Race Weekend Central

Beside the Rising Tide: A Ruse By Any Other Name

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
-William Shakespeare

Secondary education in the United States certainly has changed since it was the bane of my existence back in the 1970s. While officially, English is still our most-spoken language outside of some 7-Elevens and Dunkin’ Donuts, I’m told that they aren’t making kids write reports on one of William Shakespeare’s works with the assignment due on a Monday morning, making for a miserable weekend for some poor kid who just wants to spend that same weekend cruising his 5-Oh and looking for a keg party and some female companionship with equal amounts of fervor.

That’s too bad. The Bard did, in fact, write some fascinating stuff that still resonates in modern society even five centuries later. (And you thought Springsteen’s five decades as a major cultural influence were impressive.) I can see in an increasingly politically correct environment how some of Billy S’s works could be problematic if you’re just itching for a fight about something meaningless to show how sensitive and educated you are. Hamlet hardly teaches peaceful conflict resolution whether you be or not be. The lead role in Othello was typically portrayed by a white actor in blackface for centuries. “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” And a damn good tupping it was, too, by all accounts. Nope, toss that one in the Faulkner/Twain burn barrel, Herr Censor.

Oh, and of course you have Romeo and Juliet and their ill-fated little tryst.  Over the decades, I have had more than one love-struck teenager tell me they had found their soulmate just like “Romeo and Juliet” and they were poised to live happily ever after. “You know, you might want to go back and reread the last couple chapters of that book. It didn’t end well for either of them.” We have no idea if at the moment of his untimely demise Romeo had had Julie yet, though it’s strongly hinted he did though not whether he had her meaningful consent.

Reading Shakespeare can be pretty tough sledding at times with all those “Thees” “Thou” “Tupping” and what not. I am told most of his works have been rewritten in more modern English and a pox upon whomever undertook that unholy enterprise. But sometimes, it’s easier to just change the words than reality.

To cite one example with the 2018 Cup season having reached its welcome and long overdue conclusion, our next race is, of course, the Daytona 500, presuming our frozen corpses aren’t gnawed to the bone by the fearsome Winter Wolves. (Or at least if we don’t get in a snowmobile wreck.) And next year’s Daytona 500 will mark a very important turning point in our sport. It will be NASCAR’s last restrictor-plate race ever, the conclusion of a 30-year “temporary move” to slow the cars down to a more reasonable pace at Daytona and Talladega. Man, I never thought I’d live to see the day the plates went away.

And likely I won’t.

See, NASCAR has finally accepted that a vast majority of their fans don’t care for the contrived chaos of plate racing. Nope, the brutal ballet of plated cars routinely erupting into big smoking pig piles of wrecks with some cars on their roofs or ablaze and the second-place runner’s car landing atop that of the driver who had been running 32nd prior to the wreck has fallen out of favor. So “plate racing” is gone after this February. Oh, except it’s not. It’s being replaced by the “tapered spacer.” A tapered spacer is, in fact, a restrictor plate, only thicker and with the holes in the plate slightly wider at the top than at the bottom. So it’s a plate and it restricts fuel-air flow to the engine but it’s not a “restrictor plate” because NASCAR says so. It’s a “tapered spacer.” I petitioned Brian France to use the term “pileup plate” in place of tapered spacer but I didn’t hear back from him. My guess is he’s very busy making finger-trace turkey drawings in rehab this week.

But let’s not make much ado about nothing. People don’t like plate racing is it leads to “pack racing”, those snarling ungainly three- and four-row-wide and ten-car-deep packs of cars that are more of a precision formation flying exercise than a race though by their very nature stock cars are very imprecise. More than once, I’ve heard the open wheel and sporty car types compare today’s stock cars to rhinoceroses on roller skates.

But you needn’t worry, campers, as the days grow short and the evenings cold. NASCAR has assured me they will not have pack racing with the new aero rules and tapered spacers next year. Why not? Because they said they won’t have pack racing next year and we all know NASCAR’s as honest as me, and I’m as honest as many man can be. The only problem is NASCAR hasn’t come up with a new term that describes pack racing in other words because fans don’t like pack racing.

