Ruining Racing by Focusing on Speed Alone

Take a look at these photos.  What do you notice?


1965 Today



NASCAR






DRAG RACING









Dirt Track Racing










Which cars do you like better?  Which cars do you think non-hardcore race fans could more easily relate to?  What consequences do you think this may have?


Back during it’s height, I often heard supporters refer to NASCAR, as America’s most popular sport.  Now if you were to just look at certain statistics, I suppose that you could have made that claim. But let’s be realistic, nowhere but maybe in the heart of NASCAR country, would you find the general public more interested in stock car racing than the NFL.  Has the Daytona 500 ever eclipsed the Superbowl?  


NASCAR has been experiencing a decline in viewership and race attendance for several years now, and everyone has their theories as to why.  Back in the ‘60’s, drag racing had made it’s way into popular culture, and appeared in many television shows and movies.  Who, besides actual fans, is even the least bit familiar with drag racing today?  Why do you think there has been a decline in the general public’s interest in auto racing?


I’ll tell you why I think it is.  Look at this term - AUTO RACING.  There’s two parts to it, AUTO and RACING.  Which part of it do you think is causing the problem?  There are people out there who seem to think that interest in any forms of racing is the cause for the decline.  Although there may be some truth to that, I believe the main problem has to do with the AUTO side of the term.


Do you remember the Don Knotts movie, "Gus"?  What if it ever actually happened?  What if the NFL started to allow animals, robots, or other nonhuman players to participate?  What do you think would happen to viewership?  Maybe for a few games, it would actually increase as the result of people’s curiosity, but it would quickly decrease, shortly after that.  The same thing is happening with many types auto racing, but since it is nowhere near as outrageous as letting a mule play football, it is unfolding at a much slower pace


We expect our football players to be humans, and we expect our race cars to be, well, uh, cars.  Just as it doesn’t matter if a mule can kick a football further than a man, it doesn’t matter that an over-sized go-cart with front wheel drive body panels, goes faster than a production automobile.  People want to watch competition between things they can relate to.


NASCAR should be America’s most popular sport.  Things are practically preordained to be that way.  Almost every working adult has a car, and most of them have their own opinion as to which car is best.  This can’t help but lead to disagreements, and it’s been that way since before Model T’s were rolling off of the assembly line.  What better way is there to settle such arguments than a long distance race?


The opportunity has always been there for NASCAR, all they have to do is take it.  It’s not like they never understood the formula.  Maybe they should reexamine their acronym.  National Association for STOCK Car Auto Racing.  The cars that raced on the beach at Daytona, often had heaters and windshield wipers. It was easy for fans to relate, because the cars on the track were just about the same as the cars they drove to the race.


Starting sometime in the 1980’s NASCAR wanted to increase its popularity by expanding its fan base beyond that of the traditional stock car racing fan, but in the process, they forgot what made it popular in the first place.  From its founding in 1948, NASCAR took stock car racing from a disorganized mess of independently run tracks, to a national phenomenon, in a matter less than two decades.


The U.S. auto manufacturers were producing and marketing cars specifically made to satisfy NASCAR rules and give them a competitive advantage on the track.  That’s influence!  Didn’t NASCAR understand what they had?  Apparently not.  The only reason many of the most valuable American collector cars, and exotic American power plants ever even existed is because of NASCAR and other auto racing organizations. 


     




Think of the Dodge Daytona, Plymouth Superbird, Ford Galaxie Fastback, 426 Hemi, and 409.  That’s just barely scratching the surface of examples.  The most recent one I can think of. was the 1988 Chevy Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupe.  After that, NASCAR did a complete 180.  They started allowing cars that had a less aerodynamically designed body, to compensate for it by allowing them to have a different rear spoiler height and angle. The exact opposite type of ruling than the ones that gave birth to some of our most desirable classic cars.


The final nail in the coffin, the thing that made the term “stock” in their acronym completely laughable, was the introduction of “The Car of Tomorrow”.  This was the point where I stopped following NASCAR completely, but the trouble was brewing long before that.  Back in the late ‘80’s when American car companies were dropping production of their rear wheel drive models was when NASCAR started to become a joke.  Even before that, the cars were anything but stock.


I believe that NASCAR started to lose its way, way back when they started to allow tube frames and massive chassis modifications, but as long as the cars resembled what the average Joe could go down to the dealership and buy, they could get away with it.


The inconsistency of NASCAR rules since the 1980’s has been ridiculous, and it has been confusing for the casual fan.  Fuel injection was not allowed for decades after it started to appear on factory built cars, but they allowed models that were only produced as front wheel drive models by the factory, to be raced using a rear wheel drive chassis.  I cannot think of anything more stupid or contradictory, but it gets even more ridiculous.  NASCAR officials use “templates” to determine if race teams are conforming to regulated body shape standards, on “stock” cars that are shaped nothing like the cars the decals pasted over them, suggest that they are.  


