by: Tim Leeming
First up tonight is a little continuation of a previous Legendtorial, I don’t recall how many weeks ago, in which I took on the advertising agencies responsible for the inane commercials we have to suffer through to watch racing on television. Oh yes, I heard from those of you who warned of the option without commercials and I am aware that Pay-Per-View is a plan which would have, once upon a time, suited NASCAR to a “T”. Now, it seems, NASCAR can’t even get enough “pay-per-view” customers in the grandstands to pay the cleanup crews even minimum wage. But, I digress. At issue tonight will be two commercials that ran to excess in Sunday’s telecast. As usual, I will not mention product names because my Legendtorials are not intended to endorse such crap.
One commercial, for an energy drink, shows two individuals who appear as very low on the intelligence scale, entering a boxing ring. One of those individuals plays fancy footwork only to end up on the canvas, unconscious, from the blow delivered right to his face. The other commercial, for a men’s hygiene product somehow managed to have a football player running downfield while wrapped in a bed with his sleeping wife (assumed to be his wife but with these football players who knows). The first time I saw it I thought it was stupid. The second time I saw it I thought it was stupid and disgusting. Each and every time it came on after the second time, I simply moved the TV channel one channel down to get away from it. Without a doubt, there is an energy drink and a men’s hygiene product out there, neither of which I will ever use. I know Madison Avenue is manned now by the up and coming youngsters from universities handing out marketing degrees like candy at Halloween, but someone get the word to them that folks are getting tired of being insulted by such trash. While I have firmly resolved that there will never be a pay-per-view anything in this house, I simply cannot tolerate these commercials.
Now, let’s get to the topic of the week. Talladega. Plate Racing. Call it anything you wish to call it, but I have already seen, from responses to PattyKay’s article on the Home Page and from many conversations I’ve had since Sunday as well as reading many articles and comments on Yahoo Sports and other sites, that the true fans of the sport… and I expect some nasty comments for use of that word in this Legendtorial… are fed up with plate racing and NASCAR’s attempt to contribute to the death of drivers in such races. While I’m absolutely certain it is not the true intent of NASCAR to kill off drivers, they have managed to do it for several years with their slowness to move on certain safety issues. Just think of Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin, Blaise Alexander, Adam Petty and last, but certainly not least, Dale Earnhardt, all of whom lost their lives because NASCAR could not be convinced to make use of energy absorbing walls. (Editor’s note: Smokey Yunick had a working model of an energy reduction wall system as early as 1991 that was capable of absorbing as much as 30 or more Gs of energy and dissipating it harmlessly away from the driver. A sample section remained in his shop until he died, 5/9/01) The technology was there; they knew how to do it, but until they lost their marquee star in February, 2001, it was too expensive and/or time consuming to consider the addition of those innovative walls. Now think back… since the SAFER walls were installed, of the drivers who have walked away without injury BECAUSE those walls were there.
NASCAR is quick to tout its safety innovations such as the HANS device and pit road speed limits, and those COTs, or whatever they call them now. NASCAR wants us to believe that the “plates” provide safety for the fans by slowing the cars enough to keep them out of the stands. Oh, it has kept the cars out of the stands but due to the strength of the retaining fence. I will not choose to elaborate here more than PattyKay did in her Home Page Article, but any fool, even those who enjoy those aforementioned commercials, can see it’s not working. It hasn’t worked since the first time long ago, it didn’t work last year, it didn’t work this year, and it is NOT going to work next year. Cars still can, and do, fly, even into the fence. Even Pavlov’s dog learned tricks by repetition. What in the world is NASCAR trying to learn, or refusing to learn, by its continued adventures in lunacy?
For several years now, many of NASCAR’s top drivers have made statements as to the danger at Talladega and Daytona, not so much due to speed as it is to the plate induced pack racing or tandem racing, whichever is the “event du jour” for the race. NASCAR has fined drivers, rather heftily too, for speaking the truth. NASCAR has, in fact, kept those fines secret in certain incidences so as not to appear Nazi-like in their suppression of free speech. Now, after Sunday, even their franchise driver, Dale, Jr., has made statements surely worth a couple hundred thousand dollar fine but dare the boys at the beach do that?
Face facts here folks. NASCAR loves it. They love the carnage. Every commercial for the race, leading up to the race and even during the race, emphasized the past spectacular wrecks at Talladega. ESPN is just as guilty, as their advertising continually displayed flipping, flying, sliding and spinning cars in various stages of destruction to promote the race. While I am aware there are those out there who are quick to jump on the race fans as being “blood thirsty”, wanting to see these wrecks, I, for one, am more interested in seeing close competition and daring passes, than what Daytona and Talladega have come to represent. Funny thing is, ALL, repeat, ALL of the people I hang with and talk to feel the same way. Where are these psychiatric experts, and I use that term very broadly, getting their information? Must be from those same know-it-all folks with those degrees handed out for just the right amount of tuition that give us all these studies that prove nothing.
