Yes Sir, race fans, last week was the week almost anyone who likes to watch a stock car compete on a race track could have a field day. That “Yes Sir”, also includes “Yes Mam” before I get chastised for overlooking the women who are fans of the sport. I watched the trucks at Eldora, the ARCA race from Lucas Oil Raceway, previously known by some other name I won’t conjure up this evening, the Nationwide race from Indy and the 400 for the Cup cars from Indy with such a long sponsorship name that half of my allotted time would be used up trying to call it out here. So, please allow me to comment on each of the races I watched with my personal observations that do not necessarily reflect the opinion of everyone on this show and surely not everyone who may be listening.
Starting with the truck race as it was the first one in the chronological order of things, it was a super event, in my opinion. The stands were packed to past standing room only and the fans were treated to a spectacle we older race fans pretty much take for granted, that being super good racing on a dirt track. When the dust settled it was “Bubba” Wallace claiming the win in another of Kyle Busch’s trucks, which have dominated the series this year. But the real show was put on between Bubba and Kyle Larson as Kyle tried to run him down and capture the flag. For more than 15 laps, Kyle appeared to exhibit some of the kamikaze ancestry of his Japanese heritage as he banged that Chevy into the wall on every turn trying to find the fast way around Bubba. Finally, with a couple of laps to go, the Chevy gave up the ghost and that opened the door for Bubba to strut uncontested to receive the golden shovel. Apparently, Bubba had some farming experience in his background the way he handled the dirt. Two of NASCAR’s young guns put on the show at Eldora.
The day after the truck race, I read interviews with Tony Stewart who owns the Eldora track, that he would like to hold a Nationwide (or whatever the series will become after Nationwide leaves at the end of this year) race on the Eldora surface and would like to discuss holding a Cup event there. While I back Tony 100% with those hopes and dreams, I think, perhaps, he was on too much pain medication during his recovery from his injuries to think clearly anymore. Just how many Cup teams would show for that event? Oh, there are several drivers in Cup who would love to take it on, but the owners aren’t about to get into that situation again. And NASCAR going for that? Really, Tony!
Next up, for the Lazy Legend, was Friday evening in the recliner watching the ARCA race at Lucas Oil Speedway. I have always liked ARCA racing and try to catch as many as I can but it seems they are always telecast at the most inconvenient times. ARCA is a series, as most of you know, that is far less expensive that even Nationwide, and has drivers from 17 to 70 plus competing. Almost every race I’ve ever seen for ARCA has consisted of great competition and Friday night’s event was no exception. There was a little bit of everything, it seemed, from bad pit stops, to a leader running into a stopped car on the track because he had already passed the caution light before it was thrown and he simply ran into the parked car. Heartbreak.
Digressing a moment, the race started with a 17-year-old driver, Brandon Jones, in only his second ARCA start, sitting on the pole. In his one previous start, Brandon had won so it was determined that he had talent for sure. Even so, I don’t think many people expected him to win again. The kid drove a masterful race and, granted, a little bit of poor luck on the part of other competitors assisted him winning, but he was really good. This kid is 17 years old and just a tiny thing. Austin Wayne Self, another youngster was second and the wily veteran, Frank Kimmel came home third. It was a very competitive and enjoyable race.
Moving on now. Saturday afternoon and a 4:30 start. Plenty of time for me to get my Saturday chores completed and sit down and watch. Judging from the appearance of the grandstands, IF you counted me in my recliner, there may have been a couple hundred folks not associated with a race team at the track actually watching. Sure, I’m aware that the enormity of Indy can swallow up a crowd and make the perception less than it is, but there seriously was no one there Saturday. The race itself, was about as uneventful as it could possibly be until it came down to the end and young rookie, and winless driver of the number 3 Nationwide car, Ty Dillon, out ran Kyle Busch on a restart and took the lead. All 30 fans in attendance were expecting Busch to run him down and move him over, but it didn’t happen and Ty Dillon won the race. One of Kyle Busch’s rare losses and while he did allow himself to be interviewed, the interview was not exactly what you would call cordial.
After a burnout (a practice I strongly dislike) during which Dillon ran the car out of gas, the entire Childress organization, including Cup driver brother Austin, assembled to “kiss the bricks”. That is a tradition at Indy started by Dale Jarrett after he won at Indy back in his heyday. It has turned into one of those disgusting traditions, in my opinion, that belittle the sport. I think it is ridiculous and I really don’t even watch the display. I have memories of the days when winning drivers would kiss the race beauty queen and some pretty funny memories of those days. Special instance with Nelson Stacy at Darlington, and several with King Richard winning and having fun with the obligatory kissing of the queen. I guess if the guys of today are down to kissing bricks, then things aren’t as they used to be for sure. These “Sprint Cup Girls” stand around Victory Lane in their fire suits as if they are trying to figure out what exactly they are supposed to be doing. I guess with Danica parading around almost naked most of the time, the idea of a beauty queen doesn’t have much impact on today’s fans.
So, we have covered three races where YOUTH prevailed. The drivers of tomorrow. Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, Brandon Jones and Austin Wayne Self and young Ty Dillon. Now we move on to Sunday and the 400 miler at Indy. This time, youth would not prevail although I think Kyle Larson drove such a race as to put himself in the top 10 at a track where he had said he was not that good and that the track did not suit his driving style at all. As for the Sunday crowd (using that term loosely) it was more than Saturday’s assemblage. But you know what? I am not addressing the issue of race crowds after tonight, I don’t think, because they aren’t improving, in fact getting worse, and me talking about that is not going to make a difference one way or another. Someday, somehow, NASCAR is going to figure out it can’t continue to lose fans in the stands and expect to secure the big dollar sponsors and big dollar television contracts.
Sunday, Jeff Gordon won Indy for the fifth time. He won the first one 20 years ago and was able to do it again for win number 5. I watched the entire race and to say Jeff was a man on a mission would be really understating the way he approached that race. It was as if he was 21 years old again and wanted that first win and he really put on a clinic to get it done. That run on the last restart, on the OUTside no less, was something to behold. So, we can say the seasoned veteran won on Sunday but in reality, it was a renewed young man who loves racing and who is approaching the end of his stellar career still wanting another Championship. It was a great run. If only they didn’t have to kiss those damned bricks.
Another thing that caught my interest this week was another of Humpy Wheeler’s little video chats, which had the title Driving Talent vs. Money. Humpy almost eloquently summarized all we here at RacersReunion have been saying for a long, long time. Surprising to me, however, was Humpy’s reference about going back to the way cars were when racing was filling the stands. He says no more $5,000.00 shock absorbers and even more expensive springs. No more of the slick manufactured at the race shop bodies on the cars. No more stupid ride height rules. Sort of like the opening of the old Lone Ranger Radio show where we were encouraged to “Return with us now to those days of yesteryear”. Bottom line of the entire discussion Humpy presented in just over six minutes was that drivers with money to bring to the table were taking spots from drivers with the talent to make great racers and that was hurting the sport. Gotta agree with that. Keep at it Humpy, someone is more likely to listen to you than to listen to what I have to say. After all, I am only one of those loyal fans NASCAR thanks for my support at the end of each race telecast but I know just how sincere that is. (Insert sarcasm here).
Indy is done for another year. I remember the great anticipation for the first one. The magic was in the sport then. No more it seems.