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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding A Pretty Wheel: Why So Serious?

As I was reading through the comments on this week’s Frontstretch Five (I like comments a lot, even if I don’t always agree with them), I have to admit that one thought came to mind a few times. The comments were varied, sure, and mostly thoughtfully written, and as I said, I enjoy reading through them. I enjoy connecting with race fans through my writing.

But that thought I kept having? Y’all took that column a whole lot more seriously than it was intended.

Honestly, I didn’t write it because there was nothing better to talk about, or because I think fighting in the garage is that big a deal most of the time. I chose those particular incidents because I thought they were funny. There really wasn’t a lot of analysis going on there, but there was some chuckling and the odd snort.

There’s a lot in this sport to laugh at, if you, like I, don’t take things too seriously. Life’s too short for that.

I’m not saying I don’t take racing – or my job – seriously, because I do. I genuinely care about the sport, the people in it, and their combined future. It’s infuriating, frustrating and maddening to see some of the things that have been done to the sport in the name of entertainment. If you read my columns regularly, you know I’m generally right there with you on the frustration level.

But like everything in life, racing has a lighter side. It’s usually small things, or ridiculous things, or just plain weird things. But if you don’t find something to laugh at, it’ll drive you crazy. Or at least that’s my theory.

I’ve always been a lover of stories told by a good storyteller, and racing has some great stories. From the old days when someone always seemed to end up either naked or in a swimming pool (sometimes both) to today’s crop of drivers (four guys, a kite tube and a frozen dinner come to mind; I don’t think anyone was naked and it was in the lake, not a pool, but you get the gist), there’s always something crazy to make me smile, even when the rest of the sport isn’t so funny.

At the end of the day, it’s why I still believe that there’s a lot of good to be found in a sport that’s been ravaged from within, its title tarnished and its players sterilized. It’s still about people, and people are funny, at least some of the time.

Frankly, we could stand to be shown more of the human side of racing. Not the over-edited soundbites thrown out on TV these days, but something more real. Whether it’s something small or borderline too much information, what people need to see is the human beings underneath the sponsor plugs and perfect families. What we need to hear are the stories of childhood antics, crazy wild days during coming-of-age, what happened on the plane after the race last week. What fans should see and know is their racing heroes not taking themselves too seriously.

That’s missing in racing these days. Sponsors seem to want fans to see only a squeaky-clean, almost monochromatic side of their drivers and crews. They want to hide the warts and stifle the genuineness. Is that good for anyone involved? Well, no, it’s not.

Take an incident that happened a few years back. Then-reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson broke his wrist during an offseason fall from a golf cart. Which is ridiculous enough, but realize that Johnson fell off the roof of the golf cart. Um, how? He was surfing on it. Because he was basically OK, it’s actually pretty funny. But instead of letting Johnson tell his story and letting fans laugh with (OK, more like at) him, his handlers instead tweaked the details in an apparent attempt not to make their driver look like an overgrown kid (which Johnson basically is). It was a missed opportunity for fans to connect with Johnson, who’s long been perceived as vanilla, through a completely goofy moment. Instead, he came off as the kid who fudges details when he’s caught doing something he shouldn’t, and that wasn’t the case at all.

How that situation was handled should have been a wakeup call that we’ve lost the personalities in the sport, and it’s not because nobody has one anymore, but rather because they’re kept more of a secret than the Colonel’s special blend of 11 herbs and spices. And at the end of the day, in a sport that’s about more than machinery, that’s been hugely detrimental.

During the NASCAR boom of the late 1990s, fans felt like they knew drivers personally. Whether through TV commercials or features in any of a dozen publications, fans were allowed to see drivers acting less than perfect and a lot more human. Drivers weren’t seen as vanilla, and they weren’t. They still thanked their sponsors, but they also allowed fans a glimpse at who they really were. That was all a big key to why people flocked to the sport: drivers were accessible and fun. They were approachable. Fans felt like they could sit down and have a beer with most of those guys and have a normal conversation about everyday things, sharing fish stories and laughs.

