I'm sure most of you have seen the "masks for theater" as they have allegedly been around since the days of early Greek Theater. You know what I mean, the mask with the smile and the mask with the frown that indicate either a play of drama or comedy, joy or sadness. Being someone who enjoys theater, I get to see these masks quite often in the course of a year, so much so that I had almost forgotten the significance of the representation. Watching the weekend events at Atlanta certainly brought that emblem of theater to my mind. Comedy or Drama? Let's discuss this.
Let me start my reiterating what I said last week about NASCAR. It is my sport and a part of my life as I am a part of it. I have no other sport of interest, although I do enjoy watching my grandsons participate in soccer (which I still don't understand) and karate, and football. I watch them play because they are my grandsons and I have a personal connection to those events. Racing has, as I have said many times, been a part of my life for more than 62 years now and I feel I have a personal connection to the sport as well.
Over a week ago, NASCAR premiered its 2015 season with the series of events in Daytona, culminated by the Great American Race. Race day Sunday was a beautifully warm and sunny Florida day and the race was a pretty good event. Even so, the dark pall of the Kyle Busch crash into the unprotected concrete wall was overbearing in the minds of competitors and race fans who actually care about the drivers. Time for the "Drama Mask" as all parties involved with Daytona International Speedway jump into the discussions as how that unprotected wall was a unforgiveable oversight on the part of the speedway. NASCAR officials and spokesmen sort of danced around the issue leaving it up to Daytona Speedway to explain it. Discussions got hot and heavy into what needed to be done to the tracks with unprotected walls for upcoming races. As had been done in Daytona AFTER the fact, tire barriers were put in place in Atlanta in the places "most obvious" to require such protection.
I read several articles involving several sources over the past week discussing what is involved with installing the SAFER barriers at the tracks. Briefly, the tracks and NASCAR, of course, quote the expense, stating several different ways that the expense of installation if very high. Also, apparently an issue, is the requirement of specific design for each location where the barriers are installed. It seems that each section of concrete to be protected by the barriers requires a specific design for that section. My personal belief to that is that it is just so much smoke put up to justify the lack on installation at all tracks on all walls. Another part of the equation is apparently what NASCAR calls "extensive studies" as to where cars are most likely to hit the walls. Excuse me for a little chuckle at that observation because, as Jeff Gordon has proved, an unprotected wall in like a magnet to his car.
Speaking of Jeff, I have to throw in a little bit of disbelief here. When he wrecked, or was wrecked at Atlanta, he is shown standing on the track with the NASCAR official pointing at the unprotected wall and pointing out that it was unprotected. Come on Jeff, you have had worse wrecks than that one hitting other cars. Having said that, I am not trying to make light of the unprotected walls. Jeff, you looked sort of ridiculous waving your arms pointing at the wall.
I had already planned on voicing my opinion on all the ongoing outrage on the SAFER Barrier issue and was selecting my wording for that opinion when I happened to catch Jeff Burton's comments on the NBC Sports Network yesterday. He said what I was intending to say, but he is the well-known personality with great respect in the garage area. In a few words, and not quoting directly, what he said was that NASCAR now knows it can no longer play games with the erection of SAFER Barriers on all exposed walls at all race tracks. It was time to stop with the "would a, could a, should a" and do it and do it now. I think we all agree with that. Drama Mask for this issue.
Now let's go to Atlanta. As much as Daytona had going FOR it two weeks ago, Atlanta had going against it. Daytona weather in February is usually good, although sometimes a little cold for me at my age. Atlanta, this time of year, is subject to less than ideal weather. Having said that, many of the early races in the history of the Atlanta track were in March and weather was not so much the issue. I guess this Global Warming has messed all that up. But in reality, the weather was the least of the problems that kept NASCAR in the trending sports and news feeds of sites I watch on a daily basis. Oh, where to start?????
Theft of the Travis Kvapil race car. I won't even go into the absolutely ludicrous circumstances surrounding this theft, but it is amazing to me that the race car was in a trailer at a motel when it should have been in the team hauler in the garage area. What gives? No, I will not mention the fact that Travis was CONVICTED of what Kurt Busch has been merely suspected of. Surprisingly, Travis' issues did not get that much press, but then he isn't a media magnet as is Kurt. I would love to know the real story behind this. Where is Ian Fleming when you need him? Surely this is a matter worthy of 007 investigating. This bit would require a comedy mask if it weren't so tragic in so many ways.
