The Frontstretch: 5 Points to Ponder: An Idiot Pastor, A Stuntman and The Fans Who Won't Be There by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday July 26, 2011

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ONE: Talladega Nights Storms Nashville…

In the form of an invocation that was missing nothing more than references to KFC and race sponsor Federated Auto Parts. There’s no getting around it; a pastor’s attempt at humor didn’t do NASCAR any favors, even with 18,000 fans seemingly screaming their approval from the grandstands in Music City on Saturday night.

An important part of NASCAR heritage, the invocation is not something to be made light of… ever?

Speaking as a longtime agnostic, the religious sensitivities/insensitivities that were tweaked by this pre-race prayer are really not of any concern to me. That being said, I am fully aware of just how significant the tradition of the invocation is to the sport, especially in this day and age. There’s no shortage of outspoken Christians behind the wheel, on top of the pit boxes and in the stands on any given race weekend. But NASCAR is also the only professional sport out there to make such an offering before every event. It’s one of the few remaining tangible connections the sport maintains to its past, to a fan base that it has done everything to squash and alienate over the last decade.

To see it reduced to a comedy routine completely worthy of ridicule, well… does any race fan out there concerned for the sport’s overall well-being want Talladega Nights to be the face of major league stock car racing?

TWO: Expect a long night for Travis Pastrana

Take away the name power and look at the numbers. Despite having considerable backing from Michael Waltrip Racing, an organization that’s had no trouble winning at the K&N Pro Series level (Ryan Truex won the series title both in 2008 and 2009), Pastrana’s average finish in four K&N starts has been 25.5, with only one of those results coming on the lead lap. Yet, the X-Man will still be making his major league, Nationwide debut on the tight confines of Lucas Oil Raceway this weekend, whether he’s ready or not. It’s certainly a far more suitable venue for a debut than Daytona was for Danica, but the deck is stacked even more than it was for the last big name jumping disciplines at this level.

Pastrana is driving for a team that hasn’t raced in over a month and hasn’t fielded a top-10 car on any track since Richmond back in May. He’s tackling a venue in Indianapolis that, surprisingly, is the tightest he will have seen outside of the exhibition race at Irwindale he ran earlier this year. And, frankly, K&N is nothing compared to what Pastrana will face in terms of competition at the Nationwide Series level.

This is yet another example of a short-sighted marketing move at the expense of actual driver development. Perhaps the driver with the background closest to Pastrana’s would be motorcycle extraordinaire Ricky Carmichael, who – even with the full backing of longtime sponsor Monster Energy – spent time in late model racing before making the move to NASCAR. Now, years later, Carmichael has proven to be a capable driver, but he’s still not setting the world on fire on-track or become a booming fan phenom off it. His performance, gradually improving has come from actual development as a stock car racer.

So it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to see Pastrana doing anything to excite his fans this Saturday night. Avoiding attrition and simply running at the finish will be an accomplishment for he and the No. 99 team at the end of 200 laps.

THREE: Just How Bad Will the Brickyard Crowd Be?

The projections have to be pretty God awful if the Indianapolis Motor Speedway somehow got a Sprint Cup Series autograph session together, and if NASCAR felt the need to send a memo to teams updating them on ticket sales for the coming race, as was reported by the Charlotte Observer.

The fact is, having a bad crowd at Indianapolis is going to be an issue of magnitude for a number of reasons. For one, given that the facility is all but surrounded by grandstands, no amount of shifty camera work by ESPN is going to hide wide swaths of empty seats. Not exactly a scenic backdrop for what is supposedly one of the sport’s crown jewel races, right? There’s nothing like photographic evidence to prove that something is wrong…

What’s more, though, is that IMS is proving unable to recover from the debacle that was the 2008 Brickyard 400. It was a race, if one could call it that, with such pronounced tire problems that the event was essentially rendering a stretch of 10-lap parades, with caution flags thrown frequently to allow teams the opportunity to continually refresh their rubber. 240,000 were there for that one. One year later, the crowd was down to 180,000. This past year? 140,000. Do the math: that’s a 42% decline in the past three seasons alone.

Those are scary enough numbers on their own right, but they get worse when compared to Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track that endured a disaster of its own in 2005 when levigating the racing surface turned the Coca-Cola 600 into the most caution-filled race in NASCAR history. In that one, tires failed nearly on cue every 20-30 laps, slamming cars into the fence with regularity. Yet three years after that ugly night, attendance for the 600-miler was down only 4%. Even by 2011 comparison, CMS is facing declines of 13%, not 42%.

The bottom line is when it comes to Indy, NASCAR’s somewhere it shouldn’t be. Even if that is the most famous race track in the world…

FOUR: Another Red Bull Cast-Off, Another Cinderella Story Needing to Happen

After over eight months away from the Cup circuit, former Red Bull racer Scott Speed has a chance to “warm up” his career once again starting this weekend.

