Monday, August 31, 2009
If you like seeing torn up cars, Montreal in the rain is the place to be. I did notice the absolute king of the wrecking machines though, and that was one Steve Wallace, driver of the number 66 Five Hour Energy Drink Chevy. In the closing laps of the Montreal race, I think even the driver's seat in that car must have gotten bent a few times. I still don't understand how Steve even finished the race, as beat up as his car was. Had there been about 2 more cautions, Steve would have needed the Ten Hour Energy Drink as a sponsor.
The Tasmanian Devil, Marcos Ambrose dominated the race, leading by far the most laps, and lead right up until the last corner of the last lap when he shot his car airborne over the rumble strips and went wide, opening up a hole for race winner Carl Edwards to shoot through. Marcos was obviously unhappy in his post race interview, giving a short, terse one sentence summation of his day and then walking away from the microphone. Marcos did give us his winning grin though, and that was nice, though it must have been very hard for him to do.
Carl Edwards gave us his trade marked back flip, and for the second time in his career, at least that I've noticed, he landed on the pavement, instead of the grass. I really hope that young man doesn't misjudge his flip and finds himself in the hospital with a concussion. Suggestion to Carl: Leave your helmet on next time you do that on the pavement! Take off the HANS device, but leave the helmet. It would be a shame to lose a driver because he was pulling off a race win tradition, and did it badly.
I'm of mixed emotions about racing in the rain after Montreal. It's pretty cool watching the cars kick up rooster tails of spray as they go around the course, but please, Rusty Wallace Inc., do us all a favor next time.
Find a substitute for Steve Wallace next year, please!
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I just watched the funeral ceremony for Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, better known as Teddy, who died the other day. I was somewhat taken with the precision of the military casket bearers, as I always am. Military precision is crucial in many ceremonies. I was impressed by the precision practiced by the priests during the actual funeral ceremony. When I was a boy, I went to an Episcopalian school for several years, and was always impressed by the ceremony that is the Holy Sacrament, or as others call it, eating the bread and drinking the wine. In my case, it was grape juice, but the meaning was the same.
Life has ceremonies for practically everything. When you get married, there is a ceremony. When you die, there's even more of a ceremony.
NASCAR has its own ceremonies. Ever notice how the crews line up on pit road for the invocation and national anthem? That's a ceremony. It might be a somewhat informal one, but it's still a ceremony. Seeing the crew members lined up, hands over their hearts, while the national anthem is played is a special moment for me. As jets fly over, showing their thundering might, that's one of the best moments of the weekend for me.
Seeing drivers kiss their wives or girlfriends before they get into the car is a ceremony in itself. In a way, they're saying goodbye, just in case. In racing, you just never know which time might be the last time. We all pray and hope that there will never be a last time, but we are all mortal, after all.
Racing is a dangerous business. People die doing it. There is always the risk that in any given race, a driver will die. Thanks to safety improvements, that doesn't happen as much anymore, but cars moving at 200 mph provides a lot of circumstances which might push the balances a little. Sooner or later, someone dies while they're racing. HANS device or not, it's going to happen.
Do we as NASCAR fans have a morbid curiosity about death? No, we don't. We don't want to see drivers die, and we especially don't want to see fans die. It's happened a couple of times throughout NASCAR's history, but they, ahem, we, don't talk about that too much. Death is a pretty final thing. Kenny Irwin. Adam Petty. Neil Bonnett. Dale Earnhardt. Too much death. Not a good business model for NASCAR.
A lot of new NASCAR fans don't get what this sport is all about, sometimes. Gentlemen in taxi cabs driving around in circles. Guess what, unless you're drag racing, you are ALL driving around in circles when you race. Your are all driving around in circles when you go to the grocery store. Think about it. You are basically just driving in a circle every day of your life.
Ceremony. It's a part of life. It's a part of NASCAR. Ceremony is part of everything we do. We aspire to it. We await it, in some way, always. We dream of it.
Ceremony. It's all about life.
