Buschwhacking–my opinion!


It’s probably the most debated topic that NASCAR fans kick around these days and nearly everyone has an opinion about it: “BUSCHWHACKING”–the current trend of many NASCAR Nextel Cup competitors running the NASCAR Busch Series. So, some believe that NASCAR has to come up with a way to somehow “limit” Nextel Cup drivers from competing in the Busch Series.

Until now, I had decided to stay in a neutral corner on this one but I have heard too many people speak on this subject who spew false information, have a particular axe to grind and are, in my opinion, just plain wrong. So here goes (and by the way, again, it is just my opinion!)

First, NASCAR has a double-edged sword problem with the Busch Series, now in it’s 25th season: the influx of Nextel Cup Series drivers and teams entering the Busch Series has:

a.) afforded the Nextel Cup teams and drivers an “extra” day of track time to gather information which is very useful in helping with the setup of Nextel Cup cars. This has become much more of an issue in 2006 since the testing schedule has been reduced.

b.) “pushed out” several regular (and much smaller) Busch teams altogether.

c.) makes it much tougher for the regular Busch teams to finish well and earn points, thus making it tougher for these teams to find and keep sponsors.

d.) the money earned in a Busch Series race by the Nextel Cup regular drivers and teams, while not anywhere near as much as in the Nextel Cup Series, is again being denied to “regular” Busch competitors and therby reduces the number of “regular” Busch teams.

e.) made track promoters (and NASCAR) smile because sales of Busch Series race tickets are much better when more Nextel Cup drivers enter and race.

f.) made TV ratings for the Busch Series races jump up, mainly because the Nextel Cup drivers are competing in the races.

From my point of view, the Busch Series’ biggest problem right now is its “identity” or purpose.  Exactly what does NASCAR have in mind as the reasons why the Busch Series exists the way it does in 2006?

Now, there are many fans who believe the time-honored purpose for the Busch series is the biggest reason it exists: to serve as a “minor league” system for up-and-coming drivers to get much-needed “seat time” or experience to properly prepare themselves for the Nextel Cup Series. Certainly, that is an accurate assessment, although its importance in preparing drivers for the “big time” has dwindled somewhat given the fact that the “newer” talent has come from other forms of racing.

But the Busch Series has grown and taken on a life of its own as more of a “secondary” opportunity for fans to see their favorite NASCAR drivers. Some of the fans who are complaining the loudest about the “problem” are the very same ones plunking down money to see these drivers race in the Busch Series–a fact not lost on either NASCAR or its track operators.

It is interesting to me that this “problem” seems to crop up mostly when NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers are winning most of the races, which obviously has happened this year as no Busch Series “regular” has yet seen Victory Lane. Interestingly, most of the complaining seems to be done by a vocal minority of fans, a majority of whom seem to be younger and newer to the sport. I have not heard or read much of any complaining from Busch Series teams and drivers–most of them welcome the opportunity to compare themselves to the best (and have a chance to beat them).

Then I’ve heard the comparison made between NASCAR racing and other sports with statements that go something like this: “You would never see an NFL player come back to play football for a college or indoor league team”. It is one of the most absurd things I have ever heard–and why?  Get this through your head: the sport of auto racing, especially NASCAR, is UNIQUE and comparisons to other sports don’t apply–it’s as simple as that!

First and foremost, the Busch Series races are just that–RACES! Whether you’re a regular driver in the Nextel Cup Series or not, you have to have a team owner who foots the bills (hopefully with a good sponsor), you need a team with a good crew chief and pit crew members, you have to have cars built that must make it through tech, then you have to qualify for the races, you have to avoid trouble during the race and if you’re lucky, you have the chance to win the race.

Do Nextel Cup teams and drivers have an advantage here? Yes, but not simply because they’re Nextel Cup drivers. The biggest reason Nextel Cup drivers and teams are so succesful in the Busch Series right now boils down to this: the Busch Series has become a very valuable tool to improve the performance of Nextel Cup drivers, teams and machines. That’s because the Busch Series cars are too close in design to their Nextel Cup counterparts and the Busch Series race schedule has too many dates in common with the Nextel Cup schedule. Thus, the Busch race has become far more valuable than a test session to Nextel Cup teams because information is gained under actual race conditions at the very same track they race on the very next day. Make no mistake about it: these teams are very good at what they do, they seem to have no problem getting sponsors that more than adequately funds their Busch Series efforts and,well, OK, the drivers are very good, too!.

The bottom line is this: There is no need to limit Nextel Cup drivers from competing in the Busch Series. That would open up a true “Pandora’s Box” and create way more problems than it solves. If NASCAR truly believed that the Busch Series would be better off without as much participation from Nextel Cup teams and drivers, they would have to find a way to make the Busch Series less attractive to them. How? Make the Busch cars so different in design that very little information gained by racing one can be applied to a Nextel Cup car. Secondly, change the schedule so that it becomes harder on the Nextel Cup drivers to travel back and forth between the Busch race and the Cup race. In other words, don’t run the Busch Series races on the same weekend and at the same tracks as Nextel Cup races.  Yeah, I know, there’s not much of a chance of either of these happening right now!

One more thing: if you don’t agree with me on this, it’s ok. But answer me this: why don’t Nextel Cup drivers regularly race in any other series? For instance, it’s very rare to see them compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (Mark Martin is there this year along with a bunch of former Cup competitors but not current Nextel Cup drivers). Here again, the race machines are different and not as many Craftsman Truck races are held on the same weekend as Cup races. But the series I would point to as my main example is ARCA. You don’t see ANY Nextel Cup drivers there–PERIOD! Why? I mean, the cars sure are similar(heck, most of them are former Nextel Cup machines). But there ARE differences, such as the tires. Racing on Hoosier tires would give zero information for a Nextel car setup on Goodyears. But the main reason why you don’t see Nextel Cup drivers in ARCA is the scheduling–ARCA’s schedule very rarely has them racing at the same tracks on the same weekend as the Nextel Cup. Thus, it’s not as attractive to Nextel Cup teams and drivers.

