Race Weekend Central

MPM2Nite: The Answer Man Rides to the Rescue… How to Fix NASCAR, Part I

Recently, there has been considerable consternation and hand-wringing in the plush corner offices of NASCAR’s Daytona Beach headquarters and ABC/ESPN’s corporate towers. Something has gone badly amiss. There are massive tracts of empty seats at even those race tracks that once had waiting lists of would-be ticket buyers. TV ratings, even for those in the All-Singing, All-Dancing, Gonna Pack My Ma and I’m Going to Pack my AMP Chase are not only down, but down significantly. Stock car racing, NASCAR has been telling us for years, is the second most popular sport in America. (Maybe the fine print read, “Second to everything else.”) What on earth is going on? NASCAR likes to tell everyone ticket sales are negatively impacted by the economy and I can buy that as part of the problem, but not the entire problem. ESPN execs fret that the earlier starting times for races are hurting ratings for those events. Balderdash! The fans I know have been asking for and prefer those 1 p.m. start times.

So what’s wrong? Brothers pull up a chair, throw another sack of pellets in the stove and fetch a round. This one’s going to take a while. Even as pissed off as I am at NASCAR and the networks for screwing up a sport I love, I feel it’s worth saving so I’m going to clue ya’ll in on how to do it. As always, when the Answer Man rides to the rescue, I don’t expect NASCAR’s thanks. Large sacks of cash, a Shelby Mustang convertible, a tanker truck worth of Corona, and a new Ultraglide will do nicely, thanks.

Step One: Shorten the Season

The Cup season is just too damned long. We need to be holding our season finale at Darlington on Labor Day weekend and exiting stage left as the NFL regular season rumbles to life and the Boys of Summer start their Fall Classic. I figure somewhere in the range of 25 races would be a workable solution. The two road-course races are gone. The three short tracks left on the schedule would retain two dates apiece, simply because they typically provide the best racing of the season and we need a better ratio of short tracks to cookie cutters to rekindle longtime fans’ interest. Every other track on the schedule, and yes that includes Daytona and Talladega gets just one race date. A single race a year at those tracks rather than two ought to sell a lot more tickets, particularly during a shorter season which makes each race more significant.

If I’m doing the math correctly (which is highly doubtful) we have 23 races on the schedule. Sorry, make that 22. The Brickyard 400 has outlived its usefulness, but we’ll move that race to Iowa to keep the Flyover State fans happy and engaged. We’ll then add Rockingham and North Wilkesboro back to the schedule to round out our slate of races.

Step Two: Shorten the Races

It’s become painfully apparent that most competitors don’t race hard until the final 20 laps, anyway, so there’s no sense having fans in the stands sitting around for four hours to see twenty minutes of action, and fans at home drifting off for naps or channel surfing away from the race. With the exception of the Daytona 500, the World 600 (that’s the Memorial Day weekend race at Charlotte, Otis) and the Southern 500 season finale, all race lengths will be cut in half. To add some spice to the earlier portions of the event, there will be 25-point bonuses paid to the leader at the one-quarter, halfway and three-quarter marks of the race. Let me clarify that. Those 25 points will be awarded to the leader of the race at those intervals if the race is under green-flag conditions. If the race is under caution, the 25-point bonus goes to the driver who leads the second lap of the race after competition resumes.

Step Three: Dump the Chase

There could be no clearer indication from NASCAR officialdom that they are listening to the fans and value their opinions than dumping the Chase. It was a imbecilic idea on paper and in practice, it’s been a disaster. Somewhere between 75-88% of the fans hate it, according to which polls you read. We’re not going to tweak the Chase, pray that familiarity lessens contempt or add any more stupid gimmicks. We’re going to eliminate the Chase.

In fact, to symbolically do away with the Chase we’re going to stage a mock funeral prior to the Daytona 500. A neon sign reading, “The Chase” will be unplugged and placed in a coffin for a ride in a hearse to the infield. The casket will be lowered into the earth, and Brian France will toss the first shovel’s worth of dirt into the hole on top of it. Once the hole is filled and smoothed over, an outhouse will be put in place over the grave to allow fans to piss on it all day.

Whichever driver accumulates the most points during the season will be crowned champion. No more resets, no more gimmicks.

Here’s the new points system.