Ok, let's go to this "knock-out" qualifying joke NASCAR has instituted. At Daytona, it was a tragic episode of knocking out many cars and trucks in huge crashes. It was a comedic episode of drivers and teams playing the system and the clock to qualify. It was up to who could draft the best and fastest which actually proved very little, if anything, about who had the fastest car. When qualifying was over in all the divisions, I really didn't care who had the pole for what event or even where anyone was starting. To me, the knockout qualifying is a joke so insert the comedy mask here. Atlanta was supposed to be a better example of the system but trucks and X-Finity proved playing the system was still prevalent but didn't work for some. Just ask Brad Keselowski. This "knock-out" junk was supposed to "improve the product" and make it more appealing to fans. Let me tell you, I started going to qualifying at Darlington in 1964 when they started qualifying on Thursday for Monday's race. I continued doing so until the early 2000s and I always enjoyed the entire process. Maybe I just enjoy seeing and hearing one car, one driver, out there doing their best to qualify the fastest.
To further complicate the Atlanta situation was the "new rules" and teams trying to push those rules to the limit which resulted in at least 13 cars failing inspection, some more than once, which resulted in the 48, 24, 14, and 20, among others, who didn't get to qualify. When the checkered flag fell Sunday, Jimmie Johnson sort of proved qualifying was useless anyway as he came from the rear of the field to dominate the end of the race. NASCAR could save themselves some time and money by just letting the drivers draw for starting positions maybe two hours from race time. Just a thought.
Next issue: Kurt Busch has agreed to enter NASCAR's approved "process" to be reinstated from his suspension. NASCAR has, however, refused to release the details on the "process". Doesn't matter that the actions of NASCAR have surely ruined any chance Kurt has to return to any serious ride in the premier series. His career is over, in my opinion, and that can be placed directly at the feet of NASCAR's ruler. Very sad situation when one of the fiercest competitors on the track is ruined by allegations, not proven, and a statement (not a ruling) of a lower court Judge in Delaware.
Another issue making the press this week, is NASCAR's new rule, under section 2.11 of the NASCAR Rules/Code of Conduct/Endless list of Commandments, etc. is that any member holding a NASCAR license, even in the local track weekly series, who is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, MUST report that issue to NASCAR within 72 hours. For information purposes, speeding is a misdemeanor charge under the law. Can you imagine the number of speeding tickets the NASCAR community is issued in the period of a month, nationwide? This new rule certainly draws the comedy mask from here.
One final NASCAR new rule to laugh about this week. NASCAR has decided it does NOT want competitors fighting each other. From now on, only TWO crew members will be allowed around the car at the end of the race. No further comment on that one.
All who watched the Atlanta race Sunday saw the lack of attendance so obvious. Surely the weather can be partially to blame, but maybe not entirely. I did notice many of the fans in attendance had really young kids with them, which is something I have not noticed in many previous races so maybe the television cameras were trying to make that obvious. I do know that every fan who sat there and watched the race should be given free tickets to another race, say Charlotte, where the weather may be better. It was cold outside Sunday and while I attended many races in my younger days which I'm sure had colder weather, I would not have wanted to be in that crowd on such a miserable day. As for television ratings, I had hoped to be able to discuss that today but as I am writing his before the release of the ratings, I have to wonder how we did.
And last, and probably least in this Legendtorial, is the winner of Sunday's race. Johnny Mallonee posted his personal observation of what has become the well-known reaction of Jimmie Johnson to the fans. Of all the drivers on the circuit, it is my opinion that he is the absolute least fan-friendly driver on the circuit. His well documented "brush off" of fans doesn't seem to bother him, Rick Hendrick or Lowe's. He has his fans, and I know some of them really well. Most of his true fans, at least the ones I know personally, are the younger fans NASCAR goes after so hard. I guess they are the fans who have no knowledge of the days when the drivers honored the fans and appreciated the fact they were in the stands and infields. Drivers in the first three decades of NASCAR knew from where their bread and butter came. Many drivers today, indeed most drivers today, know their money comes from the sponsors and feel that attending the events put on by the sponsors to promote their "show ponies" to the fans is enough. How times have changed, and not for the better in my book. Jimmie Johnson may be the face of the current crop of NASCAR Icons, but give me the Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Jabe Thomas, Paul Lewis days. Give me the days when you could sit, sometimes for hours, with Tiny Lund, Joe Weatherly, Buck Baker, Rex White and others and listen to stories direct from the mouths of those guys. As Archie and Edith used to sing "Those were the days".
Finally, one last comment, and this is truly one requiring the comedy mask, have you seen the name sponsor for the May race in Kansas? The SpongeBob Square pants whatever!!!! Seriously. SpongeBob Square Pants. I hear Squidward will be the chief inspector for qualifying and Patrick will be the Honorary Starter.
With that, dear friends, I am gone!