The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : Rambling Man by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday October 15, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : Rambling Man

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday October 15, 2009


You know what? This weekend, I played hooky. Few of you are going to be surprised to learn I really don’t care for the Cup racing at Fontana. As that date approached on the calendar, I grew more and more restless. Another date rapidly approaching on that same calendar — October 25th, the night we set our clocks back an hour, another concept I am not fond of — is the unofficial end of motorcycling season here in the Northeast. With less daylight, there’s no more evening rides; even now, the temperatures are already unseasonably chilly. But that’s not the only reason riding gets rough. As the whitetail deer enter their rut, they make traveling in a car, much less a Harley, extraordinarily dangerous, especially out here in Chester County (the deer/vehicle collision capital of the universe). Oh sure, there might be one or two nice Saturdays to get the bike out this year… but they will be rare and cherished.

The forecast for Sunday was brisk but sunny. (I believe they used the term “abundant sunshine;” there’s a poetry major who became a meteorologist to pay the rent.) As the day wore on, two things became clearer and clearer to me: I really wanted to ride my motorcycle, and I really didn’t want to watch Fontana at all. So I burned my scheduled sixth weekend of the season off on Sunday.

How’d it work out? Splendidly, thank you for asking. The day was crisp enough that full leathers were in order, but the sunshine on my back kept things tolerable. I rode past Amish and Mennonite farms where they’re beginning to gather in the harvest, backdropped by acres of trees in their autumnal multi-hued finery. Overhead, huge V-shaped flocks of Canada geese headed south, while along the roadside small wooden stands offered fresh produce and pumpkins. The cooler air seemed to suit the Harley, which had an extra rush to its step… or maybe I was just enjoying it more, knowing time is fleeting. At traffic lights, I’d warm my hands by that big old V-twin engine, then set out in search of new, blue highways yet unexplored. An early dinner consisting of a prime rib sandwich and a Corona capped off the day at the local tavern before the brief jaunt home.

The whole ride was, for the want of a better word, magic. It was as if the Norman Rockwell channel was being broadcast across my visor. Afternoons like Sunday are going to provide the memories that get me through to Spring, all while I load another bag of wood pellets in the stove and stare restlessly out the window at drifting snow and the plunging mercury, waiting…

Judging from all the empty seats in the grandstands, many West coasters have no interest in watching a race in Fontana, a sentiment in which Matt McLaughlin concurs.

Despite myself, I caught the end of the race upon my return. I’ve got three words to offer here — “Stink, stank, and stunk.” In the end, NASCAR had to play that magic “invisible debris” card a few times to try to add a little spice to the proceedings, and that stinks as well. Ask Kasey Kahne… from a safe distance. Is this what it’s come to? Our sport has become so lame that NASCAR officials must orchestrate a race rather than officiate it to add even a modicum of interest to get the fans to tune in again next week? Where’s the consistency? One week, a stricken race car sideways across the racing groove on the last lap draws no caution; next time, a piece of rubber I’d gladly stuff in my ear on a dollar bet brings out the yellow hanky. Is there any more question why the Lebanese Vegetarian Cooking Channel is drawing better ratings than NASCAR racing these days?

Well, they’ve lost me on this track. After the race, I didn’t feel elated — I felt irritated. Life’s too short to spend on things that annoy you, unless they happen to be really good-looking. I’m 50 now. I have no hours to waste watching a Fontana race, and I’m not going to do so anymore. I’m going riding. And if it rains, I’ll go work in the garage rather than wasting four hours on Fontana. Some folks are saying the last little bit of the race was actually pretty good. I guess that’s like getting beat over the head with a hammer for three and a half hours. If the beating stops for a half-hour, it feels pretty good…in a twisted sort of way.

This genuinely wasn’t an easy call for me. For over 25 years, I missed only one race, and that was the 1989 Daytona 500 held the day my best friend died in a car wreck — and I taped that one and watched it later that evening. I’ve been a hardcore fan of this sport for over 42 years, and this is what I do. But I just can’t cover Fontana anymore; and if the hardcore types like me are looking at our watches and edging towards the exit, NASCAR is in big trouble.

