Dear Mr. France,
Thank you for taking the time to pen your recent letter to the fans. It is great to know that you took the time from your busy schedule to reach out to us and let us know what you feel about the sport is working so well. For those of us who have the passion and enthusiasm that you speak of have stuck around this long, holding out hope that things will get better and get us closer to the sport we fell in love with. As you note, there were some highlights and lowlights this season and we know that will happen every year.
We’d just like to see a few more highlights and that would help us look past the lowlights.
The Chase for the Cup has definitely provided what you state it was intended to do. There have been more close finishes in the series points in the last 10 years than there were in the previous 50 years of the sport. Unfortunately, the racing that goes on to make drivers eligible for that Chase and once The Chase starts, is some of the least aggressive racing in the 60+ years of the sport. The financial ramifications of not making The Chase are so dire for drivers that they simply cannot take a chance on gaining a position if it offers an equal opportunity of a terrible finish. The uninspired “points racing” has watered down the races to a point that the majority of them are nearly unwatchable. Some change to the points to encourage racing throughout events, rewarding drivers who pass the most cars and finish near the front would certainly act as an incentive for drivers to race harder.
In the end, close point races don’t make up for boring racing, and that is what we currently have in our sport.
The racing can be improved, as you noted in your letter, but for some reason one of the biggest items that should be altered does not appear to be anywhere on the radar of things that are being considered. Three of the best races this season were Fontana, Atlanta, and Homestead. All three of these races had extensive passing, including on-track passes for the lead. They also had one thing in common that most other races did not: tires that were used during the race wore out and gave up grip. The majority of the races on the schedule saw tires that were incredibly hard and did not give up any grip during their life cycle on the car.
As a result, the teams and drivers would go as hard as they could from the beginning to the end of a fuel run without concern for the state of the tires. In the three races mentioned above, the drivers had to worry about the state of their tires and the ones who were able to care for their tires were able to make ground at the end of runs. Other drives would pit early and the strategies involved put teams in different pit windows and ultimately made the racing much more exciting. The bottom line is that Goodyear needs to develop tires that wear out by the end or before the end of a fuel run if they are pushed. Provided the knowledge is given to the fans so they don’t hold it against Goodyear, there should be no negative impact to the company. The key is letting the fans know that tires may fail and it is the fault of the teams, not the tires.
The Gen-6 car that was introduced this year does look more like the cars on the street, but that is not much of a stretch considering the previous car only had headlight decals that vaguely matched the street versions. While it was a step in the right direction, a big step in the wrong direction was the increased downforce created by the car. It generated higher speeds in qualifying and also resulted in fewer passes for the lead on the track. Instead of more downforce there needs to be less so that there is less dependency on the air coming around the car in front. The best way to accomplish that would be to make the front of the car mimic the street cars as well. Get rid of the splitter and the valence and get the nose off of the ground. The air going under the car will help reduce the aero-push of the cars behind. The other bonus will be that the cars will slow down because they won’t be stuck to the track and cannot go through the corners nearly as quickly.
The best racing in the national touring series is in the Truck Series and it is no coincidence that they are the slowest vehicles that compete at the national level.
The biggest problem that your company faced in 2013 was integrity. Between the upheaval after Richmond and the myriad of phantom debris cautions, the national series needs to have much more transparency. The first thing that needs to happen is debris cautions must be verified on television. Whether there is a TV camera in the safety trucks to confirm what debris is picked up or every official who has the ability to call for a caution needs to have a camera so that fans can see what brought out the caution. Secondly, the speeds on pit road need to be publicly available. Lap times and scoring are available to all of the teams on pit road, there is no reason that they shouldn’t also be given access to the pit road speeds for everyone in the events.
The sanctioning body that you oversee is not only responsible for the national series, it is also responsible for the future of the sport. That future is at the local, short track level. The single best thing that NASCAR could do for local short tracks is forget about making money on them for a year and instead spend some money to ensure they are viable for the future. The vehicles that compete at the national level are some of the safest on the planet. Requiring SAFER barriers at that level is a great idea, but it is the last race tracks on earth where they should be required.
The speedways that make up the NASCAR Home Tracks are where SAFER barriers are needed the most. When people are building cars in their garage in their spare time to go out and race on a weekend on a shoestring budget, they are far more likely to cut some safety corners. If NASCAR went to all of their Home Tracks and installed SAFER barriers at their cost, rather than the cost of the tracks, they would prove that they truly care about the well-being of all of their racers, not just the superstars who have made it to the national level.
Finally, NASCAR is a business and we fans completely understand that. You, your family, and the other partners who run the sport deserve to make money when the product is successful. One thing that will help the product be successful is cultivating fans and participants for the future. That does not happen when all of the national series are competing on the same race tracks. The Truck series was started as an homage back to the roots of NASCAR; it was about getting back to the short tracks and the bullrings that were the home of Cup races before the influx of the corporate money in the early 1970s. Putting the trucks back on the short tracks and away from the big speedways will allow fans to start following drivers and get excited about the sport in places where the Cup drivers seldom, if ever race.
The two things that will make that happen is the previously mentioned SAFER barrier installation at all of the short tracks so that they are eligible to host Truck Series events, and a reduction of the sanctioning fees to make it affordable for those small venues to host the races. Retail businesses use loss leaders to get people in the door to purchase more and bigger items; using the trucks to get people in the door will hook them on the sport and the personalities that they will then follow to the Nationwide and Cup series, building the fan base for the future.
It isn’t necessary to give the races away for free, but covering most of the expenses for the officials and equipment to officiate the race should be all you need to receive from the tracks.
The sport of stock car racing sprang from the hearts and souls of racers across this great nation, and the fans have poured their lives and hard earned money into supporting their mutual passion and respect for the sport. They deserve a product that is legitimate, fair, and exciting. The future is in question at this point in time Mr. France. Please focus on building the sport and making it better for generations to come.
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