Our dear friend Darrell Waltrip is doubtless hard on a new term he can coin and use repeatedly to sell T-shirts just as “Lil Digger” apparel has been insanely popular all these years. (Only if NASCAR was in charge, they’d doubtless have changed the “Lil Digger” name to “Frickin’ Rodent.”) See, that’s how it works. If fans don’t like something NASCAR doesn’t change it, they just rename it and pronounce the problem solved. So that’s our winter assignment. Come up with a clever (or at least annoying term) to cover up this ruse. “Multi-lane poorly-disciplined high-speed parking-lot-hosted impending wreck” perhaps? Sometimes, no matter what you call a product or how cleverly you market it, it’s just not going to catch on once people get a look or taste of it. Take a breakfast cereal called “Honey Rusty Shards ‘O Metal ‘N Puss. Yeah, it contains a week’s worth of the FDA recommended dietary iron in every spoonful but consumers can be so fussy.

Renaming isn’t just easy. It’s fun and, most importantly, cheap. Fans thought the Chase (championship system, not Elliott the Younger) was stupid. So we simply don’t have a Chase anymore. We have the “Playoffs.” And once everyone agrees as to whether we should capitalize the word “Playoffs” that solves that, at least after a fashion.

Some words are more difficult than others to replace even if they are, in fact, so ridiculous that it just screams about the degree of mental sloth whomever coined the term is guilty of. Were you surprised that Kevin Harvick’s win at Texas wasn’t “encumbered”? Yep, he got caught with that modified spoiler mounting. And while oddly enough, that involved the same penalties and punishments as a driver whose win was “encumbered” last year would have faced we just don’t call it that anymore.

Negotiations with Vlasic Pickles to sponsor the penalties fell apart when several NASCAR officials demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of what the word “encumbered” meant and whether it was an adjective, adverb, noun or a small town in Wyoming recently taken over by the dope smoking Canadian army until the U.S. Marines stepped in and encumbered the invasion.

For the record, here’s the dictionary definition.


past tense: encumbered; past participle: encumbered

  1. restrict or burden (someone or something) in such a way that free action or movement is difficult.

“she was encumbered by her heavy skirts”

synonyms: hamper, hinder, obstruct, impede, cramp, inhibit, restrict, limit, constrain, restrain, bog down, retard, slow (down); More

inconvenience, disadvantage, handicap

“her movements were encumbered by her heavy skirts”

  • saddle (a person or estate) with a debt or mortgage.

“an estate heavily encumbered with debt”

  • fill or block up (a place).

No, I don’t think that’s what they were going for at all, illiterate simpletons. That’s our offseason challenge, Campers. Come up with a replacement word for “encumbered” ridiculous enough to stick. I’ll give you millions if you win this contest, or actually I’ll send you a single lottery ticket that might, in fact, win you some cash which I won’t ask you to share with me. My own effort: “Kevin Harvick had apparently won at Texas but after a rules violation was found that win was “re-radish-a-polooped and square-rooted.” And he was sent to bed without dinner.

Increasingly, I’ve heard that fans have come to severely dislike “stage racing.” Some of you are cynical enough to claim NASCAR only uses the stage breaks as TV timeouts and to prevent the flagman from developing tennis elbow, waving bogus debris flags at random points during the race to tighten things up unnecessarily. (And maybe we need to replace the term “debris” with “UT-HO”; unidentified tiny harmless object.’

I have devoted a great deal of thought to this topic but my mind has little enough else to do other than basic respiratory functioning. The networks need stage racing. After all, they pay a lot more to broadcast races than we do to watch them. If no one can understand how the fourth-place finisher earned more points than the race winner because he did better in the first two stages, well, we can just print the points system on the back of packages of State Fair Corn Dogs, because they are, after all, the official Corn Dog of NASCAR (or they were at one point, anyway). It’s hard to imagine in the ultra-completive corn dog industry they’d let that advantage slip away, only to be replaced with a “This product contains no dog meat” disclaimer.

