by: Tim Leeming
The Chase, The Chase, The Chase. The C – H –A – S – E. The race from Chicagoland (how I so strongly dislike that name) started at 2:00 instead of the usual 1:00 p.m. so when I came in from church and had lunch, I was able to sit back and listen to the “experts”, and believe me I use that word very loosely, talk about what? No, not so much about the race, but about that infernal Chase. I would guess that between the 12:30, when I first sat down in my recliner and 2:00 when the race broadcast was to begin, I heard the words “The Chase” no less than 500 times. During the race, thousands of references to The Chase seemed to exempt even the description of racing action. Every possible scenario, with the exception of Martians landing on the track, was discussed. What would it take to win “The Chase”? Who has the best chance to win “The Chase”? What team is best prepared to win “The Chase”? Can Tony Stewart do this year what he did last year? Can you win “The Chase” without winning a race”? On and on they rolled.
Last week, right here on the Rodeo, Jeff stated that he has begun to like The Chase, or to at least appreciate the concept. I haven’t reached that point yet and it is not likely, in this lifetime, that I will. Have we ever been told who might be the responsible party for development of this Chase? Most of us assume it was Brian Z. France and it may have been. I am more inclined to believe it was some marketing guru, fresh out of some university somewhere, who was ready to conquer the world and was content to start with the most easily influenced mind and thus sought out NASCAR.
Let me state, right here and now, that this Legendtorial is not a rant about complaints I may have with NASCAR. As I have often said, I want NASCAR to be a success. I have always promoted that and have always wanted the day to come when NASCAR would rule the sports world. Looking back, I do believe NASCAR was on the way to becoming the major competitor to the NFL. Now I sometimes wonder if it can hold its own against a tiddlywinks tournament at an old folks home.
PattyKay and I were chatting weeks ago when she made the comment that NASCAR was too big to fail. At the time, I think my comment was something to the effect that no entity is too big to fail. General Motors may have been eliminated had it not been for the government bailout. Enron went under because of poor management. Banks and insurance companies have either failed or have been greatly restructured to prevent failure. What about the Roman Empire? Too big to fail? I think not.
Let’s look at this fact. College Football, the number two religion in this country, racks in billions and dominates television networks on any given Saturday. The University of Miami Hurricanes team has been a major player in this sport for years. Major NFL stars came from that team. Their Stadium holds in excess of 80,000 fans. Yet, this past Saturday, the total number of attendees at the University of Miami football game was 300. Yep, 300 fans. I saw a picture of the stands and those empty seats spoke volumes about failure. It wasn’t the weather, it wasn’t the economy, and in spite of Miami going into overtime to spin explanations, the fact is 300 folks showed up for that game. I’m sure Miami will rebound but it will be interesting to see how many attend the next home game. That was college football folks from a major school with a major stadium. Too big to fail? The Jury is still out on that one.
So, what about Chicagoland? I have no idea what the official crowd was but considering that the track is located within three hours driving distances of literally several million people, why all those empty seats? Why all those empty seats at Richmond where the final 12 for The Chase were to be decided? Why all those empty seats throughout the NASCAR world this year? Why is it that the half-mile dirt track in Cayce, South Carolina, drew in excess of 11,000 folks for almost every Grand National Race held there before it closed when NASCAR began the journey away from its roots? There have been Cup races this year where I think 11,000 fans would have been an overestimate of the crowd.
What about Television ratings? Funny thing is that for the past several weeks I have not seen the usual NASCAR related hype that this year’s audience for any given race was more than it was last year, or that viewership is growing. I have talked to several people who say they don’t watch at all anymore and several more who record the races to watch later so they can fast-forward through commercials and the boring follow the leader racing. I must say that when I have recorded the races to watch later, the best part of the day is being able to fast forward through those commercials. I am supposing that ratings are down and that is the reason we aren’t hearing about how NASCAR ranks just behind the reruns of “Leave it to Beaver” on the oldies channel.
