The Frontstretch: NASCAR Mailbox: Humpy's Hardline Approach by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday August 15, 2013

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NASCAR Mailbox: Humpy's Hardline Approach

Summer Bedgood · Thursday August 15, 2013


Goodness, there has been a lot of breaking news this week, hasn’t there? Austin Dillon is replacing Tony Stewart. Brian Vickers will be a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver next season. Juan Pablo Montoya is out at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover the race weekend at Watkins Glen.

Remember when Silly Season used to be over the offseason, making an otherwise quiet couple of months something to keep fans engaged? Now, silly season is yearlong and drivers normally announce that they are leaving a team and where they will be racing the next year over the course of the season.

It creates conversation, sure, but by Wednesday we were already done talking about the race. Instead, it was about Stewart’s replacement and whether or not NASCAR could possibly go on without Juan Pablo Montoya.

Ok, so maybe I exaggerated a little bit there. Still, though, the musical cars game that is played in NASCAR tends to distract us all from the reason we’re all here in the first place: racing. Yes, drivers switching teams do have relevance on track and it’s much more interesting when Driver X crashes in a contract year than when he spins randomly in qualifying.

However, is that really the point? Do we really enjoy gossiping more about who hates who on pit road than watching the cars divebomb into turn three on the last lap? It sometimes feels like the former receives more excitement than the latter.

And don’t you Grumpy Gusses say it’s totally the media’s fault either. Sure we write the headlines and talk about it ourselves, but you still click the links. You still read the and engage with us on social media. It’s why we keep talking about it. Look, I’m just as guilty of any at getting sucked into silly season speculation as opposed to discussing the on-track competition. It’s easy to do.

But, man, we’re all here for the racing. Can’t we just focus on that for a while?

Oh, wait hold that thought …. I have to finish my piece about where Montoya will race next yar.

Now, onto your questions:

“I know Austin Dillon probably thinks he’s getting a great opportunity to drive for Tony Stewart with this deal, but I read he’s missing qualifying to do this. Has he forgotten that he still has a championship to win?” Candice

I think Dillon sees this as a “short term loss, long term gain” situation. His ultimate goal is the Sprint Cup Series, and I think he’d prefer some laps in a Sprint Cup car than participate in a non-points paying on-track part of the weekend in Mid-Ohio.

The only issue I have with that is the fact that road course racing is not by any means a track where qualifying doesn’t matter. Though the Nationwide Series cars aren’t nearly as aero sensitive as the Sprint Cup cars, and road courses aren’t as prone to that type of issue anyway, the layout of road courses make passing in a stock car inherently more difficult. I don’t have to know a lot about Mid-Ohio to know that this will likely be the case this weekend.

Would RCR – and Chevrolet – let Austin Dillion subbing in the No. 14 interfere with his title pursuits in the iconic No. 3? Unlikely at best.

However, if Richard Childress Racing, Stewart Haas Racing, and all of the sponsors involved are ok with it, I don’t see any real reason for it to be a big deal to the rest of us.

“Summer, you criticize fans all of the time for complaining too much. So, did you see the video with Humpy Wheeler? He says the same things we are!! Are you really going to tell HIM he’s wrong?? PAY ATTENTION!!” Robert

I saw his comments, Robert, yes, and you may be shocked to find out I don’t fully disagree with him. Though I wasn’t a regular NASCAR viewer in the ’90s, I know enough about the history of the sport to know that the popularity of the sport soared in the 90s and, to an extent, the early 2000s. Everything was looking up in the sport at that time.

He said that everyone saw the sport as too “country” (redneck, basically) and that many thought the sport needed to be cultured and more relatable to the everyday American, and went on to say that those people were wrong.

I agree with him. Though I know that, as a business, your goal is to reach and appeal to as many people as possible, there is something to be said about reaching out to your base. Sometimes certain products appeal to certain demographics more than others, and stock car racing just happens to appeal to a Southern white male audience more than anyone else. It doesn’t make it racist, stupid, or white trash. It’s just that, for whatever reason, it’s appealed to those kinds of people. But because NASCAR stuck with them and didn’t care what the rest of the world thought, it grew in popularity and more people gained interest. Now, I know NASCAR fans of different genders, ethnicities, and from all around the country—even around the world!

Former Charlotte Motor Speedway president H.A. Humpy Wheeler (seen here with Dick Berggren) has been on a role the past few days with his YouTube messages. Is the greatest promoter in the sport’s history right or wrong?