The winner of the race gets 500 points. The second-place finisher gets 200. The driver finishing third gets 100 points, the fourth-place driver 50 points, the fifth-place driver 40 points, the sixth-place driver 30 points, the seventh-place driver 25 points, the eighth-place driver 20 points, the ninth-place driver 10 points, and the 10th place driver five points. Any driver finishing outside the top 10 will earn zero points for the afternoon. That might sound harsh, but it will keep those patched together rambling wreck repaired cars off the track and out of the way. It means drivers will be able to let it all hang out from time to time, knowing that throughout the season everyone is going to have a few zero point days. It would be worth it to drive all out to try to make it from third to first to garner an additional 400 points. As noted above, there’d be an additional 25-point bonus for leading three times earlier in the race so the maximum, and not entirely unlikely points swing during a single event would be 575 points. That ought to keep the Championship interesting.

Step Four: Put the “Stock” Back in “Stock Cars”

No, I’m not advocating allowing a guy to run down to the local car agency, paint numbers on the side of a new Mustang and let him race it. Stock cars are still going to need full rollcages, fire suppression systems, racing seats and belts, impact-absorbing foam, fuel cells and the like for safety reasons. Running at high speeds on ovals is still going to require a dry sump oiling system. But when it comes to the body work of the cars, I want to see NASCAR stockers look exactly that, stock, right down to the outside rearview mirrors, front grilles and bumpers. A blade-style rear spoiler would be added to the rear, and proper racing tires and wheels added, but other than that no more funny cars.

Our rules would be written to encourage the use of Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers in the Cup series. Any special editions of these cars to make them more aerodynamic would have to sell at least 5,000 examples of a similar model off dealership floors to be considered eligible. Engines would be restricted to fuel-injected, normally aspirated, 355 cubic inch mills based on a stock production block, heads, crank and connecting rods capable of running 93 octane unleaded gas. The engine would need to meet all current emission requirements in stock form with an approved camshaft, though naturally the cats would be removed from the cars and tubular headers added to the racecars. We don’t want to mess with that roar of a V8 engine that is part of our American heritage, after all. To be NASCAR approved, a limited edition engine in a street version of the car would have to be available as an option to car purchasers for 3,000 dollars or less and over the counter as a carb to oil pan, harmonic balancer to flywheel crate engine for five grand or less.

Wait a second, Cuz, I can hear some of you saying. An engine like that is going to put out a lot less beans than the current Cup engines. Precise-a-mundo, my old buddy. Keep up here, you’re moving much too slow. Less horsepower, in a less aerodynamic car means lower speeds. Lower speeds mean more side-by-side racing, a return to drafting, more passing, and more exciting races. This is what we’re after. As an added bonus, it saves team owners money. No more wind tunnels, cheaper engines and fewer shorter races meaning less wear and tear on the equipment. Lowering the cost of racing for a full Cup season means an organization needs less sponsorship dollars necessary to still turn a reasonable profit. Lower sponsorship dollar requirements greatly increases the size of the potential sponsor pool, even while the TV ratings increases brought about by more exciting racing adds some bang to the buck for those sponsorship dollars. If, as an added bonus, car enthusiasts get the equivalent of a new Boss 429 or Hemi Charger 500 to run wild in the streets within, so much the better.

Step 5: A Biased Opinion

Radial tires are just fine on street cars. Cars equipped with radials, and every make and model I can recall currently available outside the Third World is so equipped, handle better in ordinary driving, last longer and get better mileage. But the decline in the excitement in NASCAR racing began with radial tires replacing the tried and true bias plies.

Now hold on there a guldern minute, Bubba-Louie, I hear some of you screaming. First you’re saying you want some “stock” back in stock cars, but now you’re saying that you want to run tires of the sort that haven’t been fitted to street cars since the ’70s. Damn straight. See, here in the real world, we don’t replace the tires on our street cars every 40 miles. We drive our cars in the rain. Street tires have tread on them.

Radial tires do offer a higher level of grip than bias ply tires. But once they reach their limits and they lose adhesion, they do so suddenly. Bias ply tires have lower limits of grip but as they break loose, they do so far more predictably. That’s why you used to see stock cars sliding the corners, smoke pouring from the tires, and passing one another all the time even if some ungentlemanly bumping and banging was the norm.

Bias ply tires rock. Don’t think so? Fix me up with a 455-powered ’70 Vista Cruiser and meet me in the Villanova University parking lot. I’ll demonstrate how it’s possible to get a big, stupid hulking station wagon shod with BFG G78-15 Silvertown whitewalls to make a hard, high speed right-hand turn with the steering wheel fully cranked, opposite lock to the left, using the throttle pedal to steer the beast.

If Goodyear is stuck on radials, well there’s always BF Goodrich, Bridgestone or even Hoosier.

Wow, we’ve already got a lot to do on our agenda, and the fire needs tending. The Answer Man will be back next week, same Matt time, same Matt channel, to finish fixing the mess the Jokers at NASCAR have made of our sport.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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