So how do we reconcile the increasingly passionate dislike fans have for stage racing and the network’s needs? After more thought and reflection than I used during my entire 20s I’ve come up with a name so perfect that fans will instantly embrace it and love the renamed stages: The Beer Break! Yep, Beer Break at lap 35 and 70s followed by the Good Nap rest of the race. And since we are dealing with NBC and FOX here, doubtless we’ll soon end up with “Beer Break Presented By Budweiser” (or some other macro-brew) and the “Mattress Factory Good Nap.” I think what fans really want is more embedded ads within races because we’re all just too damn dumb to remember what sort of tires they bolt on the cars and what brand of gasoline they use. “Beer Break” it is. Network types no need to say thank you. Just send along a big check made out to me and an 18-wheeler full of cases of your new entitlement sponsor’s product.

There are some things that NASCAR fans would like to see in the sport. One of them is road course races. So NASCAR took an oval track, added a right-hand turn here and a right-hand turn there and came up with the Roval or possibly the ROVAL. Like many (most, it seems) of you, I enjoyed the race, to a degree. It was a nice change of pace. But whatever the ROVAL was, it was not, in fact, a road course. Road courses tend to be natural terrain race tracks with changes in elevation. A couple right turns didn’t make the ROVAL a road course any more than the tracks the Formula One guys once used in the Vince Lombardi Service Plaza off the New Jersey Turnpike or a flat parking lot outside a casino in Las Vegas were road courses. They were simply hilarious disasters. When the American open-wheel series run courses run on public streets, they call them “street races” (No big leap of logic there) though Bruce’s ‘69 Chevy with a 396 and (impossibly enough fuelie heads) wouldn’t have been competitive. Maybe next NASCAR can steal that idea and have some street races as well, though they will probably call them “Highway Star Races” because after all who doesn’t love Deep Purple, the air-guitar players official band.

One thing is for sure. NASCAR is not going to actually build a new natural terrain road course from scratch, designing it to be a bit wider than most road courses to accommodate the extraordinary width of our stock cars. Because that would cost money. Nor will they add a date to any of the already existing road courses that would suit our style of racing just fine because they are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. But NASCAR heard the fans demanding more road course racing and we got the ROVAL.

Another thing fans have been demanding for years is more short track racing, once the main sort of course the series competed on. Again, building a new race course (or restoring North Wilkesboro) is a very expensive affair if you’re talking about a real track where full size cars can race not setting up your old Aurora AFX track under the Christmas tree again this year. So NASCAR and their toady boy network types have found a simpler solution. All of a sudden Phoenix is now a “short track” or occasionally a “mile track that drives like a short track.” They’ve been experimenting with the same verbiage at New Hampshire as well. Voila. Three more short tracks on the schedule at no expense at all. Never mind that all tracks under a mile were once short tracks, tracks over a mile but less than two miles were once Speedways or intermediate tracks and tracks two miles and over were Superspeedways. (And plate tracks but we’ve already covered that now haven’t we?)

Perhaps it’s just human nature to try rename flaws away. I am not balding. I am follically challenged. My former brother-in-law often told me that he was “thinking outside the box.” Typically, that meant not only was he wrong he was drunk enough there was so sense arguing the point with him that evening.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that NASCAR prefers semantics and name changing to actual progressive change. NASCAR does, after all, stand for the National Association of STOCK Car Racing. In fact, the cars that our stars race each weekend are so far from “stock” as to be unrecognizable and have been for decades. Roses are red, violets are blue, warm beer sucks and ruses are seldom true.

(I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and give thanks you’ve chosen to read my columns this year. And to add to the theme this year, for about the 30th time my one nephew will be having chicken, not turkey. Because at four years old he decided he “hates” turkey. But if the family served turkey and called it “chicken” he loves turkey. Yep, another NASCAR fan in the making.)

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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Thanks for another great year of your musings. I have enjoyed them all! Have a great off season.


happy thanksgiving matt….enjoy the off season. stay warm and safe this winter at eyesore acres!

Carl D.

Happy Feed The Dumb White Pilgrims So They Can Take Our Land And Then Pave Paradise And Put Up A Parking Lot Day, Matt.


Sounds like restrictor plates by any other name would encumber the speed of Brian’s bumper cars …and smell the same.

