Much like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb & Dumber, just when you didn’t think NASCAR could do anything more asinine than they have as of late, “they go out of their way and totally redeem themselves!” – i.e., out do even themselves yet again.
Carl Long, who two weeks ago was the recipient of one of the largest fines in NASCAR history, had appealed his suspension, point deduction, and $200,000 fine for having an overheated engine that expanded to .17 cubic inches above the 358 cubic inch limit in the Sprint Showdown during the All-Star weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. The sanctioning body upheld the decision, docking him 200 points from the zero points that he hasn’t had since 2005. The penalty also will bar Long from the garage area for 12 weeks – three months in a season that has five months remaining – along with nearly a quarter million dollars for both he and his crew chief Charles Swing.
The penalty last week sent Swing to the hospital with chest pains. The decision on Wednesday sent Long through the roof.
“Big Bill (France, NASCAR founder) and Bill Jr. ruled the sport like a father – at the end of the day they took care of their family,” Long said. “These guys don’t care. They don’t have any heart. Basically, it seems like they don’t care about the sport, they just want to make a dollar. I truly have a sour taste of the management in our sport. They’ve forgotten the roots of how this sport was created, and who are the people buying the tickets, sitting in the stands. The people in the stands are me.”
Strong words. Words that are decidedly accurate and spot-on.
Maybe NASCAR didn’t notice the huge sections of stands that were either empty or covered with sponsor banners this weekend at Dover, but I did, as did millions of fans watching at home on television. NASCAR has not only a credibility issue to contend with in the wake of the Jeremy Mayfield drug-suspension fiasco, but declining ratings and fan interest, coupled with bankruptcy fillings by Chrysler and General Motors in the midst of an economy that is about as healthy as Long’s engine, has created such a mess that last week they finally threw up their hands and had a meeting to ask the drivers what they could do to help salvage the sport.
I wasn’t there to attend this meeting, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that one of the suggestions was not to impose a devastatingly large fine for what was the result of an engine failure. This isn’t Saudi Arabia; we don’t cut off your hands for shop lifting, and you shouldn’t be sending people to the hospital and threatening their livelihoods because they ran a tired engine who’s innards expanded due to it getting hot. It was a stupid exhibition race, and there was no question he had no chance of winning – nor was there any intent to cheat or gain a competitive advantage.
Let’s be honest here. This is a sport that grew from the running of contraband illegal controlled substances, tax evasion and eluding Federal agents. To sit there and ruin somebody’s life – and threaten another’s – because they had an engine overheat during an exhibition race for an exhibition race – which paid zero points and said competitor had virtually no chance of finishing anywhere other than last place – is beyond insulting to both the competitors, the fans, and the integrity of the sport.
Long’s statements echo those of fans who have been around decades before there were green/white/checkered finishes, Digger or “Draft Lock” (I still have no idea what purpose that is or what it serves), and who helped provide the foundation for NASCAR to go global and finally garner the same attention paid to major-league sports. Long is the stereotype NASCAR fan and throwback competitor. A man who works during the week at his day job, so he can scrape enough money together to go to the track in a vain attempt to realize his dreams.
This same group that Long represents also provides the backbone of our nation and our economy – the working middle-class American. The ones who fight our wars, provide our goods and services, as well as deliver our products. This same cross-section of the country is struggling right now in an economy that is teetering on the brink of a collapse not seen since the Great Depression. For NASCAR to impose such a ludicrously punitive fine on Long, it borders on betrayal. Carl Long literally is the guy in the stands who helped build this sport from the grass roots into the monolith that is has become today.
In honor of such service, NASCAR has effectively said, “we don’t need you.”
This is the same message that the core fans have been hearing for years, and have finally had enough. NASCAR has effectively turned their backs on them, so the fans are turning their backs on NASCAR. At a time when people are losing their jobs, home foreclosures are occurring at a record pace, and the largest company on the planet is standing at the steps of the Capitol with empty pockets, tossing the keys to Uncle Sam – to make an example out of a working man like Long is unconscionable, inexcusable, and indefensible.
And please, save me the company line about how, “358 cubic inches is 358 cubic inches!”
If that is your defense, than you are clinically stupid. Don’t waste your time writing to me – go scribble something incomprehensible with your crayons and put it on the refrigerator to show your handlers. Sit Indian-style on the floor and talk to your mittens while wiping up the slobber that is cascading down your slacked jaw; that is reasoning used to communicate to people who have zero understanding of any sort of reciprocating assembly, let alone an engine.
There was no intent to cheat, or gain an advantage. Long started last and finished last, and had little hope of doing much more than that. Nothing was done in an effort to skirt the rules or get a leg up on the competition – not with a tired powerplant who’s better days were seen around Valentine’s Day. It was essentially the result of a dead engine that was showing signs of post-mortem bloating. If this is the precedent, then the next time somebody blows the bottom end out of a motor and a rod punches a hole in the side of the block, then they should receive the exact same fine for having an engine that is in excess of 358 cubic inches, even as pieces are still tumbling out of it.
Using NASCAR’s logic, it is shedding rotating mass and gaining power through the elimination of parasitic drag.
In the old days when things made sense, people had jobs, showed up to races, and sponsors were clamoring to be a part of NASCAR, if a driver or team owner got out of line, they would handle things in a particular manner that was effective, but fair. We’ve often heard of the likes of Junior Johnson, Bobby Isaac and Dale Earnhardt all being pulled aside and issued the well-known NASCAR line: “We can live without you… can you live without NASCAR?”
As Carl Long has said, the old NASCAR that we all came to know and love has long since passed. It is far beyond being just about money; there is an arrogance and air of elitism that has been palatable for several years now, and seems to grow more and more evident with each succeeding season. Even in the face of escalating costs for fan travel and expense in a contracting economy, little effort is made on the part of the sanctioning body to do anything of value to encourage people to attend or watch.
This isn’t just me saying this. Read any number of racing forums, blogs, letters to the editor of newspapers and racing publications – heck, just turn on the TV and check out the stands. Whether or not they want to admit it, things aren’t what they used to be.
It took 53 years to build NASCAR into the machine that we knew it always could be. In just eight, it has fallen apart.
Considering the Mayfield case and how that has been bungled and mishandled like no other, those wide, open swaths of empty grandstands at Dover that will be even more apparent and ugly at Michigan, combined with their continued brazen, unapologetic and indifferent treatment of drivers – and now presumably a driver who is the mirror of a typical fan – perhaps it’s time for the longtime supporters and fans to pose a question to the sanctioning body:
“We can live without NASCAR. Can you live without us?”