Moving on to some “Water Cooler” topics of the week…

Saturday I watched the Nationwide race from Fontana. (It was raining.) Two things are inarguable: It was a damn fine race, one of the best of the season, but the crowd on hand to see it was pathetic enough to embarrass a small town high school football team with an 0-10 record.

The 89% Solution Jezum Crow, Batman! The International Speedway Corporation (sister company to NASCAR and the owner of tracks like Daytona and Fontana, amongst many others) saw their profits shrink 89% in the third quarter over the same period last year (and 2008 was hardly a banner year for them, either.) 89%? Even General Motors and Chrysler aren’t bleeding away profits like that. That which Brian France has sown with the Chase, the CoT, and the proliferation of McTracks, he has now begun to harvest — and a bitter harvest it appears it will be. To repeat that old business axiom, the first generation creates, the second generation perfects, and the third generation destroys.

As it stands written in the Book of Bob: “Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, dinchu? People called, said hey beware, you’re bound to fall, you thought they were all kiddingju!”

You have to wonder now if the ISC officials now regret the money they pissed away in their salad days on stuff like cookie-cutter tracks… and, oh, um, I can’t remember the name of that other website in the rear-view mirror.

Racing in the Streets Speaking of the third generation of the France family, two members of that clan had an even worse week than Brian and Lesa studying the ISC balance sheets. J.C. France and his half-brother (sons of Jim France… Bill Junior’s brother) were arrested for street racing, one of them in a Lamborghini and the other in a vehicle I have seen alternatively described as a Porsche Cayenne (a largish ugly version of a VW Toureg, for people who have more money than sense) or a Porsche Cayman (a high-priced sports car for those with the money to buy one, but lacking the balls to drive a Shelby.) Either/or, I suppose. (Back in my tire-selling days, we used to say, “Every rose has its thorns, every thorn has its prick, and every prick has a Porsche.” Oh, calm down. I had a brief dalliance with a 356.)

Worse yet, both men were found to be drunk and in possession of cocaine at the time of their arrest. France is a driver in his dad’s Grand-Am series, but was immediately suspended just like any other driver would be under the drug policy.

I’m not going to make jokes about substance abuse problems, and I’m not going to throw stones. I’ve street-raced myself on occasions too numerous to recall, though too long ago to put a date to. Drunken driving is one of the pressing social problems of our age, but I’m not going to say I’ve never done it. I just don’t do it anymore. And next to meth, I’ve watched cocaine destroy more good people’s lives than any other candy from the devil’s apothecary. I did that dance myself, and quit cold turkey while not necessarily in a tailspin, but with the altimeter shedding numbers at an alarming rate equal to my bank account. That’s some seriously vile crap, and it owns you before you know what hit you. I hope both gentlemen get the help they need.

But here’s what I found galling reading the story: the way the other fellow (not J.C.) jumped down the throat of the arresting female police officer. He demanded to speak to her superior, asking her, “Do you know who I am? We own this town!” referring to the France family, otherwise known as the Daytona Beach Mafia. The clear implication was her career was in danger because she was doing her job.

C’mon, guys. If you get busted street racing, drunk, and holding coke at all hours of the night, I’m thinking a little repentance and remorse is going to serve you better than arrogance and hostility directed at a duly sworn officer of the law.

Now sports car racing has a dark history involving users and purveyors of illicit narcotics, from team owners to drivers. (Remember John Paul, Sr. and Jr.?) Young people, fast cars, fast times, and big bucks don’t always add up too well. But the other part of this story I find irksome is that while Brian France has all but crucified Jeremy Mayfield’s alleged drug usage, the IMSA website was rapidly deleting posts noting, commenting on, and asking about J.C.’s arrest. Double standard?

Well, it’s a Start Perhaps realizing that the problems with TV ratings and declining attendance are real at last, NASCAR made a move this week to standardize race starting times beginning next year. East Coast daylight events will start at 1:00, with cars racing by 1:15. West Coast daylight events will start at 3:00, with genuine racing or some facsimile thereof going by 3:15. Night race start times will also be standardized, with the sole exception of the World 600 due to its extraordinary length. Great idea. I wish I’d thought of it, like, maybe three years ago.

As the fire department sifts through the flames of the wreckage of what was to be the 2009 Cup season, two gems they will be able to salvage for next year are the standardized starting times and the side-by-side restart rules, a glimmer of proof that NASCAR, in the face of rising catastrophe, is finally willing to listen to the fans that keep it in business.

