The Frontstretch: Why I Still Watch by Amy Henderson -- Friday October 2, 2009

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Why I Still Watch

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday October 2, 2009

 

The Chase is terrible, the races are boring, and NASCAR doesn’t care about the fans. While all of these may be true to a degree (ok, so maybe the Chase sucks a LOT), the complaints do make something for the media (I think that’s me) to talk about. But the race fan in me, the part that made me pursue a somewhat thankless career to begin with, wonders why the people complaining still watch. Seriously.

Wait. A lot of the time, I’m one of the people complaining.

So, why do I watch, then? Why does anyone? What’s left after the complaining is done? I can only speak for myself, but there are still enough reasons left to make me stay. Like…

…the drivers (and crew chiefs, and crewmen). It’s not their fault the sanctioning body is headed by a greedy little man. I don’t aways support NASCAR but I sure as hell support these guys. There is truly something for everyone here. Whether you want to pull for the nice guy, the bad boy, the local kid, or the underdog, there is a driver that every fan can be drawn to. You can pick a driver who has multiple championships or one who has never won a race. Or one of each, like a certain writer who will remain nameless. There is a reason you see virtually every driver on a t-shirt at any given track on any given weekend. Spend a little time forgetting their corporate personalities and learning their real ones—it’s well worth it, even if you decide the guy is…well, not who you had hoped. After all, a villain makes the hero seem even sweeter. If nothing else, be duly impressed by their heart and desire—the fire that burns deep in every one of them, from the guys with more trophies than they know what to do with to the ones with empty shelves—they all have a deep, burning passions for what is often a thankless sport. Thank them.

For a race fan, there is no better sound than 43 perfectly tuned engines at full song on the race track.

…the moments. While many races don’t have numerous lead changes or a finish with two cars banging off each other, most have a moment where you want to stand up and cheer—it might be your guy making a move into the top 5. It might be the guy fighting to stay in the top 35 in owner points passing his rival. It could be a spectacular save of a car so sideways it looks like it’s on a fast trip into the wall. Perhaps it’s seeing a driver emerge, intact, from the smoking rubble of a horrifying crash. Not every moment is a winning moment, and if that’s all fans are looking for, not only are they never going to be satisfied, but they’re missing some amazing things. Once upon a time, races routinely ended with fewer than five cars on the lead lap and the leader checked out so much that the second place guy couldn’t see his back bumper. It’s better than that now, but you still have to look for the really good parts.

…the history. I’ve been a fan for a dozen years, a long time by many new fans’ standards, but not long at all to the old school fans who had the good fortune of seeing Petty and Pearson in their primes on tracks of all varieties across America. Those days are long gone, but I love to read all I can about them. I enjoy learning about the drivers and the tracks that I never saw. There is so much to be learned about this sport, so much to wish you could have seen, so much to wonder if you’ll ever see anything like it again. It’s a colorful history, wrought with winning and losing, cheating, and guys ending up naked in swimming pools. It seems as though guys ended up naked a lot back in the day. Perhaps it’s too bad that the days of the elaborate practical joke are, with the intense media scrutiny of the 21st century, a thing of the past. You saw the drivers’ personalities back then; you never had to search for them.

…the hunger. There is nothing like talking to a young driver who is fighting his way up the ranks. There is a passion, a raw hunger in them all that makes you want to pull for them. It’s what made 17-year-old Ryan Truex win a regional touring title. It’s what makes guys like Jarit Johnson patch together a car and go race at their local tracks, maybe in NASCAR’s regional series, all on their own dime without the dollars and trinkets of the top divisions. Spend a little time in the Camping World East or Whelan Modified Tour garage and you’ll see what I mean. The hunger is almost palpable, and those teams are much more in the moment than the Cup teams—sometimes that week, that race is all there is. There might be more if it goes well. If it doesn’t…well, it just has to go well…

…the sound. There is nothing in the world that moves my soul like the sound of 43 perfectly tuned engines straining, crying for release as they come to the green flag, except for the moment they are turned loose and cry together in full song. It’s angry and hungry, mournful and beautiful. It’s the moment you can hear when someone’s engine is missing or down a cylinder and the throb of the best horsepower in the field making it sound easy. It’s a primal music that makes your chest ache with its intensity.

…the hope. I can’t rightly say that NASCAR has never tried. Two ideas on the table right now are an attempt to make things better for fans and teams. While I don’t agree with two-day weekends, I can see why they would be a boon to many teams. And earlier, universal start times would make following the races easier for the casual fan (no more wondering what time this week’s race is!) and the diehard alike (home from church, watch the race, dinner with the family on Sunday—a lost tradition that may make it back. Hopefully NASCAR will hear the fans’ voice more in coming years—start times are…er, a start. Perhaps schedule changes and other fan-friendly ideas could follow. The frustration of fans is that this should be our sport—and NASCAR often takes that. Perhaps the hope is false, but as hope does, it springs eternal. I’ll always hope for more. Always.

