ALL IN FUN…SORRY, NO STEEPLE, PEOPLE!!!

It started out as one of my “only-funny-to-me” comments that  comes from my warped sense of humor at Black Rock (NY) Speedway back when the Houghs ran the track.  I was a guest announcer in the booth with Morgan Colegrove and Kenny Schupp and they graciously allowed me to be the “color” analyst/3rd man in the booth. So, I figured  ”What the heck, Let’s have some fun with this stuff” and started letting loose with the puns, jokes and wisecracks.   One particular remark was purely “off-the-cuff”; I certainly didn’t think about it very seriously before I said it; it wasn’t like I stayed up all night coming up with it just waiting for the right opportunity to use it. As a matter of fact, once it’s revealed here, most probably won’t find much humor in it at all.

So, What Is It???

At nearly every oval track I’ve ever attended, I have noticed a phenomenon, one that happens in almost every race, no matter whether if it’s only a heat or a main/feature. As a race fan, I’m sure you’ve seen it too.  A driver and car will get in trouble somewhere on the track  and they will sit there just long enough to bring the out caution flag.  Then, once the yellow does  come out, it almost seems like(to me, anyway) some sort of Divine Intervention kicks in and what do you know, the race car somehow fires back up and rejoins the race at the rear of the field.  So, my Hamilton Beach blender of a brain pureed this weird twist of humor.  I decided to pronounce every driver who sits and and brings out a caution a member of “The Church of The Yellow Flag”, whether it’s done purposely or accidentally.  I have since found out that several of my “peers”,–other race track announcers, have picked up my “line” and now have worked it into their announcing repertoire.  The ones that I know about are Morgan Colegrove, working now at Woodhull (NY) Raceway, David Buchanan at Dunn-Tire Raceway (NY) Park, Rick Mooney at Holland (NY) International Speedway, Steven Petty at Wyoming County (NY) International Speedway and Rich Vleck, my former co-announcer at Genesee (NY) Speedway, now at Black Rock.  And now, the metaphor took another step further because all of these guys have now been “anointed as deacons of the Church”.  Now it has become more than humorous–there’s a logo  for the “diocese”.  Here’s what we came up with:

Then a suggestion was made to have shirts made up.  Since I prefer polo(golf)-style shirts, I found a place that would turn out the shirts for a relatively inexpensive price.  As a gesture of gratitude and appreciation to these guys for helping to “spread the word”, I have decided to give them all shirts.  Now the parish faithful have spoken again: some ”parishioners” have indicated that T-shirts along with the polos should be made available to whoever wants one.  Although I’m  still a little skeptical that this “Church” has a long way to go in the number of members actually wanting  shirts! If anyone really wants one, you can email me with size, color and style preferences to: raceannouncer@gmail.com

NASCAR: The need to Juggle Too Many Double-Edged Swords At Once

At a press co nference held during this year’s 4th of July’s race weekend at Daytona, NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France suggested there may be rules changes in the future, as soon as next season, regarding Cup driver’s participation in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Whenever anyone has asked me for my opinion on the topic in the past, I have always stated that I don’t favor all-out restrictions on these guys running the races, mainly because I believe the biggest problem that the so-called “junior league”  is due primarily to the total lack of its own identity, NOT which drivers participate it in it. Plus I believe any kind of driver rules applied just opens up  a huge “Pandora’s box” of its own.  Allow me to explain further…

A new Nationwide Series car was recently rolled out with a golden opportunity to make the car even more different than just the appearance similarities to their street counterparts. There was a time in the history of this series where the cars had nothing in common with their Cup counterparts. They were powered by six-cylinder engines and built on a much smaller wheelbase chassis. Why not build something like that? I have a possible answer for you: the same people who are complaining so loudly about Cup drivers ’ participation would then whine “but they don’t sound like REAL race cars”.  You want further proof that you can never make these people happy? Their other biggest gripe is: “Well, in OTHER  sports,(such as the NBA and NFL), players don’t go looking for smaller “league” games in which to participate but in the MLB and NHL,  players do “compete”, usually not willingly; it’s mainly due to factors such as injury rehabs, lackluster performances, etc. For me, these comparisons fail miserably since racing IS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN DIFFERENT in so many ways than other sports and it is precisely those differences which form the main appeal to its huge fan base and recently its astronomical rise in percentage of popularity that the other sports now only sit back and wish they could equally attain.

