The Good The Bad And The Ugly Part 3
December 12, 2003 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Our Turn- For years NASCAR fans have looked down their noses at the stick and ball sports as players in those league faced arrests for drug usage, weapons violations, assault and other assorted sordid crimes. That could never happen here, we told ourselves. Our young drivers are tutored by their elders and with a driver having to answer to his sponsor that sort of conduct would never happen in racing. Well it has. They weren’t big names, but two drivers in NASCAR’s top divisions were suspended indefinitely for violations of the sport’s substance abuse rules. I’m not here to cast stones. It’s an unhappy reality that as NASCAR drivers get younger and younger and are paid increasingly large sums of money occasionally a young man or woman is going to use poor judgment and do something stupid. It’s the same equation other sports figures have been doomed by, youth and sudden wealth equals temptations they are not mature enough to face. And with NASCAR racing in the media spotlight gone are the days when the close cadre of the racing media can sweep unpleasant stories under the carpet to preserve the sport’s image. I’ve stopped smirking when I read about stick and ball players legal troubles and excesses these days. As Bob Dylan once remarked, “You see, you’re the same as me, I hope you’re satisfied.”
Realignment- Only NASCAR would trot out an idea a majority of fans hate and try to disguise the fact the emperor has no clothes with a lame slogan like “modernizing tradition.” But the sad reality is a 53 year tradition of running the Southern 500 at Darlington on Labor Day Weekend has hit the scrap pile for reasons of expediency and greed. Some folks claim the racing at California, where the Whatever Cup boys will be racing next Labor Day, will improve as the asphalt ages. Maybe so, but the cookie cutter in Lala Land will never be Darlington. If you dare to peak behind the curtain to see what the Daytona Beach wizards are up to, it would be obvious to even Pollyanna. NASCAR needed to find a way to award the ISC a second date at California while denying a second date to the Speedway Motorsport’s track in Texas, especially since a lawsuit demanding that second date will likely play out in court in 2004. It would seem that storied old Rockingham, the real loser to realignment in that the track will only host one date next year, is in real danger of falling off the schedule all together in 2005.
Short Tracks- The local bullrings are the breeding grounds for the NASCAR stars of tomorrow but a disheartening amount of those local tracks are losing money or ceasing operations all together. The fact NASCAR is committed to running more Friday and Saturday night events in their top three touring series which compete for the fans attention with the local tracks could just be the last nail in the coffin for the bull rings. Yet NASCAR says they are committed to diversity. Unfortunately it's those local tracks where minority and female drivers earn their way to the top ranks of the sport and there are less and less oppurtunities to do so each time a local track shuts down.
NASCARS- They don’t use the term “aero-matching” anymore, but NASCAR slipped the unpopular idea in through the back door under the Trojan horse of brand parity. Only “parity” tends to make racing a “parody” in which the top teams are reduced to the level of the least common denominator. NACAR opened this Pandora’s Box back in the late 80s when they allowed GM to race cars whose street counterparts were front wheel drive despite the massive body modifications needed to the sheetmetal to make those bodies work. Now there is practically no resemblance to stock cars left in “stock car” racing and the level of downforce the teams have managed to extract from their “funny cars” has gotten out of hand and by and large made for less exciting racing. And new problems appear on the horizon as Detroit styling studios buck the wet bar of soap look for more aggressive looking, less aerodynamic street cars that consumers might actually want to buy. Unless the Big 3 want to race the Chevy Coelacanth, the Dodge Dodo, and the Ford Dinosaur something has to give soon.