The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: Pocone and Pocotwo? A Solution to Pocono's Supposed Problems by Matt McLaughlin -- Wednesday June 2, 2010

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I must admit, as a guy who has called Pennsylvania home for going on four decades now I feel a great deal of affection for the Pocono track. I won’t claim it’s the best one on the circuit (that honor belongs to either Darlington or Richmond) or that it provides the sort of constant side-by-side excitement that once was Bristol. But I have witnessed some outstanding races at Pocono. I remember in particular Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s last lap, land-rush finish in 2001, Jeremy Mayfield knocking Dale Earnhardt the original aside on the last lap in 2000, and Tim Richmond’s emotional comeback win in 1987. (Unfortunately, I’ve also seen some terrible crashes there, too, including wrecks that almost killed Bobby and Davey Allison, Harry Gant, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon.)

Naturally, my recollections and reflections of Pocono are colored by the fact I attended a lot of race weekends there with my friends, as chronicled in the infamous 1313 Turkey Court column a few years back. By and large, I believe the statue of limitations is up on those shenanigans, so I’ll admit those were some of the best weekends of my life. It was male bonding at its best and beeriest, irresponsible operation of various types of off-road vehicles in pursuit of no trophy or points but mere bragging rights, campfires, raw in the center burgers, tall tales, outright lies, and that now taboo taste of a first beer at breakfast. Growing older is a wonder after all those weekends. Growing up sucks. Yeah, Pocono race weekends and those memories still make me grin.

But based on my email and comments from readers on my columns, Pocono is not universally beloved. (Let me state one basic truism; any race you attend live is better than the same race watched on TV). There are constant complaints from various members of the media that the 500-mile race distances are way too long and they need to be shortened to 400, or even 300 miles. A lot of Pocono races start off well and end well, but do tend to drag in the center as teams and drivers battle attrition rather than each other. Others argue that Pocono should lose one or both race dates.

Balderdash.

A Pocono doubleheader could increase ticket sales and TV ratings as well as entertain those fans who dislike the middle portions of a race.

Pocono is just about equidistant from two of the largest and most coveted TV markets in the country: New York City and Philadelphia. Other attempts to break into the NYC market, most recently the ISC’s proposed Staten Island track, have failed miserably. Perhaps NASCAR ought to just steal a page from Joliet and rename Pocono “New York-Land Speedway,” thus being able to boast they have a track in the market. I’m told by people paid to understand and care about such things that the Pocono track has the largest potential pool of race attendees within 300 miles of any NASCAR track other than Fontana. And let’s face it: Fontana well and truly sucks. That track is always going to suck until they level the place to the ground, turn over every last teaspoon of earth, and start over with an oversized Richmond layout.

I think any reasonable person would also agree that Pocono is not the only Cup track where the action tends to die down during the middle stages of the event. In fact, that phenomenon has become almost universal in Cup racing everywhere, from Martinsville to Talladega. Most weekends, it seems all but a handful of drivers are on cruise control until the final fifty miles of the race before they finally get down to getting after it. As I’ve said before, it’s difficult for the MTV generation to devote three-and-a-half hours to a sporting event that really only sizzles in the final twenty minutes. I don’t know how to fix that, though no less an authority than Humpy Wheeler proposes a points system that awards points for each and every pass of another driver. (I have my doubts as to how that would work, with teammates letting each other pass and repass, but I’m willing to study any written proposal the inestimable Mr. Wheeler might put forth.)

So no, I don’t have a definite answer on how to fix the product. But I do know this much: if the end of the race is the best part of the race, two ends to the race beats one.

So how about this? We take the two 500-mile Pocono races and split them into four 250-mile races. (Or, OK, maybe two 200-mile races). I’m open to awarding either full points or half points for each event. After the first race, the teams get a half-hour break during which they can change springs, shocks, or any other such work that can be accomplished in a half-hour period. After that, the field lines up in the reverse order of how they finished in the first race, with the exception of those drivers and teams who failed to finish the first race. They’d line up in the rear of the field in their backup cars. Then, everyone would have back at it again.

