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(Photo: Christian Koelle)

Beside the Rising Tide: New Antiques Made Daily

Back at the turn of the century, my sister and then-brother-in-law lived in rural Vermont. I took a lot of road trips to visit them and a lot of road trips while I was visiting, rather a necessity in that nothing of consequence was near their home unless you want to count a bad-tempered creek and a snowmobile trail that ran clear up to Canada.

On one of our journeys, we once again got sent down a VTDOT detour on some back road that was little more than a goat path. At a five-point intersection, there was yet another graying barn in an advanced state of disrepair with the usual flea market items scattered hither and fro across the parking lot. A sign on the barn door proudly proclaimed “New Antiques Made Daily.” I wasn’t the only one that got a chuckle out of the absurdity of the sign. I saw several other (lost) tourists photographing the sign using what were then called “cameras” in that cell phones and selfies weren’t things yet — antique or otherwise.

Yet NASCAR officialdom used to use a similar slogan and did so without the faintest blush or smirk. Mike Helton used the term “modernizing tradition” most often. Forget for a moment that things become “traditional” because they’re done the same way year after year. Taking the Labor Day weekend date and the Southern 500 from Darlington and moving it to Fontana was one “modernized tradition.” Like many other similar moves, it not only failed, it failed spectacularly. Confronted with the visual evidence of all the empty seats at the track, the then-track general manager famously suggested that all those missing fans were under the grandstands doing a little shopping. Lord knows that race wasn’t exciting enough to distract anyone from doing a little shopping.

A hard lesson learned, right? Apparently not so much. Ironically, while Darlington reclaimed the Southern 500 and its traditional Labor Day weekend date Daytona is about to lose its traditional Independence Day (or the nearest Saturday to the Fourth of July … another modernized tradition) to Indianapolis. The race formally known as the Firecracker 400, and the second points paying race at Daytona will run on (or around) August 29, 2020.

I’ll guess, though I’m uncertain, that the race at Indy will still be called the Brickyard 400 or something similar presented by some brand of hard liquor. The new date moves to July 5. For the record July is the most active month for tornadoes most years in the Midwest. Oh, and it tends to be hot as the blazes in Indy in July, though the same can be said of Daytona Beach. The late August date in Daytona coincides with the peak of hurricane season as well. You sometimes get the impression that some of the prime movers and shakers at NASCAR aren’t too bright.

Not that the weather was great at Daytona this weekend, and most years it’s not. So they moved a race out of the furnace of Florida in July, good for them, eh? No more lengthy weather delays on Firecracker 400 weekend caused by thunderstorms and downpours in the evening. Any reasonable person expected as much heading into this weekend. Florida is semi-tropical. During long, hot afternoons, the air gets superheated and thus is able to support huge amounts of water with the humidity adding to the misery for all those who find themselves stony-faced out there on the Fourth of July. You don’t have to be Madam Marie to know as things cool a bit in the evening and the breezes come in off the sea rather than from the land side, the atmosphere is no longer able to absorb all that moisture. At which point it beings raining — heavily. For hours at a time. On a racetrack that’s every bit of 2.5-miles around. Yep, it takes a while to dry Daytona International Speedway.

Oh, well. Nothing you can do about the weather, right? Well, actually, there once was a perfect solution to the stormy Florida afternoon and evening dilemma. Back then, the Firecracker 400 was run on the Fourth of July no matter what day of the week the holiday occurred on. And it began at 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning. A couple hours for the race and everyone is out on the beach by 1:30, well before the afternoon storms roll in. Simple. Effective. But another tradition that got modernized.

My guess is the “network partners” insisted on a Saturday date. And they probably felt that starting a race at 10 or 11 in the morning would hurt the ratings. It is my considered opinion that more people will tune in to see fast, loud racecars actually racing at 11 then will tune in at 8 p.m. on Saturday night to watch hours of insufferably bad and repetitive pre-race programming.

Anyone hear anything about a dust up between William Byron and Brad Keselowski this weekend? Ironically enough, Saturday night’s rain delay caused the race to be rescheduled for 1 p.m. ET, which is preferred by most longtime fans as the traditional starting time for races here on the East Coast. The powers that be at NASCAR’s “network partners” (not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree either), felt certain they could boost ratings by moving start times to 2, 3 or even 7 p.m. ET. How’d that work out for ya’ll? Oh, right, judging by your ratings that was another tradition that could have stood with a little less modernizing.

Who knows if the revised date for the Brickyard will restore some of the event’s luster? (Funny thing how the race went from a sellout to a disaster just because a tire company bought a product that wouldn’t last on the re-grooved track surface more than 10 to 12 laps.) Deciding to let that debacle play out rather than red flagging the race, giving everyone their money back, and apologizing profusely for being such an unsavory band of morons was yet another modernized tradition. The customer is always right, someone told me once upon a time. “That customer is right out of here on his skinny white ass if we can find a new more affluent fan to replace him.” My guess is this modernized tradition will be yet another disaster.

