The Good The Bad And The Ugly Part 3

A Dark Day Outside Martinsville- With the NASCAR schedule expanding rapidly to all four corners of this great land private aircraft have become a necessity not a luxury for race teams. On October 24th a terrible tragedy visited this sport when a private jet owned by Hendrick Racing slammed into Bull Mountain just outside of Martinsville in dense fog. Among those who were killed were Ricky and John Hendrick and John's two daughters. The NASCAR community has lost other members to aircraft accidents including 1992 reigning Cup champion Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison and the indomitable Curtis Turner. But the shock, horror and grief don't get any easier each time. All we can do is pray there won't be a "next time" this time.

"Realignment" Claims its First Casualties- For longer than most folks have been fans after the Daytona 500 the Cup series headed off to Rockingham but that won't be the case this year. The second race of the season will be held clear across the country in California. There will be no Cup races in Rockingham this year nor likely will the Big Dogs run at the Rock again anytime in the future. Darlington lost its coveted Labor Day race weekend date last year and there will be no Southern 500 this year, a once unthinkable and still very upsetting set of circumstances. It appears Darlington is set up to lose its other date as well. If the new spring date, which just so happens to be scheduled to run the Saturday night before Mothers' Day doesn't sell out likely the once proud track, still the toughest on the circuit, will fall silent permanently. Say what you will about business decisions, shareholders interests and new markets, tracks like Darlington and Rockingham are the common threads that bind us all together as fans. Once NASCAR pulls too many of those threads the whole garment is likely to unravel.

NASCAR Officiating- I've been told I need to limit myself to more constructive criticism that doesn't stoop to the sophomoric. But about the kindest things I can think to say about NASCAR officiating during some races this season is that is inept to a near criminal degree, completely unacceptable and indicative of a basic lack of intelligence on the part of those making the calls in the tower. If I wrote how I genuinely feel about this issue you'd never read this column. The above is a Hallmark sentiment compared to how I feel. Races like the first Dover event, Talladega in the spring, the Charlotte truck race, and the first Pocono race indicate a real problem with those in charge of officiating our sport and NASCAR is never going to be able to attain "big time legitimate sport" status as long as it appears to fans and non-fans alike that the Little Rascals are running the show.

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?- For decades the trademark of Cup racing was thrilling side by side action with drivers not afraid to swap a little paint to get to the checkers first. The new spoiler and tire rules in 2004 were supposed to promote more competitive racing but they didn't to any significant degree. Too many races were out and out routs and there was a bare minimum of last lap fireworks. What's more NASCAR made some controversial "rough driving" calls that would seem to indicate little tolerance for a fender rubbing, paint swapping action. Each year Cup racing seems to get a little bit more like open wheel racing. The big teams dominate. Races tend to turn into runaways. New rules limit the ability of crew chiefs and mechanics to innovate. Having seen the fortunes of CART and Formula One in this country I can't understand why NASCAR wants to go down that road. CART remains on life-support and while worldwide there is huge interest in F1 here in the states it's a minor curiosity that draws less fan interest than Beach Volleyball. Where ever the races are held and whatever dates those tracks are assigned the primary goal of NASCAR has to be to bring their A game to each track to thrill the fans in the stands and watching the race at home. Due to the nature of the sport there's always going to be an occasional runaway win but the ratio of clinkers to classics is unacceptably high and it seems to get worse each year. Yet those with the mandate to protect the long term health of the sport we love seem more interested in contrived points systems and New York City fashion shows than improving what they like to call the "Core Product."

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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