Think about it. If your favorite driver failed to win the first race, maybe he’d fare better in the second. We’d have twice as many beginnings and ends to races — the best part — and half of the middle-stages, the parts that tend to drag. Casual fans might choose to watch only the first or second race, not both, but that’s still going to help TV ratings if they watch one or another. A special points or cash bonus could also be reserved for the driver with the best overall finish in both races, giving the fastest drivers with the fastest cars extra incentive to get to the front and stay there. The system works very well in motocross, and I think it would work just fine in Cup racing. As an added benefit, the TV networks could offload a lot of their advertising breaks during the half-hour of downtime, leaving them more time to cover racing action live.

Yeah, I know this idea is controversial. Some of you are going to despise it altogether, and are already salivating at letting me have it in the comments section below. I admit this is a break from the norm for me, a normally hidebound traditionalist. I’ll happily sit through a 500-mile race at Pocono; the problem is, I fear there’s not enough other hidebound traditionalists left to sit elbow-to-elbow with me in the two tiers of grandstand seating and the massive infield of the track. The way I see it, any type of racing at Pocono beats none at all …

In baseball, double-header tickets are among the most coveted by the fans. Maybe it holds true for stock car racing as well; and if the idea works at Pocono, there are some other tracks that could look at Daily Doubles to reinvigorate interest in their events.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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noel_w
06/03/2010 01:25 AM
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Matt: I’ve only ever been to one Pocono race. An IndyCar event long before Tony George decided to murder open wheel racing in cold blood. Those cars went so fast that I couldnt even tell which color the blur was before it was at turn 1. That actually made me never want to go to a NASCAR race there. Pocono is my second closest track (Watkins Glen being the closest), but I used to drive to Dover so I can see more of the event.
I agree whole heartedly with your assessment that any race is better live than on tv. Except the road courses. To stand around for 3 hours to watch the car drive along a 200 meter section of track 90 times is as much fun as a root canal. The weekend of drunken debauchery makes it survivable.

Your plan could be adopted at every track not just Pocono. I am usually completely against major deviations from the historic traditions of the sport. But after spending the last few years in a coma most of Sunday afternoon, I’m ready for a change.
Let me make a suggestion on the points:

  1. Do away with the top 35 rule. The fastest 43 cars that pass inspection start the race.
  2. Award 10 points for the pole.
  3. End the 5 points for leading a lap. Instead award 15 points for leading the most laps.
  4. Only award points and money for completing 75% race distance.
  5. Award 200 points for the win, 150 points for second, 125 points for third, 112 points for fourth, then decrease each position by 1 point throughout the field. Fifth place gets 111, 6th gets 110…

It would create a podium style points award where there is a huge bonus to win. If someone has a DNF, they don’t lose so many points, but can make up ground easily with a top 3 finish.
It would also end the start and park phenomenon as no money and no points defeats the purpose of parking the car. There would also be no more buying/selling/trading of car numbers to guarantee a start.

As an answer to your question about Humpy’s idea, just don’t award points to passes made on teammates.

PBFred
06/03/2010 03:54 AM
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I live 30 minutes from Fontana, and I’ve said for years now that Fontana shouldn’t have 2 races. But I’ve been saying that about Pocono before Fontana was opened.

The first several races at Fontana were actually pretty good, 4 wide racing, basically something that had never been seen before. But the track weathered in poorly over the years and needs to be tore down and rebuilt. Texas and Homestead have done it, the other 2 newest Cup tracks.

One other thought about Fontana is to make one of the races a Roval. I saw a Grand Am race there and the roval course was actually pretty good.

When it comes to Pocono though, about the only thing that used to be consistently exciting was the guys that set up their cars to shift during the back straight, compared to those who didn’t. With the rear-end rule now, that is no longer an option.

The racing there is just downright boring for 95% of the race (which can be said for most races these days). I really wish that they would take at least one race away from it and give it to a more deserving track.