I don’t think handing out free tickets and ice cold free beers could fill the grandstands halfway at Indianapolis anymore. So maybe we’ll eventually see the Firecracker return to Daytona Beach on the July 4 Weekend down the road a ways. Who knows? If that happens, maybe they’ll move the start time back to 11:00 a.m. as well. Some traditions don’t need any modernizing. Neil Bohr, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist some years older than Sheldon Cooper, once espoused, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

Older mechanics have learned along the way: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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About Matt McLaughlin

Matt McLaughlin
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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15 comments

  1. Avatar

    This change to the schedule was the one that pissed me off and made no rational sense. Having Daytona a cut-off race of the, ahem, “playoffs” make no sense even for the new NASCAR.
    But the things that gets me the most is the move from the 4th. To this day (at least up to this year) I still refer to the race as the Firecracker 400. It was a cool and appropriate name. And yes the idiots at TV are screwing with it. Why not as you mentioned, and I 100%, put it back on the 4th at the 10 or 11 am time slot? What afraid parades will hurt ratings? Just wait to see how Indy does next year, you get a parade and low attendance.
    The time is perfect for the 4th, little competing events, and last I recall the Indy 500 starts pretty early in the day too, and some folks actually get up an watch F1 at Monaco on Memorial day Sunday too.
    There are a bunch of business people looking at all sorts of data to eek out every dollar. Well you know, stats don’t tell the whole story.
    The Firecracker 400 could very well be a must see event on the 4th of July at 10 or 11 AM. Pomp, circumstance, military salutes.all could increase the ratings and attendance still with plenty of beer sales.
    Made my thoughts known through the fan council, which I am sure still falls on deaf ears looking at spreadsheets.

    • Avatar

      “This change to the schedule was the one that pissed me off and made no rational sense.”

      Actually I can understand their rational sense on that move. They are hoping a restrictor plate race with it’s high probability of a “big one” will pump some life and drama into the chase cutoff race. They are hoping that drivers like Dillon will do exactly what Dillon did on Sunday…. Go for it even if he wrecks half the field trying to make it in the chase. They will hope all the fans are on the edge of their seat waiting to see who survives the attrition to claim one of the last spots in the chase. They are hoping the final spots in the chase won’t be known until the final checkered flag.
      If history has taught us anything, it may create the opposite. Guys behaving, driving cautiously because they don’t want to jeopardize their spot in the chase or don’t want to ruin someone else’s chance. The chase neutered the fall race at Bristol (which was further castrated by the repaving) can it do the same to Daytona? We will see.

      BTW, I was wondering if there was still a fan council. I was on it for the last 3 years but didn’t get invited back this year. Guess they didn’t dig what I had to say.

      • Avatar

        So Daytona will be the cutoff race next year. After all the complaining about Talladega being in the chase and the crap-shoot danger for contending drivers, the clowns in Daytona decide to put a RP race as the cutoff. Makes cents to me and the clowns in Daytona looking out for their shareholders. The crowd should be the usual ones anticipating the Big One until their favourite driver is involved.

        • Avatar

          Remember that they also moved Talladega from the final race because there were drivers (I think Hamlin and Edwards) that had a good enough points lead that they drove around the back knowing all they needed to do was finish in order to make it to the next round. They moved the race so that drivers couldn’t afford to do that. Having Daytona as the cutoff race kind of opens that strategy back up. Someone that’s in 14th with a 25 point lead on 17th may think it’s smarter to ride around at the back to avoid the “Big One”..

      • Avatar

        there is i’m on it, but the questions this week were just about the america salutes deal they had going at daytona. they didn’t give any opportunity to leave true comments. i’m sure i won’be be invited back as i give them an earful whenever i can.

  2. Avatar

    “Modernize” North Wilkesboro and bring it back. You could be guaranteed a sellout.

  3. Avatar

    The truth is that the tradition was broken when they stopped running it on July 4th. Now it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal moving the summer Daytona race from July to August. Unlike the Southern 500 which was (and thankfully is again) always scheduled for the Sunday night before Labor Day, the Daytona race date was variable with respect to the actual July 4th date. That kind of makes it seem less “tied to” the holiday than the Darlington race.

    The bigger take away from your article is how chasing money has resulted in some decisions that go against tradition and, more importantly, common sense and basic logic. The most glaring is the race start times. For an event that can be affected even by a few drops of rain, common sense would dictate that the race start as soon as possible to provide the largest window in which to run the race. Unfortunately NASCAR’s (and TV’s) primary goal isn’t to maximize the chances of getting the race in, it’s to maximize the amount of money they may be able to make by running it at the best time for ratings (to hell with those attending the race in person), This is a big gamble because if the race rains out, and it has to be run on Monday, they take a huge loss in both attendance (who cares the rubes have already paid for their tickets) and, more significantly, ratings. That is the personification of greed.

  4. Avatar

    They’ll be antiques one day. We’re antiques now.

  5. Avatar

    How many years before a venue becomes tradition? The stupid Indianapolis experiment has been around since 1994 -25 years. Yet most people on these forums would happily flush that turd away for good. The scalawag Bruton Smith and the carpetbagger Bob Bahre killed North Wilkesboro 23 years ago. Again most on these forums would flush both Texas and New Hampshire. Cup has been at New Hampshire for 26 years boring the fans to oblivion since 1993. And Cup has been cookie cutt’n at Texas since 1997 i.e. for 22 years.

    What about plate racing? A temporary 32 year fix…is it a tradition now?

    Traditions arise from something organic. “Modernized traditions” are little more than the Grinch stealing Whoville’s Christmas for his own self-serving purpose.

    • Avatar

      I agree with most of what you wrote but how was Bob Bahre a carpetbagger? He never owned North Wilkesboro or any track not in New England.

      • Avatar

        Carpetbagger has morphed into any yankee that poaches a Southern institution.

        From Wikipedia:

        On January 1, 1996, the fifty-percent interest in North Wilkesboro Speedway owned by the Staley family was sold to racetrack developer and promoter Bob Bahre, owner of New Hampshire Motor Speedway

  6. Avatar

    NASCAR is the poster boy for fixing the unbroken. It’s all about shoveling cash into France family pockets, and that’s one tradition that will never be modernized.

  7. Avatar

    Nascar has been ‘modernizing tradition’ and fixing things that ain’t broke for quite a while. It started with the stupid ‘chase’, and got even stupider with the ‘playoff’ that has all the teams on the track all the time. I guess it’s true there ain’t no cure for stupid.

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