Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday May 29, 2007
In the ten months that this column has been in existence as part of the Frontstretch's Wednesday lineup, I have come to realize that life as a motorsports writer can be filled with legions of agreeable readers that eagerly await your next commentary. There’s no tried and true formula to make this column what it is every week…but in my line of work, there’s one particular easy way out I know I will never follow. Truly, all a writer needs to do is write endlessly, only varying slightly on the theme that anything that NASCAR does is bad, unfair, or just really stupid. Though this formula, in my estimation, is intellectually dishonest, popularity as a race commentator is almost a certainty when you do it that way. Unfortunately, it is a rule of thumb that more than one writer has adoptedâ€¦with success.
It is also a methodology that I know I will never be able to master. The world has just never been that black and white to me; as much as I admire and respect the participants in the sport of big league stock car racing, I always see them as nothing more than human beings with the same failings as you would find in any other group of athletes or businessmen. I have never felt compelled to use my stature as either a vehicle to covertly promote any one driver or team over another or to wage any hidden agenda against the sanctioning organization. The fact is, whether a reader agrees or disagrees with my opinion on any topic, it is my hope that people understand that the belief was based on my understanding of the facts surrounding the issue at hand, and without prejudice.
It is easy for me to understand why “NASCAR bashing” is so widely accepted and enjoyed by some. They are the dominant player in American stock car racing, and as such, responsible for most of the perceived ills of the sport. And they make a lot of money to boot! It is always fun to kick a giant in the knees, and often times they deserve a good kicking. But are they always wrong? No. To say yes would defy the laws of probability.
Yet, there are writers that never, ever give a call to the France family-owned organization. I can only believe that those writers believe that NASCAR has become the premier auto racing series in the nation as well as the envy of most major professional sports through an unbelievable amount of luck. I do not share that assessment of NASCAR's impressive growth. I believe that they have been extremely intuitive business people who have more often than not correctly gauged what their customers, namely fans, want to seeâ€¦good racing.
When the Daytona Beach managers of the sport implement controversial policy changes or decisions, I consider it nothing more than a business decision on their part. It is my belief that all changes in policy are ultimately based on a premise that it will increase the number of followers of the sport. Their only real motivation is to continue to grow the sport and as a result, make more money for themselves. And I have absolutely no problem with the organization making lots of money by giving the sports spectators a good show. As a commentator of the sport, however, I then only need to come to a conclusion as to the fairness and benefit to the sport of the issue that is being debated.
And that is the mindset that I intend to continue to employ in analyzing the sanctioning body in this weekly column. I have no preconceived notion that NASCAR is automatically wrong, or that they are part of a mythical "evil empire." I respect their business acumen and have observed for more than forty years their steady and truly amazing growth. They have been very adept at shifting their policies to maintain that momentum and accommodate new participants in the sport in the form of fans, drivers, corporate associates and even the press. And of course, they have not always in my estimation made the right calls, and I do not hesitate to take them to task on those blunders. It’s because mistakes are made always with respect to what I know are honest efforts to provide the very best competition in stock car racing. Because that is the key to NASCAR's continued prosperity, and I am convinced that they know it.
I have supported NASCAR on a number of policy changes over the years, including more recent issues such as the highly divisive issue of instituting a ten race Chase to the Nextel Cup Championship. I felt that the change in the point's structure was a good shot in the arm for the sport. Yet, I have been critical of the recent decision to augment the number of championship eligible teams from ten to twelve. And to date I have seen no evidence that the Chase format has been detrimental to the sport. What improvement in late season interest among fans that it has created is certainly open to argument and difficult to estimate, but it is my best guess that television broadcast numbers that have slipped the last two seasons would have dipped even more if not for the Chase to the Championship.
From day one, I have remained open to the much-criticized Car of Tomorrow project, as I understand the need to improve safety and believe that NASCAR teams cannot depend on the support of auto manufacturers in the future. The jury on the CoT is still out, yet more early critics of the project seem to be reluctantly agreeing with my initial assessment of the race car as it gains track time. Yet this column was well ahead of the pack of both competitors and other columnists in criticizing NASCAR's initial schedule that would have teams trying to compete with two very different racecars in 2008, as well. The schedule, as I saw it was particularly unfair to the smaller and less funded teams. It was a plan that was officially scrapped last week in favor of running the CoT for the entire Nextel Cup series next year.
When expressing a pro-NASCAR point of view, I have learned to expect considerable disagreement on the part of the readers, some of whom are determined not to give the highly successful organization any credit for anything. And this past week I even received similar haranguing from one of the front men of the anti-NASCAR gang, Frontstretch senior writer Jeff Meyer who, in disagreeing with my point of view that favors NASCAR/Sprint Nextel in its litigation with AT&T, decided to employ the stand-by "low blow" that he no doubt was sure would please his fellow NASCAR anarchists, "Oh please, Tommy! You are starting to sound like a mouthpiece straight from the NASCAR PR offices!”
I simply happen to agree with NASCAR's position on this matter, as I truly believed that their stance is good for the sport and the health of the organization. And that is perhaps where Meyer and I will continue to find disagreement on NASCAR-related issues. For nothing in Jeff Myer's considerable body of work suggests that he is prone to agree with any change or position that NASCAR takes. In fact, I believe Mr. Meyer presently is calling for some kind of revolution or overthrow of the sanctioning body, not a position that, in my opinion, allows for unbiased, open-minded commentary on the subject.
Possibly, Mr. Meyer is correct and NASCAR is chronically wrong and needs to be disbanded. And I know that if I would just adopt that theory, I may very well experience a significant increase in the number of dedicated readers of my column. However, rest assured that if I ever reach the conclusion that NASCAR basically sucks, I will find something else that is of interest to me, and not expend the considerable time and energies required to work writing a weekly article on a subject I do not particularly care for.
When all is said and done, I like NASCAR's version of stock car racing, and hope that the sport continues to thrive. And I will continue to call it as I see it.
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