In Brian Donovan’s book Hard Driving, which details the life of driver Wendell Scott, the author lays down the central premise for how sports operates. He doesn’t discuss fairness, or competitive balance or any of that kind of stuff. Instead, he adopts a more business sided mindset and how early track promoters worked. This concept has everything to do with current leadership. So for the numerous fans that claim that Brian Z. France cares nothing for the sport except for the money — of course that’s what he cares about.
Not only is France looking to add the the coffers of the family-owned NASCAR organization, he’s also trying to make money for the publicly-traded International Speedway Corporation, headed by kinship. These aspects of the NASCAR world are not news but they do seem to fall by the wayside in the criticism of France and the implementation of the new Chase format. It’s a money grab and it always been, going back to the sport’s inception.
Here, Donovan states, “promoters, though, love superlatives and controversy.” What worked in the 1940s is just the same as what works now. What is considered controversy is the very thing that helps bring in the money, just as some track promoters welcomed Wendell Scott to the track in an effort to bring in black fans (read: increased revenue) while also ensuring that the normal crowd would be there, with the full intent of hoping to grab headlines in the battle between good and evil, black and white, etc.
Further evidence of France’s tactics can be illustrated by the track selection in the new Chase. The tracks that held the last two elimination races? Talladega and Phoenix, both owned by ISC. The last race of the season, Homestead, is another ISC track.
France likely doesn’t care about who wins the championship this year because the whole thing has already been a success. The format incited drivers to do, shall we say, interesting things which meant that NASCAR made the news cycle. And for as much vitriol as there seems to be about the re-arranged format, Phoenix sold out and the ratings were up for the race.
All of the above is, in no means, a defense of France, instead merely a look at the current situation. It could also be seen as a foreshadowing element, meaning that he, and those that surround him will continue to seek out the most favorable ways of keeping the coffers full. The only way to affect change is to effect the bottom line.
But until then, isn’t the new Chase the most awesomest thing in the world ever?
Happiness Is…The End. Whether you like the new format or think it’s pure hogwash that is akin to a weighted lottery, it makes no difference. Old fans have continued to watch, perhaps out of habit or perhaps out of morbid curiosity. If there is such a thing as new fans, well, they’ve stuck around through the Chase possibly because it seems interesting and they might not even relate to the champion being crowned through the overall consistency format that was banished in 2003. That’s right, it’s been over a decade since the Chase started and wiped out that old idea.
But here it is, Homestead, the Finale, the Big Race, 400 laps to decide the champion. The four drivers in contention will all face a one-race pressure cooker which will be juxta posed with the other 39 drivers feeling loose and just looking to close out the year. Strange scenario, but that’s what we’ve got and it should be an interesting race – even if it’s at one of the teipd 1.5 milers on the circuit. Either way, it’s been an interesting year.
Happiness Is…A Mirror. “A driver’s championship is supposed to reward sustained excellence across the season.” That seems reasonable. “It’s a touch of silliness – and sport needs to avoid silliness at all costs.” Hm, sport is a difficult thing that is open for interpretation, but OK. “It comes down to the age-old dichotomy between sport and entertainment.” Ah, yes it does. Do these words seem familiar? Do they seem like people have written in both articles and in comments and on message boards about the 2014 Chase? Sure do. The funny thing, they’re not about the Chase at all, they’re about Formula 1 awarding double points for the final race of the season in an effort to keep interesting in the sport til the end. Simon Barnes penned the column, (found here), and it seems that the F1 brethren are going through a surprisingly similar circumstance to NASCAR.
Lewis Hamilton should be set up to clinch his second world championship with relative ease next weekend, but due to the double points factor, it’s not quite a breeze. Hence, under the old Chase, Joey Logano would be in the same position, and under the old old system, Jeff Gordon would be in a similar spot. But both F1 and NASCAR have seen fit to challenge how people identify racing, turning it into a question of sport versus entertainment. The one problem is that the dictionary also defines sport as a diversion, which seems to apply to either one, regardless.
Happiness Is…The Trucks. With the Nationwide series decided, congrats to Bill Elliott’s kid, and Cup being a strange weighted lottery, the Trucks series is going old school this weekend. Matt Crafton takes a 25-point edge into the finale with Ryan Blaney hoping that something catastrophic happens to Crafton’s truck. In reality, the title is pretty much decided. Unless Crafton blows a motor, he’s got his second title in the bag, mainly because there’s only 36 trucks on track and it’s likely that at least five will start-and-park by lap twenty, and that by lap 60 only fifteen will be on the lead lap. So, alright, maybe all that doesn’t seem like a great scenario and is commonly what happens during each truck race, but kudos to all that kept the series afloat for another season as the powers-that-be continue to find ways to drive it into the ground.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.
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