Other than Jeff’s reserved comments last week about adjusting to the Chase format, I have not heard from anyone else who likes that format. I have tried, believe me I have tried, but I cannot accept it. Oh yes, I know, “It is what it is”, and we’re stuck with it. NASCAR’s line about listening to the fans is about as meaningful as what any given politician seeking an office is going to say. NASCAR has always “been for the fan”. The drivers have been taught to say how important the fan is to the sport. The King taught them all that, but the difference there is that the King meant it. There may be two or three of today’s current drivers who mean it when they say it, but most I think, if truthful, would say “I’m all about the fans… their money that is”.
If the Chase is so great, why not in Nationwide? Why not in Camping World Trucks? Why not K&N? Why not Indy? Why not Formula One? Is the hype working? I personally do not think so. In fact, after watching and listening to Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty argue it out Sunday, I think the only advantage to the Chase is giving a retired driver and a retired basketball player a stage on which to exhibit their lack of reasonable intelligence. That’s not a negative statement, just the truth as I see it. Who is Brad Daugherty to analyze racing? Oh I know all about his background, his race team, and how he got interested in racing, but maybe he should go back to the hardwood and leave racing alone.
I spent my weekend in Augusta, Georgia at the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society event, which, by the way, was absolutely awesome. Everyone there worked hard to make it a truly memorable event. I talked with folks from the age of four to the age of 90. All race fans and all talking racing non-stop. Would you believe that not one time, not once, was The Chase mentioned. Even with the young fans. Not even with the 16 year olds who were very interested in all the older cars and in talking with the legendary drivers around the table. Not even with Lil Bud Moore, although we had a political discussion that was worthy of national network coverage! Yet, when the event was breaking up Saturday afternoon, I was asked by no less than 30 people, if I would like to go to a short track race with them that evening. Different folks and different tracks, but the point is, not one person mentioned that the next day would be the first race of The Chase for 2012.
So, we have nine more races to decide the 2012 Champion for The Sprint Cup. The man who was leading the points coming into this joke, had a rough day, as did Jeff Gordon. Frankly, the way all the Fords ran Sunday, and the fact that 5 of the 10 Chase races are these cookie-cutter tracks, Roger Penske may want to rethink his switch to Ford. Heck, Fords were falling apart right on the track, up to and including having a shock absorber cause one of those convenient” bunch the field “cautions NASCAR loves so much. It is going to be a bittersweet end to the year if Brad and his Dodge win the Cup and Dodge won’t even be in the sport next year.
I guess I just needed to vent a little. The Chase sickens me. It seems that in the past ten years, most of what made the sport of stock car racing so great in my opinion has been put away. Put away so far back in the storeroom in fact that fans who are new to the sport don’t even know that we used to race the entire year for a championship. That the Winston Cup Champion earned that Cup over a full season. That prior to The Winston Cup, the Grand National Champion earned his championship over a full season. I spent my Saturday with Rex White who, for you newcomers, if you’re listening, won the Grand National Championship in 1960. He and I didn’t discuss The Chase, but if we had, it would have probably been in the context of the chase being a game kids play.
Yes, I know I’m an old man now. I know I have been following the NASCAR circuit for almost 60 years now. I know I am not an expert; neither do I want to be. But, I am a fan. You know, one of those people NASCAR says they exist for. A fan. Someone who has spent 60 years living the sport and who wants to see it survive for a new generation to come along, like Ryan Blaney who has the talent to become a star if there is a sport left.
Too big to fail? NASCAR, you may be big, but you are failing a lot of people these days. Those people you call fans. Or, more easily understood by those of you in the offices in Daytona and Charlotte, the folks who spend, or at least spent the money to support the sport. Ask the Miami Hurricanes if it is possible to abuse the fans enough to have only 300 show up for a game. E-mail me and let me know what they tell you. Miami is not that far down I-95 from Daytona.
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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.)