kept you in suspense to see who’d go and who’d blow. Also, the guys with big money could run rings around the “little guys” with their second-hand tires and third-hand cars, but all that passing created action on the track. Then there were always a couple of new guys out there getting in everybody else’s way. While a 500-mile race had enough quiet stretches for your bathroom and beer breaks, things perked up often enough that you didn’t fall asleep - as frequently is a threat today.
This used to be a much more common site than it is today.
The Harvick spoiler fiasco is a case in point. We have a sport that is so micro-managed - to create cars that are so equal - that minute tinkering with a piece of sheet metal (work so subtle that it can’t be detected pre-race at the track) is considered a threat to world peace and physics, and somebody gets all but kicked out of the playoffs and fined an amount that could keep most short-track teams running all season.
How the hell did we get to this?
(Digressing Rant: How can so many fans equate this kind of cheating with genocide and still revere Smokey Yunick? For that matter, how many of those screaming at Joey Logano still have Dale Earnhardt ball caps?)
Here’s another example that’s probably going to get me in all kinds of trouble, but I still think it’s valid. Arguably, the most famous statue in the world is Venus de Milo, and arguably, elements of that statue are pure perfection. But it’s not all that hard to find a beautiful statue that includes bare female breasts; Americans once commonly had them in gardens and parks. Ms. de Milo is all the more alluring because she’s NOT perfect - her arms are missing!
The trouble with NASCAR is that, aside from some of the parts involved in the thought processes of senior management, there’s nothing missing. Our races are Venus with arms, pleasant enough but not interesting enough for 36 extended viewings a year.
During the short life of racing at the Kingsdale Volunteer Fire Department Motorsports Arena near Littlestown, Pa., I saw a race (run on a flat oval carved around a mud-bog pit) where a huge mud hole in the middle of the third and fourth turns defeated all comers and forced them to go around it every lap of every race. The racing went on as scheduled, and the fans loved the unplanned hazard. In NASCAR, if it rains overnight, we have a “competition caution” to stop and see if things have gotten too imperfect - can’t have that!
Yes, you can. The 1963 Daytona 500 was run after a rain, and on the film of that event, you can see a large water puddle at the entrance to pit road - drivers had to take evasive maneuvers.
This appears to be a screen capture from TV, and the quality is pretty bad, but you can still see the water on the infield grass at the ’63 Daytona 500. It was even at the pit road entrance during the race.
Yes, sometimes things like that aren’t safe, but we can create safe unpredictability and imperfection - or at least allow it to happen - understanding that it can make the racing more interesting than the sterility of today.
If we don’t do that, I’m afraid what happens next will be pretty predictable, too.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
While looking for another of the photos used above, I found this one.
Did he wreck so hard that it blew all his clothes off? I don’t see “Manufacturer of Stylish Men’s Undergarments” among the sponsors on the car, so I’m not sure what else to say… except that a matching helmet would have been nice.
For the record, according to the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame, from whose collection this arresting image comes, it’s from a 1957 incident at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, and the driver is one Woody Coleman. I think he later traded guardrails for brass poles.
(Editor's note: We found a naming contest for this photo that has some amusing content... as you might imagine.)