The schedule is the other problem and one that is more difficult to solve.  The Nationwide Series races have become, on too many of their own race dates, the “support” race for the Cup race at whichever track the bigger one falls on. Taken together with the similarity of the cars, the race tracks(and NASCAR’S) desire to make money on those weekends; also, let’s not forget, it does have contracts with the series sponsor and TV coverage of it, not to mention  race track sponsor agreements and economic concerns and let’s face it, most fans REALLY don’t mind getting another chance to see Dale Jr. (or get his autograph) on one of those rare occasions when he runs the smaller series, becomes a really deep hole that even NASCAR might find it difficult to dig itself out of.  Here’s more evidence to bolster the evidence:  why don’t more Cup teams get involved in the ARCA series? The cars are very similar, in fact, some of them are actual ex-Cup machines that have outlived their usefulness to Cup teams BUT the ARCA schedule is at a different track, usually in a distant locale, the tire supplier is different(so virtually no applicable useful information would transfer over to the Cup race), the purses are smaller and  live TV coverage practically non-existent, all of which renders the logistics and economics of such participation problematic and unrewarding.

Furthermore, the “Pandora’s Box” I described earlier goes like this… Just what would be the definition of a Cup driver? One who is currently driving in the Cup series(Pass that kind of rule and Dale Jr.’s recent popular victory at Daytona in the Wrangler #3 would never have happened!)? OK,That brings up another question: part-time or full-time?  What about past Cup drivers currently maintaining their driving skills in the Camping World Series like Todd Bodine, Mike Skinner Stacy Compton and Johnny Sauter? They would lose opportunities at furthering their careers and restrict their sole means of supporting themselves and their families. Here’s another double-edged sword for you:  the Nationwide Series drivers themselves,(most of them anyway), tell you that they welcome the opportunity to race against the Cup competitors just to see how they ” measure up”. If you have ever participated in any kind of competition, no matter what it was, you know that your own ability level was raised by just trying to succeed against a superior opponent.

Any all-encompassing definition of a Cup driver would include those who raced, for a variety of reasons, in just a very few NASCAR Cup races. Just because they are now semi or fully retired, never met with much success, never gained much national attention or flew underneath the “media radar screen” doesn’t mean they’re not a Cup driver.  Depending on the type of rule that would be put in place, Terry Labonte, Ron Hornaday, Jack Sprague, Geoff Bodine, Steve Park and many others would not be allowed.  Kenny Wallace, who has found a resurrected driving career in the Nationwide Series, would have a  major problem!

You just cannot convince me that NASCAR has to make an all-out ban on participation by Cup teams, owners or drivers participation in the Nationwide Series races.  These events are, after all, RACES: the team has to be formed, the car has to be built(usually in a garage constructed exclusively for racing purposes), a driver has to be found, the entry blank has to submitted and paid, the car has to be transported to the track, unloaded, inspected, needs to qualify, then competes and with a combination of racing luck, driver savvy and team preparation, just MIGHT find victory lane. While I will concede that some Cup teams and drivers have a decided edge, it’s still not as easy it looks  and it’s certainly no guarantee. What I would favor, however, is a way for the sanctioning body to figure out how the Nationwide Series’ driver’s points could be unaffected by Cup driver participation in the races.

