Let me start by admitting I can write everything I know about designing a racetrack on the head of a pin with a Sharpie magic marker.
But I’ll add that if you find yourself unexpectedly tasked with designing a racetrack, you should spend many hours studying the new road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to collect ideas on what not to do. I would be extremely hesitant about adding what they referred to today as “turtles.” Back when I was a younger man, we called them “speed bumps.” One of the few things I learned of value in high school was how to roll the rear tires of my Mustang to the crest of those speed bumps. Revving the engine and popping the clutch allowed me to broil those Laramie L60s into clouds of tire smoke.
During Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the turtles sent several race cars airborne with bad results. To their credit, NASCAR recognized the problem, at least partially, and directly after Saturday’s race they removed the turtle in Turn 6. Unfortunately, they stopped the extraction process there.
During Sunday’s race, there were a couple of instances when the turtles started peeling back to the point track crew members had to use crowbars to lift the turtles enough so they could work what amounted to the entire front underbody and radiator pan of a Cup car out from underneath them. The fact a couple guys with crowbars could move the turtles that easily should have forced someone to think perhaps the aero forces and low hanging bit of the undercarriage could move them as well.
Finally, the No. 24 car used that turtle as a launching point and, in doing so, tore open his radiator and possibly oil pan. He coated the track with fluids just as drivers trailing the No. 24 entered that part of the track while trying to dodge debris.
It was an unholy mess and nobody seemed to know what to do about it. Drivers in fast cars that had been competing for top spots suddenly found themselves in race-ending wrecks through no fault of their own. With some of those drivers in tight points battles, that hardly seemed fair. Apparently, there was at least some discussion of ending the race right then and there especially with NBC so eager to move to coverage of a golf tournament. (In a bit of irony, guess what NBC’s crosstown rival CBS was showing at the time? Another golf tournament.)
I guess NASCAR officials were still coming to grips with the fact a road course race was about to conclude without Chase Elliott winning it as he was supposed to. On a more serious note, at the point of the chaos, Chase Briscoe was shown in second.
If Briscoe was able to beat Kyle Larson, that win would have moved Briscoe into the playoffs, or whatever we’re calling them this year. At 242 points below the cutline, winning a race is the only avenue Briscoe has to make the cut and salvage his entire season. It would also seem Denny Hamlin has forgotten his incident with Elliott at Martinsville Speedway in 2017, one that deprived the younger driver of his first Cup win.
But I digress. Even when they (in this case “they” being Tony George and the France family) first started discussing the possibility of a NASCAR stock car race to be run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there were some fans who didn’t like the idea at all. Traditionally, there was only one event hosted at the track annually, and that was the Indianapolis 500, the granddaddy of them all.
Run the “taxicabs” on that hallowed ground? Unthinkable. I wasn’t sold on the idea, feeling like it was praying at somebody else’s church.
But the Brickyard 400 came into being in 1994. 375,000 tickets were sold, so not everybody hated the idea. Rick Mast won the pole for the first Brickyard race. In his post-pole media availability, Mast related a story he probably wished he kept to himself. Mast told the assembled scribes that he’d traded his pet cow for his first racecar. Some folks found that story quaint and rustic. Other people thought that was just a little too damned hillbilly to report.
Jeff Gordon won that first Brickyard 400. The headlines trumpeted the “home state star” as winning big in Indiana. It should be noted that Gordon grew up in California and won a ton of races there before relocating with his family to Indiana. While he would go on to win oodles of Cup races and four NASCAR Cup titles, that Brickyard win was only the second of Jeff’s career. The fact NASCAR’s personable and attractive rising star won such a high-profile race meant the fix was in, in some circles. (Or ovals, in this case.)
No one felt the fix was in when Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the next year’s Brickyard 400. After the race, Earnhardt declared himself the first “man” to win the Brickyard 400, a slam at Gordon’s tender age.
The bottom fell out for the Brickyard 400, at least as far as ticket sales, in 2008. There were a series of contributing factors. NASCAR had recently introduced the Car of Tomorrow. Tony George had redone the track surface at Indy. Goodyear had little to no practice with the new cars and the new track surface. Tires were only lasting about 10 laps without failure, forcing NASCAR to throw a caution flag about every 10 laps to let the teams change the tires before they failed.
To have a second different tire issue in another type of racing series altogether seems to indicate Indy was, in fact, born under a bad sign after all.
The Formula One series began competing at Indy in 2001, weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Michael Schumacher won the event. In 2005, the Grand Prix was on the schedule, but in the run-up to the race, it was learned the Michelin tires many teams ran wouldn’t hold up to the abuse. There were attempts made for a compromise on race morning but they were unsuccessful.
In the end, all the cars were part of the pre-race formation lap, but only the six drivers running on Bridgestone tires actually took the green flag. In the end, maybe it didn’t matter as Schumacher won again. He would, in fact, win the U.S. Grand Prix five times. The 2007 event was won by a chap named Lewis Hamilton who has gone on to do remarkable things in F1. The event was cancelled in 2008 and the U.S. Grand Prix has since been run at various venues.
So, where does NASCAR fit in?
This weekend may have given stock car racing fans a glance at where we rank with NBC execs at this time. First off, NBC insisted our sport take a two-week break so they could broadcast their ill-fated, low-rated Tokyo Olympics. As the race on Sunday dragged on past its allotted timeslot with all the yellow and red flags, the need for major track repairs, and fluid all over the track, we were all warned, over and over, when the race concluded we’d only see an interview with the winner.
