The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving: Offseason Reflections, NASCAR Diversity And Unlimited Rule Changes by Frontstretch Staff -- Thursday February 14, 2013

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Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every Wednesday, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:

Amy Henderson (Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)

*Saturday night was the induction ceremony for this year’s NASCAR Hall of Fame class… but only two of the five being honored were alive to receive their award. With so much history to catch up on, this sport seems to be in a pickle to induct many of their living legends before they, too pass away. Is it important for inductees to still be living when they receive this honor and, if so, how do the powers that be solve this problem? *

Summer: I’ve heard several people say induct as many as ten per year, but that would take away from the prestige, I think.
Amy: It’s more important for the most deserving people to be inducted. I think ten would have been the way to go the first year, maybe even the second, but not anymore.
Phil: Agreed. I think they’re almost locked into the five per year standard now.
Summer: The thing is, there are so many deserving but very old people.
Phil: Yes, the list does appear to be over-represented by those that are already dead, or in their 70s to 90s.
Amy: Well, Phil, part of that is a lot of the deserving racers from more recent times aren’t yet eligible. And in the case where they are… I don’t think you can overlook someone with better numbers for someone else, just because they’re old.
Summer: But Amy we have, what, 25 nominees every year? That pretty much guarantees they’ll get in. I don’t think it would be unfair to go by age until we “catch up” on history.
Phil: I’d argue that the current voting setup is almost designed so that people can get inducted based on sympathy campaigns. For example, should someone’s war record determine whether they get into the NASCAR Hall of Fame? I don’t think it should.
Summer: Wasn’t it Cotton Owens who died after he found out he was inducted? I’m not saying he wasn’t deserving, but there might be a case to be made with that.
Phil: Yeah, it was Cotton.
Summer: Honestly, I won’t deny that it was really sweet to hear some of those stories told from family members. But it’s sad that, for many years now, most of the inductees will be deceased.
Amy: That’s unfortunate, Summer. But how would you justify leaving, say, Dale Earnhardt off because he’s already dead for someone with half as many wins or only one title just to get them in while they’re still alive? It’s the nature of waiting 60 years after the sport was established to create a Hall of Fame.
Summer: Well, I think you had to have the “big” names like Dale Sr. in the first class anyway. But most casual viewers don’t know who many of these other legends are.
Amy: Which is a real shame. They should take the time to learn; it would make them appreciate the sport more.
Summer: It would, but you can’t expect them to take the time to do that. I know everyone here and reading this roundtable probably loved hearing the stories of those who earned a spot, but the people who tune in every now and again had no idea who any of them were.
Amy: No, but I can question how big of a fan they are if they don’t know.
Summer: Well, NASCAR needs to honor the legends, whether they are household names or not. Honestly, my emotions are mixed on this one because I’d love to see the legends there although it’s not possible to get them all in at once without it getting ridiculous. Looking ahead, I wouldn’t mind seeing more crew members or crew chiefs in the mix.
Amy: There are crew chiefs and car owners in the Hall now. The Wood Brothers, Cotton Owens, Dale Inman, Bud Moore…
Summer: Anyways, as far as the inductees are concerned, I just don’t have a sensible solution to getting all of the still living nominees in there without overlooking some very deserving people. But it’s too bad so many will be dead before they receive this lifetime honor…
Amy: For the next few years, it might be the older guys who are more deserving. The ones coming up for more recent years are drivers like Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd… and to me, they’re borderline, where there are still some older guys who should be shoo-ins.
Phil: It is a toughie, especially since anyone that’s nominated now should be in. It’ll probably be like that for another five years…

Darrell Wallace, Jr. will become only the fourth African-American driver with a full-time ride in a NASCAR national series, competing with Kyle Busch Motorsports this season in Camping World Trucks. Much has been made about NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” but is this problem overstated? How big of a problem is diversity (or lack thereof) in NASCAR?

