The Cup series takes an all-too-infrequent week off next weekend and I’m down for my annual “stay-cation”, the sort of summer holiday for folks who don’t have two spare dimes to rub together and happen to like the area where they live just fine. My vacation fund says “Harley Davidson” on the side of it and I don’t have to take off my shoes and empty my pockets to board it. Before leaving, I did want to clean off my desk and extinguish any combustibles so here’s a few random thoughts on the limited goings on in the sport right now.
NBC – Is that really short for NoBody Cares? If you paid careful attention the last few months, you might have caught an occasional hint this year’s Summer Olympics are on the NBC family of networks. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated (by network programmers anyway) event is off to a shaky start. NBC decided to tape delay the opening ceremonies thinking they’d get better ratings for the program in the primetime viewing slot. (The same reason they said they’re moving stock car races to later start times next year, if I recall.) Only the move tanked big time with ratings off 35% over the last Olympics held in London. But of course, the programming geniuses who came up with the idea say the ceremonies were more popular than ever. It’s just people chose to watch them on their phones or online, right?
Why does this poor decision matter for NASCAR? NBC covers the sport, has been dealing with sagging ratings there and hasn’t been proving itself as a strong decision maker. Keep in mind officials down in Daytona have been using the same “iPhone and streaming excuse” about flagging TV ratings lately as they try to lure in a new title sponsor. I’m going to title this phenomenon the “Gillian Hypothesis.” One might recall one Gillian Zucker was once saddled with the unhappy task of managing Fontana Speedway, the first canary in the NASCAR coal mine to indicate no, actually you couldn’t just build a track anywhere you damn well felt like, add a Cup date and start cranking the money machine as tickets sold out in hours. Ms. Zucker, when questioned about all those empty seats at her track famously opined that the fans who belonged in those seats were under the grandstands, cheerfully shopping for souvenir merchandise or sampling the many fine food options available at the track. Upon hearing that explanation, I laughed so mirthfully it may be the last time in my life I had hot squirts of urine rolling down my thighs. After some races with fewer fans attending Gillian’s aluminum pile than the number of folks stranded on Gilligan’s Isle ISC did, in fact, cut the track back to one race date a year. Guess what? It still doesn’t sell out.
This year’s winner of the Gilly Award goes to NBC’s Senior Vice President Greg Hughes who said, “To compare linear TV viewership today versus four years ago isn’t logical. ” Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that NBC also served as the original home of Star Trek and the uber-logical Mr. Spock. That was a program NBC jettisoned by the way, Warp Factor Three, thinking that space-cowboy mine had been picked clean but as it turned out Star Trek had some miles left on it. I dunno. Maybe if they’d added more commercials things would have worked out?
The Olympic fans who did in fact resort to the Paleolithic method of watching those opening ceremonies on TV were vocally incensed by the number of commercials NBC crammed into the program. Those fans who watched both those ceremonies and NBC’s return to NASCAR at this year’s Firecracker 400 couldn’t have been surprised. (Though I am sure both of you were still disappointed.)
While we’re on the TV folks again I have to consider the USA network’s logo an epic fail. Truthfully, I had no idea what it was until I dropped my fork and got almost face-to-face with the TV. How hard would it have been to make the “S” red rather than black? Maybe this is a case of black letters matter?
NASCAR spokespeople say everything is A-OK on the search for a new title sponsor for the Cup Series. Well, um, it’s tough to pick among so many wonderful candidates. (Is anyone else seeing Steve Harvey announcing the winner?) So yeah, the big announcement is coming in the fall, not this summer as earlier predicted. Oh, and the new deal is likely going to be for three or four years, not ten years minimum as previously postulated. Plus, the amount of the financial sponsorship is likely to be somewhere between 25 and 35 million dollars annually, not the 75 to 100 million dollar figure that had been bandied around when Sprint (Umm…wait a second. They were still called Nextel back then, weren’t they?) became title sponsor in 2004. Below are a list of some of the potential title sponsors NASCAR has noted and what sort of fit they might be, though I am sure that in the end it will come down to a battle royale among corporate CEOs in the Thunderdome to determine which company wrests the big prize.
Coca-Cola – Well that makes sense. Our buddies at Coke have already survived what is still thought to be the biggest marketing disaster in history with “New Coke”. On the other hand, I just read this year for the first time another beverage has outsold soda in the U.S. … bottled water.
The Yum Brand – Who? Well you probably know them better as KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut though they recently made Long John Silver’s walk the plank. Yeah, OK, I’m good with that as long as they don’t have George Hamilton, the Extra-Creepy Colonel show up at the track or bring back that damn Taco Bell Chihuahua. In fact, the Yum brand has a long history of imbecilic, annoying, off-putting and sometimes creepy advertising so they might just be the best fit on this list.