Personally, I hate ceremonies. I don't like them. I drink free beer and leave them as soon as possible.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
A lot of people have criticized the racing at Bristol Motor Speedway lately. Personally, I thought the Sharpie 500 was a good race. I was not surprised that Kyle Busch won the race, because he is, after all, a very good race car driver. Like him or hate him, Kyle Busch can wheel a race car.
Besides Kyle, one of the drivers I was most impressed with was the always smiling Aussie, Marcos Ambrose. The 47 team uses Michael Waltrip engines and chassis, and I've been very impressed with this team this year. Ambrose never ceases to impress, it would seem. The Tasmanian born driver came to the USA just a few short years ago, and is only a gnat's eyelash away from winning his first Cup race, I think.
Some drivers with high hopes for Bristol had much worse than expected finishes. Tony Stewart, who still owns the points lead, took a hit on Saturday night. Tony experienced radio problems from the very beginning of the race, and only got them sorted out relatively late in the race. The car had problems as well. At one point, Tony needed a push from a NASCAR truck to get started.
Kevin Harvick was running well at times, though he had some bad pit stops. Kevin's day was ended late in the race after a collision with his teammate, Clint Bowyer. Clint's day was ended a few laps later after another collision with Michael Waltrip. Clint and Michael both were having pretty good runs until a couple of Big One's ensued at Bristol, as they almost always do.
I think my biggest surprise of the night was how magnanimous Kyle Busch was in his victory lane interview. Kyle almost apologized for winning the race ahead of Mark Martin, who had a very strong car and was the lap leader for the race. Kyle was in the lead when it mattered, at lap 500. Kyle was also very good on late race restarts. Kyle Busch won the Sharpie 500 hands down, even though he probably didn't have the best car. Kudos to the 50 year old guy for making the race exciting though. Oh, yeah, I'm talking about Mark Martin there, not Kyle Busch. I have a feeling that Kyle will probably be getting people excited when he's 50 years old too. They may boo, or they may cheer, but they will be making noise, never the less.
There are many more stories to be told about this Bristol night race, but I'm only telling you the ones that got my attention.
My congratulations go out to Dale Earnhardt Jr., for securing his second consecutive top 10 finish of 2009. Is it possible that the 88 team is finally turning a corner and becoming more competitive? For the good of the sport, I hope so.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
They called him 'Pops', not because of his age, but because he had a reputation for 'popping' other cars on the track. Dale Earnhardt was not the first NASCAR driver to do that!
Curtis was not only a race driver, he also flew his own planes long before most NASCAR drivers even flew to race tracks on private planes.
Fact: Curtis Turner once landed his Aero Commander, a 2 engine private airplane on Main Street, Easley, South Carolina, way back in the 1960's. It's true. Check it out.
Curtis earned and lost fortunes in the timber industry, all the while driving for NASCAR. Curtis was once banned for life from the sport for trying to start a driver's union. Big Bill France wasn't too happy about that. Curtis, along with a guy named Bruton Smith, financed and built Charlotte Motor Speedway, lately known as Lowes Motor Speedway, in Concord, North Carolina.
Curtis Turner lost his life flying his own airplane, in Pennsylvania. Curtis was 46 years old when he died.
Here's a passage from the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America site about Curtis Turner.
"The Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing." Tag a sports figure with so mythic a
designation and he'd best be able to live up to it. Curtis Turner, the
superstar of NASCAR, whose cars danced brilliant slides across the
course at Daytona, whose determination behind the wheel made him a
and a threat on dirt ovals and swift superspeedways, and whose
presence in the sport as a driver-businessman made his
name, wore the
Whether he was setting the then-record
for most wins in a
season (23 in 1956), or raising the funds necessary to
build his beloved
Charlotte (now Lowe's) Motor Speedway, he remained a man
of enormous vision and
talent. As Humpy Wheeler said, "He may have been the
best natural race driver
we've seen." Added Benny Parsons, "Ask any fan
under fifty, ´Who's the greatest
driver you ever saw,' and it's Dale
Earnhardt. Ask anybody over fifty -
including the pioneers who drove at the
beginning - and the answer's Curtis
His illustrious career
began as many did during the seminal
southern racing days, driving modifieds
on makeshift tracks while moonshining in
the 1940s. By then Turner had also
begun his millionaire career as a timber
broker; he'd eventually buy and
sell the equivalent of six percent of North
Carolina. But when his good
friend William France started NASCAR, Turner was
there, running in that
first race in 1949, beginning an exceptional ride in the
elite leagues. He
was the first driver to win two-straight NASCAR races while
lap. He teamed with France in 1950 in the first Mexican Road Race,
essayed a final-day run so startling, one historian wrote, "It is doubtful
anyone ever put on a greater performance behind the wheel of an automobile."