The one track I always suggest that should have 2 dates is Vegas. The HUGE difference with a race weekend in Las Vegas is that the NASCAR experience doesn’t stop when you leave the track. Go to any casino and you will see the 100,000+ fans (and probably family that didn’t buy tickets) “flying” their favorite driver’s colors. So just sitting down at a bar can lead to meeting NASCAR fans. It sounds like the closest thing to camping at a track, which I’ve yet to do, as it gets. Plus Vegas has gone out of its way to help fans get to and from the track, clearing up the 4 hour 10 mile drive, each way, they had when the track first opened. They even route you across the Airforce base now.

BTW, I don’t know how Pocono’s fan experience has been over the years, but Fontana seems to go out of its way to make it worse and worse… to the point I refuse to go see a race there any more, not because the track is boring, but because of the way they literally harass their paying customers. (I could go on for a few hours about this if you want to hear it.)

The ideas about changing the point system or splitting the races up all have valid points. But I don’t think many of them would make NASCAR excel above the rest.

I do like the idea of points being rewarded for the pole though. But then again, getting that first pit position is such an advantage that you are basically being given points already. Even Earnhardt said he owed a couple of his Championships to the days in which the reigning Champ got the first pit stall for the season. Even with JJ’s bad luck these days, how close to think the points races would have been if that was still the case the past 3 seasons?

Kevin from PA
06/03/2010 09:02 AM
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Pocono used to be better when the gear settings allowed it to be a “roval”. I remember they used to have a camera showing the different foot work between guys who liked to treat it like a road course and the guys who drove it like a normal track. In recent years, I really have not seen a difference.

Visiting a track 2x in a month makes little sense. Been saying this since ’03 but NASCAR REALLY needs to look at their schedule.

It would be like your favorite NFL; baseball; whatever team playing the same teams in the same order year after year due to the NFL; baseball; whatever a) owning half of the stadiums and b) being just too lazy to make improvements.

Until then – sorry – despite where I live I never plan to go to Pocono (heard very bad reports from friends who went there; apparently half of the track is not visible due to the size of the track) nor do I wish to view what has recently been a bigger snooze fest than Fontana.

Ann
06/03/2010 09:32 AM
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Matt, the race is basically broken into two 500 lap segments split by 5 weeks. A ridiculous scheduling mistake that was never corrected. I have been to two races at Pocono and will not be back. The only thing worse than not being able to see the entire Pocono track, is road racing where the only part of the track visible is the corner where you sit.

Marshall
06/03/2010 09:53 AM
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Statute of limitations, not statue. A statue is a structure.

wcfan
06/03/2010 11:32 AM
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Noel W.

You and Matt both have some good Ideas. The only thing that worries me about more points for the winner is, I remember back in the late 80’s early 90’s when Rusty either won(10+ wins) or DNF and if only the winner got more points he may have still won Championship.

I really like your idea of NO POINT OR MONEY if you do not complete at 75% of the race(this could be fine tuned some, but would fix many more problems then it would create.)

C6R
06/03/2010 11:33 AM
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Ann—Five weeks? Try eight weeks between the two races. It used to be that both POCONO and NHIS were about six weeks apart but NASCAR scheduling changes made several years ago kept spreading out the time between races. June 6 and August 1 are not five weeks apart!

Matt-While I like the concept of splitting the race into two 200 contests, how do you handle someone like Davey Allison in 1992 who not only destroys his car in a wreck but is too shaken/injured to return to action that same day? I’ve been to POCONO for at least one race every year since 1992. Once you figure out the shortcuts and the traffic issues, its not really a bad place. Quite frankly, getting home from POCONO at 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon is much easier than getting home from Charlotte/Lowes at 11:30 on a Saturday night.

Mike
06/03/2010 12:01 PM
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Hey – if the NHRA can shake things up with 4 wide drag racing, why can’t NASCAR try something innovative? The racing has gotten tepid in the last few years, so maybe its time to try something new. I totally agree with fastest 43 start. Unlike drag racing, NASCAR’s slogan is ‘Go fast as you can, or go to your points…’

I’ve been to a number of Pocono races; but, not in the last 20 years. Like you, I think I remember the “experience” more than the actual race – although I’m pretty sure Bill Elliott (remember him?) won pretty much every time I was there.