In other words, “…build it (differently) and they WON’T come…”  (See, I told you racing can’t be compared to any other sport!)

It really is just that simple! But don’t count on it happening (remember points “e” and “f” above)!

Sorry for being so long-winded!

Mike Paz, Motorsports Announcer



Whelen Engineering: more race track safety lighting

announcing the races at Spencer Speedway this past Friday night, I had the opportunity to talk with Whelen Upstate NY sales rep Mike Martin and his local supplier, Jerry Fedele, owner of Task Force Emergency Vehicle Lighting in Webster. Mike had a Dodge Charger equipped with the police package on display, which serves as an excellent way to feature their new LED based emergency lighting systems. We also discussed Whelen’s role in developing race track emergency lighting systems, which I became more aware of by attending the PRI show last December in Orlando FL.   Websites: www.taskforcelighting.com and www.whelen.com.

There is a wide variety of subjects I could blog about from my experiences on the road. Maybe some will show up here soon. In the meantime, I thought I would show you some items NASCAR (along with Whelen Engineering) have come up with to make some of the most dangerous spots at a racetrack just a little safer.  (This is an update to an earlier blog published almost a year ago.)

Yet another innovative Whelen product is one that nearly all racetracks could benefit from:

(Illustration courtesy of 2007 Whelen Engineering catalog)

This product (RTR12AG) is a self-contained LED track warning signal system made specifically by Whelen for race tracks. The enclosure is weatherproof and includes its own control unit. The amber LED’s have different flash patterns that, along with the bottom-mounted amber LED “beacon”, provide an eye catching alert for drivers when the caution flag comes out. The green and red LED’s are on solid whenver those flag conditions occur. The advantages of this system are obvious: low electrical current draw, much brighter and “attention grabbing” than either rotating or strobe lights and able to stand up to year round weather conditions.  (My opinion is that it would be great for racetracks around the country to adopt this system all around the perimeter of the racing surface–one installed just before the entrance of each corner (for a total of 4) and another on the starter’s stand.)  The folks at Whelen have done it AGAIN!

(The original blog, reprinted below, shows how Whelen is not just a sponsor but a partner in promoting race track safety…)

On race weekends, there is one person whose job puts him or her in actual “harm’s way”: the pit exit official who holds the “STOP & GO” paddle at the end of pit road. This individual has the overwhelming responsibility of making sure pit road traffic can exit safely off pit road, back onto the track. At first glance, some might compare this job to, say, a school crossing guard holding a “stop sign”–except that NASCAR drivers aren’t known for too much patience during a race. In an effort to afford protection to this individual, but still control traffic off pit road, NASCAR and Whelen Engineering have created a new “Pit Exit Light” system. Instead of standing in the middle of the exit of pit lane, the official is situated safely behind the wall on pit road, with a control box for the new lighting system. Here’s an illustration of the system:

(image courtesy of NASCAR, copyright 2006)

The light is attached to an “L-shaped” arm and is mounted just over the “pit out” line. The official uses the control box to activate various lights in the system. Here’s the way it works: when it is safe to leave pit road, the green light on top is lit solidly “on” (this has the same meaning as if the official was displaying the “go” side of the paddle). If, while this light is green, it is also safe for pit road traffic to “blend” into the racing line, the row of 5 white lights immediately below start flash-sequencing “left-to-right”, a similar pattern to what most normal drivers see in a construction zone indicating a lane change.

Whenever a “pack” of cars is coming towards the pit road exit under green flag conditions or during a yellow flag situation (as the pace car leads the field around the track and starts to approach the area where pit road exits out onto the track), the two green lights begin flashing in an alternating sequence pattern, letting the drivers on pit road know that race traffic is coming and the pit road exit will close shortly. Once the pack of cars under green OR the pace car under yellow is close to the pit road exit area, the green lights go out and the red lights flash in a similar alternating fashion, which means the drivers exiting pit road must stop until race traffic clears (similar to what they would do if an official was there holding the “stop” sign).

Does the system work? Well, the drivers still try to “beat the lights”, which NASCAR certainly frowns upon and they will hand out “drive-thru” penalties to violators. But that’s really no different than the old way of trying to beat the official changing the paddle from “GO” to “STOP”–except that now, the official is safely behind the pit wall.

I think it’s pretty cool that Whelen is involved in our sport, not just strictly as a sponsor but a partner–one whose knowledge and products help make the sport safer for drivers and officials alike.  As most fans know, they sponsor the former “Featherlite Modified Series”, now known as the “Whelen Modified Series”–AND, are still the major sponsor of the weekly NASCAR tracks now as well.   At the races, most, if not all, of the pace cars feature Whelen lighting–same thing goes for the caution light systems at most racetracks.

I, too, am proud to say I’ve used their products. I am an exempt member of the Chili Fire Department on the southwest side of Rochester NY. While serving as a volunteer fire fighter and ambulance medic, I invested in one of their mini Edge strobe lightbars. I decided that if I was going to put my personal vehicle in dangerous situations while responding to emergency calls, I wanted that vehicle to “be seen”. I never even came close to having an accident while on the way to a call or directing traffic as a fire policeman at an emergency scene.

Some people have criticized NASCAR in the past for “not doing enough” in the area of safety. This is one shining example where the opposite is true–they have taken the lead to try to make pit road safer!

Mike Paz, Motorsports Announcer