A Voice For The Fans ~ Restrictor Plate Racing… by: PattyKay Lilley
by: PattyKay Lilley
Good day gentle readers, and welcome to RacersReunion, a site we know is read by folks that matter. Today I bring to the table a subject sure to elicit some very strong opinions… on both sides. The past weekend at Talladega Alabama brought with it some very good things, and conversely, some very bad things. The good things, at least from my point of view, were the rules changes announced for the 2013 racing season. We thoroughly discussed our feelings of the guaranteed top-35 here on these pages, and it is now gone with the end of the 2012 season. No credit for that claimed here, but it is a happy coincidence, nonetheless. Changes in the qualifying procedure and a return to the luck of the draw on qualifying order amount to nothing earth-shattering in either direction and I assume are meant to accompany and enhance the end of said guarantee.
The worst thing, sadly, was the race itself. Before the green flag fell on Sunday, I engaged in some conversation… if you can call 140 characters at a time conversation… with a younger fan on Twitter, and we exchanged our abbreviated versions of restrictor plate racing. I simply relied on Dale Earnhardt to do my talking and quoted him as saying, “That ain’t racin.” (And it ain’t) She said she was a Junior fan and told me all about how much he “loved” the plate races. Ahem!
No dear readers, after the post-race interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr., I did not seek her out to deliver a giant helping of “I told you so.” I’m quite sure that she, like a million or two others folks, all heard his words, and they in no way expressed the “love” of plate racing I’d heard about earlier that day. Dale is not a kid anymore; he is a seasoned veteran who turns 38 years old on Wednesday. With age and experience have come practicality and wisdom, as one would hope they would with each of us. Now well beyond his teens, and with his Father’s death a bit further in the rear view mirror, he sees things from the perspective of a man, and a businessman as well.
“If this is how we are going to race and that is how we are going to continue to race and nothing is going to change, I think NASCAR should build the cars. It would save us a lot of money.”
That is a thought I have had and written about for many years, ever since those infernal plates came on the scene in 1988… purportedly to make racing “safer.” Oh please! (Before continuing, yes, I know they used them briefly in the 1970s) They returned after a bad crash at Talladega in 1987, which sent Bobby Allison’s car into and almost through the catch fence and into a packed grandstand.
Scary? Oh, you bet! But NASCAR had a “fix.” They told us that cars would never “fly” again. Raise your hand if you can remember Richard Petty’s horrific crash in the Daytona 500 of that year, the very first race of the new era restrictor plates.
Some fix, wouldn’t you agree? All it’s done is cost teams an astonishing and astounding amount of money every year, while solving nothing. Starting with that race, in which King Richard proved undeniably that cars could indeed still fly, even without wings, we have endured 25 years of various versions of the restrictor plate combined with many different aero and spoiler packages, to bring us to what we saw on Sunday. Not only did the car of Tony Stewart take flight, but it took out some 24 other cars as well, in what they are now calling the biggest crash in NASCAR history.
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, gentle readers, and that is what we are still expected to call “entertainment.” Dale Junior, when told by a member of the media, “I know it sucks for you guys, but for the fans, it’s awesome to watch” replied caustically, “Really? It’s not safe! Wrecking like that is ridiculous! It’s blood-thirsty, if that is what people want. It’s ridiculous!”
Suddenly, I have this mad urge to go find Dale Jr. and give him a huge “Mama hug.” For all of those 25 years, I have compared plate racing to feeding Christians to the lions. On Sunday, Dale validated that quite well, I’d say. Blood-thirsty it is… if indeed, it is what the fans want. But is it?
That is the question I bring to you today my gentle readers. I have already come to a stark and somewhat bitter conclusion after Sunday’s melee turned to mayhem.
Those were my feelings directly following the race. If you follow the link, you will see others from RacersReunion, of various ages and backgrounds, posted in total agreement. We, they, all of us, are part of the fan base NASCAR claims wants to watch the low-brow debacle they chose to present on Sunday. I refuse to be lumped into that category, and because I have this platform, I can make my feelings known to Mr. France and Company.
This same platform is offered to each and every one of you today. Make your comments and state your preferences, for or against what we saw on Sunday. This is the way we make ourselves heard, and as long as the comments are not offered in a mean or debasing way, they all see print. We are not here to call names or indulge in personal attacks; we are here to let them know what we think and feel, in a calm and rational manner. Believe me; it works. When we present a case or even a single thought in a reasonable way, it is listened to by those we hope would hear it. They do.
Yes, this column is a bit shorter than what you are used to seeing from me, but that is because I want it to be your thoughts that count. I said my piece last night on the Forum, and the link is there above, should you care to read it and others on the same topic. Our Forums are always open for that. Want to add your voice to the Forum? Sign up and have at it. All are welcome and it’s a great place to call home.
“…for the long run that is not going to help the sport the way that race ended and the way the racing is. It’s not going to be productive for years to come. I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.”
Those were Dale Junior’s final words in the interview and they speak volumes. No, I guess if he hopes to score NASCAR points next year, he doesn’t have much choice but to show up and take his chances against the plate tracks… one of which killed his Dad… but clearly, he doesn’t want to be there. I find no indication in any of his words on Sunday of any sort of love for those tracks or for the method of racing forced upon the drivers there.
Forty-three cars are artificially bunched into a pack from which there is no separation because the horsepower of every engine is rendered identical by those restrictor plates. That is only enhanced by the effect of the draft, and so they run, nose to tail, 2-3-4-wide in a snarling pack of colored steel until someone makes a wrong move. Then we see what the videos show here… and we see it at almost every plate race. That has lasted for 25 years. Isn’t it time to say “enough?” There are other ways… ways that would not force the faster cars to be tied to the back markers. NASCAR knows that well, but feels that we, the fans, want what we saw on Sunday. Perhaps that is so, for some. It is not so for this fan, and I hope I have made that abundantly clear.
Let’s hear from you now!
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!
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