NASCAR Illustrated’s Joe Gunn did a fine piece earlier this week describing just how crucial it was for A.J. Allmendinger’s career that he qualified for the Daytona 500 in 2009 after losing his ride at Red Bull Racing the season before. Get ready for the sequel to that tale this weekend. Scott Speed, the driver that ultimately booted the ‘Dinger out of Red Bull’s second seat lost his ride in the No. 82 a season ago. Now, in danger of falling off stock car racing’s radar screen for good, Speed has landed a three-race deal with Max Q Motorsports, a team that has missed six of the last 12 Cup races after losing their top 35 slot earlier in the season. That contract will start in another big-name event, the Brickyard 400, this coming weekend.

There’s two ways this partnership goes, as Speed will have the benefit of an FR9 engine under the hood. Make the Brickyard, and the No. 37 team scores a much-needed big payday and momentum heading into Pocono and the Glen, two tracks that should favor the road racing background of Speed. Miss the Brickyard, though, and not only does Speed and team miss out on one of the season’s biggest paydays, they at best make only races at Pocono and the Glen. Qualifying on a roval and road course aren’t going to look as great an accomplishment if Speed can’t make the field on the one true oval in that slate.

Stock car racing’s going to see what Speed’s made of this weekend.

FIVE: Allen Bestwick to take a larger role in ESPN’s Booth

Rare good news on the TV broadcast front. Here’s hoping a long overdue move to put Bestwick up front is enough to bolster a stretch of the season Frontstretch readers as a whole appear to be grimacing at the thought of viewing on TV.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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07/26/2011 07:45 AM

Oh, lighten up for crying out loud! I thought the Invocation was one of the best ever! How many previous Invocations do you remember? A comedy routine? Maybe, but hey, we had a Priest once who did a similar thing, obviously without the “smokin’ hot wife” comment, every weekend, and within about 5-weeks of his arrival, he had the church packed. Anyway, Reverend Nelms Invocation sure got the fans fired up. What with the way the economy has been, and could potentially become again, but even worse, and the wars, and the overseas shootings, and everything else, this Pastor brought smiles to a lot of people’s faces on Saturday night. And believe me, something like this is needed right now. If you thought it was out of place and irreverent, then that is solely your opinion! Lots of others, me included, think that NASCAR should hire Reverend Nelms to be the permanent Invocation giver! Me thinks you have no sense of humour, Keith!

07/26/2011 07:47 AM

And one more point, then I’ll go way! I’m not religious at all, but, I do know one thing, and that is this: the greatest gift God gave us was a sense of humour. Too bad there isn’t enough use of it these days!

Stephen HOOD
07/26/2011 08:19 AM

I am a pastor and I found the prayer refreshing. The same pastor did the prayer before the truck race and he was much more traditional in his delivery. I liked that the NW prayer was playful and paid homage to the Ricky Bobby thanksgiving blessing in “Talladega Nights.” A bishop once told me that my congregation was a bit too serious and I needed to lighten them up. He said we needed to laugh more and he was right. There is a time for seriousness but I don’t necessarily believe that the beginning of a stock car race is one of those places.

My personally belief is that many of the invocations I’ve heard are off putting and seem to be slightly antagonist toward non Christians (and Christians as well). I’ve always wondered if there are any Jewish or atheist NASCAR fans and how they must feel about the invocation. I’m not really sure why the whole grandstand needs to be subjected to a Christian prayer. I am troubled by the mixture of faux patriotism and religiosity displayed at many of the events contrasted with the drunk fans lusting for carnage on the racetrack and bare breasts in the stands. I often tell friends who question my loyalty to NASCAR that a race is everything right with America and wrong with America going on simultaneously.

I do appreciate the good pastor’s irreverence although I hope it’s a one time deal. The prayer worked for me because it was unexpected and refreshing.

07/26/2011 08:26 AM

The thing with Indy is for the most part you can only see what is happening in front of you. The track is to narrow, it had its day, because it was Indy

Carl D.
07/26/2011 10:27 AM

As a longtime agnostic, you’re the type of guy who would address the pre-race invocation from the perspective of what it did for Nascar’s image. Religious people can debate amongst themselves whether the prayer was apropriate from a religious point of view. As a Christian, I will say that none of us know what was in the pastor’s heart when he offered the prayer, and furthermore it’s not for us to judge. As to what it does for Nascar’s image, I could care less; that’s not the point of the invocation.

I hope the Brickyard crowd is so awful that Nascar is forced to end this farce of a race. The racing sucks, the attendance is embarrassing, and yet they’re moving the Nationwide race to this track. Even agnostics and atheists ought to pray for this sport’s future.

