As NASCAR slowly awakens from its off-season hibernation clanking, smoking and leading decidedly to port after a tough season last year, here are some of the notes I’ve been scribbling on the back of Wawa receipts, none of which wound up being enough for a separate column.
Supply and Demand Gone Badly Askew? I was reading this week that the average ticket left for sale for the Daytona 500 is about $220. Yikes. I had no idea that the whole “Daytona Rising” thing was about ticket prices. International Speedway Corp. did the best it could to reduce supply by tearing down thousands of seats but that didn’t work out very well Sunday. Optimistic estimates for crowd sized stated there were about 15,000 fans on hand. Yes, the main event was the Clash which was slated for Saturday night but postponed to Sunday by rain. Still that’s not like a race scheduled for Sunday running on a Monday. (Which would have been Presidents’ Day this year.) Unreserved seats for the Clash were $55 dollars while reserved seats for the event sold (poorly) at $85. Tickets to watch Cup qualifying on Sunday were $25. But if a fan with a qualifying ticket for Sunday wanted to come early and see the Clash too, NASCAR would accommodate them for a mere 30 bucks for an unreserved seat, a savings of…..well, um, let me recheck my math…..yep, absolutely nothing. With hotel rates jacked up, minimum stays and the price of gas for the Winnie Warrior or Family Truckster well above last year’s level a family trip to the Daytona 500 is a budget-buster. And a lot of the gray-haired ultra-rich white guys who could afford the trip have been appointed to the Cabinet as it is.
It’s a wonder they bother to charge for qualifying at Daytona anyway. It’s doubtless the most stultifyingly boring event of the year outside of Washington DC. 42 cars took single-car dual-lap runs against the clock. Then the 12 fastest of those drivers took another solo run against the clock. In reverse order, slowest to fastest. Yep, I was right at the edge of my seat…feeling around down the cushions for the keys to my Jeep so I could out and do something else to celebrate a February Sunday in the seventies.
Blowing in the Wind Hendrick Motorsports engineers are likely burning the midnight oil this week after Sunday’s Clash. Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Chevy got suddenly sideways for no apparent reason not once but twice during the event, leading to the Champ’s sixth consecutive DNF in the event. The same fate befell Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott last year.
Everything I know about the science of aerodynamics could be written on the head of a pin with a ballpoint pen (sorry, kids, Google it) but I do know what most production cars look like. It’s a bit tough to decide considering the new Camry isn’t being made yet and the old Chevy SS isn’t being made anymore, but I did look at a friend’s Focus and conducted a very scientific experiment. You cannot balance a beer on the rear quarter panel of a street Fusion beside the rear window even if you try very carefully and it’s cheap beer you don’t mind wasting. Yet it looks like you could set out a picnic lunch for a fat family on the “Stock car” racers at least on the left side. And how is Toyota allowed to run a 2018 model now? Back in the old days, a manufacturer had to build a minimum number (it started at 500 but then rose to one per dealership that carried that brand) before it could be certified. I’m going to guess (and hope) that the new street Camry doesn’t look anything like the race car which resembles something Astro-boy might go trolling down the El tracks in Kensington to score heroin.
Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function? It would seem in today’s NASCAR “all’s well that ends well.” Yes, there was a last lap pass for the lead Sunday when Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski got to arguing over a bit of real estate just above the double yellow line. Huzzah! The greatest race ever! Hardly. I guess it’s more of a matter of “I’ve been down so damn long, that it looks like up to me.” For much of the Clash the race looked a whole lot last year’s Daytona 500. The four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were back in formation flying mode again making a mockery of the rest of the field. But in this instance Kyle Busch was fourth in line and bless his pointed little head, old Kyle don’t think much of fourth. Now had he been leading the pack, naturally he’d have wanted his teammates to stay in line and keep pushing him, but when Busch saw the Nos. 2 and 22 making a move to the outside, he decided to switch lanes. After the race Busch was livid that Alex Bowman didn’t help push him to the win but as Linda Elerbee might have said, “And so it goes.” I’m looking for another Toyota parade up front on Sunday.
Are there Monsters Under the Bed? Maybe it’s nothing. This is a strange era we’re living in rife with conspiracy theories with little to no basis in fact. Be it pedophile pizzerias or Russia funding the separatist movement to make California its own nation, thanks to the internet it’s “news”! So perhaps it’s nothing but I did notice something rather odd on Sunday. As most of you know by now Monster Energy is the Cup series title sponsor. But damn were they flying under the radar for the most part on Sunday. Their name was barely mentioned. They had four signs painted on the outside wall, all of them directly clockwise from NASCAR logos which were much bigger and more visible. It seemed the shadows and colors made those logos almost invisible. Hmmm, said I. So I kept watching. All the cars now have the sponsor’s logos decaled across the top of their windshield where the drivers name used to go (not a fan of that for the record). But camera angles seemed deliberately chosen not to show that logo “clear and in focus” as Joyce Julius insists. All the driver’s uniforms now have a Monster patch by that driver’s right shoulder. Again, an odd amount of times it appeared that a microphone or on screen logos blocked that patch from the cameras. Occasionally the on-screen graphics included the name Monster (not stylized but clearly readable) but most did not. Joey Logono took no swig of a Monster in victory lane but then he is under contract with Coke. (Which, incidentally, owns a major portion of Monster Energy.) He failed to thank the new title sponsor. Yep, I’m sure there will be an occasional slipup when a driver or broadcaster uses “Sprint” instead of the new name, but this seemed deliberate. Prior to the race I would have thought the over-under on how many times the Waltrip brothers would use the name “Monster” during the broadcast at 1000. I was pleased to hear Mike Joy correctly use “in the series currently called Monster Cup” when discussing a historical footnote.