That’s changed. Maybe fans have changed, too. But in any case, when did it all get so serious? The sport itself hasn’t changed in its ultimate purpose: to see how fast a bunch of grown people can drive around in circles. The rules have changed, and that’s part of the problem. But the people have changed, too. And that’s a shame, because there are, perhaps, a number of fans who would have remained passionate if only they could have found someone to feel passionate about.

Maybe it’s time we saw the lighter side of racing once again. Life’s too short to take it too seriously. And that goes double for racing.

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9 thoughts on “Holding A Pretty Wheel: Why So Serious?”

  1. Well..thanks Amy, but from a fan perspective the fights ain’t funny especially in this era of Mr. Brian France wanting to promote that nonsense to deflect the pathetic state of affairs on the track. Call many of us “fight weary” and we are on to the game.

    A small anything gets to be a promotion for many to write and talk about all week, mostly the model of the beast seem to side with the who is always in favor at Castle Daytona. The script is written and anybody who they view as a bulls eye gets dragged into the fray, they will become the “bad guy”. On the flip side for example, the infamous cowardly push from behind was pretty much embraced with glee by NASCAR and it’s press, they loved it..why? And nothing was done to that jack off. The excuse for a grown man butting into to something he had no business being in and pushing another in the back that caused a melee of epically stupid heights is why I cannot wrap my brain around the “fun” of this crap.

    Most recently the garbage of these two grown men last week both not really paying attention for whatever reason, the “Instigators” crew chief keeps him out and ends up 42nd..and the Chevy crowd is calling for Logano’s head, as if the “Champs” forgot to drive. Good storyline that young 25 year old Ford driver disrespecting those 40 year olds, whatever. They can’t keep it cut and dry and factual. I dunno, seems this bull is unnecessary and manufactured, not funny..and boring. Sorry Amy. We have NASCAR penalizing a crew member a year or two ago for throwing a (I forgot the tool) and he basically was kicked out of the sport, we have Tony Stewart clearly in violation throwing his helmet, and that makes the highlight reels for years after and no harm or foul. NASCAR probably sent him a years supply of premium Omaha Steaks. People are sick of this crap. Just saying, Double Standards. And throw “The Chase” into having one race out of 35 determine that you are not a “Champ” or that you are a “Champ”, it has fans hanging by a thread. NASCAR doesn’t deserve our humor during these times, imo.

  2. Regarding taking everything so serious, point taken Amy.

    Regarding “But in any case, when did it all get so serious?”. IMO there are two reasons for that…..

    The first is big money and the fact that corporate America has no balls and zero tolerance for controversy. Drivers are now being paid primarily for being a corporate figurehead and their driving ability is a distant second. You don’t have to look too far to find a driver or two that has very little success on the track but continues to get contracts because they are popular or appeal to a certain demographic.

    The second reason is social media and the internet. Any minor indiscretion, foible, un-politically correct comment or mistake is instantly picked up by someone and then magnified and beamed around the world in minutes. The bar used to be a lot higher for what was considered offensive or news-worthy but today there is nothing that isn’t scrutinized, over-analyzed and then amplified to the nth degree.

    So you have sponsors that have zero appetite for any deviance from vanilla, drivers that are scrutinized constantly under a magnifying glass, and a public that jump on the twitter bandwagon and treat everything like a major social issue. And then the news media feeds that frenzy by giving it more attention then it deserves because that’s what people are talking about.

    That’s 2015 and that’s the world we live in. As goes the world, so goes NASCAR.

  3. Why so serious? Well, Amy, you are right in one thing, a lot of fans aren’t having fun with the sport any more. As the comments from Bill B and kb both pointed out, the reasons for that are not because of the drivers or the fans but because of what NASCAR has become thru its overemphasis on corporate sponsorship (which as Bill pointed out have NO sense of humor), social media magnifying everything so that people wind up apologizing for having made any little comment that someone is “horrified” over.