PattyKay Lilley

Ever since I heard the word “encumbered” misused in such blatant fashion, I’ve found it works very well to just substitute “screwed” in place of it and the meaning becomes crystal clear!
NASCAR = National Association of Standardized Chassis Racing… from an article written in January of 2004 entitled “NASCAR Doesn’t Love Me Anymore.”
Happy Thanksgiving Matt and everyone! No bird here! Like your little nephew, it’s not my favorite thing. Making dressing, having cranberry sauce and roasting a pork tenderloin with herbs. I’m happy!

Rich Sachlis

I like THAT version! Enjoy.


I read your column daily, now that I’m a retired old guy that has nothing better to do. I enjoy that you somehow have not been censored by Nascar, but my guess is that you don’t get a press pass either. This article about the renaming game to make the problems appear to go away is damn funny. I remember well when Nascar demanded that announcers refer to all accidents and crashes as “trouble”. The announce teams are not helping ratings either. The Waltrip’s act is very, very tired. Rick Allen is by far the worst, poorest prepared man in the booth ever…and Dale JR, LaTard, and Burton all sound the same when they’re excited… They’d each have 12 kids if they were that excited all the time.
A final note…a lot of races this year have had 3/4 full grandstands at the start of the race, but 1/4 full grandstands before halfway…and its not because Dale dropped out. Also the ‘sold out’ Homestead race had even less seating than normal as the end sections were unoccupied. I’m not sure how these games help the sport, but Steve Phelps could be the cure if left alone, but then that’s just not the France Family Way. Have a great vacation.

Irvan Fan

“I enjoy that you somehow have not been censored by Nascar”

If I remember correctly, NASCAR tried that back during the SpeedFX and Racing One days, then NASCAR figured out they couldn’t control the internet. Thanks for another great year of writings Matt


“I petitioned Brian France to use the term “pileup plate” in place of tapered spacer but I didn’t hear back from him. My guess is he’s very busy making finger-trace turkey drawings in rehab this week.”


bud sudz

Golden Words


Hey NASCAR, to be or not to be? That is the question.


Dang! Y’all sure are a bunch of disgruntled fans.


Matt, youtube Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk called “Do schools kill creativity?” for some funny Shakespeare quips.


Hey Matt, Thanks for writing full time this year. Seems like its been a while. I’m hoping you give us another dose next year

Rich Sachlis

So Matt, are into Snowmobile Suicide this winter? This was a funny article. I echo the statement that I really hope you are ack for another round of writing next year. Or, would that be another round of writing torture for you? I hope not.

Happy Thanksgiving, and certainly a Merry Christmas. Be safe, (on a snowmobile?), and well.

phil h

{NASCAR does, after all, stand for the National Association of STOCK Car Racing.}

“National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing” thank you

glad you’re getting your break Matt.

Looking forward to your dismantling of the 2019 Daytona 500


In the grand renaming scheme, don’t forget dubbing the reskinned COT the “Gen-6.”

Bill B

I have to say I got pissed off just reading this article because I hate when I am fed a word or excuse or initiative where they wrap the truth in psychologically pleasing verbiage (a thinly veiled lie) to make the bitter pill easier to swallow. I find it insulting because it makes me think that they think I am too stupid to figure out that they are, in fact, peeing on my head and telling me it’s raining.

Regardless, thanks for another year of coverage Matt. Hope the off-season is kind to you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Thanks for the reads this year Matt! Have a great Thanksgiving.

W. Higbee

C’mon, Matt. Please tell us how you really feel.

Fed Up

Another great read Matt! I enjoy and spend more time reading your column than watching a race. Maybe Brain Farce will be taken completely out of the picture, instead of a timeout, by Sis and Uncle. It will be interesting to see what new advertising gimmicks will appear in 2019. The helmet cam took the coverage down several notches for most of us. Maybe they should mount one on the drivers middle finger.

Looking forward to your column next year.


Now that Brian’s game of NA$CAR is over for a while, it’s time to turn our attention to the GAME of Football, the GAME of Hockey and the GAME of Basketball. But after the Chiefs/Rams contest maybe Football should change its name to “Game Of Throws.”

Have a safe vacation Matt!

Happy Thanksgiving and be safe until the craziness starts again.

BTW, when I saw the pardoning of the turkey by the con man in the White House, I had a hard time figuring out which was the turkey.

hal ashburn

Thanks Matt. A treat to read.

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