Naturally the big headline in the aftermath of Sunday night’s (or was it Monday morning’s?) race wasn’t so much the fact Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race, but that as the clock prepared to strike three the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon struck the catchfence and a fortunately limited amount of debris pelted the crowd seated in the area. While there were no severe injuries this time, had a second airborne car (and what are the chances of that at Daytona? Pretty high, relatively speaking) hit that same area where the fence was torn down, that wouldn’t have been the case.
It’s now been 27 years since NASCAR added restrictor plates to the race cars at Daytona and Talladega as a “temporary” solution. In the ultimate irony, those plates were intended to increase the safety level of fans in the grandstands after Bobby Allison’s near miss at Talladega. Yet somehow, cars have continued tearing down long stretches of the catchfence (and in one instance, even gone flying out of the track and landing in the parking lot) with the proper plates installed as per the rules. Can we all just admit it? Plate racing is stupid and dangerous, both for the drivers and the fans. (And children and all living things.) Perhaps the most accomplished plate racer in the sport’s history, Dale Earnhardt the original, went on record as saying “This isn’t real racing. I don’t care what they say.” The Intimidator had a simple solution. Clear out the lower 20 rows of the grandstands, take off the plates and let them race. Tragically, Earnhardt died during a restrictor-plate race in February of 2001 at this very track.
So yep, it’s time to move the fans higher, take off the plates and let ’em race. Make the teams install a mandatory 4.10 rear-gear ratio to limit top speed but still allow for passing. Logically, drivers are safer running at 210 mph several feet apart with throttle response than they are running at 202 mph inches apart and unable or unwilling to lift off the throttle because it will take two laps to get back up to speed. And if that doesn’t work, tear the tracks down and rebuild them with lower banking as the late Benny Parsons suggested about two decades ago. If they can afford “Daytona Rising” they can afford “Daytona Lowering” too. Meanwhile we can only hope those new escalators are wide enough to accommodate victims leaving the track in body bags.
While we’re on the topic of Daytona Rising, a note to my good bud Mr. Chitwood. Next time, you might want to finish the spotters’ stand first. The spotters are kind of important at the plate tracks. Drivers are often curious as to who is about to run into them.
I’m not a superstitious sort (it interferes with my phobias) but I don’t guess I’d drive a black Chevy rental car with the number 3 on it into the parking lot at DIS anymore.
Fans might have noticed a new light in the rear window of the pace car. When it blinks yellow, the pits are closed. When it blinks green, the pits are open. When it stops blinking, presumably the pace car has landed on its roof. Now, if they could just find someone in the tower to switch off the blinking yellow trackside lights when a race goes back green, we’d really be cooking with fire.
Normally I’m a champion of the green-white-checkered rule. Fans drive great distances and spend bushels full of cash to see a race or at least devote three or four hours of their time to watch a race. To have a race end under caution, well it’s like kissing your sister if your last name isn’t Locklear. But I’d be willing to make an exception to the GWC rule at Daytona and Talladega. A two-lap shootout at a plate track is like tossing an Ozark in the cesspool and sitting back to see what happens. In the end, what did that final restart change? The same driver won. In fact, as best I can fathom, the top five wasn’t altered at all. What that final restart did do was reduce a bunch of good racecars to smoking piles of rubble in a huge pig pile of a wreck that served no purpose. Oh, and it almost killed someone. But other than that…
(I find it interesting that, as this is written, Dillon is credited with finishing seventh in a car that was torn to pieces with its engine tossed so far from the main wreckage it would have taken a sea turtle three days to traverse the span. I guess whatever chunk of the car contained the transponder made it across the start-finish line. How the 14th-place car (Tony Stewart) can pass beneath the seventh-place car is lost on me.
I found some of the quotes from the drivers after the race particularly notable. Jeff Gordon, one of the sport’s most successful plate racers, admitted he was damn glad that he only had to run one more plate race before heading off to the booth to commentate on the carnage rather than participating in it. Second-place finisher Jimmie Johnson was pretty blunt “I’m shocked that Austin Dillon is even alive.” Yeah, there’s a pretty ringing endorsement of plate racing. Denny Hamlin noted that Kevin Harvick got a little too aggressive, saying that they weren’t going to win the race from second or third spot anyway. Really? Then where would you have to restart to have a chance at the win… or is that just the nature of restrictor-plate racing in 2015?
