September 25, 2003 | 8:53 A.M. EST
Congratulations on your recent promotion and your new job title. I hope it came with a nice pay increase, the corner office, and a reserved parking spot right next to the door. As I mentioned last week in a column called “Common Sense Prevails” (which you apparently read) I have a how passel of ideas on how to make the sport better. Since your new administration seems to want to convey a “can do” attitude I’ll give you some ideas on what you should do.
Hey, the new rules about racing back to the caution flag worked out great on Sunday. Now, I don’t know if you stuck around that long or not, but there were a couple safety-related issues that came up during the race. For one thing old Dale Earnhardt Junior got his bell rung pretty solid in a hard hit into the wall. Trust me, Brian, you don’t want to go losing a driver who is arguably the sport’s most popular driver. Besides being morally reprehensible it would be bad for business. We need to draft a notice that by the start of the 2005 season, each and every track where the Cup cars, Busch cars, of Craftsman trucks race will have the SAFER barrier installed. No excuses. If they can’t get it done, that track is off the schedule. Yeah, it’s a technical challenge, but JFK set a goal of landing a man on the moon within a decade and the slide rule and pocket protector types overcame greater technological obstacles than SAFER barriers to get it done. Just do it. Safety first, right? You ought to have that motto printed on NASCAR's bank deposit slips to remind you every day.
Secondly, Joe Nemechek had a hard hit as well and his car went up in flames. Now old Joe isn’t as popular as Earnhardt, but he’s a nice guy and has a lot of fans. I’m not going to get too technical here because I sense you were never up until five in the morning Sunday wrenching on an old Chevy because you needed it to get you to work Monday. But one big issue with fires is fuel pumps.
Fuel pumps, as the name implies, pump fuel from the fuel cell to the carb. And you gotta have fuel for the engine to work. It’s been tested. The problem is the mechanical fuel pumps NASCAR mandates hang off the side of the engine like a big old elephant’s ear in a real vulnerable spot. On the Chevys (they’re the ones with Bow ties on the front) and the Dodges (They’re the ones with sheep on the front) they’re on the right front corner of the engine. On the Fords (They’re the ones with the ovals up front) the fuel pump is located on the left front corner of the engine. Now knowing that you don’t need to be Smoky Yunick to sense when a car goes nose first into the wall that pump is going to get knocked off, fuel is going to spill all over the hot headers and there’s going to be a Hell of a fire. Fire is scary stuff. Talk to some drivers. They’re a weird sort. Rolling end over end at 150 MPH doesn’t bother them much. Slamming into walls doesn’t even make them forget their sponsors’ names in the post wreck interview. But mention fire and those drivers will turn a little pale and get the shakes.
So what to do? That’s simple. And electric fuel pump can be mounted inside the fuel cell or in some other out of the way location. What’s more an electric fuel pump can be wired to an inertia switch that turns off the pump after an impact of a preset severity cutting off the gas flow. (This isn’t Buck Rogers stuff I’m talking here. I promise you the car you drove to work this afternoon has such an inertia switch.) So why hasn’t it been done? Well NASCAR’s standard line has been electric fuel pumps are expensive and they are trying to contain costs. (Yeah, yeah, but they said it with a straight face.) Now I’m looking here at my Summit High Performance catalogue (I’m sure you keep one beside the hopper too so it’s on page 35) and a Holley blue pump with a 14 pound regulator can be had for $145.95. Add in fifty bucks or so for an inertia switch and wiring and you’re still under $200.00 compared to a Holley high performance mechanical pump ($75.95 also on page 35). The difference is about $120.00. Let’s face it, most race team owners spend more than that for braces for their kid’s ugly puppy. Let’s get this done. Call Mike Helton into the office and ask him point blank, “Mike, is NASCAR in favor of fire?” My guess is he responds, “No, sir, Mr. France, we sure ain’t. Or if we are I didn’t get the memo.” Hand him a printed copy of this column, point out a none too bright writer came up with a solution and tell him you’d like electric pumps on the cars in time for Kansas City. No sense in trying to get it done for Talladega. At Talladega they wreck so hard the fires can be electrical in nature, as in the alternator went through the fuel cell during the wreck. (Ha-ha. That’s an old joke. So am I.)
Onto other matters. I hope I am not shocking you when I let you know most race fans come from far more modest means than you grew up with. Attending a race is an expensive proposition what with tickets, travel, a hotel room or camper space etc. etc. A lot of your fans scrimp and save their money, don’t buy other items they’d like to have, and work a lot of overtime to attend a race. And nothing toasts their buns worse than spending all that money to see a race end under caution. (Ask Mr. Helton about the end of the 2002 Firecracker 400 if you don’t think so. That was just plain ugly.) In the truck series NASCAR adopted a rule that a race may not end under caution. They have what they call green/white/checker finishes. Some race sanctioning bodies go even further and say the final five laps of a race must be run under green. (And you ought to hear the fans hooting and hollering when a five lap shooutout commences. It’s like the walls of Jericho are fixing to come down.) It’s high time there was the same sort of rule in your top division of racing. As a side benefit, teams aren’t going to gamble on fuel mileage when they might have to run another five to ten laps of racing beyond the advertised distance. And fans don’t think much of fuel mileage races either. No, sir. The standard reason past officials have said this can’t be done is because the scheduled race distance is printed on the back of entry forms. Come on now. How disingenuous is that? Change the danged forms. If you need help changing the toner cartridge in your copy machine, call me and I will be there presently. I’m in the book.