    And then we have the Chase/playoffs, whatever it is being called this year. Apparently the word playoffs has been substituted maybe because someone in NASCAR’s PR department finally noticed that many fans are not all that thrilled by it. As kb pointed out, last year, NASCAR was all thrilled with all of the crashing & fighting — ooh, ahh, wasn’t that cool and pushed it even though in previous years they’d have fined the crap out of the drivers & teams. The deal with Harvick & Johnson? Ha, well, I’ve said in other posts that if Johnson didn’t act like such an entitled jerk, he wouldn’t have been where he was and Harvick’s crew chief took the chance that the smoke went away and it was ok and he was wrong. Although personally I have no problem with Harvick confronting Johnson and giving him a shove was fine, too, but that’s because I don’t like either of them. Blaming Logano – even though I’m not a fan of his either – is just dumb, too.

    I agree that NASCAR doesn’t deserve our humor. 9 races & counting.

    • Yep Gina,
      It is no fun anymore to be a fan of any driver because no matter how good they are doing, how well prepared they are, or how far ahead of the competition they are (in points or seconds on the track), it doesn’t matter. In the end some random, manufactured shake-up will occur at the end of the race that may help or hurt your driver and most times it’s because NASCAR has set the rules up that way or made a call to manufacture a close finish. Being vested in a sporting event for 4 hours and then having everything come down to a crapshoot at the end is not my definition of fun. It’s only worse when you multiply that by 36 and have the championship determined in the same manner.

      • Agreed, Bill, that’s one of the major reasons why I can’t bring myself to even consider following another driver after Gordon retires. It is just too frustrating to have the “sanctioning body” manipulate the playing field all the time.

        I’ve come to the end of my run with being upset by it all.

        I’m sure that I will watch next year – at least during the winter months but care, or for that matter to Amy’s point, take it seriously? Nope, not after Homestead 2015.

  4. All good points guys, the frustration of a sport we once loved has taken any bit of humor out of anything. The manufactured everything and the hype on social media, news and print of any little thing, especially if they are not on the approved support list that Castle Daytona issues is just maddening and far from the truth. But some sheep drink the kool aid. And yes I said sheep and kool aid.

  5. When you think about it NASCAR isn’t doing anything that isn’t being done elsewhere on television as there so many “reality” shows that people seem to want. It’s the new show formula, it doesn’t have to be real and people obviously don’t care if it is or isn’t. NASCAR is just trying to work that formula into their “product” which is unfortunate for the fans, (or older fans) that watch for the sport, not the show. It is a sad commentary on society that people have no issue with contrived, twisted story line, reality shows. I expect that we will see a lot more fights/shoving and all that as well as mystery cautions to keep as many, if not all chase guys in the “show”. What I think will be the downfall of NASCAR trying to embrace the reality show concept is that NASCAR relies on sponsorship and that I think will be the wild-card as corporations might not be so keen on offering money if things start to move to far away from NASCAR as a sport. Look at the last race, Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola finished in the top-10 and not a word was heard about it in the post-race interviews and so on. How do you think their sponsors felt about that? If your not in the Chase the only way you can hope to get any coverage is by winning. Like kb stated, some of us are just tired of this crap but our love of cars going fast makes it hard to walk away.

  6. What can you say? I’ve thought about taking three or four different tact’s as a way of answering. But maybe its because the stakes are higher for all concerned. Not the life and death way thats always present in motor sport, but financially. There are money, careers, corporate futures all at stake every week. Not so much on the race track, but financially. And the camera is always on.
    Guess its just the price of success, no matter how fleeting it may be.

  7. Thanks for trying to get us to lighten up and have fun. Just know that when we’re bitching, we are having fun. It’s an old people hobby. I actually get more pleasure from bitching and whining about NASCAR on this site than I do watching NASCAR. I didn’t watch half of this NASCAR season but I never missed a week of Frontstretch bitching. This would have been the perfect NASCAR article if you would have mentioned Mamma, trains, trucks, prison, getting drunk, Heather Locklear and a Dodge Hellcat.

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