If you still insist that something HAS to be done about Cup drivers participation in the Nationwide Series, I would suggest other ways to skin the proverbial cat.  Just  put the pressure on the team owners and sponsors to discourage and limit such activitie.  Remember when Tony Stewart drove for Joe Gibbs and drove in a number of races and types of cars(and uttered those almost now famous words “I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission!”), including what was then called Busch Series cars? Then you may also remember some of those victories came in Kevin Harvick team cars, which was probably less problematic when JGR was running Chevys. Once the switch was made to Toyotas, the inevitable conflicts would have been more contentious. Of course, the sponsors themselves could insist that in today’s economic climate, the driver is taking too much of a risk with their money by competing in anything other than Cup level racing.  Yet another double edge sword:  what sponsor is not going to want the extra exposure, especially if they want to pay for it…or already have?

After proofreading this post I now have a double-edged sword  of my own. Anything Mr. France comes up with means I disagree with my boss with my rant here.   Never a good thing.  Oh well, you know what they say… live by the sword, die by the sword!

GOING OUT ON A LIMB WITH THE BRANCH HALF BROKEN!!!

I can usually pinpoint with some degree of certainty just when a particular group became fans of  NASCAR. For an example, all the rabid race followers who are calling for the sanctioning body to “retire” a competition number, in this case, as most everyone knows by now the famed number “3″ raced by the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. Most all of these folks were drawn to the sport by the “rough and tumble” driver with his eventual highly marketed persona and were understandably devastated as a direct result of his unfortunate death;they now find the sport irrelevant for them and are hell bent on trying to hold on to any kind of emotional connection to their hero that they can. While I admire their genuine passion for the man, it is exactly this passion which makes them forget certain things as they drown in their own private wave of feelings, making them numb to the possibility they could be stepping on the deep feelings of others as well by demanding that a certain number not be used any longer, which to me is absurd by its very nature.

First of all, either they are unaware or choose to forget that only NASCAR itself actually “owns” any and all numbers. The owners, NOT the drivers, pay the sanctioning body, in the form of a lease for the “rights” to use that number. The owner then has the option to trademark that number, usually, as in the case of the all-too-familiar white and red outlined number “3″ on a black background, designed and highly marketed, with slick graphics, so as to hopefully generate a significant ROI–return on investment in the form of tee shirts, hats die-casts and other souvenirs that you and I pony up for as race fans. If the driver who just happens to have a successful driving career while at the wheel of that owner’s car(like Dale Sr. Dale Jr. and others), the number gets associated with that particular driver in the fans’ minds;take,for example, the #20, many fans still associate that number with Tony Stewart. Poor Joey Logano will need to win a whole lot of races to replace that connection in fans’ minds.So let’s start taking this to extremes, shall we? If NASCAR had started retiring numbers earlier in its history, the #88 might not have been available for Rick Hendrick to use for Dale Jr. because both Buddy Baker and Dale Jarrett had success driving cars with that number. Before Davey Allison’s name became associated with the #28, another NASCAR great, Fred Lorenzen, coincidentally also drove Fords with that same number. The list goes on and on;I could cite several more examples.  Earnhardt fans will probably shout: “Who Cares?” Nobody else has had the same kind of success behind  the wheel of a race car. For any driver,  the number on the side of their racing machine can at once be a highly personal and/or superstitious thing. So, in the future, because a loyal group of fans calls for NASCAR to retire a number and they succumb to the pressure does that mean an owner who has used the same numeral all of his or her career and it may also have some significant personal meaning is told they must now relinquish that number? One more thing that Big “E” fans need to keep in mind; Richard Childress himself drove most of his career using that number plus paid money for the number every year to NASCAR since the 2001 tragedy to prevent anyone else from using it other than himself or his family; grandson Austin Dillon pilots an eerily similar black #3 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series–in effect, the results end up being the same as an outright ban anyway. That’s the way it should be! As the late Bill France Jr. pointed out to many drivers on a number of occasions, no one man is bigger than the sport…as hard as that might be for Sr. fans to accept. You may now cut the branch!