Brett Poirier · Tuesday May 21, 2013
It’s difficult to argue that any sport has mastered the All-Star game. Major League Baseball had to add World Series implications recently because no one was watching. The NBA just has a dunk-fest, where defenses move out of the way until the final three minutes when everyone decides they want to win (sounds like NASCAR at Talladega).
The NHL has used East and West, then U.S. and International, and now has captains pick the teams like it is fifth-grade recess (I’m in favor of the last one.) As for the NFL’s Pro Bowl… well, where do I even get started? It features the sixth-best players at each position because the other guys blew it off, and no one wants to actually hit anyone else for fear of injury. It’s hard to blame them, but I’d rather watch Toddlers in Tiaras.
NASCAR’s All-Star version isn’t any better. Who thought it would be exciting to bring fast, aero-dependent cars, put them on a smooth 1.5-mile track, and give them four fresh tires with 10 laps to go? How was that recipe ever going to lead to a good finish? If I were coming up with a formula to create the least amount of passing possible, that would be it. Let’s analyze. The fresh tires make it so everyone sticks to Charlotte’s repaved surface, and 10 laps is too short of a time for the tires to wear and any actually interesting racing to take place. It’s quite possibly the worst idea ever; well, besides the XFL.
Jimmie Johnson’s crew pulled off an 11.8-second final pit stop, seemingly a modern-era record and after a short fight with teammate Kasey Kahne, “Five-Time” drove to the easiest victory of his life on Saturday. He was rewarded with more than $1 million in pocket change, or roughly $11,111 per lap completed. That’s the second biggest payday behind the Daytona 500, and for what? Why do we need to be dishing out seven digits in a race that is supposed to be for the fans?
If there is one thing I wish I could change about the All-Star Race, it’s the money. Not only the money from the purses, but also the profits that somehow keep this event in Charlotte, year after year. If finances weren’t a factor, think of the possibilities.
Here is what I would do. Scrap the entire current format because it isn’t working — that might even include the actual Sprint Cup car. Let’s take the drivers back to their roots and put them all in Late Models at a local short track. Tracks from around the country could bid for the right to host the event, and it could stop somewhere different each season.
The seats may hold only 5,000 spectators compared to Saturday’s All-Star race… actually, I think there were probably like 5,000 fans there, too. But the sport could stop at places it hasn’t been in decades, frontiers such as Thompson Speedway (0.625 miles) in Connecticut. The sport will gain new fans and the local short tracks, which are probably struggling, would be rewarded with a big payday to keep racing going, keeping the next generation coming through the turnstiles.
The oval selected could run single-car qualifying laps to set the order for the heats (and to drag out the event). On race night, a series of heat races could determine which drivers qualify for the feature, with a last-chance qualifier race thrown in at the end for good measure. And then, for the feature, just line them up and let them race. Other than maybe a halftime break, no gimmicks. Who wouldn’t watch that?
As Tom Bowles touched on in his column on Monday, the 2013 All-Star Race was way too predictable. When the word predictable is taken out of the equation in sports, that is when we have our best moments. Those are the ones that get fans on the edge of their seats. Take the stars from the top form of stock car racing, put them where it all started, and it would be anything but predictable. That is, unless Chad Knaus is just as good with a Late Model.
And winning the All-Star Race — if we even still called it that — would be more about pride than money. O. Bruton Smith can keep his $1 million. The winner of my All-Star race would win something like $50,000, and it would go to that driver’s charity — stealing an idea from Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream.
I guarantee that would get higher television ratings and garner more interest into the sport than what we have now. All-Star games should be about putting on a show for the fans, not raking in the cash. We need to think outside of the box to fix it. I guess I’m just dreaming, though. The race will be back in Charlotte next year, probably with some new twist that’ll generate some noise, but won’t fix something that has been broken for more than a decade.
I’d suggest heading to your local short track that night for a better show.
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