They screwed up when they tried to go further and made their base feel like they weren’t important anymore. In other words, when NASCAR grew, they changed in order to try and keep those fans who were giving it another look.

It would be like the hip hop music industry going to play in front of a Starbuck’s to bring in the white girl crowd. It just doesn’t work.

Now, where I get critical with the fans is when the constant bitching in spite of a good product continues. People complain incessantly about the chase, but it’s given us some great championship battles that would have otherwise sucked. Jimmie Johnson wins the 2013 championship this year, no matter what, without the Chase. It’s already over and there are still 14 races left. Heck, it was over way before that, but it’s certainly over now.

The 2011 championship wouldn’t have come down to a tie on the last lap of the race without the Chase. Last year’s championship had its moments.

The Chase has its flaws. I’ll admit that. But you take what you can get, and the fact is the product it has created has been heads and shoulders above what it had been before then in some cases.

Mark Martin retire? Hah, good one. Martin’s 2014 plans are yet to be determined, but a part-time schedule with somebody – somewhere – seems to be the likely bet. If not, he’ll still be involved in the sport in some capacity. The bottom line is, he still loves competing, and can still get it done behind the wheel.

Also, calling every single race boring or flipping out when Jimmie Johnson wins gets old too. That’s where my criticism comes from, not that NASCAR has tried to get away from its core fan base. I agree with that part completely.

In other words, I thought Humpy Wheeler was right and I loved his ideas about more points for winning and passing. I’ve expressed similar ideas before, and I’d love to see Wheeler in a leadership role in NASCAR to bring some of these ideas to fruition.

However, saying I’m not paying attention is ignorant. I enjoy the races because I look for reasons to enjoy them. Sometimes it feels like fans look for a reason to complain.

“What is Mark Martin doing next year now that Vickers has his ride?” Jeannie

Michael Waltrip Racing never said whether or not Mark Martin would be with the organization next year, though Waltrip did say during the Vickers announcement that they still wanted him to be a part of the company.

I haven’t heard Martin say he’s ready to hang up his helmet just yet, though, so another part-time schedule wouldn’t be surprising. I’m not sure if it will be with MWR or not, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see MWR pull another sponsorship miracle out of a hat. I know Waltrip wants to run the Daytona 500 and is looking for sponsorship there, so perhaps he and Martin will share a ride next season.

Then again, maybe Martin has another offer from somebody. I can’t imagine with who, but stranger things have happened in this sport.

Rest assured, though, Martin isn’t done with racing until he says so. And he hasn’t. All signs point to Martin being a part of NASCAR in some capacity for a while now.

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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08/15/2013 09:55 AM

It’s great to see someone like Humpy saying what the regular joe’s are saying. We need more “big names” to step up and talk about these issues too.

Yep….“SIX TIME!” is on the way. The very LAST THING nascar needs…especially now.

If I were an owner and my car(s) were say 17th or lower in points, I would treat every race from now on as a true complete test session like I wasn’t in the race at all. If you don’t make the chase nothing else matters…not even winning a race matters. The sponsor likes it sure, but I would spend time just testing for the next year.

08/15/2013 01:00 PM

I agree with a lot of Humpy’s points and the tone of his video. However, I don’t think gimmicking up races with points for passes or for repassing the leader is the answer.

Looking at this as a Northerner, I sympathize with Southern/Traditional fans in the way NASCAR treated them in the 90s and 2000s. I understand the need for NASCAR to reach out to new audiences and markets, but at times they really stuck it to Southern fans. The biggest sin was eliminating the Southern 500 on Labor Day. Also, bloating the schedule with 1.5 mile race tracks didn’t help.

However, Humpy should remember that his former employer is just as responsible for some of the “changing of NASCAR” as NASCAR/ISC or Corporate Sponsors were. SMI and Bruton Smith were the ones that teamed up with NHMS to buy and shutter North Wilksboro. It was a Texas Motor Speedway shareholder that sued NASCAR/ISC. Rockingham ended up being part of the sacrifice needed to settle that. Hopefully, though this spurs a little more of the get back to the roots efforts in NASCAR.

08/15/2013 01:33 PM

I agree with Humpy’s comments for the most part. I also agree that NASCAR’s decision to abandon its major fan base in order to pursue the casual fan was a dumb idea. It would have taken someone smarter than BZF to balance things so that NASCAR could have appealed to both. Instead, they got away from tracks where the racing was interesting and put a spec car and a playoffs into the mix. It has taken a while, but slowly but surely the fans HAVE spoken, by not going to races or even watching on TV.

