Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dealing with rain delays and whatever

The biggest problem with rain delays during a race is keeping oneself entertained. We could enjoy some of the commercials we may have missed during last week's race (advertising writers managed to capture perfectly Juan Pablo Montoya's perceived personality for his Juicy Fruit Gum commercial, by the way). We were entertained during the ESPN 2 rain program in which the three Wallace brothers, Rusty, Mike, and Kenny interviewed each other, and during the Fox rain program with Mike Joy's incessant "old" jokes targeting the venerated journalist, Dave Bergeron. We even enjoyed it when Kyle Busch took over a mediocre interview from Matt Yokum and interviewed himself, and, in the process, named the "gopher cam's" gopher graphic "Skids."
But most of the time, we were bored.
Being bored motivated us to think and find something to rant about. So we decide to rant about the love of mediocrity.
People tend toward mediocraty, especially the NASCAR "fans" who complain that it isn't like the old days; that it is "all about the money."
There are claims around the web that NASCAR "let Toyota have more horsepower (from their engines) than Chevy, Ford, and Dodge."
This is similar to claims that NASCAR "let Hendrick Motorsports win sixteen races last year."
These claims are true, but the idea they convey, that of special privilages to certain teams or manufacturers, is wrong.
The fact is that NASCAR has a set of rules and specifications for the engines and cars that all the teams must follow. I don't know much about engineering or the mechanics of engine building, but it seems to me that, under these rules, NASCAR "lets" any team build an engine that produces as much horsepower as the Toyota engine, and it "lets" any team win as much as Hendrick Motorsports does. All they have to do is work to be competitive with the top teams in these catagories. To make special rules pertaining to one team, or one manufacturer in order to lower the standard to enable the other teams to compete, would be completely unfair, and would exploit mediocraty. In order to exist as a sport, technology and expertise must be constantly improving, rather than degenerating to the level of the least talented of the competitors.
Another truism seen around the Web is "NASCAR is all about the money."
To quote Tauc, from Stargate SG-1, "Indeed."
NASCAR was founded for the money, as many fans seem to have forgotten. According to a Speed TV program about the history of the Daytona 500 and NASCAR aired during the Daytona Speed Weeks,. stock car racing was in a serious decline at the time "Big Bill" France founded the sanctioning body. According to the sources on that program, it is unlikely that stock car racing would even exist outside of local tracks outside small towns dotted across America, if at all. Without NASCAR, there would be no Auto Club Speedway, nor would there be Darlington, Lowe's, Daytona, Talledega, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Chicagoland, or Loudon, unless they were built for open wheel cars. Tony Stewart would probably still have been in the right place at the right time, as IRL split from CART, but unless one was an avid USAC fan, no one would have ever heard of Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, or Ryan Newman. Likewise, such names as Ned Jarrett, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, or Mark Martin would be known only to those who saw them race at their local tracks. Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr would have never been able to quit their day jobs, there racing careers would have been limited to that of a weekend warrior driving a car for some wealthy hobbyist who had $20,000 to spend on a Kia to race on Friday and Saturday nights. Frankly, even as far back as 1952, a race car was too expensive at $2,000 for the average racer to buy and maintain. He or she either had to race the family sedan, or hope that a racecar owner saw enough talent to hire him or her to drive the car.
Now the cars cost $200,000 or more. They do not look like the cars you buy from the show room, but neither do they look like any of the much lighter cars you would find on the open wheel circuits. They have fenders and roofs, and weigh around 3400 lbs. They are, technically, stock cars, albeit purpose built racing stock cars. In order to be competitive, the teams that field these cars need money, and that money has to come from sponsors. A sport, such as NASCAR, must continue to grow and build just like any other business, in order to have continued existance, and in order to do that, it must have money.
To quote from Mark Yost's 2007 book, The 200 MPH Billboard:

NASCAR takes care of its sponsors better than any other major league sports in America. Primarily because NASCAR--the executives, the drivers, and the fans--realize that sponsors are the lifeblood of the sport. They understand that the sponsors are the ones who pay the bills and allow the whole thing to happen.
"I put the sponsors right up there with the fans," said Richard Petty, "Without either of them, I wouldn't be able to do what I do."

Now people seem to think that the debacle last weekend in California, due to the weather somehow means that greed has somehow taken over common sense. These are the same people who feel that if we do not live in the southeastern part of the United States, we should either have to travel there to see a race, or read about the race, after the fact, in a magazine or newspaper, just as we did in the old days. They believe that they have more of a right to watch a NASCAR race at Rockingham (because ARCA is somehow beneath them), along with 40,000 other people, than 65,000 Californians--who had to call in sick to work--have to see a race in their part of the country.
They cannot face the fact that NASCAR is not the same sport as that which features the weekend warriors on the local tracks, but is a national passtime, and is for everybody who is interested, not just a small segment of the population in the rural South.
Granted, it was a travesty for NASCAR and Fox to try to run the Auto Club 500 on Sunday, but that decision more than likely lost money than gained money. There was no broadcast while we were waiting for work on the drying of the track or the postponement of the race. The local Fox affiliates ran their own programming, collecting their own money from their own advertisers. Fox Sports kept us updated through the night with fifteen second spots, for which they had to pay.
NASCAR has a product to sell. They sell the product to Fox Sports, to the ticket holders, and to the sponsors. Fox Sports, in turn, has to sell the product to the television audiences and their own sponsors. These business organizations had an obligation to present their products, so they did their best to do so. (End RANT)
Once the track was actually raceworthy, and the cars were able to race on Monday, it turned out to be a better race than we have seen at Fontana. There were 33 lead changes, and there was plenty of wheel to wheel racing for position throughout the field. There were long green flag runs, and very exciting green flag pit stops. There was a hint of Hendrick domination, as Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon--who seemed to have unbeatable cars early in each green flag run--finished third and fourth, but Roush-Fenway driver Carl Edwards was the second winner in two races. Whether or not speedway racing on a 2 mile long intermediate track is your can of beer is up to you, but the race at Fontana showed us that there is plenty of good and competitive racing yet to come Racing we wouldn't even see if it weren't for NASCAR's "greed."

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