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Voices From the Heartland: Early Silly Season Leaves Fans With Apathy

Here we are, only heading into the seventh race of the season, and no one is talking about the racing! Well, to be honest, the media is talking about the racing… but it is racing for 35th place. Is this what NASCAR has become?

Now, I don’t claim to know the exact origin of the phrase “Silly Season,” but it would make sense to me that it was meant to explain the short interval between the last race of the season and the first race of the next. Things like: What new sponsors are coming in? Who’s the hottest new driver coming up? Which driver was switching teams? Etc….

Over the years, the “Silly Season” has grown longer and longer and now – thanks mostly to greed and inept leadership at the highest level of NASCAR – it’s grown to 366 days long. (I know there are only 365 days in the year… but that’s my point! It never stops!) How has it gotten to be this way?

The main factor, as I see it, is simple, unadulterated greed. The price to be even remotely associated with NASCAR has simply skyrocketed over the years. It used to be that a sponsor could become part of a top-notch team to the tune of about $5 million a year – $10 million if you were with a “super” team/driver. Now, that same $10 million might get you a spot on one of the many teams that are simply struggling to survive. Today’s top spots command checks in the $20 million a year range; but why?

Well, first of all, NASCAR is so far removed from the “stock” in its stock car namesake that it is ridiculous. Everything must be tailored to NASCAR’s specs. You need a specialist for everything nowadays, and more specialized people to take care of all the specialized parts costs more dollars. If you don’t have them, you are already at a disadvantage; and if you are already at a disadvantage against the other teams, it’s harder to get sponsors. The monetary cycle is neverending.

Now, with this stupid Top-35 rule, you have sponsors that are ready to jump ship at a moment’s notice just because they might not be assured a spot in each and every race. Or, if they are not jumping ship, they apply pressure, whether real or perceived, to the owner to run through a gamut of drivers in a single season. Seasoned drivers that may be having a down year are suddenly “washed up” and replaced by the next new kid that everyone thinks is hot. The new kid, not having a lot of experience, however, doesn’t win right away; so he too is replaced and is never allowed to mature. That has gotten to be a never-ending cycle all its own, and it is NOT good for racing.

Back to the present day… and like I said, nothing is being written (not much anyway) about the racing. Everyone is worried about RCR and their fourth team for NEXT year. Where will Bobby Labonte be NEXT year? Will Petty Enterprises be able to find a sponsor for the No. 43 NEXT year? Will UPS still be with MWR, or will they jump ship now that DJ is gone for NEXT year? Will they sign with Roush and Greg Biffle? Or, maybe Carl Edwards will be driving the truck in 2009. Look at most of the NASCAR headlines; I could go on and on.

All of this wishy washy commitment also has to have a ripple effect on other aspects of racing as well. Consider the souvenir business. Do you think I would buy another fancy UPS Racing jacket should they sign say, Kyle Busch? I think not! (Carl, yes but that’s about it!) There is just no loyalty nowadays.

Yes, there are a few steadies out there; Jeff Gordon/DuPont, Tony Stewart/Home Depot, Jimmie Johnson/Lowe’s are the short list; but they are few and far between.

I don’t claim to speak for the rest of the nation, but geez! Can’t we at least get to the end of the season, the 26th race, before we focus on 2009? God forbid if Johnson doesn’t make the Chase!

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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