Mike Neff · Monday May 23, 2011
The All-Star race is still the best All-Star event in professional sports. The competitors legitimately race all out like they do every week and the potential is there for fireworks between drivers as the event draws near its conclusion because the disparity between first and second place money is so great. Unfortunately, over the last few years the race has seemed to be more bark than bite, with all sorts of advertising and hype being put forth in advance of the event but most of the racing on the track not living up to it. The product is definitely great and still brings in a ton of fans, but there are a few things that could be altered that very well might make the night even better.
One of the elements of the race that used to add quite a bit of excitement was the invert. There were several different methods utilized to determine how many cars would be inverted which were designed to prevent drivers from sandbagging in order to have the best position to restart the final segment. Whatever the methodology, the invert put the cars that were running the best back in the pack and added excitement by forcing them to maneuver around cars that were not quite as good to get back to the front. The race would definitely benefit from having some kind of invert procedure that would put the best cars back in the pack, but give them more laps to make up those positions.
Another idea that has been floated from time to time but never implemented is having some sort of a heat structure. The field would be split into two separate heat races and four or five cars would transfer to the main event from each of the heat races. Then a last chance heat race would qualify one or two drivers for the main event. In conjunction with that format the Showdown would revert back to one driver transferring to the All-Star race and one fan vote driver. The Showdown is a race designed for people who have not qualified for the main event, it should not be setting 10% or more of the All-Star field. Having the heat races and the last chance race would provide three different races, in addition to the Showdown, that would involve some desperation driving where drivers are faced with the prospect of elimination more than once during the evening. A final elimination scenario that could also be added would be an implementation of the Australian rules to the main event where every lap or few laps the driver in last place must pull out of the race. It would add excitement to the back of the pack as well as the front.
One eligibility rule that should be revisited is the past champions and previous winners entries. Instead of putting a limit of 10 years on their eligibility, any past Cup Champion or All-Star winner who has raced in the current or previous season should be granted entry into the race. That would afford those champions the kind of recognition they deserve no matter how long in the tooth or how far into their careers they might be. It would most likely increase the size of the fields slightly and would allow older race fans the chance to cheer for their heroes again.
One of the elements of the All-Star event that seems to detract from the intense racing is that many of the teams, when they realize they can’t compete for the win, and some of them from the drop of the green flag, use the event as a test session for the Coca-Cola 600. Moving the event to the middle of the Summer would eliminate a large amount of that testing mentality, although it will never be completely removed. With the race taking place in July or August, the night race would be a welcome respite from the heat of a Summer day in Charlotte and would be an ideal midway break. One drawback to this idea is that the July race at Daytona has been traditionally the midway break.
The final suggestion to give an all or nothing feel to the event is eliminate the prize money for anyone other than the winners of whatever format the racing in the event takes. The winner of the Showdown would take home a set prize amount and the winner of any heat races would take home an amount and then the winner of the main event would take home a million dollars. Running for a million dollars is obviously a big incentive for any race car driver but, when faced with the potential of going home with a million dollars or nothing the incentive grows extensively. Getting over losing a million dollar race is a lot easier when you still take home over $200,000. Drivers will most certainly put their nose in places they normally wouldn’t when the difference is a check or no check.
The bottom line is that the drivers put on a great show every week in the Sprint Cup series and they’re currently putting on the same show with some slightly hightened enthusiasm in the All-Star race. However, there used to be more excitement and more desperation involved when the money in the sport wasn’t as big. A million dollars is still a lot of money to anyone, but the difference between Rusty Wallace dumping Darrell Waltrip for $240,000 or Dale Earnhardt running wide open in the grass of the infield and the gentlemanly nature of the events the last few years is night and day. The fans have shown they appreciate the All-Star race in Charlotte by showing for years and again this year with what looked like 100,000 people by the time the race started. In return they deserve to see a show like the ones that built the All-Star race into the spectacle that it was and should be and that can happen if there is more desperation involved.
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