Do they still let you buy a pit road pass and stand on pit road during practice and qualifying? That was always $20 well spent! I have video of Rich Vogler practicing his car before flying out to compete in the Sprint Car race at Salem Speedway that night. I was standing next to Bob Dotter’s ARCA pit where he was busy fixing up his car that had fallen off the (open) trailer on the PA turnpike… Rusty Wallace almost ran me down as he was coasting into the garage area when I was crossing – not really paying as much attention as I should have been. Was able to meet Alan Kulwicki and discuss being an owner/driver for a few moments – and got to meet Ned Jarrett, someone who I’ve always admired and appreciated as a connection to the sport’s past.

You’re totally right – being at the track is much better than seeing it on TV.

noel_w
06/03/2010 12:18 PM
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@ WCFan: I agree the 10 win or DNF scenario could present a problem, but I think that a 50 point difference between 1st and 2nd would make people fight much harder for the win than the current 10 point difference.
I guess that the ultimate point is, that there are no one step quick fixws to the quagmire NASCAR finds itself in.

JPE
06/03/2010 12:32 PM
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Not that anyone cares —especially Brian France et al but…

Get rid of both races at California, one at Pocono, one at Michigan, one at Charlotte, Texas, Chicago, Kansas, and one each at New Hampshire and Las Vegas.

Add race back to Rockingham, add one to Iowa, the road course in Birmingham, AL,the short track at Irwindale, CA. Use the balance to shorten the season.

Oh, lose the IROC,err COT, template and put stock front end / decks & make ‘em look like frappin stock cars again.

DoninAjax
06/03/2010 12:34 PM
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Run the race on the 3/4 mile track.

Mike
06/03/2010 12:35 PM
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noel_w –

Not sure it would be beneficial to not pay for finishing less than 75% race distance. What happens if there’s a wreck early on, and a car is out? Lots of risk for the car owner, no reward. Employees still need to get paid, and the team has the same travel expenses as the other teams. Plus -what happens to the money? Split among the other teams? Track owner keeps it? (Rich get richer)

At the end of the day, what’s worse – start & park drivers, or 20 car fields? Its a tough call…

wcfan
06/03/2010 12:56 PM
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Noel W
I agree there are no quick easy fixes. I believe a big part(not the only problem) is the HUGE AMOUNT of money these drivers(yes it is dangerous) earn for running mid pack(how many of these guys who have ONLY A HANDFUL of wins OWN more then one plane and a helo or two?)

As the story goes Dale raced TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE (not a problem today, when start and parks teams are “stealing” a couple million a year. The start and parks are making more then some champions won in a year and more then a few made in their careers)

While I believe money is a big part of the problem, I also think if nasacr took money away from the championship prize money and gave it to race winners this would help(winners gets extra $100-$150,000 for each win)

Rob
06/03/2010 12:56 PM
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Hmmm, the racing is boring over the past few years? Gee, the COT must have something to do with it. Let the nose look like a real car (wait til the Nationawide races have the new nose, people are gonna go nuts). Let em use whatever spring they want (I never understood that rule), and let em use the gear ratio they want. Why do they limit this stuff anyway? It takes the imagination out of the crew chief. Let em use their brains!!!

wcfan
06/03/2010 01:17 PM
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Mike
Start and parks are much worse. I would much rather see teams that intended to race make more money then paying teams just for qualifing.

With start and parks, we still have short fields

Rob
I read yesterday (I believe on this site) A Indy car owner or crew chief said the only owners/teams who DID NOT LIKE TESTING were the one already on top.

In nascar the only teams that like the current rules are the ones that have made them work. ie Hendricks (before return of spoiler)if they don’t win the championship and the most races watch Rick start asking for changes.

15

Richard in N.C.
06/03/2010 02:16 PM
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The guys I know who go to Pocono every year from Phildelphia love it and I really enjoy watching the Pocono races. Where else do you have to be concerned about a fog delay?

At the same time, any races so uniformly disliked by the press (because they are inconvenienced?) will always be a favorite of mine.