Phil: When I first became a race fan, being a minority I never really noticed the lack of diversity.
Summer: Me neither. Nobody cares. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d rather have a talented racer than a diverse one any day.
Phil: It’s arguable, though that no one cared because nothing about the sport was diverse.
Summer: How about white males are just NASCAR’s core demographic? It doesn’t make them sexist or racist. It just means that’s who has the most interest. Sorry, but it pisses me off that there are drivers who get special treatment because of their skin color or gender.
Amy: I don’t think NASCAR should be doing anything to cater to a TV market. It needs to be about the best racing, period.
Phil: Having said that, anyone that gets rides after coming up through the whole Drive For Diversity isn’t just getting rides because they’re different. They have to prove themselves. Darrell Wallace, Jr. has a buttload of talent.
Amy: I think there are certainly some drivers who would be considered minorities who most certainly have the talent.
Summer: Wallace is certainly one of them. But why can’t all drivers have the chance to prove themselves, regardless of race, skin color, ethnicity, etc.?
Phil: Big bucks. Not all of these drivers in diversity or driver development programs have the money to get themselves where they want to be.
Summer: I understand that part. What I love about the Drive for Diversity is it basically eliminates the “rich daddy” syndrome. You have to prove yourself. But if that’s the case… it should still be open to all races.
Amy: I agree. why not have a program open to all young, talented drivers who don’t have the money to buy in?
Summer: It would basically be an “American Idol,” so to speak, for drivers.
Can you imagine if someone opened up a singing competition but said white people couldn’t compete because there are too many white singers? It’s ridiculous!
Amy: I wouldn’t say white males are excluded, though. From that particular program, yes, but if you look at the sport, they’re hardly in danger of being squeezed out.
Phil: Too often these days, people with deep pockets can simply buy rides and then teach themselves how to race at the upper levels. The John Wes Townley experiment is entering year six, and now he’s almost decent. At what cost?
Summer: That’s not the point. What if there is a white male who is talented but doesn’t have the money to fund himself? He could probably showcase himself in a program like D4D, but can’t because he’s a part of that core demographic. Hardly fair.
Amy: I do think the D4D drivers have to prove their talent though, Summer. They won’t make the upper levels if they can’t drive, simple as that.
Summer: Again, I’m not saying that. But it should be open to everyone who needs that chance. Like I said, a lot of really good drivers have come through that program. I just still find it hard to believe that fans tune into the race wishing it was more diverse. I think fans who tune in want to see the best of the best competing against each other, regardless of race, gender, etc.
Amy: Perhaps teams other than Rev Racing should set up combines for all drivers.
Summer: I know that Roush Racing did something like that a few years ago. If I remember right, that’s how they found David Ragan.
Phil: That would be nice, Amy. Remember when Roush Fenway Racing had their “Gong Shows” in order to fill Truck and Nationwide rides. That wouldn’t be a bad idea. Maybe they shouldn’t make it a reality show, though.
Amy: I will say this much — wouldn’t having a more diverse field attract new, and more importantly, younger fans? I would argue it might. There needs to be a hook for new audiences… if that’s someone of a similar ethnic or economic background, then it’s good for the sport.
Summer: Amy, it might, but trying to attract that base has already driven away many people who were already there. If you’re sacrificing that for talent, then why does it matter?
Amy: Are you? And there will always be hundreds of talented racers out there who will never make it to NASCAR’s highest levels for various reasons. D4D isn’t making that number grow exponentially because a few white guys aren’t included.
Summer: I’m sure there are plenty of short track racers who would love that kind of chance.
Phil: Oh yes, definitely. Hundreds of them probably have the skills to race at least on the Truck level. Just the other day, I was thinking that Benny Gordon should have gotten a Nationwide chance long before he did. Now, he’s out of the seat and crew chiefing for Blake Koch.
Amy: It’s all about finding a break. Whether that’s D4D, a chance meeting with key people, a family connection, or whatever, some will make it and others won’t. That, I think we can all agree on…

Now that the off-season is complete, did NASCAR do enough to market itself in a positive way for 2013? Evaluate their performance and tell us what, if anything they could have done better.

