NASCAR is going back to the basics?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I will begin by saying I do not love, nor much like for that matter, NASCAR. I have never found cars traveling at un-Godly speeds around an oval of asphalt enthralling or even mildly entertaining. In fact, in the world of racing, I put NASCAR at or very near the bottom.

Not to say I don&8217;t like racing. I like watching dirt bike racing, and my father and I have made it a yearly tradition to catch Supercross at the Georgia Dome in February. I like watching rally races. If I am bored enough I will watch Indy racing, but not NASCAR.

That very same father that influenced my interest in dirt bike racing, however, was an avid NASCAR fan during my childhood. I also have an uncle and two cousins in Pell City that not only go to Talladega every year, they often go for the qualifiers the week before. I am surrounded by NACAR enthusiasts, and I have, in my lifetime, been forced to watch, and almost been brainwashed into thinking I like, NASCAR. With that in mind let&8217;s begin.

Every year, NASCAR holds a press conference to announce the upcoming changes in its rules for the upcoming season. This year&8217;s news conference was held on Monday, and the big news from NASCAR officials was that there was no news. No changes were on the board for the 2008 season.

In my limited knowledge of the sport, even I must say, &8220;Mr. France, I think you arrived to the party a little late.&8221;

You see, when I was a kid, the cars&8217; paneling was made of metal, beer and cigarettes were the series&8217; biggest sponsors, fans were die-hard, drivers were hard as coffin nails, and the roots of the sport &8212; bootlegging &8212; was still apparent in its culture. NASCAR now seems a watered down version of what it once was.

Even in my childhood though, change was in the air. The sport, which in its beginnings was ruled by Robin Hoods of a poor and destitute South, &8217;shine runners, was replaced by a new generation.

Drivers became more hands off with their cars, which began being replaced race-to-race, and technology became the deciding factor in wins and losses. To offset the edge given to better-equipped drivers, under the guise of safety concerns for speeds being hit by top cars, NASCAR introduced restrictor plates.

The plates led to driver skills becoming the deciding factor is races, but also lead to pack racing &8212; three deep in turns at 200 miles-per-hour. Pack racing in turn lead to a string of bad wrecks, resulting some highly publicized deaths. Driver safety then became the hot-topic issue.

Relatively safe drivers, who weren&8217;t breaking collarbones every other season and were winning on the merits of their skill behind the wheel, lead to a new superstar of NASCAR. Drivers became rock stars, and increased fan bases brought in increased advertising dollars. Increased dollars squeezed out long time sponsors and here we are.

Now there is the car of tomorrow, ESPN carries the sport, once seen as a Southern redneck pastime, nationally, the Winston Cup is the Sprint Cup, the Busch Series is the Nationwide Series and drivers don&8217;t get under the hoods of their cars.

If Mr. France wants to get back to the basics and increase the viewership that has hit its first downswing in almost 20 years, I suggest he live up to his statement. Get drivers back to working on their cars with a group of buddies rather than highly paid engineers. Make them work on cars purchased at a car dealership &8212; &8220;stock&8221; cars. Get back to racing on dirt on back roads of the south &8212; like the runners used to. Get sponsors that car about the sport, not their driver&8217;s image. Maybe then I&8217;ll get back to watching NASCAR.

Brandon Glover is the sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at brandon.glover@demopolistimes.com.