Ann
06/03/2010 02:22 PM
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Instead of having to finish 75% of the race, the teams should at least be made to prove their car is unable to return to the race before they can pack up and go home with check in hand.

The Mad Man
06/03/2010 02:51 PM
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I think the COT and the mandated gear rules pretty much screwed up The racing at Pocono. the races were a lot more exciting when the drivers could shift. It really became something of an endurance test to see who blew out their engines and transmissions and who didn’t. The solution is simple. Get rid of the COT and the mandated gear rules. However, getting the solution implemented isn’t simple because of the simpletons ruining things.

Keith
06/03/2010 03:19 PM
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Matt, your are right about Pocono and Fontana having a lot of people within 300 miles but Dover might have more than all of them including 250 miles of ocean to the east. If Pocono and Fontana were better race tracks they might have INDY size crowds at them not a bunch of empty seats like Fontana.

toomuchcountry
06/03/2010 03:59 PM
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Any track whose early Indy races were sponsored by Schaefer Beer is good in my book. Have never been there – but on short list of places I want to visit.

Henry M
06/03/2010 04:19 PM
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I would be willing to try anything there, it could not hurt.

I hate the gear rule, let them shift. For Pocono & the road courses, allow 5-speed transmissions & run any gear that you want.

If you over-rev & blow-up, it is your own fault!

Mike
06/03/2010 05:02 PM
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wc_fan –

I disagree about having a real short field, versus a field with S&P teams. F1 had really short fields a few seasons back, and all it really did was amplify the better funded teams. Same with the IRL. People think that when some team come to the track that its all about the check. I don’t think any owner could justify the expense of doing that for a $10,000 check. They need to be seen to possibly attract sponsors to their team – if they don’t come to the race, I have as good a chance as they do to attract a sponsor – sitting at home. Maybe their budgets only allow them to run a certain number of laps before they’re throwing money away. Plus, if they’re out of the top 35, the odds are already stacked against them even making some of the shows. Finishing money gives at least a little incentive to these owners to show up.

As much as I understand that the concept is somewhat distasteful, I don’t think its as bad for the sport as some people seem to think – as long as they’re not a hinderance on the track. Its not really as blatant as appearance money – but, is probably as important to the teams, tracks, and NASCAR.

wcfan
06/03/2010 06:39 PM
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Mike

While I will admit that I do not know what would happen if nascar had short fields, I’m talking about going back to the 36 car fields not 20 or 25 car fields.

These start and park teams are making MUCH MORE then $10,000 a race. If the same team started every race this year and EARNED THE SMALLEST check he still would have “earned” approx. $1,160,000 for 13 races or an average of $89,000 per race.

While there are teams that are trying to actually get into Cup racing and do have to start and park to make the money to fund their race team. But right now we have owners who are making a career out of this trend.
Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek both “earned” approx. $2,400,000 last year for 30 “races” or an average of $78,000.

These teams are breaking no rules and nascar has allowed and even encouraged this practice by rewarding these teams.
Nascar could discourage this if the only paid expenses to these teams.(If there was NO PROFIT TO BE MADE there would be less teams doing this, allowing teams that WANT to race (that are underfunded and slow(still need to meet min. speed)the chance.

DansMom
06/03/2010 08:42 PM
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A bunch of knee-jerk reactions… keep things how they are.

wcfan
06/03/2010 09:28 PM
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23

gregg
06/04/2010 01:45 AM
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I loye how it is now. That way i do not have to go to the races or watch them on tv

Mike
06/04/2010 08:21 AM
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But right now we have owners who are making a career out of this trend.

Yes, but its hard to be able to tell whether a team is purposely doing this, or is simply incapable of making a go of racing. Its frustrating to think that at the pinnacle of oval track racing there is even the whiff of this happening; but, it is going on in ALL professional sports. The Florida Marlins and LA Clippers come to mind pretty quickly – teams that are owned to make money, not necessarily to compete as the average fan might expect they would. As you say, they’re not breaking any rules – so, I’m not really sure what you can do to punish them… They’re just using the sport to line their pockets.

Given that, I’m still not inclined to see NASCAR start to estimate a team’s intent in entering a race.