So call me a wide-eyed optimist, but I still love racing. For me, seeing what can be fixed is frustrating, and that’s where the venting of complaints is born. It’s not that I don’t love it or don’t want to be there—it’s that I do and I want it to be right again. The moment I don’t have that hope, that optimism, is the day that I should and will walk away. But for now, there’s still enough. I’m still hungry, too.

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Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?
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wcfan
10/02/2009 12:43 AM
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Amy, Great article, maybe this will explain to all the people who wonder why we watch. Why we watch. I also agree about the 2 day weekends, I know it would be tough to pull a camper 1000+ miles for a 2 day show. And need the earlier start times so fans can get home for work the next day.

Bad Wolf
10/02/2009 01:19 AM
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I’m one of the “Cool Kids” that have (Had) followed the sport for well over 30 years, and back in the day we were not seen as cool. Nascar was built on the backs of us not so cool kids back in the day, and we paid our dues by being looked down upon as redneck trash with grease under our fingernails and 20w-50 running through our veins.

We had to wade through ice skating and log rolling on Wide World of Sports to catch a glimps of stock car racing that was taped a week earlier, but bygod the racing was real and the wait was worth it. Then came ESPN and the heavens opened up and we were showered with live Nascar racing every week, and the focus was on the RACING. Not the inflated head egomaniac announcers like are now on Fauxsports, but real honest to God experts on the sport just telling it like it was.

The cars were still rather stock and had actual production based engines (although highly modified)and had to fit a FACTORY based template for the brand of car, not a one template fits all cookie cutter cars of today.

Times were good in the land of Nascar, maybe too good, and soon the titans of television decided they could put lipstick on the pig of Nascar and sell it to the masses. All the sudden I was the apitamy of Cool with a capital C and Nascar had gone Hollywood Hotel.

No more was the focus on racing as soon as the Madison Avenue types learned that young pretty boy drivers would pull in the 13-35 year old female demographic. Play up Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. seems to be the new marketing strategy put forth by the television partners. Put a tragic but funny clown in the booth to yuck it up and draw in the casual fan by being a hipster dufass. Market reasearch shows the masses love funny sad clowns.

Then came the final blow, the third generation of the founding family of Nascar took the reins and proved the axium correct that the founder starts the company, his first heir steps it up and grows the company, while the third in Chris Farley fashion destroys everything that came before. Nascar under his watch has dropped racing at storied old tracks in favour of the 1.5 mile shamwow venues, introduced the spec car and engine package, and for a hefty fee let in a foreign manufacturer. It is my opinion that the spec car and engine is a result of the money poured out to B.Z.F. and Nascar by Toyota as they had nothing that would have been allowed on the track under the old chassis and engine rules.

So there you have it. This Cool kid has moved on, and I do not watch Nascar racing anymore. I will surf over to the race once in a while but that is it. I do still check out Jayski and Frontstrechto see what’s going on and see the reactions of the other disgruntled fans, but thats the extent of my following Nascar now. I bitch, and I do not watch. I feel my 3 decades plus of being a fan give me the license to complain and not watch the “product” anymore.

SB
10/02/2009 06:29 AM
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The moments and The hope…exactly. Those of us who haven’t quite given up on Nascar as like the kid on his birthday shoveling thrugh the pile of manure mumbling, “There has to be a pony under here somewhere.”

Gordon82Wins
10/02/2009 06:37 AM
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I could deal with the endless commercials, the annoying restrictor plate racing and other things, but the chase is by far NASCAR’s absolute worst innovation. And yes, I’m partly saying that as a Jeff Gordon fan. NASCAR has replaced college football as the sport with the dumbest method of determining a champion.

I agree with most all of your points though, if the leadership would ensure the safety of the drivers as best as possible and beyond that leave it the hell alone, things would have been fine.

Bill B
10/02/2009 07:23 AM
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One thing keeps me watching at this point and that is loyalty to my driver NOT NASCAR. Once my driver retires I will be re-evaluating the importance of NASCAR in my life. There are many degrees of being a fan. Maybe it means I will stop watching qualifying and practices and only watch the races. Maybe it will mean that I only watch the races that usually produce interesting races (you know the list). Maybe it just means that I will stop planning my Sundays around NASCAR and if the opportunity arises to do something else, I will. The point is NASCAR can not assume they have me in their back pocket – I will not allow that.

As for what my biggest gripes are, first would be the chase, second the COT, and third the cheesy way in which the sport is presented by the networks.

The Turnip
10/02/2009 08:45 AM
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WOW! WOW! WOW!

Nice article Amy, and the comments that follow!

OUTSTANDING, particularly by “Bad Wolf”.

May the “RACING GODS IN HEAVEN” read the above!

