Ken Stanford

By Ken Stanford-Guest Columnist
Posted in Columns 11/20/09

Editor’s note: This column was first published July 1, 2004 on before many of the NASCAR procedures now in place were implemented.

As a longtime racing fan, NASCAR in particular, I am afraid that the most popular of the racing programs is close to shooting itself in the foot.

NASCAR has now become a multi-billion dollar business. For something that got its start with the moonshine runners, some say right here in northeast Georgia, NASCAR has come a long way. From tracks carved out of pastures to short tracks constructed in controlled settings to the white sand at Daytona Beach, Florida, and the super speedways at Daytona and Talledega, NASCAR has grown and grown and grown, thanks in no large part to fat television contracts. Now, of course, even storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which for years shunned NASCAR as it basked in the glory of the Indianapolis 500, has opened its arms to the good ol’ boys.

Chicago, Kansas City, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Michigan now all boast a NASCAR race or two every year. And, the good ol’ boys? Well, don’t look now, but they no longer all have a Richard Petty or Bill Elliott drawl. You’ll find them from such far-flung and decidedly non-Southern places such as Wisconsin, California, Indiana, and points in between.

But, there’s trouble in NASCAR’s garage.

Fans are being alienated by one gaffe after another. For the past three or four straight weeks, something has gone wrong on the track to irritate the fans, and, in some cases the driver. This is being written before Sunday’s Michigan race, so, what happened at that race is not factored in here.

NASCAR has rubbed the drivers the wrong way by changing the rules as they relate to racing back to the finish line when the caution flag comes out, fine-tuning when the pits are open and not open under caution, and trying to go more high-tech with its scoring.

But, the fan is the one NASCAR officials should probably be most worried about.

In recent weeks, fans have pelted the track at the end of some races with coolers and beer cans. A childish reaction, for sure, but a sure sign that there’s trouble in the NASCAR nation.

This has been happening when a race ends under caution, something that should never happen. In all the years I’ve been watching, I’ve never thought a race should end under caution whether there are ten laps left or one. NASCAR says its a safety thing, that the drivers would run all over each other if there was a one- or two-lap dash to the finish. Maybe they would, but they do that now anyway. Its part of racing.

A fan does not sit in the stands or in front of the TV for three or four hours and expect to see hundreds of laps run at 150-200 MPH, only to see the cars finish at 60-80 MPH. Its almost like sitting down to dinner in a fine restaurant and after your appetizer and salad – no one brings you the main course. Leaves you with something of an empty feeling.

All laps run with ten or few left in a race should be green race laps.

And, NASCAR and Indy should stop running from the rain.

Almost every other form of racing – such as Le Mans, Formula One, SCCA – runs in the rain. Why can’t NASCAR – especially once the race begins? Back to the fan. You drive 500 miles to the track, you expect the race to be run today (usually a Sunday) – not tomorrow when most of the fans probably have to be back at work.

Hey, these are supposed to be stock cars (although that’s been a joke for years now), you know, like the ones you and I drive on the street. We drive in the rain don’t we? Granted we don’t do it at the speeds these guys run (and they would have to run slower, no doubt), but, other racing classifications have long found a way around the rain. Can’t NASCAR make some modifications so their cars can run in the rain? For one thing, the other classifications have rain tires they use when the track is wet. Why can’t NASCAR and Indy?

And, while we’re at it: what about restrictor plates? Shouldn’t they be eliminated? The name of the game is speed. Shouldn’t the cars and drivers be allowed to sail around the track as fast as their engines will allow. Remember the days of Bill Elliot’s 220-230 MPH laps at Daytona and Talledega? Races at those tracks have become, in a word, boring. They are no longer really races – just a string of 35-40 cars running around the track, mile-after-mile, bunched together, setting the stage for spectacular multi-car crashes that slow the overall pace of the race, have the potential of taking out some of the top contenders, and, of course, serious injury or death.

Try to find a way to finish under the green; try to find a way to run in the rain; try to find a way to do away with restrictor plates.

The fan deserves no less.

Ken Stanford is the Newsroom Manager for Jacobs Media Corp. – WDUN-AM, WGGA-AM, WMJE-FM, and – in Gainesville, Georgia.

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