18 Is Still Obscene

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As this column is being written Thursday evening it looks New England is in for a spot of lousy weather ahead. What’s left of Tropical Depression Henri is going to spread rain over the Northeast this weekend followed by another several rainy days caused by the storms currently pelting the Midwest. Weather in New England is not normally a concern of mine. Anyone who chooses to live there is used to lousy weather and it’s their own fault for not moving some place more hospitable. But this weekend the Winston Cup circuit visits Loudon, New Hampshire and currently rain is forecast for Saturday through next Wednesday. And then of course there’s that Force 5 hurricane ambling about the Caribbean trying to make up her mind which way to head next.

Maybe NASCAR will somehow manage to get both races in. They’ve managed to do so numerous times this year when the forecast was grim. For the sake of all involved, drivers, teams and fans because sitting around in the rain in New England has got to suck the will to live of the hardiest soul. But logically it seems that sooner or later NASCAR’s luck is going to run out again and a stretch of bad weather is going to force a race weekend to be postponed until a later date. That would present a real hardship once again because the next open weekend is after Thanksgiving.

No matter how the schedule is arranged there’s always the possibility that nasty weather is going to force a race to be postponed until after Thanksgiving. But with the current schedule NASCAR is leaving themselves very little wiggle room. This year there are twenty straight race weekends leading up until the end of the season. So having considered the possibility of a postponed race the powers that be took that into consideration and next year there will only be eighteen straight races that will stretch from New Hampshire on July 25th until the Homestead finale on November 21st. The change from this year’s schedule is there will be an off weekend scheduled on July 18th that could be used to make up races postponed prior to that point. And what makes the schedule seem even odder is just two races deep into the season, after Daytona and Rockingham on February 29th, there’s an open date. I just can’t see the logic there. Naturally Easter and Mother’s Day are still sacrosanct and off limits (for now). There’s an off weekend in May between California and Richmond and NASCAR chose to keep the all star race to be staged at Lowes on the weekend prior to the 600. The only other off weekend is that July 18th date. If there are only going to be two off weekends other than Easter and Mother’s Day on the schedule it seems they should be distributed a little better like perhaps a weekend off in August and another in the middle of October. That would give NASCAR some wiggle room in case of a postponement. Imagine a nightmarish scenario where Watkins Glen and New Hampshire are both postponed by rain and have to be made up at the end of the season stretching the conclusion of the season into December. And it tends to be a bit cold up that way at that time of year. Sometimes it even snows.

NASCAR has been extremely lucky as far as weather as of late. The September race at New Hampshire was postponed by the national tragedy of 9-11 and was run on the Friday after Thanksgiving with unseasonably warm weather. The last race prior to that I can recall (and I’m out on a limb here because I don’t have my notes) getting postponed beyond the same week it was intended to run was Talladega in 1997.

Even ignoring weather complications twenty straight race weekends is intolerable and eighteen are still obscene. Right now we’re seeing some signs of burnout among crewmen and even drivers which is possibly contributing to the recent spate of ill mannered behavior and the unsightly brawl on pit road after the Richmond race. In addition to losing the bonus most teams pay crew members for a good finish those guys at RCR racing had to be beside themselves when they saw the 29 car hit the wall and get torn to shreds. Likewise the 21 crew members weren’t happy that their car which had survived the race with barely a nick was suddenly torn up during the pit road altercation after the race. You’re talking about guys many of whom haven’t had a day off in a long time facing the unpleasant proposition of a car from their stable in need of repair so they’d be unlikely to get a day off this week and they’d be working well into the evening a few nights getting those cars put back together. It’s no wonder tempers are boiling over.

With more events on the schedule than ever before in the modern era and Cup tracks in more far flung locations it’s more important than ever some consideration be given the limits of human endurance. An ideal solution would be to lop a few race dates off the schedule. (And my vote goes to the two road course race weekends.) Barring that unlikely scenario NASCAR needs to look at distributing open weekends better both in because of the possibility of a postponement and for the good of the folks who keep this vast, high speed circus rolling down the road.

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NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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