So while we’re at it, let’s schedule Fontana’s races for April 31st and September 31st next year, all while moving Darlington back to Labor Day weekend where it belongs.

Divorce, NASCAR Style Certainly, it hasn’t been an easy year for the RCR teams and drivers, but Kevin Harvick has apparently had enough. In a media interview over the weekend, he at least strongly hinted he tried to get out of his contract for next year and, since he could not, all but said he’ll definitely be moving on after 2010. He used an interesting book analogy to indicate the final chapter is upon him and Childress, claiming it’s better for both parties to finish up and start a new one. Of course, I’d be interested to see Harvick reading a book to see if his lips move to the point they go numb while he does so. But Harvick has made this sort of noise before, back when there were prevalent rumors Toyota was courting him as one of their lead drivers once the Japanese automaker prepared to enter the Cup Series. Harvick leveraged that rumor to get a nice pay increase at RCR.

This time, though, it looks like the departure’s for real … with some real-life consequences. There’s nothing more toxic to a team than having a driver announce he’s jumping ship, and the 29 bunch now have to deal with that scenario for the rest of 2009 and all of 2010. So I feel it would be in RCR’s best interest to tell Harvick if he doesn’t want to come back, hit the highway…as a matter of fact, starting this weekend. That’s how Junior Johnson tended to handle things, anyway. My guess is that RCR has a commitment to Shell that Harvick will remain in the car, and they want another year to find a new sponsor, knowing Shell is probably going to follow Harvick out the door to his new team — which I’d guess would be a third Stewart-Haas entry for 2011.

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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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Bad Wolf
10/15/2009 01:58 AM

Welcome to my world Matt. I stopped watching the Nascar races a couple of years ago and stopped going to Indy, Kansas and Vegas. I still surf over to see what’s going on but that’s about it. Last week every time I checked the race all I saw was Jimmy Johnson all by himself with a strung out parade behind him.

I did catch Brad Dourety responding to the interview of Kasey Kahne. Brad claimed that up in the booth they could see the water bottles thrown on the track that Kasey could not. How does that work? Kasey is on the track and would see anything of importance that was in the groove. Brad was also full of crap as Nascar claimed it was a piece of rubber and not a water bottle. Brad was busted trying for a save of Nascars’ bogus cautions. Real objective bunch of guys in the booth.

Kevin in SoCal
10/15/2009 02:49 AM

Matt said: “Another date rapidly approaching on that same calendar — October 25th, the night we set our clocks back an hour,

Update your calendar, Matt. We’ve been setting our clocks back an hour in the fall on the first Saturday in November for about two years now. Its no longer the last Saturday in October.

Any race where one guy leads almost all of the laps will stink up the show, no matter which track its at.

Bill B
10/15/2009 07:35 AM

I agree with you about the California race Matt. What I don’t understand is why you single that track out. There are at least a few other tracks the same could be said of. In my opinion the Michigan race is often just as boring as the California race. So, what is it about California specifically that makes it stand out from the other lame ass tracks on the schedule?. (Is it just because of the Darlington angle?).

10/15/2009 07:48 AM

I agree about RCR. I wonder if Harvick will suffer the same fate as Junior when he was all but gone from DEI, and be mysteriously given some not so durable engines.

10/15/2009 08:16 AM

matt – time changes in november, not october.

be interseting to see who childress puts in harvick’s ride. his grandson won’t have enough experience to fill that seat, with the history of the ride. i know harvick hasn’t enjoyed living in the shadow of dale. i think there’s always been a bit of friction between harvick and richard. harvick is not the outdoorsman that dale was nor what richard is. yes, harvick did get rcr busch championship. just have to wait and see what happens. interview would have been better if harvick had taken off his shades. personally, i don’t like not being able to see someone’s eyes.

10/15/2009 08:27 AM

I post this with total sincerity , if Fontana really wants to straighten out the mess that is the California Cup races , they need to hire Kevin in SoCal . He is the one consistent cheerleader for NASCAR in Southern California . And i know his ideas would be better than anyone’s currently in charge of putting on racing at Fontana .

Dans Mom
10/15/2009 08:52 AM

Can I get an article from Matt about NASCAR instead of motorcycle rides?

