My NASCAR Love is Goooooooone…

Posted: July 1, 2011 in NASCAR, racing, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I don’t blame NASCAR. I understand why NASCAR wanted to grow. I admire the way the late Bill France Jr., shortly after taking over for his father and founder of NASCAR, took stock car racing from a regional sport with a Hicksville image to the big time.

Bill Jr. turned his back on his grassroots fans and closed southern tracks in Rockingham and North Wilkesboro and replaced them with tracks in major cities such as Chicago, Phoenix, Kansas City, Dallas and Las Vegas. He took away one of the races at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, Darlington. Chewing tobacco sponsors were replaced by family-friendly sponsors. The Tide car became a reality. The M&M car joined the family. Surely Fireball Roberts and Curtis Turner had to be spinning in their graves.

Bill Jr. was a genius. NASCAR’s television numbers skyrocketed. Just about every Fortune 500 company joined the NASCAR family in one form or another. Stock car racing became cool. NASCAR became a major sport, second only to the NFL in the eyes of many. Yuppies and good ol’ boys cheered side-by-side.

Like I said, I don’t blame NASCAR. I don’t blame Bill Jr. Yeah, I understood what was going on and admired the men who led the way. But I didn’t like it, not then, not now.

I grew up in North Carolina loving stock car racing. Richard Petty was as big a hero to me as brightest stars in Major League Baseball, the NFL and ACC basketball.

I loved the speed of the cars, the closest of the racing and the pedal-to-metal warriors who drove the machines. It wasn’t about the money, or at least it didn’t seem to be. It was about courage, guts or whatever you want to call it. It was Southern, through and through, as Southern as pig-pickings and moonshine. Stock car racing was Bobby Allison racing in winged-tipped shoes and Dick Trickle racing around the track with a Winston cigarette dangling from his lips.

For the most part, professional sports had not invaded the South back then. Stock caring was our sport. I had to explain it, defend it, to folks in other parts of the country. I did so with great pride.

Seemingly overnight the population of Southern cities boomed. The NFL came south. Ditto for MLB. TV money for sporting events and leagues went through the roof. A sitting president, Ronald Reagan, actually attended a NASCAR race, the ’84 Firecracker 400 in Daytona Beach.

There was no stopping NASCAR. Drivers went from guys saying things like “blowed a tar” to corporate spokesmen. Crew chiefs went from being guys who grew up building hotrods in their backyards to college graduates with engineering degrees.

NASCAR tracks built luxury suites. Tickets prices soared. The infield became civilized.

NASCAR has taken a bit of a hit in the last decade although it certainly remains a major sport. Critics blame NASCAR’s slump on the fact it forsake its grassroots fans and tracks. Yeah, maybe there’s some truth in that, but a major reason for the decline is less complicated. In was inevitable there’d be a decline considering the spectacular growth of the sport in the 90s.

For nearly a quarter of a century I never missed a race in Daytona Beach. I made regular treks to Talladega, Atlanta, Darlington, Charlotte and Martinsville.

I’ve only been to Daytona Beach for one race in the last decade. I don’t love the sport anymore. I guess I’m like a jilted lover. The sport shunned its Southern roots and that meant it shunned me. Back at ya was my response.

But there are other reasons I fell out of love with NASCAR. I don’t like the multi-car team concept. I don’t like seeing teammates ignore winning to help someone else get to victory lane. I don’t like the fact that drivers became far less important than engineers, crew chiefs and calculating gas mileage.

Stock car drivers, once the most accessible and quotable guys in sports, fell in love with TV network cameras, no doubt at the urging of their marketing department. (That’s right, marketing department. Drivers used to have PRs guys, usually former sportswriters, but now they have teams of marketing experts, agents, financial advisers, etc.)

I do realize the sport has never been more competitive. During the first four decades of NASCAR’s existence it was rare to have more than six or seven cars with a real chance of winning. For Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at the Daytona International Speedway there are more than 20 cars that could win.

NASCAR has been healthier, but it’s doing fine. I’ll tune in Saturday night to check out the race from time to time. I’ll catch the final 10 laps. But I won’t really care who wins. And I certainly won’t feel that tingle of excitement and pride I once felt watching stock car racing.

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Comments
  1. Carl Herrmann says:

    I also enjoyed the earlier NASCAR when individual innovation was what helped win races. Now, cars are so close that you can hardly tell them apart. You have to wait till you can read the model of the car on the hood to know what it is, and the drivers are all from the same mold, too. You won’t ever see a Tiny Lund any more.

    The love bug racing at Daytona and Talledega should be scored as pairs as neither car would make it across the line alone.

    Butch

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