The Sunday event at Talladega was surely a blessed event. To have an accident of that magnitude, involving that many cars and have no one injured, is indeed the result of Divine intervention. Certainly not due to anything NASCAR did. Tony took the blame. He “manned up” and said it was his fault. What about a few laps earlier when “goody two shoes” Kenseth slammed into Bowyer to block him? Slammed into him and drove him beneath that yellow line! That could have been the Big One. While I admire Tony for accepting the blame, I have to disagree with that statement. The blame lies in the NASCAR control tower. The blame lies in the rules that made racing a pure fantasy at Daytona and Talladega. That’s not racing, it’s a wreck looking for a place to happen… EVERY TIME! Sad part is, the wreck finds that place EVERY TIME.
I remember many years ago, I ventured into a track holding a demolition derby. As I sat in the stands and watched those guys demolish old cars I thought to myself that such a display was ridiculous and a waste. My one trip to a figure 8 race was the same thing. I do not look forward to seeing cars destroyed, with or without the possibility of injury to the driver. I do not think I am in the minority in this group when I say it is the racing we want, not the wrecking. All you folks who may read this wherever, and think to yourself that race fans are bloodthirsty, you can kiss my foot. I see more intense desire for blood at football games, hockey games and many other sports. The true race fan is not there to see wrecked cars or someone hurt.
It is somewhat appropriate that the defunct Professional Drivers Association was a major player in the first race at ‘Dega in 1969. While I am not a proponent of unions by any means, perhaps others should take up the issue as Dale, Jr. said after Sunday’s wreck fest. He doesn’t want to race either plate track next year but says he has no choice. Wouldn’t need a choice is all the drivers stayed away. While I know that is not a workable solution thanks to the iron hand rule from Daytona, I hope I don’t have to see Mike Helton approach another set of microphones at a press conference to say “We have lost ____________”, you fill in the blank.
NASCAR, listen to me. I have heard many, and I do mean many, say they will never watch another plate race. Now I’m hearing many say they will never watch another NASCAR race. I fully realize we are less than 24 hours after the fact as I watch this, but the folks doing the talking here are folks of all ages and genders who are new fans and who are old time fans. Can you folks be so blinded by the Daytona sun that you cannot see what you are doing, what you have already done? The nice trick painting scheme of the grandstands at Talladega kept us from getting a true perspective on the crowd there but I’m betting it wasn’t huge by perspective. (Editor’s note: Associated Press puts attendance at Talladega at 88,000, down 20,000 from the May race) Are you folks hoping that all the last lap action this year is going to help pack the grandstands next spring? Do you really believe there are that many true race fans out there who are going to flock to Alabama to possibly see their favorite killed on that track? If that is your outlook then please forgive my uneducated assessment of your senses. I try hard not to say negative things about NASCAR and I have tried hard to make positive statements in your behalf, even when I knew such comments would not be accepted well by those to whom they were addressed. For you folks at NASCAR to continue to ignore the danger YOU are causing by your inability to make rational rules is criminal. It has already been said, but I repeat, perhaps you guys should pay for each and every car that was destroyed Sunday. You, NASCAR, pick up the tab; pay the freight. You caused it. At least this time, you don’t have to worry about the expense of flowers for a funeral, although I’m sure you have already ascertained that flowers are cheaper than repairing racecars.
Before I get out of here, I do want to remind everyone listening of the Sunday Afternoon event, this Sunday, October 14th, at Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville. The event is to honor legendary Car Builder and true NASCAR pioneer and hero, Bud Moore from Spartanburg. It starts at 11:00 a.m. and will be attended by many of NASCAR’s legends of the past. I have been to many of these events at Memory Lane and I can assure you that if you are a race fan, you will not be disappointed. And to honor someone like Bud Moore only makes it better. Jeff will give you more information at the end of the show, but I hope to see many of you there on Sunday.
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(Editor’s note: Tim Leeming is a member of the regular cast of the Tuesday evening racing show ” Racing Through History”, presented on Zeus Radio Network by RacersReunion®. Archives can be found by following the link. Live broadcasts can be heard from 7:00-9:00 PM every Tuesday. Please feel free to join us in the RacersReunion® Chat Room for the show.)