by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.March 24, 2011 6:34 am UTC 1 Comment
This race track like no other has mirrored what has become of the sport we love so much. Like the trip to the grandmothers house that is too clean, too organized and too filled with treasures; the trip to many of NASCAR’s venues just isn’t very comfortable.
Places like Fontana, Kansas City, Iowa and Chicago have all the amenities that a fan would seem to want. Everyone expects to have plenty of clean restrooms and lots of concession stands. Those are givens. Race tracks that don’t cater to those two basic needs will eventually fail. But some tracks do a better job of making race fans feel welcome and a part of the action.
Unlike the grandmother’s house that is too clean and organized; race tracks that give the feeling of gramma’s house where the kids are on the floor, the toys are everywhere and the aunts and uncles are hanging around in the back yard, makes you want to stay and come back.
NASCAR has done a good job over the last couple of decades of making their racing seem more like a trip to grandmother’s house than a trip to gramma’s. Going to grandmothers just isn’t as comfortable and fun as the trip to grammas.
Growing pains are always uncomfortable and NASCAR has had their share. Some say they lost sight of their roots and abandoned their core fans for the glitz and glamor of big numbers and questionable venues. What NASCAR lost as it’s fan base exploded was the comfort and intimacy that its long time fans had grown up with; a comfort and intimacy that gramma knew how to cultivate.
NASCAR has so wanted their product to be eaten on the good china with the good silver; but all the fans want is a damn good dog on a fresh bun served on a paper plate with a cold one to wash it down. NASCAR was ment to have some mustard dripped on the deck and hosed off; not worried about gravy on the table cloth.
Many reasons have been given for NASCAR’s decline in attendance and TV viewership over the past half-dozen years; but the most alarming sight was the lack of campers and the empty seats at Bristol this past week and the reason for it is quite simple. NASCAR fans want to feel a part of the racing event. They want to feel a connection to the sport and its participants; but that can’t happen as long as NASCAR continues to serve its product in a sanitized form.
The “good old days” have a short memory. Nobody really wants to go back to the days of two or three lap lead finishes or 2×10 pine plank seats; just like no one would want gramma’s to have an outhouse. What fans want is a connection with their sport and their heros that they feel they lost when NASCAR got rid of the back deck and built the dining room.
Lost somewhere in the growth of our sport was the realization that while the fans like to watch cars race and experience the on track show; what they really love more than anything else is their connection with their driver. Today’s driver has been so marketed by their sponsors and PR companies that they have lost the ability to get down on the floor and play with the kids.
Making sure the sponsors are mentioned in every interview has become more important than sitting on the pit wall signing autographs and having your pictures taken with fans. How did fans know in the seventies and eighties that Richard Petty was sponsored by STP? There are thousands–maybe millions of pictures in fans homes of him in his STP firesuit signing autographs for everyone.
Those pictures, whether they be on paper and displayed, or just in a fans memory was what was right with NASCAR and was what made new fans fall in love with the sport. Those memories of being down on the floor playing with the kids supercede polite conversation, using the proper fork and thanking a dizzying array of sponsors.
Sorry Grandmother–we’d rather hang out at Gramma’s this week.
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.February 24, 2011 8:18 am UTC 1 Comment
As a fan of NASCAR racing the first driver I ever rooted for was LeeRoy Yarbrough in the late 60′s and early 70′s. Through most of the 70′s after LeeRoy dropped out of the NASCAR world with mysterious ailments; I didn’t have an allegiance to any one driver until Bill Elliott came on the scene toward the end of that decade.
Elliott captured my attention because of his family run team out of Georgia when most NASCAR teams had already migrated to the area around Charlotte. At the time there weren’t a lot of teams running Fords and I have always held an affinity for the brand. So Bill, Dan and Ernie were MY guys.
I have remained an Elliott fan throughout his career even when he closed his team and went to drive for Ray Evernham and the resurrected Dodge factory effort.
