Dollars And Sense

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All of us have been through shock, revulsion, hatred and pain in the past 10 days. While our resolve has endured, surely the emotion has subsided. An example is the decision by NASCAR – inevitably moving in the same direction as most sports – to postpone the race in New Hampshire.

For a day or two, we all wanted to race. We wanted to live our lives as we had always lived it. We didn’t want to give those damn terrorists the satisfaction of disrupting a single, solitary thing in our lives.

Then, a day or so later, a stock car race in the middle of New Hampshire – particularly one that appeared increasingly difficult to get to – just didn’t seem so important anymore. It seemed silly to move ahead, not to mention dangerous.

Cooler heads prevailed. We returned to our senses. No one, not even the beastly Osama bin Laden, would equate the postponement of a stock car race as caving in to terrorists. When NASCAR put the race off to Nov. 23, it wasn’t like we delivered the keys of the kingdom to the barbarians at the gate.

We still need these cooler heads. We still need to think practically. The world has changed, and at every level of our lives, we need to weigh what has happened and proceed accordingly. We’ll leave military actions to the judgment of our national leaders. Each of us, however, must still tend to our little corner of the world.

Here is how racing has changed: It’s going to be much harder to continue to perform at the same high level without some sacrifices. Racing, right now, is too expensive, given the national crisis. Given the need to fill those 43-car fields next year, someone, preferably in NASCAR, had better get to work very quickly on some cost-cutting measures.

Just for the record, these were already needed. Out of the top 40 drivers in the current points standings, at least nine do not have a primary sponsor signed up for next season. The economic climate was bleak even before the twin towers fell. Now the country faces the prospect of an extended period of military strife.

Furthermore, there is really no telling – particularly since, in racing, so many details are kept secret – how many other teams are encountering problems that we, or even they, do not know about. There may be machinations occurring in corporate boardrooms that will leave other teams stranded. A long time ago, I vowed never to believe there is really any such thing in this sport as a “multi-year contract.” I’ve got too many souvenirs like the “Racing to 2000” shirt that once was handed out by Mello Yello. A lot of fancy contracts have fancy exit clauses.

So it is going to be much harder for many teams to make it, and a wise ruling body – not necessarily NASCAR, but hope springs eternal – would be working right now to do something about it.

Sorry, I forgot. I’m confident Imperial Potentate Helton will say that cost-cutting is an ongoing project that has been going on for 52 years and that NASCAR is not going to react just for the sake of reacting.

Catch my drift?

A lot of things can be done to reduce costs. A large number of items in NASCAR are so far out of control that a lot of the moderate-to-small teams are having all sorts of difficulties keeping their heads above water. Junior Johnson saw this coming, and he got out with his fortune intact. So, too, did Bud Moore. Some of these race-crazy newcomers are just liable to work themselves into desperate straits. Someone – again, preferable NASCAR – should try to save them from themselves.

Get rid of the restrictor-plate frenzy. Teams are spending 25-40 percent of their engine budgets in pursuit of an elusive 10 horsepower at two tracks. How insipid is it for a 450-horsepower engine to cost at least 10 times what a 750-horsepower engine costs? Give them all the same engine. It’s only four races. Cut off the engine builders’ gravy train for just a short time while our country and our economy recover.

Let the Lockheed wind tunnel dedicate itself to improving the aerodynamics of the new war planes on the horizon. Save the teams – not to mention the manufacturers – the outrageous cost of wind-tunnel research. Give every Ford – and every Chevy, every Dodge and every Pontiac – the same body, constructed by one entity. Have the same body on the cars at Talladega that is hung on them at Martinsville.

There must be a hundred ways the control freaks of NASCAR could save the teams money if they’d use their freakiness to control costs.

Once upon a time, a crop of new cars would descend on Daytona, and pretty soon, it would be common knowledge, say, that the new Roadrunner was slicker than the new Torino, or vice-versa. If the Plymouth teams had the edge, the Ford teams would go to work and try to find more power, or (once again) vice-versa. Think about this really hard for a moment. Can you really make an argument that the way things are done now – cars that look practically the same, constant dickering with quarter-inches on ground clearance and millimeters on spoiler heights and angles – works any better?

NASCAR ought to forget about, week after week after week, searching for the Holy Grail of 43 cars being equal. They don’t need to be “equal.” “Equivalent” would be fine.

In the past decade, NASCAR officials have conclusively disproven the myth that computer technology provides more options. At least when run by whoever the faceless geeks are that NASCAR employees, the laptops have closed five times as many doors as they have opened.

The sky is no longer the limit, at least not after Sept. 11. Corporate America is not going to step up to the plate with more money right now, simply because of the uncertainty inherent in the national crisis.

The choice for many teams soon – no, probably right now – is either take less money or have no primary sponsor at all.

NASCAR officials need to step in and cut back. It’s going to be austere racing or no racing at all.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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