It seems that when discussing the problems facing NASCAR these days, much of the focus is on the "cup" level. I think it goes much deeper than that.
This week NASCAR announced another rule change to slow down the cup drivers taking the glory from the "developmental" series drivers. Now, it may seem I am getting off track here, but bear with me. After all, this is my rant.
The problem in the Xfinity and Camping World series may be name recognition but stripping the cup drivers from competing there is not the solution. The name recognition problem goes much deeper than those series and it is affecting the very core of the feeder system of our sport. Remember in Part One when I mentioned Jeff Gordon? Well this where Mr. Gordon comes into play.
Jeff Gordon made his way into the "premier series" in 1992 and things haven't been the same since. His success created a phenomenon that began to undermine the very core of short track racing and that has led to the newest rule against the "buschwhackers".
His success created the "new kid on the track". Those with access to, you guessed it, MONEY! Every daddy that could afford it, and some that couldn't, wanted his kid to be the next Jeff Gordon. The promoters at the local bull ring were happy to welcome that money to their tracks, even at the cost of driving their regular local hero away.
Granted, some of the weekly regulars did move along to the Busch Grand National Series and a few even to Winston Cup with success. Drivers like Dennis Setzer, Ron Barfield, Johnny Rumley, Steve Grissom and a few others made the transition on talent alone while others like Dale Jarrett, Dale, Jr., Brian Vickers, Steve Park and Martin Truex, Jr. made it on a combination of talent, money and in some cases being at the right place at the right time.
But, not many paid attention to the rumbling heard in the background. The rumbling that was heard but went unheeded. This is when things started to go wrong: Daddy bought junior a race car, leased a cup-style rig, hired a crew chief (often the local hero) and went racing. After a couple of seasons daddy's money runs thin or he figures out that junior can't drive a nail and away he goes leaving two holes in the local tracks pit road. One from junior's exit and one from the local hero turned crew chief left without a job. Not to mention probably defaulting on the lease on the big rig. Turn that into two or three "junior's" and crew chief/drivers at several tracks and you have a problem. Most of the tracks in my area have not, and may never, recover.
What this phenomenon created was that the future Jeff Gordons never stayed around the weekly tracks long enough to build a true following and when daddy's money, mom, a couple brothers or sisters, an aunt and uncle and grandparents left, another hole in the grandstands was created on that side of the track. This created no name recognition at the local level and the same chain of events carried over to the Xfinity and Camping World Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup as well.
The Xfinity and Camping World Series are filled by ˜Premier Series' team owners or driver owned teams that cycle those kids with MONEY through the seats like rainwater through a Leaf Filter gutter guard. Those owners have an obligation to the sponsors that make it possible to put those cars and trucks on the track.
Some drivers stay if they are lucky enough to land in the right seat or until the funding dries up and some put all their eggs in one basket and hope their efforts will get the attention of the right team. Let me stop here and congratulate Ryan Preece again and hope his talent secures him a seat for 2018.
I say again that name recognition is definitely an issue. Most don't stay long enough to build that name recognition and many that do hang on simply fill the seat of a mid-pack or worse car.
I remember when Earnhardt, Sr., Harry Gant and others frequented the Busch Series events and when Mark Martin was the "darling" of the series. Both the Xfinity and the Camping World Series need the "buschwhackers" name recognition. Especially with the cup owners ditching name drivers in favor of no-name kids who didn't stay anywhere long enough to build the name recognition of the past generation of drivers.
I saw an article last week about Steph Curry playing golf on the web.com Tour. The writer commended the PGA for trying this to bring attention to the developmental tour (isn't that what NASCAR likes to call the Xfinity/Camping World Series)? The writer said they should do it more often.
So in wrapping up the Xfinity/Camping World portion of my rant, let me say that NASCAR can go a long way towards fixing this problem by bringing both series back to the short tracks and allowing the "buschwhackers" to compete at a restricted level. They should consider putting an age limit or time-in-series rule in place instead of hustling the kids to the "premier" series. If for no other reason to keep the drivers in those series there long enough to build that following.
More in Part Four.
updated by @rwmyers: 08/16/17 09:47:32AM