BTW – I checked on the purses for last place, and I stand corrected – the money doesn’t suck; but, still – I can’t say I wouldn’t like to make that paycheck each race either!

When I first started watching Cup races, I recall watching a guy race who apparently won the lottery, and ‘decided to go Cup racing’ on his winnings. He was just living out a fantasy – is that worse than being a S&P racer?

Have a great weekend!

babydufus
06/04/2010 09:05 AM
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it’s so crazy it just might work! Then again any solution might be better than status quo.

TSR
06/04/2010 09:32 AM
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A simple way to solve many of these racing (or lack thereof) issues is to score points for positions of every lap rather than just the last one.

This way you can’t ride around until the end because you give up too many potential points.

wcfan
06/04/2010 09:49 AM
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Mike
Had never really thought of this happening in other sports, but you are right there are teams out just for the money and not actually trying to win. Good point.

I will also agree it would be a slippery slope trying to do much to punish these teams, because intent is hard to prove. But it is frustrating to watch Prism, Tommy Baldwin and Joe Nemechek Motorsports (To me it would be different if these were “outsiders” men who had never contributed to the sport, but these owners/drivers grew up around the sport). continue to go to the track(at least the second year) with little intent of racing. How many times has Dave Blaney qualified in top 10 only to run a handful of laps. If I was a sponser I would like to see that this car/driver is capable of finishing BEFORE I INVESTED MONEY in them. I read somewhere that Dave Blaney was making $5,000 a week, Not bad for a couple hours work.

It is also hard to watch teams like #26 & 90 go home(yes the are slow, but at times Top 35 cars have been slower) when the have the “intent” to race the whole race

Mike
06/04/2010 11:09 AM
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wc_fan –

but these owners/drivers grew up around the sport

I suppose that this is the only way that they can continue to be around the sport – hopefully until they can figure out a way to be more competitive.

Sponsors are strange too. As a normal fan, you’d naturally assume that they want to have a successful relationship with a team – but, what is that success? The cornerstone of a national marketing campaign; or, the ability of a small business to get his name on a car and bring current and prospective clients to a national touring series race or three as VIP guests of the team? As Dennis Miller once said, “that alone ought to convey to you the whore-like nature of my existence”. Everyone is using everyone else for their own purposes. Teams, sponsors, track owners, and NASCAR are all trying to do whatever they can to keep the money rolling in.

If the by-product of that is that the racing gets better, then I suppose its worth it. But, if the product is being cheapened, then the fans will (continue?) to leave. I think this is where Matt is coming from when he gets nostalgic in his columns. I tend to agree with the trend he is reporting. IMO, big money was the death knell for what the sport once was. The days of racing for a box of donuts is LONG GONE – unless it carries a sponsorship package for the team and driver!

wcfan
06/04/2010 11:18 AM
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Mike
I agree and enjoyed “talking” to you, see you in another column.

24Crazy
06/04/2010 02:44 PM
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Mike
“At the end of the day, what’s worse – start & park drivers, or 20 car fields? Its a tough call…” Not a tough call… I say 20 cars all RACING

gmaness
06/04/2010 04:32 PM
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With the modern electronic scoring … it would be very well possible to have a Point System that paid points based on the running order of every single lap! Of course, the BIG (POINTS) PAYOFF would still be the finishing order … and do recall NASCAR once had a point system that awarded points for every lap a driver completed in addition to the points at the finish.

Such a system would probably require the points be paid as fractions (i.e. 1.000 point for leading, .975 for second, .950 for third, etc., etc. — and would have to be adjusted per track for the number of laps in the race)… … but, that would place an incentive on passing every lap and throughout the entire field.

noel_w
06/04/2010 10:54 PM
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Mike and WCFan: I’m sorry I took a day off and missed your great debate. You both make excellent points. I myself hate the idea of start and park teams. I don’t think NASCAR needs 43 teams on track if only 35 show up to race.
In the end it’s a moot point. Brian France and NASCAR don’t listen to the fans that care about the sport. Just the idiots that have watched 3 races and threaten not to come back for a fourth.