I’m going to have to admit I don’t know what the solution is when making the calls during a lengthy rain delay like the one at Daytona Sunday night. To the best of my recollection (and recall I was in fact watching Dead concerts all weekend and they weren’t my first), I can’t recall a Cup race ever starting or ending that late. Clearly the race is going to be a major TV ratings disaster for NBC, but I offer no sympathy for self-inflicted wounds. They’re the ones who wanted to run the race on Sunday night after all, the dirty rotten… Why I ought to…. But there was a good-size crowd on hand at Daytona (or maybe it just looked that way because they tore out two-thirds of the seats) and a surprising number of them stayed during the three-and-a-half-hour rain delay.
Though the vast majority of race fans at home had to work Monday and thus staying up until 3 a.m. wasn’t an option for most, just about all of us are now blessed with DVRs. Unlike those first-gen VHS machines that always defaulted to blinking “12:00” several times a day, modern DVRs are simple to use. If you can’t figure out how to set your DVR, well then buddy you’re too dumb to duct tape. (And those are fighting words in Dead Mule, North Dakota). The only challenge was trying to figure out when the race might end. So we’ll give the nod to the fans who actually spent vast sums to get tickets, find lodging, and pay for transportation and meals out who might not have been able to see the race at all had it been postponed to Monday.
But once the race concluded (and their injuries had been tended to in some cases) those same night owls had to hit the road and start a long trek home. I’m surprised there weren’t phone calls to the Daytona Police citing an imminent zombie invasion with the un-dead at the wheels of RVs. (Think Stephen King’s Dr. Sleep.) So, moving forward, can we all agree that no Cup race should have be started if there’s a likelihood it can’t be run to its conclusion by 1 a.m. local time? Those heading to races have been forewarned. Make arrangements with the boss and your hotel that will allow you to stay an extra day if the weather turns gloomy in Gitchu Gumee. A lot of us are getting old and won’t be around if they can’t stop racing until a quarter to three. Now if you can squeeze the race in by midnight, everyone will be as happy as they can be, dancing the night away.
Sometimes the universe shows its benevolent side and tries cleaning up our messes for us. Call it the Boulder Pelican-Goldfish Principal. Obviously NBC didn’t want to have to run the race opposite the Women’s World Cup game, and the weather delay meant the winning U.S. team was probably back in its hotel before NASCAR even had Brett Bodine give Junior a lift around to get his opinion on the track surface. On a more personal note, I was otherwise engaged Sunday night, but had the race on my tablet so I’d be able to start the DVR rolling just in case. Thus, I can report that the race started during the midst of the drum solo in the Dead’s second set, just three songs and two encores from the end of the gig. In fact, Dead percussionist Mickey Hart had just sounded a train whistle as the cars started rolling. (Those looking outside at that moment might have thought that they were seeing the Northern Lights, or perhaps the universe applauding the start of the race with all her children singing and the birds providing harmony. What you were in fact seeing was the collective positive energy of all those Dead fans around the globe, young and old alike, veterans of hundreds of shows and the newbies, all funneling our positive karma together in hopes that Mickey wouldn’t do that again because it was quite annoying.)
I stuck around to the end of the concert, and then, by fast-forwarding through the commercials, was able to catch up to the race live before midway. Yep, for anyone secretly hoping to see the soccer, the show and the race, all scheduled to run concurrently, it was indeed possible; you just had to stay up real, real, late. (To be honest I can’t recall the last time I was awake at 3:30 a.m., or if I was getting out of bed early for Carlisle or going to bed at the time. Getting older has its challenges, but it beats the alternative.)
Boy-howdy! What a week. It started with NASCAR saying they didn’t want fans flying the Confederate flag. (At least one pundit had a brain-freeze and discussed NASCAR banning the Connecticut flag rather than the Confederate one.) That’s a hot button topic with strong opinions on both sides of the fence, but I think we can all agree we don’t want cars flying into the grandstand. Perhaps NASCAR should concentrate their focus on the flying cars and not the flags.
Do you think that Monday morning crash was bad enough that someone called Brian France at home, woke him up and told him what happened?
Most of you will be pleased to know that next year’s Firecracker 400 will be moved back to a more traditional Saturday night date. In fact, it surprised me how few of you knew that the race had been moved until Sunday prior to Saturday night. The race ended up scheduled to run concurrently with the Women’s World Cup game featuring Team USA (and to be honest I didn’t know that there was a Women’s World Cup either) was just a bit of karmic payback.That ended up being karma’s spitball. The cannonball was a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay. Daytona track president Joie Chitwood admitted that the Sunday night time slot wasn’t ideal but was done to accommodate NBC. Referring to NBC he added “When you look at what they’ve done with ‘Football Night in America,’ they are just knocking it out of the park.” Not to mix his sports’ metaphors of course. He added that he hoped NBC could “sprinkle a little bit of that magic” on the race. I checked. I saw no magic sprinkled, though the air over Soldier’s Field in Chicago was full of the stuff.