If you wanted any more post-race than that, you’d have to switch over to NBC Sports Network. On the other hand, if you decided to DVR the race, you were out of luck even if experience has taught you to add an extra hour of two to the recording. Let me note here that NBCSN will cease to exist at the end of the year. I might have a clue why after this weekend.
It would seem the NBC execs aren’t gearheads. I am, for the record. Yep, sign me up for anything with fast loud cars. I don’t care if it’s any form of auto racing or classic car programming. I typically watch all the Mecum Auctions I can. It amuses me to see cars like my buddies and I drove back in high school now trading hands at prices that would allow for a nice down payment on a beach house.
This weekend, the usual bunch of Monterey auctions were held out there. That’s about as big as it gets as Monterey is like Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. I tend to pay more attention to American Muscle cars from about 1964 to 1976 but there are cars at Monterey that sail past seven figures in bidding. I think the top-selling car was a 1995 McLaren F1 that sold for over $20 million.
Until this year, NBCSN, which does most of the Mecum Auctions, and NBC Sports, which does most of the second half of the Cup season, have done a pretty good job avoiding overlap. But Monterey can be an issue with its West Coast time zone location so this year, push came to shove. If you wanted to see all the racing and keep up with the auctions without staying up into the wee hours of the morning, you had to subscribe to a streaming service called peacock (they don’t capitalize the p so neither shall I.) Peacock, at this point in time, is a free streaming service. I would have bailed if they asked for a credit card number.
Also, be aware that if you decide to get peacock, you might want to allot some time to do so. They say it can be done in about 10 minutes. Well, I’d add 10 minutes to that time for every decade past 16 years of age you’ve put on the clock. Finding the site to download wasn’t tough. I’ve never done any business with these folks but they’d already input my email address. Sigh. I guess that’s why I get a hundred or so unrequested and unwanted emails weekly from entities I’ve never heard of, most of whom want money.
Peacock then wants you to enter a password. They insist it be at least 10 characters long and include letters and numbers. 10? My ATM password is only four digits long, and I still use the same one I made up when I got my first ATM card while I was in college. Trust me, that was a long, long time ago. As you enter those 10 digits (using your TV remote to select letters and numbers) those characters don’t remain visible. So good luck knowing what you entered, much less when you are next asked to “reenter password.”
I don’t know how many times I got the error message my passwords didn’t match. They then asked me to enter my first and last names. Obviously, I know the answer, but I typically type with a keyboard, not a TV remote staring at the TV screen. They then asked for my date of birth. (Always expressed as eight digits these days and, perhaps surprisingly, they wanted my gender. I didn’t think it was kosher to ask for genders anymore. I self-identify as a Deadhead.)
Anyways, if you wanted to watch the best and highest-priced cars at Mecum AND the NXS race Saturday afternoon, you had to have both cable TV and Peacock going. Already, I’ve seen shoulder auto racing programming only available on Peacock, not on broadcast TV. How long until a Cup (or NXS) race is only available on a streaming service? And how long will Peacock be free? In their corrupt and carbuncular hearts, the streaming TV types are already calculating who will pay how much to watch what. Last I checked, Mother Teresa doesn’t work there. Ask Netflix.
Believe it or not, I’ve fought this battle before and have the scars to prove it. I’m looking straight down the barrels of 62 years of age. When my generation grew up, TV was free. You simply turned on a black-and-white monster the size of a washing machine that threw off more heat than the Nagasaki bomb and twisted a dial manually to tune to one of four options; ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS. I never watched PBS, which probably explains why I’m such a dummy. My baby sister Kat was the first sibling to be raised by Bert, Ernie and Big Bird (BOID!!!!!!!!! she’d squeal whenever he appeared, and she arrived at Flower Hill Elementary reading at a third grade level).
But any of those channels were free. TV was supposed to be free. Things slowly changed as I got older. I recall the first time I saw a color TV, watching Batman with a buddy across the street who later died in a house fire. I recall the first time I held and operated a wireless remote, and I thought I’d gone to heaven. Ironic, given my aversion to using one as a keyboard last week.
But TV was still free. Who was going to pay for that? I’m thinking about F-Troop, My Mother the Car, I Dream of Jeannie, and the Munsters here.
In most TV markets, you had a small selection of UHF channels. On Saturday afternoons, they’d typically show poorly lip-synched Kung Fu and horror movies. It was a perfect way to drink beer and smoke some dope until it was time to head out street racing.
Cable TV seemed doomed to failure. Who was going to pay to watch TV? TV was free. One of the fledging entities to dive into the deep end was ESPN, an all-sports network. And early on, ESPN and NASCAR hooked up to both their very great benefits. ESPN had a sport people would reliably tune into. NASCAR finally got some nationwide exposure outside their southeast home. And yes, the late Bob Jenkins and his enthusiastic delivery were a large part of why.
ESPN also made 1 p.m. ET “NASCAR o’clock” for tens of millions of once rabid stock car fans. Sunday’s Indy race started at 1 p.m. ET. It was the first time a race started at that time since Dover International Speedway in 2017 (Thanks for the research help, Bryan). Hopefully, that starting time will become the rule, not the exception again.
Yeah, I was the first of my friends to break down and order cable. I wanted my NASCAR. ESPN made sure their channel was part of the lowest (and cheapest) tier. It was a hell of a ride. But I’ll tell you this. I’m not going to pay to watch another race that turns into as great a debacle as Sunday. Bad TV is supposed to be free.
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.