My story, part of it anyway, is I have followed racing since the mid-50’s! A VERY LONG TIME!

I have seen virtually ALL forms of motorsports evolve. And the “evolution” of NA$CRAP has resulted in the ABSOLUTE WORST FORM OF RACING!

Back-in-the-days, I managed a company that afforded me many opportunities. Some of those opportunities included a certain “entertainment” budget! Folks, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I would buy a shi*-load of tickets to (particularly) Talledega, Atlanta, Michigan, North Wilkesboro, Watkins Glen, and at times even Daytona. Then I would rent Vans/Motorhomes and take along a bunch of both employees and customers, hopefully those that had never been to a “real race”, and a BIG track!

And oh what excitement it was! 43 cars, 200+ (at Dega’), feeling the wind being pushed thru the stands by the cars, and never, ever hearing anything but how exciting the day was!

And then along came King Brian!

Oh well, y’all know the rest of the story.

And in closing, yes, I used to be “loyal” to some of the drivers, but once they started toeing the company line (remember the special drivers meeting at MIS) telling the drivers to SHUT UP?! Well, that changed everything!

Once the drivers clammed up, and decided that money was more important than having a good race car, the ball game changed!

At that point, and exactly at that point, the drivers as a group became nothing more than paid entertainers, they ceased to be “RACE CAR DRIVERS”!

And I would be remiss if I did not congratulate Dale Jr. for bringing this subject up once again at MIS this year, but did you notice only one other driver stood in his defense? And this story did not get a lot of press, mostly because most media outlets bow to King Brian!

Just simply don’t really know if I will EVER buy even a single ticket to a NA$CRAP event!

Frank
10/02/2009 08:57 AM
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Well said, Amy. This article and all comments (even yours, Douglas!) up to now pretty well sums it up for me. I’ll probably watch the sport until I die but never with the passion I once had for it.

24-4-5
10/02/2009 11:21 AM
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Amy, darn good article, but you forgot to mention one very important reason that I, and hopefully others, still watch … camaraderie … getting together with friends every weekend to watch the race, whether it be on tv or live at the track. There is nothing better than a houseful of NASCAR fans, all cheering for different drivers, eating, drinking and forgetting, if only for a few hours, that the world is in a mess, that unemployment is rampent in the U.S. and the government is screwing the little guy. For those few hours, we get to have fun; be it whooping or bitching about the race/driver/tv coverage/whatever. That is why I still watch.

midasmicah
10/02/2009 11:31 AM
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Great article, Amy, but like bad wolf, it’s too late in my case. I’ve been a nas$car for more years then I care to count, but it’s become an afterthought. I still change the channel once in a while to check on a race, but follow the leader races on follow the leader tracks just don’t cut it. I’m watching football now and God forgive, golf. That’s how much Brian“s butchering of nas$car has affected me and a whole lot of others. Even the mass exodus of fans doesn’t seem to get through his thick skull. He lives in a bubble and nas$car is his toy.

ginger
10/02/2009 11:35 AM
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To BadWolf and TheTurnip, I hear you loud and clear. How did we get here from there. Once you’ve had the best it’s hard to accept anything else. Change can be good, and it can be a disaster. That’s what Nascar has become.

Bill B
10/02/2009 12:20 PM
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24-4-5,
You are right about the camaraderie but there other sports on tv that can produce the same results. Sit down with a bunch of “????” fans and watch the home team and you get the same result. That is what NASCAR is fighting with the ratings battle. The NFL used to be my passion but NASCAR won/stole me and, while football is still important, the NFL now takes a back seat to NASCAR. With all BF’s changes, this sport is not the same sport I fell in love with all those years ago so NASCAR better not think that I can’t just as easily make them number two (LOL… pun intended).

The Turnip
10/02/2009 12:51 PM
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Hey Ginger, your “How did we get here from there.”

Two words: BRIAN FRANCE!

mick
10/02/2009 01:17 PM
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TRUE: I have not watched a chase race since the chase began.

I’ll watch the NFL.

Most tracks in the chase bore ths snot out of me. And now we have Kalifornia? Please.

Michael in SoCal
10/02/2009 02:04 PM
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Mick – I totally agree about Autoclub Speedway being in the Chase – it shouldn’t be. The racing is way too dull. That said – I’ll be there next Sunday. But what really is a pi$$er is that ACS had a plan to tear up the turns and raise the banking to 23 degrees, but ISC (read that the France family) won’t pay for it. They’re too busy paying for a new headquarters for ISC in Daytona Beach. Great – a new headquarters over a much-improved track. At least Gillian Zucker is trying to make improvements at ACS. She just doesn’ have much to work with, and ISC isn’t helping at all.

Kevin in SoCal – nine days ‘til race day!