You have to wonder just how gullible NASCAR thinks we all are. First there was news the International Speedway Corporation might take over running the Laguna Seca road course. Before we’d even been given a chance to digest that, NASCAR announced they might be adding a road course to next year’s Chase. Obviously this is just a coincidence, because ISC and NASCAR are in fact two different entities. They are two different entities that just happen to be run by the same family and headquartered in the same building. ISC owns racetracks. NASCAR doles out race dates. How could anybody sense any sort of conflict there? So road race fans are left to speculate as to what road-course race might be added to next year’s schedule. (Here’s a hint, its Laguna Seca.) The better question is what track might lose their date to add one at the road course. Given that there are a limited number of weekends in a year, declining TV ratings and attendance figures, even NASCAR wouldn’t be stupid enough to add another date to the already bloated schedule. I mean, they wouldn’t, right? Oh wait a second. I forgot who we’re talking about here. So you might want to plan ahead and tell the family you’ll likely be busy next Thanksgiving. Ask Mom if she could reschedule it for Sunday night instead.
The sad reality is, that when it comes to the depths of venality, the France family will drill down towards it is unfathomable. Even Siri on your Apple phone would probably give you a snarky response if you ask. Take a look at the history of the Homestead-Miami track. After Hurricane Andrew pretty much wiped out that part of Florida, and the Air Force base which had been the staple of the local economy was closed, someone came up with the idea if they added a racetrack (funded in large part at taxpayers’ expense), it would revitalize the local economy. That was back during the salad days when holding a NASCAR race was a license to print money. And then it wasn’t. And the fine folks at NASCAR arrived and said, “Oh, you wanted a Cup date too? We can do that. Hell, we’ll schedule this track to be the grand finale for all three of our touring series. Right after you sell it to the ISC for dimes on the dollar. I mean, you don’t want that big old thing just sitting out there with no race dates at all, do you?”
In some cases, you have to look at both sides of an argument. It was announced over the weekend that NASCAR will use new rules packages at Michigan and Indianapolis (a higher-drag package if I’m reading things correctly) in hopes of making the racing better. Add those two tracks to Kentucky next weekend and Darlington on Labor Day weekend (again… on a Sunday night. Seriously? Sigh). But speaking on the behalf of the Driver’s Council, Earnhardt Jr. said they’ll be using this season’s rule package for all of the races in the Chase. On one level that is fair. That’s the rules package the teams arrived with at Atlanta (recall that Daytona has its own unique rules package) prepared to do battle. That’s what they developed and tweaked on during the all-too-brief offseason with the understanding that it was what was going to be used all year. The fact NASCAR has tweaked the rules for four races speaks volumes not just about how bad the racing has been this year, bu about how they’ve trivialized the importance of races not in the Chase at this point of the season.
Traditionally NASCAR doesn’t tweak rules with a championship still on the line. Even in 1998 when the infamous “5 and 5” rules package caused a season’s worth of racing even worse than this year, NASCAR didn’t step in and try something else until after Gordon had already clinched the title. That seemed fair. You can’t penalize one mouse for learning to run the maze faster and better than the rest. On the other hand, with everyone having admitted this year’s rules package has led to some frankly dreadful events posing as auto races, and NASCAR and NBC’s desire to “grow the sport” (I’ve always hated that term. You grow tomatoes, not a sport), they’re going to stand up and tell the newcomers they hope to draw in with the Chase; “And now back to your regularly scheduled monotony! You know they might be showing a football game on another channel.”
Someone just told me that the Southern 500 is traditionally a Sunday night race. Really? You want to go there? Traditionally, the Southern 500 is run at Darlington, too, and they didn’t mind messing with that tradition for a decade, did they? OK, so now that the race is at least back to the correct track, the Southern 500 was traditionally run in the afternoon. Yes, it can be hot as the blazes in the Carolinas on Labor Day weekend, but that was always one of the challenges for the drivers, their machines and fans alike. It’s supposed to be hot! It’s summertime! Has your central air conditioning really reduced you to that much a wimp? Turn that stupid thing off, get out on your porch and maybe meet the neighbors. They’re been living there five years, you know? Classic cars require climate controlled storage not classic people. And Labor Day of course serves as a warning sign that summertime’s done come and gone, my oh my. It’s back to school, time for the leaves to start changing and soon enough a lot of us will be ass deep in snow shoveling for all we’re worth or listening to the weather lady ramble on excitedly about “wind chill factors,” Yep, give me one more hot weekend so I can cling to that memory come January.