NASCAR Race Weekend Central

It’s Decision Time for NASCAR: Sport or Show?

I can’t speak for you, but when I tune in to watch a stock car race, or any type of “race” or contest for that matter, I am fully aware that it may be a blowout. That is, after all, the whole point of competition. You do what you have to do to beat your opponent(s), and whether you win by 1 or 100, you do your utmost to achieve that victory. (Well, in most sports anyway.)

Apparently, NASCAR is not in that category.

Last Sunday, as I tuned back in to catch the end of the race at Michigan, the first thing I heard the announcers say was that Denny Hamlin had a 10-second lead on the rest of the field. Having seen a few of these contests before, my first thought was… “Well, here comes a caution!” Obviously, the powers that be that actually run these races tuned in at the same time I did, because no sooner did I have that thought, the call went down to the flagstand…”Throw the yellow… we have debris!”

And just like that, the field was bunched back up for the finish, the fifth time in 15 races this year a debris or “oil” caution has come during the last 25 laps of the race. At this point, the practice has become so commonplace that not only do you and the rest of the fans know it’s coming, but now even the contestants themselves are planning for it.

“I knew a caution was coming, so I might as well just back off and save my tires. I knew that debris caution was coming. I understand this is show business. We’ve got to do what’s right for the fans, and they need to see a great race at the end,” said Hamlin as he was interviewed after the race.

How sad is that?

Imagine the Cubs are playing in Game 4 of the World Series. (I know, that’s some imagination!) They are going into the ninth inning with a 5–0 lead. If they win, they will sweep their opponent for the ultimate title… and suddenly, the umpire calls timeout, talks briefly on his cell phone, and then instructs the men in the score booth to add four runs to the opposing team’s total! Not only that, but he then goes so far as to give a free pass to the first three batters, thereby loading the bases with no outs and the biggest slugger coming to the plate. The Cubbies wouldn’t stand a chance!

Or how about the umpire tells the Cubbies’ ace pitcher that any pitch thrown over 70 mph will be called a ball!

Or maybe, Tiger Woods is coming down to the final hole with a 10-stroke lead over second. Wait a minute… that’s not fair! He’s so much better than everyone else! We better take eight of those strokes back to make this tournament more interesting!

You get the point.

What I don’t get is this; why does NASCAR feel the need to manufacture excitement in its races? But do they really do that? Of course not! Just ask NASCAR President, Mike Helton.

“It was a debris caution. I’m not sure what beyond the circumstances of that you might be asking, and I heard a little bit of the chatter after the race was over with,” he said this week on SPEED. “The fact of the matter on a caution [is] it doesn’t matter if its lap 10 or lap 190 of 200, the first and foremost concern we have is for the safety of the drivers.”

“Through the course of an event, we’ll get input, sometimes it comes from the drivers, sometimes it comes from the observers that we’ve got around the racetrack, sometimes it comes from one of the 18 or 20 cameras that we have access to through the control tower of the event,” continued Helton. “More often than not, we can quantify whether [debris is] there or it’s not, and if it is there, we can quantify what it is, based on the things that I mentioned that we have access to. If there is any doubt, though, we are going to call a debris caution. If we see something and cannot tell what it is, we’re going to err on the side of safety. But there is always something there when we have a debris caution.”

Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Straight from the horse’s mouth! Now here is the part where you, like me, sit there with great incredulousness and agree that, more than likely, it was the other end of the horse talking!

What totally baffles me even more is this; NASCAR knows it has a credibility problem. They have for a number of years now, as reflected in their dropping ratings and revenue. This year, however, I thought there was going to be some hope, as they got rid of the wing, one of several changes for the good. Why do they have to screw it up with “manufactured excitement?” The only thing missing from last Sunday’s race, much to their disappointment I’m sure, was three attempts at a green-white-checkered!

The solution is simple, folks, just like me! In order to avoid these kinds of accusations by the fans, and now even the drivers, NASCAR – having all the assets at their disposal that Helton spoke of – needs to make sure, whichever network is broadcasting the race, SHOWS THE DEBRIS! How hard is that? Pretty darned hard when there is none!

The NFL shows you replays of virtually every little penalty, right down to some big guy holding onto some other big guy’s jersey! Surely NASCAR can do that, can’t they?

Hey, I love racing. Sometimes people win by a large margin, as I said earlier, but that is the chance you take when you watch a “contest.” NASCAR, now more than ever, needs to decide: Do you want to be a “sport” or a “show?” Pick one. You can’t be both! Count me as one media member that wants to watch a “race,” not be entertained by NASCAR’s “manufactured excitement.” Save it for professional wrestling.

Bill France Sr. had a vision to make NASCAR a household name. I doubt an “entertainment show” was what he had in mind.

Stay off the wall, (lest you cause REAL debris!)

Jeff Meyer

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