And the door swung both ways. How many Monster Energy commercials did you see during this weekend’s FOX and FS1 NASCAR coverage? I didn’t see any. So is there an issue where the energy drink people didn’t realize you need to write a big check to NASCAR and two MORE big checks to the presenting networks to get any on-screen exposure?
FOX made some waves when it first started broadcasting NASCAR races. Remember “Hatgate” wherein in showing the starting line up only drivers who sponsors bought commercials during the broadcast got shown wearing ballcaps with their sponsor’s logos? FOX went so far as to digitally black out the sponsors logos on cars of non-advertising sponsors during that pre-race during that starting lineup? And everyone promptly freaked the hell out. Then FOX told Lowes that if they wanted the network to refer to Charlotte as “Lowes Motor Speedway” (the officially branded name back then which, for the record, I also didn’t care for), they had to buy ads during the broadcast. Charlotte track GM Humpy Wheeler got so incensed by the arguing that he threatened to take a pair of bolt cutters and sever all the networks cables to the truck to keep them from broadcasting the race. If I recall correctly the initial agreement was that the broadcasters only had to use the “Lowes” name once per hour. If they wanted their name used more, they had to pay for it. Also not a red-letter moment in sport’s marketing. I think the Khe Sahn of sport’s marketing disasters was the time one network sold naming rights to the race to one soda company and the track sold the naming rights to an archrival soda company. I recall it was the July race at Daytona but I forget which cola was which. Frustrated camera-men spent all night trying not to show the rival products decals on cars but it was tough because the top 5 drivers most of the race all drove for Brand X.
I went to Monster’s site and was struck that as of 2:00 Monday there was no mention of NASCAR on their homepage. Like zero. If you clicked on the “Motorsports” link NASCAR did appear listed alphabetically near the bottom. The latest article update was 12/01/16. There are lots of pictures of motorcycles, bicycles, and pretty women, on the homepage…..but not even a Busch in the bush. You have the option of selecting “English” from that home page or if you click for options you get a slate of 48 other countries……most of which speak English. Well French Polynesia probably speaks French. As would France is my guess. Wait a second. There’s a place called French Polynesia? But for those of you who use Lietueviv as a primary language they have you covered. Would I LIE TO U? I like Lithuanians. On one page the Monster folks make the all too common newbie error of referring to stock cars as NASCARs. Under the NASCAR section the main (only) article is “Kurt Busch Speaks.” Well actually Kurt Busch spoke. The interview took place back on June 10th, 2016.
Like I said, it was probably nothing. Thursday during the 150s and Sunday during the 500 we’ll probably be pummeled into a near-coma by mentions of the cardiac in a can company. Michael Waltrip will probably drink a keg of the stuff at Atlanta. And to be fair, Monster’s marketing gurus said they wanted to ease into the sport, not pound established fans over the head with changes. (Or perhaps they didn’t have much choice given the relatively quick marketing acquisition at least in business terms.) But it’s something to watch as they weekend plays out.
Who You Calling a “Girl”, Sir? Oddly enough concerning their low profile entrance to the sport Monster did in fact stir things up with their most noticeable at-track presence. Yep, the Monster Energy “Girls” have stormed the beaches of the official sport of America’s Bible Belt. And a fine looking bunch of lasses they are too, though I guess their luggage was lost by the airlines because they didn’t have a lot to wear. Back when the traveling troupe of celebrity-spokesmodels in Monster Black first crashed the scene in motocross and extreme sports they had a rather unsavory reputation as a bunch of slatterns, but I’m told the ladies have cleaned up their act and are merely using their not insubstantial assets to promote a brand. What that brand is you’d be hard-pressed to figure out looking at them. Clairol? Clorox?
My guess is that this troupe is fairly well-paid and looking to use the exposure to advance their careers just like the models in the Hardees/Carl Junior’s ads that try to cash in on their 15 minutes of Warholian fame. And if they’re cool getting called “Girls” more power to them. For the rest of us, particularly those of us with two X chromosomes in mixed company might want to use the term “woman” or “ladies” since this bunch is all growed up. I mean there was a time that an older guy like me might refer to a younger male as “boy” when attempting to impart wisdom but that word is now so fraught with racial connotations it’s radioactive. For years upon years women weren’t allowed in the garage area at all. It was said to be the best way to keep the drivers’ wives away from their girlfriends. Even after women were somewhat grudgingly admitted to the garage area NASCAR still insisted they adhere to a near Elizabethian dress code. No shorts. No sleeveless blouses. No open toed shoes. Yep, I bet those ladies were pretty uncomfortable in the blazing heat of Darlington on Labor Day weekend.
Of course in most stick-and-ball sports there are cheerleaders of some sort. But auto racing is different. In racing a young female can aspire to be a player not a cheerleader, a full participant rather than window dressing. Danica Patrick’s first sponsor Go-Daddy might have severely damaged her credibility with what amounted to a soft core porn advertising program but she did after all finish 4th in Sunday’s Clash. In drag racing the ladies compete at an equal level with males for wins and titles. They have since Shirley Muldowney kicked down the door and entered the sport both barrels blazing in the 70s. So in fairness should Monster bring along a token Monster Boy for Patrick….or for any of the male drivers who,,,,well let’s not go there. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Yep, soon as there’s some dude celebrity spokesmodel strutting the garage area in a black leather Speedo my generation’s NASCAR racing will have ceased completely to exist.
I enjoy looking at a pretty woman as much as the next guy. But having served as nothing but eye-candy to the girls at my high school for four years……umm, no….I’ve learned there’s a time and a place for everything. If I want to see women cavorting in bikinis I’ll hit the beach. At Daytona Beach it’s time to lace your work boots up tight and get after the job at hand.