A Voice For The Fans ~ Some Questions For Mr. France
by: PattyKay Lilley
Good day race fans, and welcome to RacersReunion, a site we know is read by folks that matter. NASCAR CEO Brian Z. France gave a “Press conference” on Friday, which translates to having a moderator toss him predetermined soft questions to which he gives soft answers. There is no “conference” involved, and the press may be there, but they’re not talking. I think there’s a rule about that.
Those making the big bucks have already written about this, which always makes me loath to follow where they have tread, but every once in a while, a germ of what’s to come can be uncovered in one of these things. I’ll not bore you with the entire transcript, but I posted it on our Forum in its entirety, if you are brave and willing.
It’s difficult this week to address your questions on this, since no one has asked any, or shared opinions as of yet. Allow me to anticipate then, and make a few points to Mr. France about what I feel the fans will be asking and really wanting answers about, not just the sunshine treatment.
Mr. France, you state there will be no gimmickry such as mandatory cautions as mentioned by Mr. Bruton Smith last week. Those actually have precedent if one goes back to the American Speed Association (ASA), where they had a rule that said if the cars went 75 green flag laps without interruption, a “Competition Caution” would bring out the yellow flag, simply to bunch up the field. The number of laps NASCAR might choose could differ, but worse things have happened than that particular “gimmick.”
Allow me Sir, to point out a few things that we fans, especially the “core fans”, consider to be much more gimmicky than competition cautions. The first, and most egregious would have to be The Chase, a playoff system introduced by you that has drivers and teams “playing off” against themselves. We have no conferences or divisions in our sport, so what we have are the same cars on track that are on track every week. The only difference is that at an arbitrary point, selected by you, everything done in the first 26 weeks of a very long season is declared for naught. Only twelve lucky “players” get to advance to the “finals”, but even for the final ten races, those “other cars” are still on track. That’s like asking the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots (Examples only) to play a Super Bowl with thirty other teams on the field.
Then Sir, if I might, I’d point out the Lucky Dog rule. Drivers race hard to put other cars a lap down. There’s an advantage to doing that, and it promotes some really great racing when one is trying to stay on the lead lap and the other is intent on seeing that he doesn’t. Now however, we have a gimmick that magically gives back a lap every time a yellow flag waves, eliminating the need to race hard.
This will disappoint some of the race fans, but I can actually see and understand the good points of the misunderstood “Pass around” rule, even if it is a gimmick. It does not change the actual placement of a car in the rundown. If a car was in 26th place, he is still in 26th place. What it does eliminate, which I feel is a good thing, is that mess created by a caution in the middle of green flag pit stops.
You all remember how that went… on the restart, the “leader” might be nowhere within sight of the front of the pack, because of maybe 20 cars starting on the “tail end of the lead lap.” The pass around gives a break to the leader and respects that he or she actually is the leader, and as such, has the right to start first, not 21st.
But then, we come to the gimmick that almost negates any reason to qualify, that guarantee to 35 sponsors that their colors will run on race day. With that gimmick in place, why is qualifying even run? It would be cheaper and easier to run a Hooligan race for the eight+ cars not guaranteed to race and let the rest draw straws for position… or revert to practice times, whichever you prefer. That would truly be a cost-saving measure, and with that guarantee in place, no one comes to watch qualifying anyway.
Oh, and Mr. France, let us not forget the “Green/White/Checkers gimmick, which all too often follows that mysterious debris caution that waves so frequently near the end of an otherwise boring race. Sir, I’d suggest that you underestimate your fans if you think we cannot see through that as easily as through a clean window pane.
Here’s a thought Mr. France. All of the manufacturers will be running brand new cars in 2013. Wouldn’t it be nice if the fans could at least get a look at them as something other than concept pictures on the Internet? The 2013 models will be in dealerships and on the nation’s highways in a couple of months or less, yet one manufacturer, General Motors, still has only shown a cloaked rendering of its new racing model, wrapped in a skin that is slightly nauseating when stared at.
