I don't remember how old I was when I first saw The Wizard of Oz, but I do recall that I was totally enthralled by the movie from the beginning. I have probably seen it at least 200 times in my 68 years, and we could have added on additional time to that if a certain grandson, at age four, hadn't freaked the first time he saw the Wicked Witch. But, as it turns out, I have the movie on VHS and I'm probably one of the few folks around who still owns a VHS player. In fact, four of them.
You may recall that the premise of the movie is four characters, Dorothy from Kansas, The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion were all seeking the Mighty Wizard of Oz for their individual wants and needs. Dorothy just wanted to get back home to Kansas after the tornado had transported her, house and all, to the Merry Old Land of Oz. The Scarecrow wanted a brain, the Tin Man a heart, and the Lion courage. Add in the Wicked Witch of the West wanting the ruby slippers Dorothy had acquired when she inadvertently dropped her house on the Wicked Witch of the East in Munchkin Land.
When finally confronting the Mighty Wizard, after much smoke and mirrors, the Wizard said he would grant all wishes if the quartet could prove themselves worthy by bringing him the broomstick of the Witch of the West. The four set out to do just that and after confronting flying monkeys, questionably witch guards and other obstacles, Dorothy splashed water on the witch, and the witch melted. Having the broomstick, the four returned to the Wizard to find out he was a fake. Nevertheless, through clever word play and psycho-analysis, the Wizard led them to believe what they sought was always within the grasp of at least the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. As for Dorothy, the Wizard himself was going to take her home in his hot air balloon. Didn't work out as the Wizard floated off without Dorothy. Enter Glinda, the Good Witch, who sent Dorothy "home" by having her repeat "There's no place like home" and clicking the heels of the ruby slippers three times. Nice story, huh? But we all know it is a made up story from the imagination of L. Frank Baum.
As imaginative and impossible as the story of the Wizard is, we fans of NASCAR racing are now contenting with something even more imaginative. As scary as was the Wicked Witch of the West, we fans of NASCAR are facing even more scary scenarios. Please allow me to explain.
First of all, each and every one of us who gather here on Tuesday evenings know that, in spite of efforts by NASCAR to have us believe otherwise, fans are staying home from the track and each week fewer and fewer at tuning in to watch the FOX or FOX Sports One debacles. I barely watched the 600, saw maybe 40 laps of Dover, and did tune into the last 30 laps of Pocono. Nothing in any of those events drew me to my recliner, which, for me, is a major difference in life style. Of course, I had other things to do, but was distracted by wondering what was happening at the track. For someone who has spent 63 years of his life following every word he could find, written or on radio of television about NASCAR, that is something unique. If I thought I was important to NASCAR I would offer the statement that "they are in trouble", but it is obvious that I have no importance to the sanctioning body. For a sport that uses constant reference to "the fans", NASCAR has done much to distance itself from the very fans who made it the number two national spectator sport.
For instance, when The Southern 500 was returned to Labor Day weekend this year, my first inclination was to state flatly and profoundly that I would be in attendance. Then I checked ticket prices. At first I thought it my lack of computer skills that had me in the high-priced seats, but no, not so. The price of ONE ticket is equal to, or exceeds, the amount Ann and I spend for one week's worth of grocery to feed us both. I will not be in Darlington on Labor Day unless South Carolina's Governor, who has proclaimed the week leading up to the event something like "Darlington Southern 500 Week" asks me to go as one of her representatives. I'm not holding my breath on that one.
Ok, next point. On June 25th, here in Columbia, less than one mile from my house, a retailer, not much more than a pricey Goodwill Store when you get down to it, is having its Grand Opening. Today's (Sunday's) State Newspaper had a full-page ad in which it was announced that a NASCAR driver, who shall remain nameless herein, will appear to sign autographs. Now let it be known that this driver has been retired a few years and although he has 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, he is, and never was, one to be considered an overwhelming fan favorite, although I respect him highly. The newspaper, in bold print, states "Autograph Tickets will be limited to 250. Distribution of tickets starts at 7:30 a.m. Autograph Session Starts at 10 a.m. Autograph tickets ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY (capitalization as appears in ad) limited to one per customer while they last". Optimistic to say the least. I think I will mosey on down there on the 25th of June just to see if they have to pay some folks to take the tickets. Again, not being disparaging to the driver appearing but I just can't imagine a crowd on a Thursday morning to see this particular driver. As for me, I won't be asking for a ticket. That is a problem with NASCAR today; having reached a point in its existence where it believes such an event will draw a crowd. If I'm wrong about this, I will report it next week. It is one thing to sell tickets to an event for charity, such as Stocks for Tots, but in my opinion, an insult to a fan to expect a turnout for this individual resulting in the need for 250 tickets. NASCAR exhibiting quite a bit of hubris here. There is no mention of ticket prices so I assume they are free for the asking. Good thing!
