NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Split Personality

I have a split personality. No, don’t call the men in white coats. Neither one of us is violent. But I have noticed that sometimes, the race fan and journalist in me puts me at odds with the driver fan in me. Some race fans don’t have this problem, as they are simply driver fans to the point where if their guy is winning or losing, nothing else matters. Not the rules, not the lack of parity in the sport, and certainly not tradition or facts.

Here in Amyland, it doesn’t work that way. Even putting professionalism aside for a minute, I can’t root for (or against) any one driver over the good of the sport as a whole. I never noticed this before, but I was writing an article at which the driver fan in me recoiled in horror while the race fan only smiled. Will I defend a driver if I think he’s in the right? Sure. Will I vilify someone who has done my guy wrong? Absolutely. It just makes it all the more exciting.

But when it comes to improving NASCAR for the good of the racing, that person goes away. She’s the shy one. If a rule is stupid, like locking in the Top 35, I’ll stand by that, even if it would mean that my driver would have missed a race last year. My other driver would have made a couple, so that’s a wash. But I recognize that the rule is detrimental to the game.

Ditto the Chase for the Cup, the arbitrary penalties and the past champion’s provisional. Admittedly, more than one I like has benefited from NASCAR’s seemingly random application of the rules. Does that mean it’s OK? Not a chance. Has my guy gone home because a past champion has made the field? Yes, but that isn’t why the rule is antiquated and unnecessary. Rather, it’s ALL the fans whose driver has gone home while a slower driver has benefited because that’s not racing. Racing is the fastest car beating the slower cars on any given day. It isn’t because a faction of fans likes a guy who won a title years ago. If the rule was tossed, could a driver I like miss a race? Yes. But the fan in me who wants closer, more competitive racing would benefit more than the driver fan that one week.

The problem these days is that NASCAR caters almost exclusively to the driver fans. Meanwhile the race fans suffer. Just because one driver (mine or otherwise) sells more t-shirts than another does not mean that he deserves special treatment or rules made that benefit only a few t-shirt sellers. NASCAR needs to look at the big picture, and that is the race fans’ picture. The rules and the schedule need to be improved to improve the racing, not the t-shirt sales. If the racing does not improve, many bandwagoneers will jump off when the next bandwagon rolls by, leaving boring racing. And a lot of t-shirts.

Driver Fan Amy enjoys the 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks. Why shouldn’t I? A driver I like excels on them. Race Fan Amy hates them. They’re boring, and while a couple usually produce great finishes, most don’t on a consistent basis. Race Fan Amy wants more short tracks. Driver Fan Amy has mixed feelings on that; one driver does well on them, but the other, not so much. But in the long run, the excitement of short tracks and uniquely configured tracks like Darlington and Rockingham trumps the few drivers who have the skill and equipment to dominate on the cookie-cutters.

What it boils down to is this: Neither of us needs more t-shirts. I hope that, long after my favorite drivers have retired, the racing will still be there and be as exciting as ever. In the long run it’s not about Lee or Richard or David or Cale or Darrell or Dale or Rusty or Dale Junior or Jimmie, it’s about the racing. The screaming engines, the daring last-lap passes, the sound and the fury. The race fan knows that. The driver fan sometimes forgets.

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