Now, I hope you are sitting down cause I’m about to drop a bomb here. It seems very likely some teams, including some of the more successful ones, are currently cheating. Please don’t make me repeat myself because it pains me too. At issue here is a technology called traction control. Now it would take me a months of Sundays to explain what all is going on and why it’s an advantage but let me just sum up and say traction control is a decided advantage when it comes to winning races. (Or what you like to call “the product.”) Sooner of later the story is going to break that a team using traction control won a race and it’s going to destroy the credibility of the sport permanently. This evil has got to be rooted out and the punishment for offenders has got to be “Hammer of God” level, as in lifetime suspension. You need to put your best people on this and do it now. Have a look at the site www.moretraction.com. Scary, no? Now a good first step would be to have NASCAR hand out ignition boxes, marked and sealed, prior to a race the way you do restrictor plates. That can’t completely eliminate the problem. Traction control can still be hidden in alternators or tachometers but if these folks won’t clean their act up you might have to hand them out as well. I’m told a somewhat expensive but readily obtainable audio device can be pointed at a car, and it will analyze the sound of the exhaust and let you know who is cheating in this manner. That’s for smarter folks than me to deal with. And while we’re on the topic a lot of newer fans and folks who only casually follow the sport have a hard time understanding how a car can be found illegal after a race and the driver is still the winner. It’s about time you start taking away wins for serious rules infractions. Money don’t mean spit to these folks as much of it as they make. A $35,000 fine? Ooh, that’s what I make in like three minutes. Ouch!
I gotta say, Brian, the biggest disappointment I’ve had during your brief tenure as the big cheese is your comments on restrictor plate racing, the sort of racing that killed my hero Dale Earnhardt. You said basically NASCAR will tweak the aero rules a bit but the plates are here to stay because no one at NASCAR can figure out a better way to keep speeds in a reasonable range at Talladega and Daytona. (Those are the only two tracks that use the plates.) That’s not the “can do” attitude you are trying to convey. That’s defeatism and fatalism, that’s saying, “we can’t do it so it’s over.” Balderdash! It ain’t over until we say it’s over! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? (Work with me, I’m on a roll.) Plate racing can and must be stopped. The carnage and tragedy are just too great and too frequent.
There are probably a hundred ways to eliminate the plates, but the most obvious is to lower the banking at Talladega and Daytona. Take a look at your business cards. (Oops. Haven’t gotten them yet? Buzz Lesa and make her run to the printer and pick them up. I know what the deal is with sibling rivalry, dude. I have four sisters.) You are CEO of NASCAR. NASCAR is (or so I am told) a separate entity from the International Speedway Corporation which owns Daytona and Talladega. Yeah, it’s going to cost them some money and they won’t be happy with your call, but keep your eye on the ball. You are CEO of NASCAR. Homestead had problems so it’s been redone once and is being redone again. Texas had some problems so that track has been redone numerous times. The folks at New Hampshire keep trying to improve their track to make for better racing. Atlanta was reconfigured with fans’ sight lines in mind though I can’t claim I’m 100% behind the new configuration. Simply put if Daytona or Talladega belonged to anyone but the ISC NASCAR would have made them lower the banking decades ago. Making the team owners pay for expensive restrictor plate engine (don’t call them motors) and Daytona and Talladega body programs as well as bushels of trick shocks and springs just isn’t fair. Brian, you need to fix this plate racing deal before you’re called upon to mutter hollow platitudes after the death of another driver. Because I promise you the next time you have a driver killed at one of those two tracks the main stream media and folks like me are going to tear you and the organization your granddaddy and daddy built to this level to shreds. You’re going to be testifying in front of congressional committees as to why auto racing shouldn’t be banned and those folks don’t care one whit about the truth. They just want good sound bites to help them get re-elected. Your granddaddy had to deal with the deaths of Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly, and too many more. Your daddy had to deal with the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, the incomparable Dale Earnhardt and too many more. When it comes time for you to pass the torch to the next generation if you can say no driver died on your watch that will be the finest legacy you could possibly leave to remember you by. But I’ve got to tell you, Brian, I am sick to the stomach worrying about next week’s race at Talladega already. And I’m not the sort prone to worrying. Oh, your daddy might tell you I’m the worrying sort but if he does you lean over and whisper “February 18th, 2001” in his ear for me. Never forget, Brian, please never forget. There are a lot of us who won’t.
And while we’re on the topic, could you please visit the NBC trailer, grab a hold of the head chucklehead, give him a severe noogie, and announce the first commandment of Brian, “Thou shalt not promote Talladega race broadcasts with wreck footage.”
Well, when it comes to idea for improving the sport, I’ve got ideas like a junkyard dog has fleas but my coffee’s cold, I’m getting it told and I’ve got to get back to work. Besides I think I’ve given you enough stuff to do this week. I’ll write again soon with more ideas. We’ve both got the same goal, to make sure this sport is the best it can be so as always there’s no need for thanks. On the other hand, big checks, big block muscle cars, big bore V-Twin American motorcycles, and big barrels of beer are always appreciated.