Summer, also I disagree with your comment about the chase and saying it’s OK to just take what you can get. No,it isn’t. Why should the fans settle? It’s pretty obvious that a lot of fans don’t like the chase and NASCAR and in particular Brian France continues to act as if that isn’t the case.

Also many of the media for a lot of years have been so quick to tell the fans that they just didn’t understand or were downright stupid because they didn’t like things, that also became a turn off for many fans and that includes you. The fans are allowed to have their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. I stopped watching RaceDay because I was tired of Kenny Wallace’s shtick about “listen up race fans” where he would then tell all of the fans what we SHOULD, in his opinion, be thinking.

Sorry, but I’m capable of thinking for myself AND making up my own mind about what I like or don’t. I don’t need NASCAR, the media or even my favorite driver, telling me anything but facts.

NASCAR caved into TVs demand for a “more exciting” championship hunt because Matt Kenseth did his deal. Personally, I want to see the championship decided over the full season. This 10 race nonsense with the first 26 races devoted to seeding the top 10 has made watching a race a lot less fun.

Yes, Johnson would have it wrapped up this year, but he wouldn’t have for the other years. Plus, since the TV guys got what they wanted and ignore anyone who isn’t IN the chosen dozen, that leaves a lot of fans having NO reason to bother watching. I know that if my favorite isn’t in the chase these days, I have no reason to care about the last 10 races at all.

It’s the law of unintended consequences and NASCAR has reaped what they have sown.

08/15/2013 02:12 PM

I am tired of the media and Nascar telling me that I am stupid and I don’t “get it” because I am not buying the bull they are selling. My love affair with racing and following Nascar goes back to the 70’s. The Chase is one of the biggest problems facing Nascar right now. The insanely dumb format is an insult to true fans. Let them race till Homestead. I don’t agree with all Humpy said but at least he threw it out there. You don’t need gimmicks, you need RACING. Which is not what we have today most of the time, we have follow the leader.

Carl D.
08/15/2013 02:39 PM

“Now, where I get critical with the fans is when the constant bitching in spite of a good product continues.”

Would that be the good product where the cars aero design translates into little passing for the lead? Or the good product where drivers point-race for basically two-thirds of the season? Or maybe it’s a good product because of all those intermediate tracks on the schedule and the exciting races they so often produce.

I’ve been watching Nascar for most of my 54 years and I have a license to bitch. I bitch not because I hate the sport, but because I love it. I bitch because I know it could be managed better someone more competent than the current boss and by someone who cares as much about the sport as I do, and not someone concerned solely about how fat their wallet is. I think Humpy for the most part understands where we “complainers” are coming from.

And yes I bitch about Jimmy Johnson. I’ve also said it’s up to other teams to step up and beat him and Chad. Hell, it’s been done the last two years, and it may happen again this year. I sure hope so. I agree that some people go overboard with their complaining, but I think the majority of the fans are just tired of seeing the same team win so much. That’s only natural and that’s part of what makes the sport what it is. Fifteen years ago it was Jeff Gordon, today it’s Jimmie Johnson. Hey, I remember when everyone outside of the state of State of South Carolina hated Cale Yarborough’s guts. A few still do, but they all live in Alabama and so we just dismiss them as ignorant and tasteless. (Okay I’m just kidding there… My son-in-law is from ‘Bama. Roll Tide!)

I agree that Mark Martin will probably continue to race for a while. Bobby Labonte is probably done, which is a shame but at least he has a championship. Mark and Jeff Burton will retire without one, but I’m pretty sure they won’t lose any sleep over it.

08/15/2013 03:57 PM

Brian France reminds me of the kid that goes off to get his degree at a fancy school and is embarassed to tell his friends he grew up in a shack and his Daddy drinks domestic beer. NASCAR didn’t have to alienate their base to attract a fan in NYC, but they did it anyhow. I disagree that you have to change to attract a different demo…put on a good show and the people will come. Trust me, I know. I’m not a redneck and I found this sport on my own before they targeted me. Back when the sport was fun. Humpy is 100% right. Passion is NOT allowed in a corporation; compliance and conformity is required. The sport is boring. Jimmie Johnson wins and you get an over rehearsed litany of sponsor thanks. He’s “corporately inclined” and then some. That little HBO series he did was a nice attempt to show he was indeed edgy but that lasted, what, 4 weeks? Bah! We need drama, tears and villians and we do not need the Waltrips and analysts like you telling us how to think and pronouncing us annoying when we dissent.