While we’re talking about the cars, allow me to tell you something about how the fans feel about them. The core fans, those that are left anyway, have always loved the idea of “Win on Sunday; sell on Monday.” I’m sure you remember hearing your Granddad say that. You see, as far as the fans are concerned, they’d be happiest with racecars that looked much more like the cars in the showrooms and driveways of America. What I’ll wager they don’t care a fig about are glass dashboards… or any other kind for that matter. Fans care about appearance; what they can see. Technical innovations are nice when they have a purpose. Otherwise, they are merely expensive.
Here’s an idea, while we’re discussing technology. Did you get a chance to catch the Nationwide race on Friday evening? It was a wreck-fest; tore up tons of sheetmetal and made the young fans quite happy I’m sure. Car owners and fabricators, not so much. But near the end of that race, there was a wreck that involved the #7 car of Danica Patrick, notably one of NASCAR’s biggest stars despite never having won a race.
Her car hit the wall with such great force that the rear of the car was lifted clear off the ground and pitched violently backward from the wall. When it came to rest, the steering wheel was in very close proximity to two things, the roof of the car and Danica’s head. She was properly belted and equipped with a fully operational head and neck restraint, but had that steering wheel moved perhaps 2 inches more in her direction, the results would not have been pretty and most likely would have been fatal.
She is a small woman, but Mark Martin is a small man. Beyond that, there are youngsters her size or less, racing at NASCAR sanctioned tracks around the country. If I were in your position, I’d be using the available technology to insure that sort of accident will never again have that result, and the heck with a pretty dashboard. I’d say that roughly half of today’s fans think cockpit is a dirty word anyway.
Now then Sir, allow me to refer back to your opening statements on Friday. You stated, “We’re obviously at the midway or a little further than the midway point and making the turn into our version of the playoffs.” Might I point out that we didn’t reach the midway point of the 2012 season until the checkered flag waved at Daytona Saturday night? Okay, I guess that could be seen as a cheap shot, but it was just too easy!
Again, as I’ve done so many times in the past Mr. France, I’d like to point out that the fans… you remember them, the folks that pay to see the races, or used to… they don’t much care for manipulation of what you call the “racing product.” It began as a sport Sir, with the idea being that two or more cars try to see who can start from Point A and arrive at Point B the fastest. He who gets there first, wins. It’s quite simple and it gets folks really excited. Too many rules, regulations and yes, gimmicks, all tend to dampen the ardor of the fans, and like it or not, the fans do matter. When they are not happy, not only do they stay home from the race tracks, but they don’t watch on TV and they don’t spend money on souvenirs and racing gear. In short, the fans are the bottom line, something that seems to be overlooked these days.
“Our stated goal is to have the most competitive and close competition as we possibly can.” Well, I guess that sounds admirable enough, but Sir, sometimes one car is just simply faster than another car. That’s just fact. What does it gain to essentially strangle them all in an effort to ensure that they all run exactly the same speed? I’d suggest, because it’s been suggested to me by many, many fans, that it would behoove you to leave the cars alone and let the manufacturers, crew chiefs and drivers do the racing. Bruton Smith has no patent on gimmickry, I promise.
One more quote Sir, and I’ll let you go for today, but really, this one is bad! I wasn’t present, but I have a vision of you banging your shoe on the dais while saying this…
“We’re going to use more science than we’ve ever used in getting those rules packages where we want them. Even when we get them where we want them, they’re going to change. ”
Mr. France, please, I beg of you, hire someone to do your speech-writing for you. The average fan will read that sentence, and the immediate reaction will be revulsion. NASCAR already has rules to contradict the rules that were made to contradict the rules before that. At some point, it would be good to stand back and take an honest look at the sport of stock car racing as it exists today. I do not mean start another study group to look into it. I do not mean call a meeting between your folks in New York and your folks in Daytona Beach. I mean actually just look at what exists today…really.
Yes, the “Stadiums” are nicer today than they used to be, and they most certainly accommodate more folks than they used to, but the seats are going unused. There is more “Entertainment” today than there ever was, but in truth, folks looking for entertainment generally find it in places such as theaters or concert halls, not at a race track, no matter what headliner is scheduled to appear. If you will take an honest look, you will see that with all of the rules and gimmicks already in place, what has been accomplished is to take the RACE out of racing. Put it back, and they will come. That’s a promise.
Just a parting note to all the fans… yes, I have heard about A.J. Allmendinger, and no, I have no comment. Further, I’d suggest that all of you hold yours as well.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!
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