07/26/2011 10:31 AM

I liked the invocation as well. Not sure why anyone would be upset about it. I’m sorry if you were, but I haven’t spoken to anyone who was. I thought it rocked!

Don Mei
07/26/2011 10:35 AM

I’ll say it again…it’s not too late to change the Br1ckyard to the road course. Then I would watch it.. otherwise, get serious.

07/26/2011 12:25 PM

I echo the previous writer about the brickyard, bad idea, bad racing, waste of time while good racetracks sit idle.
Agnostic huh? Sad

Sue Rarick
07/26/2011 12:51 PM

I find it funny that its an agnostic that found it in bad taste.
I always wondered why a true agnostic isn’t uber rich? If all there is is the here and now why don’t they just do whatever they need to do to get what they want. Whay worry about those crazy religious rules like don’t steal or kill. Just wondering how really agnostic people are.

07/26/2011 01:41 PM

nas$car racing at Indy is pretty much a parade. All that’s missing are the floats and marching bands. And they’re moving the nationwide series race from IMS to that locale. Geez!

Kevin in SoCal
07/26/2011 03:57 PM

Sue, there is a such thing as knowing law and rule without knowing religion. I dont have to be religious to be a good person, and just because a person is religious doesnt make them a good person, either.
A Proud Athiest

sylvia richardson
07/26/2011 04:11 PM


07/26/2011 05:33 PM

I think when Nascar moved the race at Indy, they would of been alot smarter if they would of moved it to the first race of the CHASE, and left Chicago where it was.

old farmer
07/26/2011 06:21 PM

Lighten up! I’ve heard all the crotchety old fart preachers that I ever want to telling me that I’ll go to hell if I’m not in the front row on Sunday.

This guy was a breath of fresh air who apparently sees some good & some mirth in the world. I’d go to his church if it were near me.

For those of you who didn’t like it, spend your Sunday afternoons reading Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It will be right down your alley.

I’ll take the guy who believes there can be some fun in life.

I’m much more inclined to take the Carl Edwards approach to the invocation.

P.S. Do we ever get to see the “smokin’ hot wife”?

Jeff Meyer FS staff
07/26/2011 08:06 PM

Want to know what I find REALLY funny??? An agnostic telling us Christians how to we should feel about a prayer to OUR God.

07/26/2011 09:42 PM

Believe it or not, his church has a website, I found it by googling Reverend Joe Nelms. It says that his church “Is more than a church, it’s a family”. And I was reading on another website that was written on Sunday morning, that the churches website was getting so many hits right after Reverend Nelms gave his Invocation, that the site crashed!

I’m getting a real kick out of some of the really lame comments by people who have really got their pious shorts in a knot over this! Good grief! The only really sad point about it all is that the highlight of Saturday night’s race wasn’t the race, but the Invocation! When has that ever happened? Now, let’s hope people can get as fired up over something they should be screaming about, the repeated destruction of the National Anthem, week after week, by these so-called talented singers.

07/27/2011 12:22 PM

They showed a clip of the invocation the other night on our local newscast. Our local newscast never mentions NNS races at all, and only mentions Cup races when they are at Dover or Pocono.

I’m sure Nascar wants more attention, but I’m not sure if this is the kind of attention they want…

Kevin in SoCal
07/27/2011 12:23 PM

Hey Jeff Meyer, you know what I find really funny? Christians who tell us agnostics how we should feel about their God. :) :) :) :) :)
Religion is a private matter between you and your God, and should not be forced upon other people.

07/27/2011 01:03 PM

I agree to a point about the tire debacle at Indy has hurt attendance, but I think you are thinking a bit too hard on it.

The reason attendance is down is because the racing is god awful. Add in that you can’t see the whole track and it doesn’t prove worthy of someone buying a ticket. And moving the NW race over there next year isn’t going to help either regardless of what Brian France thinks.

I too hope they get a very small crowd on Sunday so they can move that race to a more worthy track.

07/27/2011 01:15 PM

I’ll happily support anything that makes fun of organized religions of any kind.

Jeff Meyer FS staff
07/27/2011 05:25 PM

To Kevin in SoCal….I get the smiley faces! But just so others ‘get it’ too, I never once in my post told anyone how to feel about anything!


Nick Doneilo
07/27/2011 11:11 PM

Sorry, this is not directly related to this article. But I need to contact someone who works for FrontStretch. I’m not complaining about anything, or anything like that. It is race related, and I would greatly appreciate it if Bryan Davis Keith would give me his e-mail address, please!

Kevin in SoCal
07/28/2011 12:16 PM

Nick, at the bottom of the article, underneath Point 5, and above the LIKE & SEND Facebook links, there is a link to Contact Bryan David Keith.