Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday July 5, 2013
Tradition is a part of every culture; scientifically speaking, culture doesn’t exist without tradition. Those things we do, repeated over time, help define people throughout time and across the world. On a more personal level, they help shape who we are when they’re part of our childhoods and are passed on from one generation to the next. In a nutshell: tradition is important in defining people and cultures everywhere.
Tradition abounds in sport. From golf to baseball, fans can see and do many of the same things their fathers and grandfathers did decades ago. That’s part of why sports are such a big part of Americans’ lives — those traditions are important to fans.
So why has NASCAR thrown it out the window?
Once upon a time in NASCAR, there were certain things fans could count on, even while sponsors changed and the sport grew at a sometimes dizzying rate: The Daytona 500. The Rebel 500. The World 600. The Firecracker 400. The Southern 500. More recently, the Brickyard 400. Even while other races changed sponsors and names, a select group of prestigious ones remained the same, year after year. Because of that continuity, many of those races became legend and the storylines stemming from them were woven into the tapestry of the sport. Those races, traditional both in name and in their place on the schedule, were annual staples.
And now, with the lone exception of the Daytona 500, they’re gone.
Some have been renamed; the World 600 became the Coca-Cola 600, the Firecracker 400 goes off on Saturday night as the Coke Zero 400, and the Brickyard 400, while it carries the original name now, was re-labeled as the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard for a time.
Others are long gone. The Rebel 500 was renamed by various sponsors and the Darlington Spring race was finally called the Southern 500, which was traditionally run not in April or May, but on Labor Day Weekend. The true Southern 500 no longer exists; NASCAR runs in Atlanta, not Darlington on that weekend now (and to Atlanta’s credit, they never tried to steal the name, probably because fans would have gone berserk).
I get it that tracks need sponsors to help pay the bills, but it’s such a shame that many fans would deliver only a blank stare of you mentioned the Firecracker 400 to them. The race is run on the 4th of July weekend, so the name had meaning. Surely, it would be possible to allow a sponsor and keep the old name; Darlington did (and still does). Why are we NOT running the Coke Zero Firecracker 400 on Saturday night?
NASCAR, like most other sports, is in itself a tradition for many fans, or it used to be. Fans became fans because they went to races with their fathers and grandfathers. In turn, they passed that on to their children. That NASCAR is struggling to get a foothold with its fan base these days should be a warning bell — if the fans are disinterested and alienated to the point where they no longer want to come and bring the next generation, the sport is in trouble.
Tracks, too, should consider keeping the traditional race names. Will a fan come because of the name of the race? Probably not, but he or she will talk about it. “Remember that World 600 when…” and that kind of discussion gets others interested.
Now, part of that is on NASCAR — in order for tracks to either shun a sponsor or make certain demands of sponsors in regards to naming rights, they need money to support themselves. NASCAR’s fees and the track’s required portion of purses have gotten very high — perhaps they should be infusing some of this cash so that tracks can pursue different avenues of marketing overall (and to encourage smaller facilities to host the Nationwide and Truck Series. Speaking of tradition… those series were meant for short tracks).
The sport has changed so rapidly and so much in the last decade that a small return to tradition here and there would go a long way with a longtime fan base that is feeling hurt and unwanted in this era of the sport. Racing, at least in some series, on more traditional tracks has increased recently with the trucks at Rockingham and now Eldora. That’s a start. It seems as though it would be simple to require that those certain races carried the proper names, including the Rebel (not Southern) 500. Returning Darlington’s race date to the Labor Day weekend would go even further.
No, it’s not your father’s NASCAR anymore… but the sport does need to take a hard look at the traditions and fan loyalty that launched it into the 21st Century and think about bringing a few of them back. They’ve taken so many over the years by taking the old tracks off the schedules of national series, moving dates that were once sacred, changing the names of what were once the biggest races in the game, moving the season-ending banquet, changing points systems and everything else they could think of in an effort to gain new fans, that the old fans wondered what happened to their sport. They found other ways to spend Sundays, and the family traditions that had been 50 years in the making faded away.
To a scientist studying a culture, that change in tradition would signal the dying out of one culture and/or the birth of another. Is that really the direction a sport should go in a culture that embraces its sports as part of its own tradition? That just doesn’t seem healthy.
And Another Thing
- I have to wonder when the word “criticism” became synonymous with “hate.” If a media member criticizes something a driver does, one a fan likes, that writer obviously has it in for that driver and is on an agenda. Ditto on praising someone the fan doesn’t like — suddenly there’s an agenda there, too.
It’s not limited to NASCAR, either; if a teacher is critical of a student’s work, parents wonder why the teacher has it in for their child instead of talking with the child about the quality of his or her work. If a supervisor is critical of an employee’s performance, the employee complains that the supervisor just doesn’t like him or her.
Sometimes it’s not personal, folks.
- Is it just me, or does the fact that sixteen teams all had the same infraction at Daytona call into question the roof flaps rule? I’ve seen the rule, but I still wonder why prompted those teams to think they could work within a grey area there. One or two, I’d say it was a blatant cheat if there was an advantage gained. But while I can believe that 16 smart crew chiefs would find a grey area in the rule book and work in it, I find it harder to believe that 16 crew chiefs all discovered the same blatant cheat at the same time and brought it to the same race. Remember the funky rear window on the No. 48 a few years back, or the wonky fuel filler on the No. 29? Can you imagine fifteen other teams showing up at the same race with the same infraction despite those teams not sharing information? Neither can I. At least for now, I want to know more before calling out 16 race teams.
- On the other hand, if they were all doing something to overtly flaunt the rules, then NASCAR needs to step up to the plate and suspend Paul Wolfe, whether the infraction is the same as the one he’s on probation for or not. This is his third rules infraction of the year, the second while on probation after serving a suspension for the first.
After all, when Kurt Busch was suspended for violating his probation, it wasn’t for the original infraction, and if a crew chief is stupid enough to have the same infraction twice during the same year while he’s on probation, well, he’s not going to last long as a crew chief anyway. It’s time for NASCAR to bat down the hatches and come down on any violation of any rule for a driver, crew chief, or other person on probation.
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