Even if casual race fans are not aware of all this, they sense it.  They know that the cars on the super speedways have nothing in common with the car in their garage.  How can this do anything but cause them to lose interest?


The damage caused by NASCAR trying to be something that’s not (or at least, not what it should be) goes far beyond what I have already discussed.  Since the early ‘70’s it has become prohibitively expensive.  That’s why you see the same race teams competing year after year, decade after decade.  Other than with drivers, it is virtually impossible for new blood to enter the sport. 

 NASCAR has gone from its working man’s roots to rich man’s dynasty club.  Watch the Richard Pryor movie "Greased Lightning".  It’s about Wendell Scott, one of the few black men that competed in NASCAR, but it also will give you a look at the final days of when a small independent race team, with limited resources could be competitive.


Those days are long gone.  If everyone knows that they don’t stand a chance, why would anyone even try to become involved in NASCAR?  Also, if the top tier of racing is so vastly different than the lower forms of racing, it causes people to lose interest in the smaller local tracks and the drivers that compete on them, and one by one, these tracks have been going out of business, for decades.  This also has caused cracks in the foundation of the fan base of racing.  


Sports other than auto racing do not have this problem.  Little league and other youth sports, use basically the same equipment as the pros, although it may be smaller and less expensive.  It’s much easier for people in the lower levels of almost any other sport to at least appear like the pros, than it is to do in auto racing.


It just amazes me that NASCAR could not understand the importance of having its cars closely resemble what the average Joe could own and drive.  Think of all the great cars that would have rolled off the assembly lines in this country if NASCAR would have only kept its rules the same as they were in the early ‘60’s.  We’d probably still have two door, full sized. rear wheel drive cars.  How cool would that be?


It’s not just NASCAR either.  Many types of motorsports are guilty of the same thing.  Take a look at a funny car from the early ‘70’s.


Pretty cool huh?


Now, look at what their running today.




Who cares?


A different kind of nonsense has drifted into monster trucks, but it still involves moving away from vehicles that people can relate to.


Big foot was in movies in the ‘80’s.




Today monster trucks are cartoons.




NASCAR and most types of drag racing grew out of people competing with street legal cars that once rolled off of an assembly line.  The whole point of it all was, “Which car is better?”, and for the fans, it was “I hope it’s the car that I own.”  That’s all gone now, but it once was one of the most important roles that NASCAR and NHRA racing played.


We already had Indy car and Formula One racing, where speed and exotic, new technology, and money were the only things that mattered.  Why on earth did NASCAR ever think that they needed to take the same approach toward racing?

I have said it all of my life concerning street cars, but it even applies to many types of racing; "Sure speed is important, but some things are more important than just speed."
 

5 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. It's such a shame. I used to LOVE NASCAR. It seems like NASCAR somehow found out everything I liked about it, and then, took it away.

      Delete
  2. I absolutely agree with what you are saying here. I grew up around race cars and bikes.

    When they let Toyota into NASCAR was the final straw for me.

    They have also seemed to have forgotten another aspect, Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.
    You can't go buy what they are running around in circles with anymore.
    I can't stand front wheel drive cars to begin with anyway and basically, the only full size rear wheel drive cars available are only produced for police car stocks or luxury cars anymore.
    That is the only reason the Crown Victoria platform survived as long as it did.
    That and it is the same frame and running gear as the Lincoln Town Car.
    But I repeat myself.......

    I can still remember watching Richard Petty racing clear back in 1965 against the Ford Galaxies.

    That makes me a throw back.

    This brings me to my ultimate beef with the idiots at NASCAR, restrictor plates.


    The reason they have to use them is because of the tracks, period.

    Building a track that can handle those kinds of speeds safely would run into the Billions.

    For a hundred bucks a copy it is cheaper to force the teams to use the damn things and now we have 195 mile an hour parades.

    I don't give a rusty fuck what anyone says, that is NOT racing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are 100% correct. As for front wheel drive, here's what I think of that.
      http://goldengeesenews.blogspot.com/2014/02/wrong-wheel-drive.html
      Everything about NASCAR from 30 years ago and more was better than it is today.
      If they would just go back to racing STOCK cars, they wouldn't need restrictor plates.
      Brand new Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers are faster than the Daytonas and Superbirds of '69 and '70, but slower than the cars on the track today. The races would be more interesting to more people, if they were actually proving which company made the fastest, most dependable car.

      Delete
  3. OMG, somebody else besides me remembers Don Knotts! Gifted comedian, we all miss him. I do think that racing should be more popular, if it had models like these to liven things up a bit. Watching the same models with different stickers on them gets monotonous. And yes, the NASCAR rules committee is from Mars!

    Damion Lincoln @ Jacky Jones Lincoln

    ReplyDelete