Perhaps it’s related to the Chaos Theory, but left to their own devices, once simple ideas tend to become bloated, overly-complicated and less fun than they were in their original permutations.
To cite one notable example, the Ford Mustang took the automobile world by storm in April of 1964. The svelte new car (which could be optioned out to be quite a performance car as well with the infamous K engine) drew lines of eager buyers eager to write a deposit check to order one of America’s new “sports cars.” One of those buyers lived across the street from me, and as soon as I laid eyes on his black over red convertible with its white roof, I was well and truly smitten, and at all of four years of age transformed into a car guy for life. Between that car and a regimental red tri-power GTO owned by a fellow a block over by the park, the hook was set and set hard. (And the block-long asphalt strip that was Boxwood Circle was soon covered with long black strips left by the churning rear tires of the black Mustang or the Goat. )
The GTO would undergo some bloating issues of its own over the years, but not to the extent of the Mustang. I consider the ’69 and ’70 Mustang two of the prettiest cars ever produced, and a ’70 Mustang Mach One Cobra Jet became my first car when I became old enough to drive in 1975. To channel Mark Cohn, “oh the secrets that old car could tell.”
In 1971, Ford updated the Mustang again, but it was a far larger car and, many would argue, a less attractive one. It was more elephantine than equine by that point and the big block engines would only last a single model year. At all of 12 years old, it seemed the Dream Police had gone Rodney King on my daydreams, clubbing them to the gutter running deep with my tears. Don’t even get me started on what happened to the Mustang in 1974.
The first Busch Clash was run on Feb. 11, 1979. It was a 20-lap race that took all of 15 minutes and 26 seconds to run at Daytona International Speedway a week prior to that same year’s Daytona 500. Buddy Baker won that first Busch Clash. Nine drivers were eligible for that year’s Clash by having won a pole for a Cup race in 1978. Richard Petty was not among the drivers who won a pole in 1978, and it might have been for the better. Participants in the Clash had to run a Busch Beer contingency decal on their cars, and because of a promise he made his mother, the King would simply not allow any alcoholic beverage decals on race cars his team owned. It got to be a major headache over the years but not back in 1979.
To put things in historical perspective, back in ’79, Petty’s career, as well as those of his perennial rivals David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough, were winding down. Darrell Waltrip was a “tweener” who raced those four drivers but would go on to enjoy more success racing the drivers of the next generation that included Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, and Rusty Wallace, who would in turn yield to a generation of drivers that included Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. Waltrip finished second in the ’79 Clash, by and by.
It’s surprising to recall the ’79 Busch Clash was televised flag to flag on CBS, one of four networks most Americans with TVs got free over the air via rabbit ears antennas. The following weekend’s Daytona 500 was the first time that race was shown live flag to flag on CBS as well. (For the record, that first flag to flag NASCAR race shown flag to flag on TV was a 200-lapper on Wide World of Sports in 1971. It says so on the internets so it’s got to be true.) I mean, I don’t guess PBS was ever in the running anyway.
The Clash was a marketing concept dreamed up by a fellow named Monty Roberts who was tasked with promoting Anheuser Busch’s new Busch beer brand. (Thus the source of the “Busch Pole” award.)
Baker pocketed a check for $50,000 for winning the race. Not a bad payday for 15 minutes work. Especially in light of the fact Richard Petty only got paid $73,900 for winning the next weekend’s Daytona 500 after Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough got into that infamous last-lap squabble about which of them was going to win.
A driver who would become a perpetual contender at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt, won the 1980 Busch Clash at the wheel of an Oldsmobile of all things. Years down the road when they started monkeying with eligibility requirements for the Clash, that came in handy. Earnhardt the Original was never much of a qualifier. Being able to ensure he made the Clash by adding a rule all previous winners of the event made the race for perpetuity helped sell a lot of tickets to the show.
And so things went from 1979 to 1990. The only gimmick added was that caution laps didn’t count toward the length of the event, which remained at 20 laps Perhaps the most memorable incident in those early years of the Clash involved Ricky Rudd in 1984, who flipped multiple times on lap 15 .
Rudd had to use tape to hold his eyes open for the rest of that Speedweeks.
The introduction of restrictor plates to all Cup cars at Daytona in 1988 included the Clash, and the small fields and short distance of the event made for some less-than-compelling racing. In an attempt to spice things up, starting in 1991 the 20-lap sprint was divided into two 10-lap segments. After the first 10-lap race, the field was inverted before the start of the second. Dale Earnhardt won the first race under the new format and all was right with the world, at least in Daytona Beach.
