Several years ago, NASCAR started running races on Saturday nights. I found that disturbing. There were times in my life when I really enjoyed watching the Cup Series on television, but I was really a short track racing fan at heart. When NASCAR started adding Saturday night races, it hurt the local short tracks, and those tracks were already struggling.
For 2017, NASCAR is holding seven races on Saturday night. On those seven nights, local short tracks will see their crowds shrink. You can’t blame the fans. They are given a choice of sitting on a hard bleacher in the muggy heat for a few hours, or sitting on a soft easy chair in air conditioned comfort without setting foot outside the house. Either way they get their racing fix. Which one would you choose? As much as I love short track racing, I think I would opt for the air conditioning.
For a business that’s already on the edge, that loss of revenue can be nothing but destructive. Shame on you NASCAR. Your roots are in short track racing. Go back to Sundays where you belong, or at least reduce the Saturday night races to a couple of the true short tracks you run like Bristol and Martinsville. Yes, Martinsville now has lights in case you didn’t know.
Now we get to rule changes. It all started with new safety rules. The first big change was the institution of pit road speed limits after the 1990 season. It’s racing and speed limits don’t make much sense, but that’s okay. Nobody wants to lose a life or see someone else lose a life while standing on a pit road waiting to service a race car.
I never thought about it, all the years I went across the wall,” Waddell Wilson said. “The cars would go by you so fast especially at Daytona and Talladega, the speed of them would just about turn you around. They’d come down pit road about as fast as they were running down the race track. That’s how they’d make up time.
Then came the end to racing back to the caution and the advent of the “Lucky Dog” in 2003. Davey Allison was long gone. Dale Earnhardt had left. I was torn about this rule change and I guess I just didn’t care much about watching NASCAR any more. I want racing to be safe, but no racing back to the caution? That was an institution. That’s when I started to become less interested in NASCAR.
But I want to go back a couple of years, to the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, and a guy you may have heard of by the name of Smokey Yunick. If NASCAR and the track owners had listened to Smokey, Dale Earnhardt might still be alive today. If they were sincerely interested in the safety of the drivers before one of them got killed, maybe they would have listened to Smokey.
In the early 1990s, Smokey Yunick, known for his concerns about driver safety, was asked to inspect the new walls at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was prior to the inaugural running of the Brickyard 400 in 1994, and the new walls were higher and thicker to retain the heavy stock cars and protect the fans. “What about the drivers?” Smokey asked. “All you’re gonna do with this is kill ’em deader, quicker.”
Yunick went home and resurrected an idea that NASCAR had rejected in the early 1960s. It was a different kind of wall — one that had a moveable, soft barrier. Smokey’s soft walls used old racing tires bound tightly together with thin steel rods and sandwiched between sheets of plywood. The barrier would move on impact. Smokey’s soft walls were ignored by NASCAR in the 1960s and ignored again in the early 1990s. Those walls could have saved a lot of lives over the years. I guess they weren’t really interested in driver safety.
But worse than the Saturday night races and worse than the safety rule changes, in my opinion, are the constant rule changes regarding the stock car racing “playoffs.” They make major changes to these rules about every three years and other minor tweaks almost every season, and they always make it more complicated than it was before. All this does is further confuse and alienate race fans. It’s so bad that NASCAR has an entire FAQ page on their website devoted to their convoluted championship system.
“The Chase” is nothing more than a cheap gimmick. NASCAR didn’t get popular on gimmicks. It got popular because real men put everything on the line and fought tooth and nail to win. It was personalities like Smokey Yunick, the Allisons, Cale Yarbrough, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliot, and a whole host of other great drivers and fine mechanics who put NASCAR on the map.
If you’re going to use gimmicks, why not go all the way, NASCAR? Give us some real gimmicks. How about some school bus races? Skid plate racing would be funny at Talladega. Put up some ramps and let’s see who can get the most air. I’d be up for a good demolition derby in the infield at Bristol. Set some cars on fire or something. Bring in some chimpanzees, they’re always hilarious. Blow up some stuff. Everybody likes explosions.
Now fans are just confused. Potential new NASCAR fans who haven’t watched much racing (of which there will likely be few with this ridiculous points system) aren’t going to understand it and they will simply turn off and go to the next sport or do something else to pass the time. Their dollars will go elsewhere.
Now the races run in three segments. There’s a new flag with green and white checks to end each stage. I guess that makes everybody feel better? This is nothing more than “competition yellows.” I never liked those much either. You can’t engineer a good race. It has to happen organically. When you start planning a race down to the nth detail you just ruin it.
I guess the top 10 drivers at the end of each stage get some points. I’m already bored with it. The stage and race winners get extra playoff points, and those are carried over to the postseason. There will be a regular season champion, decided by the driver who earns the most points during the “regular” NASCAR season. There are more points awarded for various things but it all gets so complex and BORING. It’s just too much to keep up with.
Baseball has innings, but nobody gets rewarded for leading at the end of one. Football has quarters and halves, but again, nobody gets anything special for leading at the end of a segment. I smell driver input on this. Maybe the drivers wanted a little break so they could go check their hair and makeup and tinkle. I don’t know, But endurance of both man and machine once played a major role in the long NASCAR races. NASCAR has in part removed one aspect of the competition by breaking the races into segments.
I have a great idea. Why not just run a full race in one segment, then award the winner of the race a set number of points, then drop the points awarded for each position by a few, or something like that? You could even give a driver bonus points for things like leading a lap or leading the most laps. That’s known as awarding consistency throughout the season. Then you could just do away with the “Chase” and all that gimmicky nonsense. Keep it simple, stupid.