08/15/2013 05:21 PM

Summer, with all due respect, if you weren’t around even in the 90’s then there’s a lot you just can’t understand what NASCAR once was and why the fans brought it to it’s height. What you know NASCAR to be is what has been made with enormous funding from companies, engineers instead of innovators, Brian France throwing away the fans that made NASCAR. How’s that working for him?

I’ve been a fan since the early 60’s, have been a part of of a Busch championship team, held a NASCAR mechanics license, I’ve been there and seen both sides, the rise and decline.

Humpy Wheeler is spot on, except maybe adding more points for whatever. To what he said I’ll add this, the “chase” makes the championship less than what it should be. Nothing about it makes the season better, NOTHING.

When the Junior Johnsons, Smokey Yunick’s were replaced by 7 post rigs, software, engineers, the fans which held those men as kind of hero’s lost just as much as they lost when Richard,Cale,Bobby,Dale sr., moved on. Those fans moved on especially when France openly made it known that he wasn’t interested in them anyway.

In my opinion NASCAR will never be again what it once was. A major reason for that lies with Brian France, the CEO that doesn’t care enough about the sport his family led to even attend his own show. He has distanced himself from the sport and the fans are following his lead. I can remember Big Bill getting out of his sick bed, getting in his car and driving to a race to settle an issue that Bill Jr. couldn’t settle. He cared about his show, it was his life, his Grandson is more interested in counting money ($534K) and thinking about glass dashboards. He just seems hell bent on proving himself to be a fool, albeit a really rich one.

Personally I think one step to bringing NASCAR back would be to eliminate all engineers, all software and computers, limit teams to two and no brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, friends, listed for owners of teams that they don’t own anyway. Throw out the stupid chase. Two teams out of one campus and one owner. Give the cars back to the crew chiefs and drivers. Spread the wealth. Oop’s, wouldn’t that lead to real parity?

08/16/2013 02:41 AM

Right on to all the responders of this article. I am glad to know what I suspected that Miss Summer has not been around that long, it explains alot!!!!!

08/16/2013 11:24 AM

Summer, your use of the word “product” throughout your article clearly illustrates your lack of understanding as to the damage NASCAR has done to the sport, (not product), as well NASCAR’s disconnect as to the issues to the sports, (not product), current decline. I suggest you spend some time and immerse yourself into the history of NASCAR, perhaps watch a few races from the 80’s and early 90’s. Simple example: Many race fans still support their local short-tracks yet NASCAR continues to move away from short-tracks because they do not seat as many fans. It is this type of short-term thinking that turns off old fans and discourages new fans.

Fed Up
08/16/2013 11:26 AM

I’ve been in the heart of this sport for 50+ years. I’ve never seen something go so wrong as it has in the last few years. NA$CAR has been turned over to the “marketing geniusry” by France & Helton. All individuals involved have been designated partners and are only concerned for what benefits them. This is true for promoters, owners, drivers, crew chiefs, et al. The Chase has killed racing for the checkered flag. Everyone is points racing.

Maybe the NA$CAR entramanures should take a look at Duck Dynasty for a marketing model for what we rustics will support.

Bill B
08/16/2013 08:18 PM

While echoing most of the responses above I have to laugh at the “limiting 2 cars per team”. No fake owners and no satellites teams. Just think about that. We are down to about 5 teams making engines (and chassis too?). What would happen in the short run if only 10 of those teams (5 × 2) could use them. How would a team like Stewart Haas get an engine building program together in a couple of years? How would the Toyota TRD deal work?
Unfortunately I think that genie is already out of the bottle.

08/18/2013 06:23 PM

Carl D and nekked, you said it right.

Geez,if I’m supposed to pay the tab to see the races and for my cable bill, then yeah, I’m going to “bitch” if I don’t like the product. This nonsense has been going on since BZF took over and everyone, including the tracks did their best to gouge as much money as they possibly could from the fans by demanding we all buy ticket packages – even if it wasn’t for the race we wanted to see. Now, they are having to take seats OUT of the stands because the fans got wise to the fact that the “product” wasn’t a good value any longer.

Just like any company that messes with its products or customers too much – first they complain and if no one listens, they go somewhere else.

Sound familiar, Summer?