When it was announce that Bill would drive for the Wood Brothers in a part time effort I believed in my heart, if not totally in my mind, that the combination could bring back the glory of a time gone by when David Pearson took the part time program and won races. Pearson won races; he wasn’t interested in winning championships. Championships were for guys like Richard Petty.
My hope for catching lightening in a bottle with the Wood Brothers-Bill Elliott combination kept lessening with every missed opportunity. The Woods would enter Elliott in places that he had run well in the past; places like Atlanta. The combination never seemed to work. Maybe the team wasn’t ready to win yet.
I was still surprised when the Woods elected to take Bill out of the car in late 2010 to give the displaced Bayne a one-off. Bayne had been released earlier by Michael Walltrip Racing from his Nationwide Series ride. Needless to say he ran well enough at Texas, finishing a respectable seventeenth, to make the Woods have to make a decision for 2011.
The decision to part ways with Elliott and give Bayne the ride for 2011 obviously was a winner for both Bayne and the race team that hasn’t seen a win at Daytona since 1976. One win does not a career make; but to take the iconic #21 to victory lane in only his second Sprint Cup race and just a day after his twenteth birthday could make the Wood Brothers seem like geniuses.
It may be way too early to proclaim a changing of the guard, but for this NASCAR fan it’s time to move on to a new phase in the sport we love.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler/ON PIT ROW
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.January 31, 2011 7:47 am UTC 2 Comments
Their new points system doesn’t change the way it rewards winning like they were professing. NASCAR continually talks about listening to the fans and making changes to appease them. Somehow many of their intentions fall short.
2010 saw the elimination of the dreaded wing; something fans really seemed to hate, even though most of their street cars sported a cosmetic rear wing on their front-wheel drive cars. NASCAR got this one right. Not only did fans loathe the wing but most of the teams weren’t too crazy about it either.
2011 sees the re-desingn of the front fascia and elimination of the splitter; making the Sprint Cup cars look more like the models they are trying to represent.
Re-working the front and back of the Cup cars is a precursor to wholesale change expected for the 2013 Cup season. 2011 sees the first full season of new models in the Nationwide Series with the integration of the Mustang and Challenger. The Ford and Dodge representatives as that series Car of Tomorrow, is intended to give that series another unique quality.
Now Ford executives are sending up a trial balloon to check fan and NASCAR reaction to using the Mustang as their model in the Sprint Cup Series in 2013. According to Jamie Allison, Ford’s director of motorsports; “Mustang is the most identifiable brand we have in terms of racing and motorsports. So we’ve made it known that we’d like to see Mustang in NASCAR.”
by Steve Wronkowicz
NASCAR is looking to simplify their points system in all three national touring series.
The thinking on NASCAR’s part is the fans have a hard time understanding the current system. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with the current system. After all; it has served the sport well for decades. Revisions to the current system however could improve it and give the fans what they want–more emphasis on wins.
The powers that be at NASCAR are in and have been in a “change is good” mode for several years. Good, bad or indifferent–Brian France and his charges have seen change as the cure for the sport. Lets look at a new points system for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series and see what makes sense.
Speculation for a new system revolves around what is being referred to as the “43 system” where the winning car receives forty-three points and every place under that receives one few than the spot above down to the forty-third place finisher who receives one point.
This system; in its strictest form does nothing to give the fans more emphasis on winning. If anything it reduces that aspect of the current system. So how can NASCAR simplify the system and reward winners?
Lets take the basic 43 system and make a couple of simple changes. First lets look at the bottom of the finishing order; the area inhabited by the start and park teams. The merits of these SaP teams has been debated before and that’s for another time. But they are here to stay so in my points system places 41, 42 and 43 each earn two points. Places 36 through 40 each earn five points, in an effort to keep badly damaged cars from returning to the track.
Keeping damaged cars from returning to the track will reduce yellow flags and debris cautions. This one is for the drivers and crews, as many have listed the returning lame car as one of their biggest pet peeves.