24-4-5
10/02/2009 02:28 PM
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Hey Bill B, I couldn’t agree with you more. I host most of the NASCAR races at my house because it’s big and I have a rather large NASCAR room. When friends stop over for the race I have Gordon,Jr., Shrub, Johnson, Harvick, Newman, Edwards, Kahne and even Allmendinger fans at my place. All those different voices cheering for their own driver and cursing the others … it’s a blast. With NFL, MLB or even our beloved Red Wings here in Michigan, you only get two (if that) sets of fans watching those sports. But I agree, if things keep up as they are, NASCAR will be number 2 on a lot of fans’ tv’s.

Kevin in SoCal
10/02/2009 02:30 PM
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Hey Michael! I cant wait either. As I’ve said before, and even Amy said above, its about the horsepower to me, the sound of 43 cars screaming down the frontstretch at 150+ miles per hour. Last time I went I was in turn one, when the cars were braking, so I only got to hear the music on restarts. This time I’ll be just past the start/finish line, so it should be much louder!

And I like the Chase. I’d much rather have the Champion not decided until the last race, rather than knowing who just has to put it on cruise control for the last 5-10 races.

And as far as Fontana being boring, I dunno what else can be said. I dont think they can repave the track with 23* banking or else the speeds will be too high. Michigan is at 18* and they’re already at 205+ on new tires. Perhaps a variable banking from 14* on the bottom, 16* in the middle, and 18* on top would help the racers be side by side?

Lastly, Fontana in October is a heck of a lot better than on Labor Day, right? Be thankful Brian wised up on that idea.

What about moving Bristol and Fontana? Then you’d have Bristol in the Chase. But I think fans would start choking on their tongues from the “boredom” of Michigan and Fontana in a row.

Carl D.
10/02/2009 02:55 PM
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Why doe we still watch? Well, I don’t watch near as much as I used to.

I had to pay for my infield space at Charlotte Motor Speedway by September 30th or loose it. I let it go. It’s the passing of an era for me; I’ve had that space since about 1990. Now some “young gun” who thinks Jeff Gordon is old school and never saw Ernie Irvan or Alan Kulwicki or Tim Richmond race a single lap will be in my old infield space rooting for some young driver like Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski. The sad thing is, I don’t think I’m gonna miss it much. Brian France’s Nascar just doesn’t excite me.

The Turnip
10/02/2009 04:40 PM
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NOW I’M PIS*ED!

You see my new nic?

THE TURNIP”?

Well folks, came in for lunch, turned on the TV, low and behold practice was on! At almost the exact moment I turned this channel on, they were in the process of showing Logano’s tumble down the track!!

And, (I think) it was Larry McReynolds, that NA$CRAP shill, saying congratulations to NA$CRAP for designing the POS!

And his comment was “job well done”!

SAY WHAT YOU LOWLIFE?

Joey took the easiest of tumbles down the straightaway, hitting NOTHING!

And all I have heard all week is how GREAT the COT is, and how very safe!

Folks, that is SICK commentary!

I, yes, I! have rolled a Mini-Cooper 13 times!

13 times! Repeat after me! 13 times! With only a simple SCCA mandated roll cage!

AND I WALKED AWAY!

Out of breath? Yes, wondering what happened? Yes! Any idea I went over that many times? NO! (actually seemed like just a couple of times, but the mind takes over)!

My point? Glad you asked!

DON’T BELIEVE ALL THE HYPE ON HOW SAFE THE POS IS, BASED ON JOEY’S LITTLE EPISODE! And how great a race car it is!

That was the simplest and the easiest of rollovers!

And I am fully convinced, if the damn center of gravity was not sky high in the POS, he would not have rolled but maybe one time!

WATCH IT!

Stop believing this NA$CRAP publicity!

THE POS IS JUNK!

If we believe all that, then we ALL are DUMB AS A TRUCKLOAD OF TURNIPS!

ezrider714
10/02/2009 04:46 PM
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Bad Wolf your comments tell the story to a T.
I won’t even try to comment on my own,could never improve on what you have written

Rick
10/02/2009 04:52 PM
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Bad Wolf,You are right on the money.Well said.

Richard in N.C.
10/02/2009 06:52 PM
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I’m old enough to know that just about everything used to be better – as I remember it. I’m convinced the racing on the track is much better than the racing being broadcast – but most of the media won’t say that since then they’d have to criticize EESPN and almost no one does that.

Everyone who criticizes the COT (which isn’t perfect) seems to forget when Monday & Tuesday after each race years ago was filled with drivers b**ching & moaning about how another make had an unfair advantage and then came the complaining about the dreaded aero push. Cup racing hasn’t been perfect since they did away with the Superbird and may never be again- but it dead d*** sure beats 2nd place.

mkrcr
10/02/2009 10:30 PM
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Bad Wolf, as far as I’m concerned, You Said It ALL!

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
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