In 1998, the Clash suffered its first major overhaul. The race actually became two events. The first was the Busch Clash Qualifier with the winner of that event advancing on to the Clash itself. Drivers had to make at least one two-tire pit stop during the Qualifier and the Clash itself.
In 2000, the Busch Clash became the Bud Shootout. The race distance was upped to 70 laps. Drivers were still required to make at least one two-tire pit stop during the race. The name was changed again in 2001 to the Budweiser Shootout, no longer the Bud Shootout. That name lasted until 2013 when the race was redubbed the Sprint Unlimited, which it was called until 2017 when it was renamed the Advance Auto Parts Clash. And last year the event reverted to its original name of the Busch Clash.
Once you start tweaking it’s tough to stop. Starting in 2003, the Shootout was run in two segments, the first of 20 laps (the original full race length) and the second of 50 laps with a 10-minute intermission between the segments. Auto races, it should be noted, typically don’t have intermissions, and the new format was not embraced warmly. They’d gone ahead and pretty much ruined what had been a 15-minute sprint race. While the two-tire pit stop was no longer required, a reduction of the size of the fuel cells to 13.5 gallons in 2003 and then 18.5 gallons in 2007 meant to go the distance, the drivers had to make at least one stop .
For no explicable reason the first segment of the Clash then increased to 25 laps in 2009.
In 2013, the original concept of the Clash jumped the rails entirely. The event was divided into three segments of 30, 25 and 20 laps. Fans got to vote on whether pit stops were mandatory, how many tires teams had to change on those pit stops and in fact how many drivers would be eliminated after each segment.
Over the last five years, the race has been run in two segments again, first of 25 laps and the second of 50 laps. Fans don’t vote on anything anymore, anyhoot. There’s been a caution period between the two segments because everyone decided having an intermission in an auto race was damnably silly. Maybe the fans got to vote on that, too. I forget. Erik Jones won last year’s Busch Clash. I’d forgotten that too.
The late Dale Earnhardt won the Clash event six times. (1980, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995). Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin have each won the race three times. Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared cars have won nine of the events under various names. Chevys have won the event 21 times.
This year NASCAR has gone far beyond tweaking this year’s Busch Clash. For those of you still shaking off the mental cobwebs after a long winter’s nap, this year’s Clash will be held on the 3.610-mile Daytona road course. While the road course includes portions of the 2.5 mile oval course where the event was traditionally held, it’s an entirely different animal that includes right turns as well as lefts. While many have argued that earning a spot in the Clash gave those drivers and teams an unfair advantage in the 500 the teams’ notebooks on the oval track are far thicker than those on the road course. To date only one Cup race has been held on the road course. Chase Elliott won that one last August. Drivers seeking more knowledge of the road course even compete in this year’s Rolex 24 sports car race with varying degrees of success.
I doubt if Mr. Roberts was still with us that he’d even recognize that’s become of his brainchild. I don’t know how long the race will be, but I know it’ll be a lot longer than 15 minutes. This year’s presenting network, FS1 has allotted a two-hour time slot from 7-9 p.m. ET for the race. Extended rain delays or even a postponement are likely given the forecast. Goodyear has bought rain tires to the track. Winning the race will likely pay a lot more than 50 grand as well, though NASCAR no longer releases those figures because they hate you all. They told me so. I’m not sure how the race ended up on a Tuesday evening, but I suppose they needed to find a time that was post-Super Bowl but prior to the traditional Thursday before the 500 qualifying races.
Certainly Mr. Roberts would take askance at the eligibility requirements for this year’s Clash. They include (and I kid you not):
- The five drivers who actually won a pole during one of those poles in one of the early season races that actually had qualifying in 2020
- Previous Busch Clash winners who ran full time in Cup in 2020 as well
- Previous Daytona 500 winners who ran Cup full time in 2020
- Previous Daytona 500 pole winners who ran full time in Cup in 2020
- Any driver who made last year’s Cup playoffs not yet in the field
- Any Cup driver who won a race last year not yet in the field
- Any driver who won even a stage in a 2020 Cup race
- Some lucky customer of a major rental car company who earned a spot with a scratch-off game card who will run a bone stock Corolla with a Busch sticker on the side. (OK, I am kidding about that one but given the others it’s only slightly less absurd.)
Let me propose the Busch Clash be put to pasture, at least until the pandemic breaks and real qualifying returns prior to Cup events. Let me further propose that when the Clash does return, it reverts to its roots as a 20-lap race open only to drivers who actually won a pole the previous year. The longer it takes to explain an idea, the less likely that idea is to work. Speaking of Mission Bloat, this started out as a brief column about 2055 words ago.