The Hotel California

Over about a 12-hour period on the UAW-GM Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour, the key word was "humility."

First, the stars of Speedway Motorsports Inc, Bruton Smith and H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, held what was billed as a "tireside chat" in which they took up the cause of the average fan.

"Our sport is out of control in some areas," said Smith, whose company owns six NASCAR tracks. "Who should be controlling this? NASCAR. I'd like to see NASCAR take a strong role in holding down costs per se.

"Look what it's doing to other sports," Smith continued. "That's not illegal, but it's immoral to expect fans to pay those ridiculous prices."

The next morning, NASCAR, having obviously received a report on the "Bruton and Humpy Show," paraded eight of its key operatives to another stage 5 miles away to wax similarly sentimental.

"NASCAR, when the sun sets and rises every day, is about racing," said George Pyne, the executive vice president.

Mike Helton, the president, made a cameo appearance - he didn't answer questions before hustling away to "an important meeting" - and spoke about "being good stewards of the sport" before passing the baton to Pyne.

Pyne cited figures that he said made major-league stock car racing the No. 2 sport in America, but he warned against the sport "gaining the world but losing its soul.”

"We're nothing unless you have a product," he cautioned. "Wherever you are, whatever you do, it all starts with the product.

"There is still a passion for the sport. We're run by people who love racing and (themselves) race. We love what we do. We're not confused about what we're doing. It's still about racing."

The ones who might have been confused were those watching. Based on the natty attire of the nine men on the podium, it might just as easily have been President Bush's Cabinet. Eight wore suits that were either black or navy. Seven wore crisply pressed white shirts, and all wore conservative ties. Jim Hunter's gray suit and Paul Brooks' bright-blue shirt were the closest thing to striking a blow for diversity. Based on the row of men at the front of the room, the panel discussion might have been concerned with the prime lending rate, and the corporate sponsor might have been Brooks Brothers.

The trouble is, everyone pays lip service to helping the fans, but no one does anything about it. Smith and Wheeler said that ticket prices needed to be slashed, but it was NASCAR they pointed their fingers toward. NASCAR was keeping ticket prices high, they warned, with exorbitant sanctioning fees and escalating purse demands. Wheeler talked about reducing the cost of the actual racing.

Meanwhile, NASCAR's competition guru, Gary Nelson, came down from his technology mountain to say that he'd like to do something about escalating costs, restrictor-plate engines and cars that increasingly look more like identical sports prototypes, but that he knew all the facts and figures, he'd done all the testing, he'd considered all the options, and there was just no way.

"Anything that seems simple on the surface, it all sounds good," Nelson said, "but when you go out and try to do it, it doesn't work out that way."

So there they all were, seemingly affluent and comfortable, but actually, at least by their own admissions, trapped on some otherworldly merry-go-round of advancing technology and exponentially increasing costs.

I guess it's just life in the fast lane. Or perhaps, as the Eagles might tell us, they've all welcomed the rest of us to the Hotel California.

Such a lovely place.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002, Daytona 500

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