As if that isn't enough, be sure to catch the NBC promo currently appearing on NBC advertising their upcoming coverage of NASCAR racing. In addition to using at least two words we forbade our grandsons from hearing or using, it shows nothing but crashes and seems to promise that, because NBC is providing coverage, the crashes will be more numerous and more spectacular than ever before. If you haven't seen that particular promo, be on the lookout for it. And NBC thought they had problems with Brian Williams and helicopters.
Next, one of the parts of the Sunday Paper I always have to look for nowadays, in as much as they have reduced the size to miniscule is "The Parade" section. While most of Parade is Hollywood and Television information, there are other things worth reading from time to time. Today (Sunday) I stumbled upon an article, one column wide, tucked inside Parade under the heading "National Treasure" The subtitle proclaims, "Trailblazing motorsport traces a rugged roadmap of America". In a short, disjointed article, Kathleen McCleary tells us how it started with moonshine and now an average of 5.3 million folks tune in to watch races on television. Of course, Danica Patrick is the driver quoted in remarks not worth my effort to quote here. I've never heard of Kathleen McCleary, perhaps you have, but no matter, she hasn't heard of me either. (As it appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal: Kathleen McCleary Article)
Now, onto the point of the fairy tale introduction to tonight's Legendtorial. I am sure you have all heard, by now, of the NASCAR Drivers' Council. I have read several reports on Yahoo Sports, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, and FOX Sports about the first meeting of this astute council with the NASCAR folks in Dover a week ago. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, and Denny Hamlin comprise this group of drivers alleged to have the ear of NASCAR to which they can express Driver Concerns. Depending upon which sport outlet you examine, Denny Hamlin had the idea, several drivers had the idea, NASCAR had the idea, or the idea just fell into the laps, as did the house on the witch. Taking this further, Brian Z. was interviewed after meeting with the group at Pocono, and stated, among other senseless drivel, that NASCAR has been needing that organization by the drivers for a long, long time. Please tell that to Curtis Turner and Tim Flock. Or, you may mention it to The King in passing sometime.
There are several different scenarios put forth as to how the drivers making up this Council were selected. Those range from wanting representatives from each make of car, to selecting the highest driver on a certain make in the standing. Kyle Larson was supposedly added to represent the "young drivers" although Joey Logano is not much older. So, we have FIVE Chevy drivers, ONE Ford driver and ONE Toyota driver. Notice someone very visibly missing? How about previous Cup Champ, Brad Keselowski. Not that I care, nor I doubt Brad cares, whether or not he's on the council, but it would appear to me that he is one of the most outspoken of the drivers and someone who would really have been able to cause a ripple in the smooth water of Daytona. Keeping with the "company line" when interviewed, Brad simply said he did "not qualify" for a position on the Council.
Enter NASCAR's rocket scientist, otherwise known as D.W., who proclaims, "there is a lot of unrest in NASCAR which led to the Drivers' Council.” He goes on to say, if you read that article, that the rules package for 2014 was a good package and produced great racing, while the 2015 rule package has put a damper on competition. According to the mind trust from Owenboro, the 2016 rules will further diminish the competition and the drivers don't want that. Wonder what part of Oz that boy is living in these days.
What about the RTA? Remember? The Race Team Alliance. Made headlines when formed but what have you heard from them lately? Or, for that matter, any time since the news of the formation?
Let's face it folks, NASCAR is being compared with the world of "professional" wrestling more and more these days with their shenanigans. Can’t say that I blame folks although I hate to say that about MY sport. These days we have the news that FIFA, the sanctioning body of what I am told is "the world's most popular sport", soccer, was investigated by the FBI for a plethora of corruption charges, which resulted in a shakeup in a worldwide organization that had all but shunned the U.S.A. We all know of the NFL's problems with domestic abuse and deflation of footballs. Major League Baseball has had so many players caught with performance enhancing drugs; there are enough banned players to form another league. The saving grace of the NBA is that they keep the tattoo artists of the country in business as is evidenced on almost every player. Face it, the world of professional sports has turned from something to enjoy, to something to question the very foundation. Kids used to dream of being a baseball player. I don't hear that much anymore. I hear the occasional kid say he, or she, dreams of being a race driver but that comes from the folks I hang around the most, I guess.
So, bottom line, what is the answer for NASCAR? Obviously, France and Helton don't have it. No one else in the NASCAR front office has the answer. Richard Petty tried to tell them last week how to make the competition better, but our own Hugh Overcash has been saying exactly that since he came on the show and no one in the NASCAR offices has listened to Hugh and I doubt they do to Richard either. The way Richard explained it, and Hugh has reiterated time after time, it's simple really. NASCAR says they are thinking of shortening the season now, which will allow them more time for testing to "improve the product". Give us all a break Mr. France, Mr. Helton. Why don't you dudes go bring back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West and maybe the Wizard can help you. Oh wait, I forgot. The Wizard of Oz is not real. But, then again, neither is what they are calling NASCAR these days.