Or maybe an Article about NASCAR in general instead of how PMSing he is that particular weekend. If you hate NASCAR so much, find a new job. I’m not ready to give up on NASCAR but I’m ready to give up on everything McLaughlin

10/15/2009 09:05 AM

Mark, that would be a great idea if Kevin in SoCal actually thought the racing in Fontana needed changing. Apparently from his point of view, everything is peachie keen. At least California can count on Kevin buying tickets every year.

I do agree there are tracks just as boring as CA, but it’s the Darlington thing that stays in my crawl. We loved that race weekend, we planned for that race weekend, and they stole that race weekend.

Dan’s Mom….you’re the kind of person who, when presented with something nauseatingly rank and asked to smell it, you gladly put it to your nose to confirm that point. I mean, why else would you read a column you so obviously dislike and then take the time to comment and tell us how bad it stinks?

10/15/2009 09:06 AM

oh what to do….can get tickets to great seats at ‘dega…go or no go, spend money or save it. oh the decision!

10/15/2009 09:08 AM

No wonder you’re so bitter. 356’s like Harley’s are meant to be lifelong obsessions, not brief dalliances. I may be stuck in the ’60’s with my Panhead, & my 356B Roadster, but there are worse places to be. Fontana on race day for one.

The Turnip
10/15/2009 11:02 AM

Hey Matt, you can’t! You just cannot, print pictures of empty seats at Fontana!

Kevin in SoCal is not going to take kindly to that! He claims the stands were FILLED!

Oh, sorry, all these “people” were shopping at the trailers!


Well, my/our bikes, my wife and I both ride, are in the garage, but ready to go as I am sure we will have another day or two of nice weather to ride, albeit snowing right now here (for real). (West Michigan)

And the trailer is ready to haul them to warmer weather for sure.

But, let me count the empty seats! Nah, can’t count that high!

Kevin in SoCal
10/15/2009 11:03 AM

Thank you, Mark.

Ann, I know things are NOT peachy-keen. However, contrary to most fans opinion around here, I know that Fontana is also NOT guaranteed to be a snore-fest every year. I watch the race with an open mind and look for the lemonade out of the lemons strewn about the track. (Watch out, they’ll cause a debris caution). But some fans are so closed minded and biased, they’ll never admit that Fontana is anything but a dull parade, even if there happens to be a 3-wide race to finish line one year. The February race was actually pretty good this year. The fall race was decent for the first hundred laps, but then once Johnson got hooked up and ran away with it, the excitement level dropped until NASCAR decided to step in.
I would love to see ACS repave the track with 14-16-18* progressive banking, as I mentioned in Mirror Driving. I also wouldnt mind giving up a date to either Iowa or Las Vegas. So open your eyes, Ann, and dont be so closed minded.

Kevin in SoCal
10/15/2009 11:07 AM

Douglas, I never claimed the seats were filled. I simply disagreed with the people saying the stands were 50% full, or 45,000 people. I said I estimated there to be about 65,000 or so, and guess what, the “estimated” attendance was 70,000.
How many empty seats were there for your races in Michigan this year?

The Turnip
10/15/2009 12:14 PM

Well, Kevin in Socal, I no longer go to NA$CRAP at MIS any longer, and it would not disappoint me in any way shape or form if MIS lost a date, or even two! (just a pipe dream),

The “downside” of that to me personally? well, on occasion I go fishin’ with some of the drivers/crews on a Saturday evening after things are done, (mmm, come to thnk of it, didn’t even bother with that this year), and MIS and I have a LONG history together, (was involved on a design review committee as it was being built, yes, I am that old), so while I truly do love MIS, the total NA$CRAP thingy could disappear from MIS in total, it simply ain’t racin anyway)!

And, again 65,000? 70,000? Are you for real? And I kinda think I remember you saying something like “from where I was sitting the stands looked full”!

BUT! Please keep in mind I just like raggin’ on yah! Particularly when I see 50% empty seats (as many other do), and you see “almost” a full house! (ok, my words and interpretation anyway).

Besides, it’s cold, rainy, a light snow at times here, what else do I have to do today?

Just fun!

Keep me in line!

The Turnip
10/15/2009 12:19 PM

Dang, I forgot, this is the classic case of is the glass:




of course, I am the half empty kinda guy!

