Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday October 16, 2008
Let’s face it, the NASCAR we grew up with is long gone. It’s so obvious; but just to prove it, let’s take a look at the various aspects of the sport today.
The infamous CoT, formerly known as “The Car of Tomorrow,” is now the standard issue “Car of Today.” Is it a Ford Fusion? Is it a Toyota Camry? Is it a Dodge Charger, or perhaps a Chevy Impala?
The answer is none of the above. It is a highly controlled “spec” car that has no identity whatsoever until the right decals are placed on it.
Line four of the CoTs with no paint or decals up and look at them from every angle. Now, tell me which belongs to which manufacturer. Do the same with the cars of the ’70s or ’80s. Are you going to mistake a Charger for a Monte Carlo or a Torino?
Well, what can be said about them? The “Big 3” in the U.S. have lost so much money for such a long time, they wouldn’t know a good time if it fell out of the sky, landed on their face, and started to wiggle.
Dodge actually left the sport for some time, but then had the bright idea to return in 2001, never even coming close to their former glory. This season, no Chargers even made the 12-man Chase for the championship.
Now, you have reports of merger talks between GM and Chrysler, GM and Ford, and even joint ventures of GM and Ford building transmissions and possibly entire powertrains. These companies are simply trying, in vain, to survive. How are they going to adequately support a racing program?
The only bright spot is Toyota. But maybe that is because I don’t think Toyota has ever been influenced by the tired, outdated adage ‘Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.’ For as we already established about the car… they are all the same. Even if you are still ignorant enough to buy a Camry just because Tony Stewart drives one, the simple fact that Kyle Busch drives one should also have you looking for the nearest Chevy dealership.
No, the only differences between the manufacturers nowadays is subtle differences in the engines. But just what do those differences mean? Not that much. NASCAR sees to that. It is all about “parity.” If one is deemed too powerful, NASCAR either takes something away or gives something to the others to make them even.
The Owner / Teams
Here we have a situation that almost mirrors the manufacturers. Mergers among teams and even outside investors are just too numerous to mention. Only by creating “super teams” is anyone able to have measurable success in today’s NASCAR. Once powerful names and teams like the Wood Brothers, Morgan-McClure, and Travis Carter are now nothing more than, or are soon to be, footnotes of racing history.
What can be said about the drivers? Some are good, some are bad. Some have proven themselves the hard way, some have ridden in on the coattails of previous relatives, usually never living up to the hype. Many “good” drivers that may have become “great” drivers are pushed to the wayside for the next “hot, marketable” one that comes along.
However, it just may be the “drivers” that are able to preserve what little integrity remains in NASCAR today.
One of the things that really bothers me about so-called NASCAR purists is the tired old argument that it will be another IROC.
So what! Some of the best races I have ever seen were IROC races. Look around you; the cars are already the same. Why not embrace the idea and find out who really IS the best driver each year?
Forget the idea of “owners and teams.” Let NASCAR provide the car, the engine, and the tires. Instead of “owners,” let’s embrace the idea of “investors.”
Today’s racing superstars already have more money than they can spend. What would be the harm to the sport’s integrity if, every week, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or Dale Jr. had to “lease” a car from NASCAR for a set price? Or maybe you pay the price and you get to draw a car out of a hat, out of say 50 that have been prepared identically by NASCAR?
For those drivers that are up and coming, that’s where your “investors” come in. Get someone to put up the money or part of it for your ability to “buy” a car. If you are good, you survive. The more you succeed, the better your chances of selling the space on your “weekly leased billboard on wheels” to prospective sponsors. And businesses will still buy the space. If drivers have proven themselves time and time again, long-term sponsorships will inevitably follow, much as they do today. The only difference is, and I see this as an upside, is that someone like Bounty or Aaron’s has an equal chance at being on the winning car as DuPont or Home Depot because all the equipment is the same.
With recent rumors of smaller fields in NASCAR races, NASCAR could use a template like I have just described for the true implementation of their Diversity program by making “x” number of cars available for “lease” by a minority driver at a reduced price.
The rumors have been for fields of just 36 cars, and it’s something that is being discussed in the front office. But NASCAR should use those remaining 7 spots for their Diversity drivers. Why not? If they prove they are worth it, then they have their foot in the door.
Listen folks, I am the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that the way NASCAR is today, and the way it is headed, there is no hope of saving the integrity of the sport. As it is now, those that throw the most money at it have the best shot at winning. But I, for one, would rather see drivers in equal equipment and let the talent, not the wallet, decide who is the best driver.
If you have a better idea, don’t be shy, share it with the rest of us!
Stay off the wall, (but jump on your soapbox!)
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