Amy: I think NASCAR needs to look at a lot of things. The new car is a positive, at least so far, because it looks how fans want it to. But I don’t think NASCAR does a good job of marketing their talent as well as they could, especially in the NNS or CWTS.
Summer: They did a great job marketing the Gen-6 car. I haven’t heard a lot of negatives about that.
Phil: I’m just now starting to see commercials talking about the new car. I also think they could definitely do a better job promoting Brad Keselowski. He’s basically promoting himself these days.
Summer: Amy, I don’t really think NASCAR’s priority is doing a lot of outside promotion for NNS or Trucks. I think they assume most of their die hard fans watch that anyway.
Amy: But does the sport care about those people? You used to feel like you were part of an extended family if you were a race fan. I think that’s gone now; there’s a perceived gap between the drivers and Joe Fan.
Summer: What they need to do is continue to communicate to fans that they care what they think. The new car was a nice step forward with that. However, it’s just one aspect. There is still the issue of the points system, start and parks, etc. Honestly, we haven’t heard much about most of that.
Amy: Why should we? Neither is a story right now.
Summer: It will be once we get into the season. It’s a constant discussion in here about the Chase, for example. Which is what I meant by “points system” though there are even issues aside from that.
Phil: I feel like NASCAR could take a look at Grand-Am and take some cues from there as far as fans go. The only problem is that there’s so many people at Cup races that I’m not sure that some of the things that Grand-Am does could be feasible. For example, I saw a fan get hit by a golf cart during the Rolex 24 in the garage. We can’t have that.
Summer: Are you talking in terms of access, Phil?
Phil: Yes, access. Every ticket gives you garage access in Grand-Am.
Amy: No. There are already too many fans in the garage at a Cup race.
Summer: Yeah, Phil, people already complain about the people in the garage area.
Phil: Maybe a pre-race grid walk or something then? It would work a lot better in Nationwide and the Trucks with the smaller crowds.
Amy: I’m not sure. But should there be mandatory autograph sessions/Q&A’s, etc. for every driver every week? Absolutely, there should.
Summer: I wish it could be like that, Amy but there’s no way. I think if you make certain events mandatory, you strain the fan/driver relationship. Sometimes, drivers just want to relax before the race. Let them choose who wants to interact with fans.
Amy: But then some fans would never meet their hero.
Summer: If their hero makes the effort, they will. But they shouldn’t be forced. I’m usually surprised at how many fans are understanding about that.
Amy: Who, without fans, would be racing for $75 at the local short track?
Drivers owe them something.
Summer: They do, but getting 43 drivers to an autograph session every week? There’s no way. Most, if not all of them have some sort of appearance either over the course of the weekend or at some sponsorship thing pre-race. Most of those are open to fans. That makes a lot more sense than having them all in one place at one time. With Sprint, Team Chevy, Team Ford, etc. all having setups at the racetrack every week, chances are you’ll have a chance to meet your hero somewhere.
Amy: I disagree. For six or seven figure salaries, all drivers can paste on a smile and suck it up. It used to be you’d have a ton of drivers signing at their haulers every week… now, it’s very few. Maybe they do a short Q&A but no individual meetings or autographs.
Phil: I’d argue that the Hot/Cold pass thing ended a lot of the signing at haulers.
Summer: That would be incredibly time consuming anyways in today’s NASCAR. Especially for the really popular guys.
Amy: Disagree. This sport needs something with a vibe like last weekend’s preview in Charlotte. Acceleration 2013 was really well done. Drivers used to, voluntarily, sign for fans like they do at those types of events, even after races. Now, they’re in such a hurry to get out of there they don’t bother. That kind of attitude doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.
Summer: Then that’s their own damn fault. But don’t make it mandatory. If drivers want to be jerks, fans can judge that for themselves. Notice that most of the ones who do that still have a ton of fans. Obviously, it’s not hurting them too much.
Amy: NASCAR could easily schedule an autograph session for drivers. Other series do it. Local short tracks do it. The sport could easily do it. And if a driver doesn’t like it? Maybe he shouldn’t be there. NASCAR needs to find ways to make fans feel more a part of the sport, like they did 20 years ago.
Phil: Yes, drivers do need to make themselves available to fans. Ownership is very important.
Summer: We’ll have to agree to disagree. I will say NASCAR has done a great job marketing the “new” in terms of technology. That “Air Titan” machine is freaking awesome! They’re also really making social media and fan interaction a huge part of the season before it even starts.

The Budweiser Shoot—er, the Sprint Unlimited is this weekend and, for the first time, fans will choose the format of the event. Is this idea a good one and should it become a part of the race annually?