Kroger – Well, you learn something new every day. I hear Kroger and I immediately flash to Larry in Animal House or Freddie on Elm Street. As it turns out, Kroger is the biggest supermarket chain in the US and the second biggest retailer behind only our buddies at Wally World or, as I call them, The Beijing Bazaar. I’ve never actually seen a Kroger’s I can recall as they deal mainly in the South and Midwest not here in the Northeast. Out here, they run a convenience store chain called Turkey Hill which is badly overshadowed by regional favorites Wawa and Sheetz. (We just have a thing for silly names and there’s no Piggly Wigglys to patronize.) Yep, overall another decent fit here given Joe Jackson’s one-time anthem: “Cause I got the trash and you got the cash, so, baby we should get along fine…”
Samsung – Yep, we’re heading overseas here along with all the jobs. Keep your hands inside the car, please, this one is a dark ride. One has to wonder how the board of a Korean company sees stock car racing as a logical marketing move. It’s not like there’s any Hyundais or Kias racing at present. Shouldn’t they be thinking up ways to make their products do more Stupid Phone Tricks? Also, right now, there’s the specter of the entire Korean peninsula being reduced to a smoking cinder by the bellicose madman who runs the northern tier of the peninsula.
Hisense – I checked. It’s pronounced “High Sense” not “His Sense” which a friend tells me would be counterintuitive. But, then again, she’s been through some bad relationships including several with me. You might not have heard a lot about Hisense but if you shop the big box stores or Amazon doubtless you’ve seen their product line which seems to composed of really big TVs (Don’t they know nobody watches those things anymore?) at really low prices. It’s easy to sell electronics cheap when they’re assembled by slave labor and incarcerated dissidents….
Hisense itself is owned by the government of what I grew up calling “Red China” though it does have some publicly traded subsidiaries. Right now, the U.S. trade deficit with China is at a record 365 some odd billion dollars annually….yep, about a billion dollars a day. The U.S. ships mainly Buicks and big bundles of cash to China and they ship us about everything else usually in boxes marked “Wal-Mart.” It’s a wonder unemployment checks in the U.S. aren’t paid in Chinese yuans. Nope, I really hope this isn’t the suitor that NASCAR finally settles on.
Things That Maybe Go Boom – I was as stunned as anyone to watch the front end of Derrike Cope’s Camaro explode at Watkins Glen and I’m as curious as anyone to find out what happened. Had a similar situation transpired during a pit stop I wouldn’t have wanted to be the front tire carrier or changer. Hell, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the same zip code. I’ve seen some conjecture (mainly among drag racing fans) that Cope’s explosion was triggered by a nitrous oxide system failure. I don’t think so and I’ve owned a bunch of cars set up with N2O and watched some similar systems fail spectacularly, though fortunately not my own. Naturally, nitrous is illegal in NASCAR racing. Yeah, yeah, I know. But nitrous (and for the record NOBODY ever called it “nawwwsss!” That was a stupid movie and if you watched it through to the end, you’re stupider for having done so) is mainly seen in drag racing.
A drag strip is usually a quarter-mile long and the races tend to be over in under 12 seconds. There’s only so much nitrous you can carry aboard a race car especially if it has to be carefully hidden to avoid getting nailed cheating. A nitrous system might come in handy for qualifying at a big track and there was an infamous incident during Daytona qualifying one year where several notable drivers, including AJ Foyt and Darrell Waltrip, got nailed with nitrous tanks aboard. After some races in that era, drivers did in fact throw nitrous bottles out of their cars on the cool-down laps and some of them were said to have smuggled the laughing gas onboard strapped to their legs.
But again, nitrous in a 500-mile race would be more like having Indycar’s “Push to Pass” system in place. You’d be lucky to get thirty seconds total time on the bottle so it would need to be reserved for the right circumstances. Nitrous is made up of nitrogen and oxygen so it’s flammable. The way the system works is given that there’s a relatively constant level of oxygen in the air that mixes with the fuel to make the car run adding more oxygen (the O part of N20) in conjunction with more gas makes big power and wins street races. Adding just more oxygen without sufficient fuel just leans out your engine and does horrible things like burn holes in your pistons and other stuff that will make you cuss a blue streak and bankrupt you. The thing about every nitrous explosion I’ve seen is that they are accompanied by a brief but brilliant flash of fire. I didn’t even see at least a flicker of flame when Cope’s Chevy exploded.
On the other hand, badly overheated brake rotors in F1 have been known to explode. You can watch this video to see one do so up close and personal.
To be fair, the F1 teams use carbon fiber brake rotors which I don’t think NASCAR allows so it’s not a direct comparison. Again, one would expect the wheel itself would absorb most of the impact of an exploding brake rotor and that cherry red shrapnel would have been seen when the explosion occurred. At least one source has told me he’d find it highly unlikely that in NASCAR a brake rotor could overheat to the point it exploded claiming that the bead of the tire on that corner of the car would have melted long before the rotor got hot enough to detonate. So, like the rest of you I’ll just have to stay tuned and see what the experts who actually have what’s left of the car figure out. In one of those rare moments of consensus in the sport today I think all of us would strongly prefer not to see that happen again no matter what “that” turns out to be. (It’s heartening that at least nobody I’ve heard has yet postulated the incident was caused by Islamic terrorism. But the week is young.)