When the NASCAR Convertible Division raced from 1956 through 1959, Turner
astounding 33 of the first 74 races, including 22 out of 47 in year
season he also captured the Southern 500 and the sports first-ever
driver award. In all, he won 17 times in what is now the Nextel
including the 1965 American 500, the first race at Rockingham,
which sealed his
comeback after four years away from NASCAR.
remembered most for
doing what others simply refused to. Turner could
execute a perfect 180-degree
turn on a single-lane bridge. A handsome,
dazzling figure, he threw parties that
were legend, his house becoming the
land of a thousand anecdotes. Until he did
it, no stock-car racer had run
the treacherous Pike's Peak Hill Climb in under
15 minutes. He tried to send
satellites into space. And when Jimmy Hoffa and the
Teamsters asked him to
start a driver's union-in exchange for their broken
promise of a loan to
save his speedway-he did so, crossing swords with France,
who banned him
"for life" in 1961. After sitting out some prime years, Turner
back in 1965, and he thrilled again. It is for these achievements as
that he became, in 1968, the first NASCAR driver ever put on the cover of
And only two years later, he was gone, at 46, after
crashing his plane in Pennsylvania. His peerless legacy remains: Turner is
of NASCAR's "50 Greatest Drivers," a revered figure even among current
and a member of many halls of fame. And now, finally, he shines here
By Robert Edelstein
Sorry about the formatting. I reproduced it just like it was on the site.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
NASCAR has also felt the pinch that many people do, in the form of lost sponsorships and lost revenues in terms of ticket sales and racing related merchandise. Grand stands are often sparsely populated during racing events. Some of the merchandise sellers have taken a beating on tee shirt and hat sales.
Is this the beginning of the end for NASCAR?
No, it's not.
NASCAR has dealt with bad economies in the past. Remember the oil crunch in the 1970's? OK, maybe you don't, but I do. I'm old enough to remember gas lines, much as some of us experienced for a few days after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans a few years ago. The difference between the Katrina fallout and the 1970's was that the initial crunch passed in only a few days after Katrina. In the 1970's, gas was scarce, and sold for very high prices when it was available, for months at a time. The price of gasoline is relative. Today we complain when we pay 4 dollars a gallon for the stuff, and mostly the price of gas didn't reach those heights back in the '70's, but most people earned a lot less money back then too. In the 1970's most people were considered to be 'well off' if they earned $25,000 or $30,000 dollars a year. That can't be said in 2009.
NASCAR has always coped with bad economies. Not just the sanctioning body itself, but the teams involved. Back in the 1970's, NASCAR shortened the advertised length of races, and that seemed to work, to a certain extent. Fewer laps run means less money spent on fuel, tires, and everything else you can think of.
Today, the main crises that NASCAR and it's teams face is not one of fuel, but of sponsorship. Sponsors have been leaving the sport, taking care of themselves in their own ways by consolidating expenditures on advertising. Remember, NASCAR sponsors are driven much the same was as NASCAR itself is. Fans spend the money to support the sponsors, who, in turn pump money into the sport.
Until this year, it's mostly been a win-win situation for all involved. But now things have changed.
