Vito Pugliese · Thursday October 30, 2008
Editor’s Note: If you’re not a subscriber to our FREE Frontstretch Newsletter, you’re really missing out — and we’re about to show you why. One of your favorite website columnists, Vito Pugliese, writes a Thursday newsletter piece each week called “What’s Vexing Vito” in which he provides edgy, satirical commentary about topics no one else is talking about. This week, he tackles a whole new level of taboo, investigating the role of politics and NASCAR. He’s got strong opinions, solid evidence, and will leave you ready to cast your vote come November.
I’ll be honest, the last month or so has been difficult for me on a number of levels. We are in the white flag lap of the political season, and in five short days will have elected the 44th President of The United States. I will avoid any heavy political talk for the moment — you can flip on the radio, television, or any other form of media and be inundated with that instantly — however, I will say that the America as we have known it is slowly but surely being whittled away. Witness the Wall Street bailout and nationalizing of a portion of our nation’s banking system. While I am well aware that we are in the midst of a worldwide economic downturn — though I question the necessity of the involvement of the government to the degree that they have — the notion of that just seems kind of “weird” to me.
But like it or not, it’s reality these days in an economy that continues to grow tougher. Also announced last week was Chrysler laying off 25% of its white-collar workforce; this precludes a rumored proposed move by General Motors, who at last look hasn’t exactly been setting any sales records either to acquire Chrysler.
To any life-long purveyor of Pentastar-power, this is the literal equivalent of someone prying a Lifetime NRA member’s guns from his cold, dead hands. As Bufford T. Justice would say, “that amounts to nothing more than old-fashioned communism!” Not really, but you probably get the jist of how much of an impact this has on enthusiasts such as myself. The average person would probably just shrug their shoulders and assume that merging these two companies will simply result in more cars and trucks that churn out big horsepower with poorly conceived interiors constructed of Fisher-Price plastic; but to race fans and those who have any inkling of brand loyalty, it means quite a bit more.
You will recall the hoopla and nostalgic feelings that were aroused when Dodge returned to NASCAR, after it all but abandoned the sport in the early 1980s when self-preservation took precedence over performance. There was just something “right” about seeing a number 43 on the side of a Petty blue Dodge again, whether it was called an Intrepid, Charger, or Avenger. Now, it appears that Dodge and Chrysler will be gobbled up in this proposed merger instead.
So what does it mean for racing?
NASCAR, for one, is very concerned, as marrying the two cash-strapped companies will likely eliminate Dodge again as manufacturer presence in all three of its major series. Dodge, for their part, has all but guaranteed they will field teams for 2009, having just released their latest iteration of a Sprint Cup engine. Beyond next season, though, there is some doubt as to what the racing landscape will look like. Many are concerned that this opening will see Toyota become the manufacturer of choice for these teams without a home, since Ford is hanging on by a thread and GM can only support so many Chevrolet teams after it gets done assisting its franchise players.
And so it goes. But economic and competition fallout aside, for me personally this sucks big time.
I grew up in a family of Mopar fans. Powerwagons, ‘Cudas, Challengers, Chargers, Roadrunners, GTXs, you name it; all the players were on the scene. Mandatory silence was required when “The Dukes of Hazzard” was on, and I knew the sequences of the chase scene in “Bullitt” as well as my multiplication tables. By the time I could ride a bike, I was already well aware that there was no better street motor than a worked 440 and that the 426 Hemi was something to be spoken of in quiet reverence.
I spent the better part of my high school life not playing sports but working a part time job to fund time and effort in a pole barn with my dad restoring my 1972 Plymouth ‘Cuda. Any jerkoff with a job could score a 5.0L Mustang or a clapped-out IROC Z28, but I had been raised differently: I knew better. During those formative years, everyone is searching for their identity and seeking some individuality. Ask any car guy; Mopar freaks are a breed apart. So, too, with racing series who struggle to appeal to outsiders as anything other than a bunch of anonymous machines going around in a circle for hours on end.
So as these two once mortal enemies, GM and Dodge, appear to acquiesce in the face of financial peril, NASCAR and all forms of motorsports stand to lose a key component that makes racing unique, exciting, and interesting — individuality and brand loyalty. That’s just one more slice of America left to spoil and rot; but I guess it’s not all bad, as they could have been bought out by a company in India or Korea. Somehow, I just don’t think people would get excited to see a rendition of a Tata Superbird or attend the Hyundai Nationals in Columbus, Ohio next year.
Oh, well. Here’s hoping against hope that it all works out for the best; because sometimes, change sucks.
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