The most frightening part of the explosion is considering what would have happened if a similar incident occurred during a pit stop, not out on the track.
Something struck me watching the Watkins Glen race. For one thing most of the tracks turns are right-handers in a sport where most drivers are better at going fast and turning left. And after all these years, it finally occurred to me: these guys are going the wrong way! Competitors circle the track in a clockwise direction at the Glen while at every oval track I’ve ever been to the cars travel counterclockwise. So maybe it’s time to simply reverse the direction the stock cars run at the Glen? I’m sure having to go through the bus stop is going to limit the speed the cars can carry down the back straight and down through the esses. If not, we could always add another bus stop at the end of the straightaway. Imagine the final lap with cars coming out of the ninety and charging uphill to the start/finish line….
I’m told that American oval track racing is run counter-clockwise because that’s how horse races in this country were typically staged. And horse races in the United States were run counterclockwise because they’re run in a clockwise direction in England and they just wanted to thumb their noses at the Brits. (Perhaps that’s the same reason though centuries later, we drive on opposite sides of the road?) Off topic, there was actually a bit of an uproar back in 1964 when the Mustang was introduced. Some folks felt that the horse in the car’s grille (which was oriented head towards the passenger side of the car) was “going the wrong way.” It probably led to some stunned Ford PR type having to explain the horse in question was a Mustang, a wild horse and not a thoroughbred racing horse. Wild horses run any damn which way they please, particularly when the Alpo processors came calling. He probably suggested they go talk to someone at GM to find out what the hell a “Chevelle” and “El Camino” were named after.
To this day I hear some folks at the car shows talk about the Mustang emblems going the wrong way. (For a brief period Ford “fixed” the issue, but all the Mustang types hated that and began caterwauling about the move.) Yes, there are a lot of stupid people in America. (Fortunately there’s a lot of really nice people as well.) I’m pretty well traveled. As I’ve cruised those ribbons of highway beneath those endless skyways roaming and rambling I’ve been stunned by the sheer depths of stupidity exhibited by some folks I’ve met along the way. Percentage-wise it’s not that people are stupider is my guess. It’s just the internet has allowed more far-flung, stupid people to broadcast their stupidity throughout a wider geographic area rather than just the small towns that elected them village idiots.
While they’re rearranging things at the Glen, here’s another idea for NASCAR and the track. It’s really rather stupid to throw a full course caution at a road course for “debris” on the track. It’s even a bit suspicious when extended cautions to dust off the track may allow teams gambling on fuel mileage a decided advantage. In most instances Saturday and Sunday at the Glen the “debris” on the track was dirt and gravel thrown up onto the track in the Inner Loop. So how hard would it be to simply re-route the cars straight through the runoff lane and around that inner loop while still under green as the brush trucks cleaned off that area of the track? While we’re at it, a three-lap caution flag to clear a loose wheel off pit road seems a tad excessive especially during a race that would wind up with an average green flag segment of about eight laps. At the 45 MPH pace car speed it takes the field about three minutes and fifteen seconds to complete a lap at the Glen. That means a three-lap caution burns up almost ten minutes of time. To grab hold of a loose wheel?
Some folks have asked me, “What’s the deal with the four JGR cars running the windshield wipers on a perfectly clear day?” To be truthful, I don’t know. I’ve heard speculation that they were there to help clear dirt and dust off the windshield in the event of the team’s drivers got a little too agricultural in the Inner Loop. Some folks have guessed there must have been some sort of aerodynamic advantage. But I think maybe someone was just having a little fun. Yes, this season the JGR entries are dominating in all three of NASCAR’s top touring divisions.
Back in 1967, Richard Petty and the No. 43 team had a stranglehold on the sport to an even greater degree. Everyone was watching that bright blue No. 43 car carefully trying to decipher what made it so fast. Dale Inman decided to have some fun and started carefully wiping down the car with baby powder prior to the races. He started a rumor that the baby powder filled in tiny flaws in the car’s paint and made it more aerodynamic. Sure enough, within a week other team members and crew chiefs were wiping down their cars with baby powder as well though in the long run it made them no faster. There’s an old adage in racing; if you’re trying to hide an illegal modification in a race car, add two more things that are even more blatantly illegal to the car. Likely, the inspectors will find those, think they’ve done their job, and completely overlook the ruse you were trying to get away with in the first place.
It was announced this week that Barry Williams will sing the National Anthem at Darlington prior to the Southern 500. “Who?” a lot of you are asking. Williams is perhaps best known for playing the role of Greg Brady, the eldest son on the Brady Bunch. “Who?” some of you young’uns are still asking. As it turns out, the former thespian has long since devoted his talents to music. He appears regularly at a theater in Branson, MO wearing bell bottoms and tie-dye shirts singing hits from the 1970s. (I’m going to guess that Springsteen and the Dead aren’t in his set. I’m going to hope like Hell they aren’t, anyway.)
There’s some comfort in this newfound knowledge. I now know if I am consigned to perdition after this life on earth, I will spend the rest of eternity in Branson, MO watching Barry Williams perform 24 hours a day.
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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