Companies such as Home Depot, Lowes, DeWalt, and a myriad of others have seen their sales numbers fall. Consequently, changes have had to be made. Sometimes that means not sponsoring a NASCAR team or one of the NASCAR tracks. For example, DeWalt Tools, a long time sponsor of Matt Kenseth, is leaving the sport. DeWalt has to keep it's company running, and since fewer people have the money to spend on power tools, DeWalt has felt the hit. They figure they can't afford to sponsor the 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth next year. Who could blame them? If you can't afford it, you just can't.
Lowe's is another example. Lowe's is giving up the naming rights at what was originally known as the Charlotte Motor Speedway. People simply don't have enough disposable income to pump into their local Lowe's store, and sales have fallen to the point that Lowe's feels they can't keep pumping money into the race track. As far as we know, Lowe's will still continue to sponsor the 48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, but one has to wonder if that will become a problem soon for the North Carolina based corporation.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the rest of his family have taken their names off of the in-development Alabama Motorsports Park. I don't know for sure if this was directly a product of keeping sponsorship, but it looks that way.
Speaking of sponsorship, Dale Jr. seems to be one of the best at acquiring and keeping such. Robby Gordon could probably show us a few tricks too. But, being the sport's current most popular driver probably doesn't hurt Earnhardt's ability to acquire and keep sponsors. As an Earnhardt fan, who reads and even participates on some the most popular message boards and websites devoted to Dale Earnhardt Jr, I can say that practically all of the Earnhardt Nation have become avid Mountain Dew and Amp Energy Drink buyers. I imagine that that's not true of only the Earnhardt Nation.
If you're a Brian Vickers or Scott Speed fan, you probably don't drink AMP, but tons of Red Bull.
Most Jimmie Johnson fans buy their home improvement items at Lowes. Most Joey Logano fans buy theirs at Home Depot. Fans of Tony Stewart buy their office supplies at Office Depot, and eat there burgers at Burger King. Kevin Harvick fans buy their gas at Shell stations when possible, and use Pennzoil products in their engines. Juan Pablo Montoya fans will drive 15 extra miles to do their shopping at Target, even if there's a Wal-Mart next door.
My point here is that NASCAR has the most devoted fans ever, in my humble opinion. NASCAR fans support their driver's sponsors.
And that's how NASCAR will survive the latest economic crunch.
A fan has a dollar to spend. He buys a bag of M&M's. He just supported the 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch. He could have had Skittles, but he didn't. That's support.
One of the beautiful aspects of NASCAR has been that the fans drive the sport. Fans probably drive every sport, when you get right down to it, but never so obviously as in NASCAR. If a few racing fans hadn't bought tickets to watch Bill France's spectacle on Daytona Beach back in the 1940's, what would we all be doing today? Football's fun, Baseball's great, Basketball's ok, but to me there is only one fantastic sport.
Fantastic is what stock car racing is, the way NASCAR does it. It could be better, but it's still the greatest show on earth, once again, in my humble opinion.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
There is only one rule, and that is that you keep your comments PG13 rated. Don't say anything that you wouldn't want your kids repeating, or anything you'd be embarrassed if your grandmother heard you say. You know what I'm talking about. Other than that, you can say whatever you want as long as it relates somehow to NASCAR.
Of course, feel free to post comments on this site as well, but the new site will be all about you and what's on your mind.
I'll post new topics every few days, or you can suggest topics you'd like to see posted. The site will not be driven by topics that I choose, however. You can post pretty much anything you want, whenever you want to.
There is no sign up form, no password, however you may be required to type in a word to post your comment. We do that to prevent spam, which no one wants to read.
I'll be posting my own comments there from time to time, so any of you who wonder what gets under my skin may find out on the new site.
Have at it, and have fun.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
To be honest with you, I find strengths in all 3 of the broadcast teams. FOX has remained largely unchanged since their start in 2001. They've enhanced their coverage by adding gimmicks over the years, some of which are good, and some of which are not. Digger, oh, boy, don't get me started on Digger. Digger was cute for about 10 seconds, but now that little varmint is on my top 10 list of things I want to shoot. He's about as annoying to me as Barney the purple dinosaur was a few years ago. But then, I'm not a kid. FOX probably was putting younger audiences in mind when they brought Digger up to bat. In other words, FOX is probably being proactive with Digger, cultivating tender, young fans to watch their race broadcasts. I would think that the racing itself would be enough to draw kids to the TV on Sundays, but FOX apparently feels the need to go the extra mile.
Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds do an adequate job of providing color comments for the broadcasts. Both have matured in their second careers as broadcasters, and both bring a lot of humor to the show. People either like Ole DW or they don't. I watched him as a driver basically all of his career in that endeavor, and I have a lot of respect for Waltrip. Early on, DW was hated much as Earnhardt was during most of his career. Darrell was the 1970's version of Kyle Busch. Darrell had tons of attitude, but he also had the ability to win races. He could talk the smack, but he could back it up on the track.
As much as I appreciate FOX's efforts to bring racing to my TV, I was somewhat relieved when they handed off the broadcast duties to TNT. Ole DW and Digger are too much for me to take for an entire race season.
TNT became a much improved team this year when Ralph Sheheen was put on play by play duties, due to an apparent meltdown by veteran Bill Weber midway through TNT's tenure as the broadcasters du jour. Personally, I've never had much use for Bill Weber. It's nothing personal, but he just grates on my nerves. Ralph Sheheen's obvious enthusiasm for anything racing was apparent from the beginning, and I was actually entertained by his work on the broadcasts. If the management at TNT as half a brain, they should make sure Ralph doesn't get away from them.
To me, what set TNT's broadcasts apart from the rest is the veteran driver and racing pundit, Kyle Petty. As much as I appreciated Kyle's driving ability, I appreciate him much more when he has a microphone in front of him. Kyle has a no nonsense style about him that is priceless in the world of racing color commentary. Kyle will tell you what happened. You can trust Kyle. That's the way I feel, anyway.
Wally Dallenbach has been doing these broadcasts on TNT from the very beginning, and to tell you the truth, I didn't like him much in the beginning, back in the old NBC days. Wally has impressed me in recent years though. Wally and Kyle Petty seem to work well together, and to me, provide the best color commentary in the racing world. I have missed TNT, and personally wish they had more races to broadcast.
Larry McReynolds also joined the TNT broadcasts, jumping ship from FOX, I suppose, but he does great work on the TNT broadcasts. To be honest, I appreciate Larry Mac more on the TNT shows, even though he has a lesser role there. Larry was a great crew chief back in the day, and he provides a ton of technical knowledge to any broadcast team. Larry is a great foil to DW's wit at FOX, but he truly shines in his role as a crew chief on TNT's broadcasts.
ESPN is currently at the reigns when it comes to putting NASCAR on TV. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree do great work bringing the race to us, color wise. Unfortunately, they are also doing most of the play by play work as well.
Don't get me wrong. I love Dr. Jerry Punch. He's been in the sport a very long time, and he's more than deserved his shot at being in the booth. Brutal honesty requires me to say that Jerry should probably be back on pit road though, because, in all honesty, he's at his best in that role. During the latest Nationwide series race, Dr. Punch was not in the booth, and was replaced by the venerable Marty Reid, and I thought, personally, that Marty did a great job calling the race. Marty also seemed to be a natural fit with Dale and Andy.
ESPN does try to keep the fans informed on what's going on back in the field, but they seem to be silent about cars that drop out after a few laps. Yes, I'm talking about start and park cars, mostly, but as a fan, I'd like to know who they are and why they claimed they couldn't continue to race. Many camera shots so far this season have shown cars going down pit road on restarts with no explanation from the booth. They don't have to tell us what's going on with the car that quit the race when a restart is on, but at least tell us later, when they have a chance to.
Dale Jarrett is a jewel in the broadcast booth. Like Kyle Petty, Dale tells it like it is. Dale, like his dad Ned, seems to have taken to broadcasting like a kitten to milk. Andy Petree is no slouch either. Andy has been both a crew chief and a team owner, and he has the ability to tell it like it is as well.