We move back to the top of the leader board, where the winner will receive 43 points, the second place car 42 and so on down the line. But because we like to see racing throughout the event, one bonus point should continue to be given to the car that leads the most laps and FIVE bonus points are to be given to the winner for a green flag victory.
This puts the emphasis on the drivers to race for wins and yet would reduce the possibility of the kamikaze finish on a third Green-White-Checker attempt. Rain shortened events would receive the “kissing your sister” recognition they deserve.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler/On Pit Row
by Steve Wronkowicz
How much affect will NASCAR’s new rule that allows drivers to compete for a championship in only one major touring series have on the sport?
2010 saw only two drivers make a run at the Nationwide Series title while also competing in The Sprint Cup series. NNS champ Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards took the green flag in all thirty-five NNS races. Both Keselowski and Edwards intend to run the entire NNS schedule in 2011 as well; even though NASCAR will force them to exempt themselves from the championship hunt.
You have to go back to the 2004 and 2005 seasons to find a non-Cup regular who won the NNS championship, when Martin Truex, Jr. won back to back. Since then Kevin Harvick, Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch then Keselowski have taken their full-time Cup expertise to the Nationwide Series and won the championship.
Five years of domination by Cup drivers has resulted in NASCAR’s decision to limit drivers to running for a championship in only one series. Seems like a good idea. But couldn’t there have been a better way?
While the focus of the new rule is clearly directed at the Cup/Nationwide dilemma; there had to be a better and less far reaching solution to the problem. The real losers in the new rule are not the Cup regulars looking to grab Nationwide hardware and cash; but drivers looking to catch a break in the Camping World Truck Series while looking for a ride in Nationwide as well.
Look at drivers like Jen Jo Cobb, Justin Lofton or Brian Scott, to name only a few. Drivers that are looking to put deals together in both series; to not only increase seat time but also showcase their talent to prospective sponsors, are being greatly handicapped. NASCAR forcing them to declare a championship series before the season begins greatly minimizes their options.
What may look like a fully funded deal in one series may come up short before the end of the season, forcing them to fall back to a secondary opportunity in the other; but unable to collect championship points. This becomes a lose-lose situation for NASCAR and the driver.
NASCAR could have achieved the same result—getting a Nationwide Series only driver to win the championship by simply limiting the number of starts a Cup driver can make in the NNS. Kyle Busch finished third in the NNS standings in 2010 and only started twenty-nine races. Limit Cup drivers to starts in no more than two-thirds of the events, in the other series and the problem goes away and there is no trickle down affect to the other series.
Promoters, fans and television networks want to see Cup drivers in the other series. It is good for business. Having them consistently win the championship is not. But, please NASCAR, look at the far reaching consequences of the decisions you make. What may look like a simple solution may not be so simple for those trying to make a name for themselves in your other series.
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowNovember 12, 2010 8:02 pm UTC No Comments
It’s not like Jeff Gordon broke a knuckle or something, throwing a punch at Jeff Burton. Maybe a nail.
Rick Hendrick – perhaps feeling empathy for his other 4-time Sprint Cup champ, even gave Jeff the hottest pit crew in the sport over the last four years – the guys from the Lowes’ #48. That should calm the savage breast, n’est-ces pas?
Whatta ya mean, that’s not why they swapped tire-changers?
Are you trying to tell me that Mr. H and The Chad are panicky enough to think they actually NEED the Crew Formerly Known As The Rainbow Warriors? I’m sorry. Texas ain’t OZ. Or the Twilight Zone. Monkeys don’t really have wings.
Denny Hamlin won the race. Nice job. He said all would be well if he was in second place after Kansas, and so far, he’s good as his prediction.
Kevin Harvick continues to hang in there. And continues his need to win a freakin’ race.
Brad Keselowski is the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series Champ.
Kyle Busch is pissed. At Carl Edwards. And NASCAR. And life itself.
Jimmie Johnson has a new pit crew.
On to Phoenix.
Photo credit: Round girl Jen by BethAnne Heisler – OnPitRow.com