10/15/2009 12:34 PM

Remember John Paul, Sr. and Jr.?

Didn’t they pay for their team of Porsche 935s with twenties?

10/15/2009 12:59 PM

In your retort to Dan’s Mom, you accuse her of doing exactly what Matt did in his discussion of ACS…watches NASCAR, then writes how much he hates it.

Ya know, folks, there’s drag racing and monster trucks, you don’t have to denigrate NASCAR. The racing is fine. All your whining brought us those 1.5 milers. Enjoi.

10/15/2009 01:08 PM

I would hope Harvick brings KHI to Cup in a couple of years; although he’d be a good fit with Stewart, I’d hate to see Harvick driving a Hendrick car.

Not sure why Richard doesn’t have Leicht driving that #29 in the Nationwide more often; even if Harvick was going to stay there forever, I can’t help but wonder how much longer Burton will stick around… I don’t think he’ll want to be driving into his 50’s.

The Turnip
10/15/2009 01:13 PM

Hey, a brilliant idea from you know who!


I “counted”, as best I could anyway, the section of stands shown in the picture, I count 64 EMPTY SEATS, 60 OCCUPIED!


Is this representative of the attendance at the track? Statistically, YES it is!

A statistical sampling?

Just a thought!

Kevin in SoCal
10/15/2009 04:20 PM

I’m sure there are pictures floating out there that show full grandstands with 99/100 seats taken, too. But in Fontana’s case, the glass is always half-empty, and only the bad pictures are shown.

10/15/2009 04:42 PM

Excellent article! The only thing that I wonder about is “what were the previous years’ profits?” And thanks for the Bob Dylan lyrics, very cool. Another thanks for not mentioning Danica Busbee.

10/15/2009 08:41 PM

Kevin: Hang in there. I was at Fontana and agree with you. The track needs to be changed. It’s too flat and too wide and the COT is a POS. Matt should at least take in a race in person before the negative report every race. I’m a Ford guy and I do think if the Hendrick driver fans stayed home their wouldn’t be enough people to fill one restroom.

10/16/2009 08:44 AM

Kevin, I’m curious…have you ever attended a Cup race in person other than Fontana? I’m just curious since the closest thing to CA is Las Vegas if you ever get an opportunity to visit any tracks on the east coast.

10/16/2009 10:26 AM

Amen! Even my 7 year old son likes to watch the old races better. When he was 3, he could tell you who Richard, Cale, and Bill were (I kinda brain-washed him that way LOL).

I miss Winston Cup. Labor Day at Darlington. Atlanta before the McRemodel. North Wilkesboro.

The only track in California that was half-way interesting was Riverside, and they bulldozed it. Kinda like the rest of the good things in NASCAR.

Henry M
10/16/2009 02:12 PM

I have been to a few races at Michigan and they usually turned into fuel mileage races. So when Penske announced the plans for Calif. as Mich., only with less banking, I knew how it would turn out. I have always said that if CART/IRL can run on a track, then NASCAR should not. Other than a road-course, it will not work out well.

Rich hirtzel
10/16/2009 09:35 PM

Matt. Long time, had your old e-mail address, till the company computer put me on the inactive list….used to have a job….i’ll let you in on a dirty little secret….Maybe its the pink Elephant in the room, you and I keep seeing…..hendrick has to go. the na$car mouse trap has been sprung….figured out….. Got to believe that Harley is more fun than any recent race…..such excitment…….Oh,…. their taking the cars to Charlotte….slap on the wirst…….dey, ja vu?
Time to treat him like those show bikes that win all the trophy’s at EVERY show. ….come on winning 4 “what ever the call them things” … in a row……. Where’s the excitment in that?
put them in a retired/former winner class.

i.e I’ve become really bored with na$car……20+ years of not missing a race at Michigan (in person….and atleast one other race every year or so) & hardly a week end not missed on tv…….Its all gone now…….
Jayski now gets more attention from me (due mostly to its 24/7 availability) Matt….tired of the asian cars and the convicted felon, rick hendrick jaugernaut…….He’s got to go… the sport is dying.
p.s. I now buy tickets to NHRA/Norwalk in June to satisfy my need for speed….. Matt those Screaming Eagles are cool, up close,…… yeah you can still do that……