Amy: I kind of like the fan vote thing, and how it makes things a little harder on the teams. However, for both this race and the All-Star event, I think they need to pick a format and stick with it. Changing things all the time turns people off.
Summer: I like anything that involves a fan vote too.
Amy: I do have an issue with fans setting the starting lineup, though. Summer: The lineup really doesn’t mean anything at Daytona, which is why I think it’s being allowed. Although I do agree… it makes it hard to follow for sure. I think the inversion format for the All-Star race worked because we knew there would be an inversion… we just didn’t know what it would be. Same format, essentially.
Phil: The voting stuff is a little out of control. But, I’m sure that the fans will like it.
Amy: I also think that a lot of fans will complain about the fan vote format if it’s their guy who gets screwed. For example, if they vote for eliminations and then Dale Junior or Tony Stewart gets the axe, they’ll complain.
Summer: Then that’s stupidity at its finest. Obviously, if you vote for that, then you know there is a risk your driver will get screwed.
Amy: Right, but you know it will happen. Anyways, I like that the teams won’t know certain things until the race starts. Makes it a lot harder for one team to pull strategy.
Phil: I’m anti-elimination here, and in the All-Star Race. Never liked that garbage then years ago and don’t like it now.
Summer: I don’t like it, but my point was that it was at least consistent. I’m fine with elimination in an exhibition race… though I admit elimination doesn’t make much sense at Daytona.
Amy: The bigger thing for me with the Sprint Unlimited are the new rules. I don’t love that past champions are no longer included, and I don’t like that Casey Mears got left out on a technicality. I also think they should have something similar to the Sprint Showdown or whatever it’s called where one person can race in.
Summer: That would be cool, Amy, because every driver would be included. If you do that, though, you have to allow a driver to be voted in as well.
Phil: I’m not opposed to a last chance race. Just where would you put it, though?
Summer: What do you mean, Phil? Couldn’t they just do it before the Unlimited?
Phil: We have the ARCA race the same day as the Unlimited. Not really much time to do the main event.
Amy: If there was a last-chance race, at least everyone would get the practice time. By only allowing the Unlimited teams extra track time, NASCAR is handing them an advantage for the 500 that they don’t need.
Summer: Well I think with the new car, too, it gives them that extra chance to practice drafting and such in actual race conditions. Which I think will be a huge help. Honestly, I love that fans can get involved with something like this event. I don’t really like all the options, but it’s cool nonetheless.
Amy: I think throwing the teams a curveball and making it that much harder to win is cool, too.
Summer: At least there’s some importance to winning the pole again…

Predictions for the Sprint Unlimited?

Summer: I’m going with Tony Stewart. He starts 2013 off right.
Amy: I’m going to go with Joey Logano, a bit of an upset in his new ride.
Summer: Phil, who’s your pick?
Phil: Gee, anyone could win this race. I’m going out on a limb… thinking that Aric Almirola could surprise and take the win.

Connect with Amy!

Contact Amy Henderson

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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Bill B
02/14/2013 08:19 AM
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I don’t feel there needs to be one but, if there is going to be a mandatory autograph session it should be on qualifying day not race day. There is just too much going on (tv interviews, sponsor commitments/appearances, pre-race meetings, driver introductions, etc.) to burded a driver with that. Yes in the old days drivers could sign autographs and meet the fans because the numbers were managable and there weren’t as many other commitments, but now there are just too many fans and too little time. Autographs on qualifying day might increase attendance at truck or NW races and the numbers would be more managable.

GinaV24
02/14/2013 01:47 PM
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I’d like to see more autograph sessions on race weekends. I understand the logistics of it, but fans are interested in their drivers.

I don’t think that NASCAR has done a particularly good job of marketing this off-season. Quite honestly it has been one of the least interesting off-seasons I can remember in a while and that is with the introduction of the Gen 6 car.

It took NASCAR way too long to make this change.

I disagree that there is no need to address the issue of the chase and the points, etc. Personally I find that I have very little interest in the first 26 races simply because they are seeding events for the 10 race trophy dash. I’m interested in my favorite making the 10 race cut, but as far as actually enjoying watching racing these days, well, not so much.

I am not in favor of all the fan vote stuff. That’s just a gimmick and doesn’t add anything of value.

wcfan
02/14/2013 07:41 PM
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I believe the Stats for the pioneers of the sport should be allowed to be lower, then say the modern era driver.

The pioneers drove and worked in the sport for the love of it(many had day jobs they worked during the week) and did not have all the comforts of the modern drivers and crews.

They worked for little if any money and traveled to the races in unair conditioned cars and trucks for hours if not days at a time. They also raced with no power steering, cool boxes or the other many luxaries of the modern driver.

If not for the Pioneers (who need to be honored for thier sacrifice) there would be no nascar as we know it now.

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