OK, enough of the talk. Here's my grades, and I'm a tough grader.
TNT - A-
FOX - B
ESPN - C
ESPN, and of course ABC, is still a work in progress. I'll grade them all again in November, God willing.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Last week at the Pocono race in Long Pond, PA, we actually saw some pretty exciting racing. Watkins Glen has long been circled on my schedule, because with the new car that the Cup series is using, and the resulting lack of handling and ease of passing other cars, I've been looking forward to the Sprint Cup's second road course race of the season. At Watkins Glen, we're almost guaranteed hard racing and some excitement in terms of spins. I don't want to see anyone have a bad day at Watkins Glen, but inevitably, someone will.
Someone will have a great day though. Come hell or high water, NASCAR is going to try to get this race in today. If they can at least run half the posted distance, that will be good enough. Hopefully, we'll all see a full race today.
NASCAR hates rain delays. The show that's supposed to take place on Sunday gets pushed to Monday, when many people will be working. A lot of fans who bought tickets for the event were forced to travel home on Sunday evening without having the benefit of seeing what they came to the track to see. TV ratings will drop for much the same reason. Dedicated NASCAR fans will TIVO the race or tape it, or will watch the replay later in the week, but it's just not the same. We plan to see the show, and when the show is postponed, we're all disappointed.
As for me, I will be watching the race, since I have little else to do anyway. I hope to see a full race, with lots of hard driving, passing, and strategy. I also hope to see maybe a new winner today, someone whom nobody gave a ghost of a chance of being in the front when the checkered flag waves.
I, for one, will be hoping for drought conditions in the Greater Elmira, New York area for at least a few hours this afternoon.
Rain, rain? You can come again some other day.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Take ESPN's latest "Guidelines for Social Networking" that were slated to be announced Wednesday but Tuesday leaked via Twitter. ESPN's Ric Bucher tweeted ESPN "prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN." ESPN's Kenny Mayne followed with a timely international analogy: "was informed 2nd hand of Taliban-like decree against further Twitter."
If only there was such foul play afoot. Instead, the policy suggests ESPN staffers shouldn't tweet what they "wouldn't say" on-air or write online. Which should be pretty obvious, given that if ESPN staffers communicate something deemed offensive, nobody cared about the specific venue. ESPN'sDana Jacobson was suspended last year for foul comments she made at the podium of a celebrity roast in Atlantic City — it wouldn't have mattered if she'd delivered them by carrier pigeon once they became public.
The ESPN policy suggests tweeting should be just one more product, meaning no "discussing internal policies," no "disparaging colleagues or competitors" or defending "your work against those who challenge it."
Companies like the idea of their tweeting to hype company stuff, but not having them send online traffic to other websites. Now, all ESPN tweets need to appear simultaneously on ESPN.com and Twitter.com. Says ESPN.com editor Rob King, "Twitter is evolutionary, not revolutionary."
I wish to apologize for jumping to the conclusions that I did concerning ESPN's policies. I neglected to wait until ESPN had a chance to respond to all the buzz going on yesterday. I was using the information that I had at that time, and I appreciate Mr. Hall for taking the time to point out the fact that I had not head all the facts when I wrote the piece yesterday.
Thanks, Mr. Hall. It appears that nothing from the fans' point of view will change regarding NASCAR fans getting their news.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
ESPN has dropped the hammer on NASCAR reporters, anchors and production staff using Twitter. Unfortunately, they have done it during one of the most critical times of the NASCAR on ESPN season.
Throughout this year, ESPN's NASCAR efforts have been better off due in no small part to the contributions of many ESPN folks who use Twitter on a regular basis. Ryan McGee, Marty Smith, Mike Massaro, Shannon Spake and even Allen Bestwick all use this form of social media to present a mix of professional and personal messages.
This often drove Twitter users to the ESPN.com website to follow-up on a message or a link that had been posted. The entire idea of Twitter was to allow the closest thing to a short conversation to be sent anywhere to anyone who wanted to listen.