We want to like stock car racing. The cars we own, raced in a spectacle of American ingenuity and skill-it'd be awesome. So why doesn't NASCAR do that?
For years NASCAR was unstoppable, and it's still the second-most watched sport after football. It's still the only racing most people will ever see, but viewers are evaporating, as are sponsors and the crowds at the races, and it isn't just the bad economy. It's that people are beginning to notice the cloned cars, the guy on pole winning too often, the thick corporate glaze on every surface including the drivers' eyes - all this in a sport that started with government agents chasing booze-runners down country roads. While they probably wouldn't go for letting us do that again - too hard to televise, for one thing, not to mention the wear and tear on Federal employees - we have a few (let's say ten) modest proposals of our own for the day when, in the fullness of time, we are put in charge of NASCAR.
Photo Credit: Daniel Schumpert
1.) Race in the rain.
So it rained at Watkins Glen yesterday, right before one of the very rare road races on the NASCAR calendar, and even though Goodyear has had a Sprint Cup rain tire in development for years, they postponed the race until today. Unacceptable! Are America's best drivers afraid of a little moisture? Are America's best sports marketers afraid of a little bit of non-telegenic crowd thinning? To hell with that. Make 'em run in the rain, we say — and not just on the road courses. We want to see Mark Martin muscle his car around Talledega as rainwater pours down the banking. It might not be quite as fast as in the dry, but the relative speeds would be about the same, and you can bet it would be good and suspenseful.
Photo Credit: Todd Warsham / Getty Images Sport
2.) Race on different surfaces.
"From dirt you came, and to dirt will you return," the Bible tells us. NASCAR fans love the Bible, and a look at the infield will tell you they love dirt too. So why not more dirt races at the top levels? For that matter, why not spoon on some sand-paddle tires and run on the beach at Daytona in a nod to their much-flogged past? Or head north to Alaska, where a certain high-profile NASCAR fan says it is as throughout all of which that big wild good life teeming along the road that is north to the future, and run on the ice? After all, the French race on ice, and by God we are every bit as good as they are.
Photo Credit: Daniel Schumpert
3.) Run on road courses as well as ovals... simultaneously.
It hasn't escaped our attention that many NASCAR venues — Daytona and Indianapolis spring to mind — have perfectly serviceable road-course sections that exit from and enter onto the oval. These sections sit sadly unused during the race. Why not give teams the chance to use any way around the track they want? True, the speeds on the infield sections are much lower, but this could be compensated for by scoring road-course laps differently. Thus, the "Daytona 500" would become, say, the "Daytona 500 (Or 420 If You Run A Third Of Your Laps Through The Infield)." Or hell, they could just cut across the grass if they think they're good enough. Naturally the crowd would find this a bit confusing if they thought about it, but truth be told the average NASCAR fan doesn't know what the hell's going on or who's leading at any given point anyway, and all those smart NASCAR fans that we're always hearing about (but, frankly, have never met) will have no problem keeping up. And all that merging will be lots of fun to watch.
Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw / Getty Images Sport
4.) Run some races on street courses.
Okay, so Monaco or Long Beach it won't be, and it's hard to imagine a major metropolis like New York or Chicago or even Atlanta putting up with it. But there are plenty of cities in the heart of stock-car country that would love to nail plywood over the windows on Main Street, haul lawn chairs up to the roof, and watch Tony Stewart put Carl Edwards right through the front of the Winn-Dixie. Hell, imagine what Winn-Dixie would pay for that kind of exposure. And it would certainly draw folks who would never otherwise go to, say, Mobile or Galveston or Biloxi. Note that we named three port towns; if NASCAR is going to hold a street race, it's only right that fans should watch it from their bass boats.
Photo Credit: Mike Stobe / Getty Images Sport
5.) Mandatory minimum times for pit stops.
Let's set 20 seconds as the absolute least time you can spend getting gas and tires and levy harsh penalties for going under that. "Races are often won or lost in the pits," they say, and they're right, and we're sorry but that just plain sucks. Quite frankly we're heartily sick of it. While it's true that the gas can man and the squeegee guy and the tire-changers are all absolutely necessary as well as pretty spectacular at their jobs, there is no way in hell that they should ever be a factor in winning an auto race. Losing, sure; let them screw up all they want, although they won't have the excuse of pressure any more. This move will increase safety, too, which may not be good for TV ratings depending one who you believe, but it would add to the purity of the sport. Races should be won on the track and nowhere else.
Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images Sport
6.) Major violations will now be punished by removal of advertising from your car.
Did you screw up big time? You rub a little more than racing allows, pass under yellow, spend less than 20 seconds in the pits more than a few times? We'll hit you where it really hurts. Your team is stripped of sponsor iconography for the entire event. Your sponsors are going to be really, really ticked at you, and you're going to lose money. You have to run a car in one solid color and that's it, plus no patches on your coveralls. And no mealy-mouthed laundry-list style thanking of corporate entities in interviews all weekend, because while you're doghoused you're limited to commentary on matters directly pertaining to the race itself. Well, you should have thought of that before you tested our patience. That's right; we're the kind of bastards that will force NASCAR teams to be tasteful in appearance and thoughtful in conversation as punishment.
7.) Major crashers will be awarded the Lady Earnhardt Trophy.
On the other hand, it's no mystery what puts the cheek meat in the cheap seats. Plus, there should be some sort of award for putting Carl Edwards through the front window of the Winn-Dixie... besides the key to the city of Mobile, that is. So we're taking a page from hockey, a sport where brutal fist-fighting is allowed as "part of the game" but which awards the Lady Byng Trophy to the all-around most gentlemanly player every year. Our trophy, the Lady Earnhardt, will go to the driver who causes the most wrecks in a season. Unlike the Lady Byng, people will actually want to win it. Especially because it will come with a cash incentive that will grow as ratings drop.
Photo Credit: Daniel Schumpert
8.) Stock car racing will now be actual stock car racing as teams visit the dealerships for new cars every week.
NASCAR's new motto: "Buy on Monday, win on Sunday." Every team is now required to go to the dealership closest to next week's track and get their Fusions and Impalas and Camrys and what have you right off the lot. We assume the manufacturers will pitch in by selling conversion kits with race engine parts and safety equipment to the teams, but the fun outfits and the privateers will be especially fun to watch as they go it alone. Perhaps the best part is that for the next five days, we get to see a marathon wrenching session as the crews get the car ready to race. Naturally, this is a perfect opportunity for a live-action build show, following a different team every week, which should be especially exciting when the teams make the haul up to Alaska. And the carmakers would get a big boost as the public would identify their own cars much more closely with the racing versions. From what we hear, cars constructed in this fashion couldn't be all that much worse than the Car of Tomorrow.
9.) A week before each race, teams would be told which car they'll be using.
Because seriously, Fusions and Impalas and Camrys? Not that they're really that much more boring than Monte Carlos and Thunderbirds and Grand Prix, but when every automaker has a dozen different models, why go with just one? Make it interesting, too; for every couple Camaro/Mustang/Challenger races, let's see the Tahoes/Explorers/Durangos out there on the ovals. Maybe the ensuing vehicular carnage will finally get people to stop buying them altogether. And as far as we're concerned, the truck series can just get folded in with the Sprint cup for a couple races a year-the existence of truck racing is still hard for us to accept.
10.) The Smokey Yunick "It Didn't Say You Couldn't" rule will let 'em cheat like crazy.
Not that we'd just let them, exactly, but every team is encouraged to try and get as much as possible past the inspectors, who will be doing their damndest to catch teams in the act. Every team will get, say, five "mulligans" or chances to get caught without penalty, no harm no foul; if they're caught a sixth time, points are docked. However, and this is the genius part, if they pull off something clever and can provide documentation showing what they did and how, they not only suffer no penalty but are rewarded a point bonus. This rewards resourcefulness and good old American know-how — but at the same time, inspectors will know what to look for at the next race. Teams will have to weigh the finishing position cheating gets them against getting "fess-up points" but not being able to use the same trick twice. Is the nitrous hidden in the driver's CamelBak still paying dividends? Are they close to catching us? How much longer can we keep mum about how all-fired smart we are, especially if we keep finishing 15th anyway? This rule change is genius and NASCAR should implement it now, or at least admit they've been using their own variations on it for years.
Yeah, maybe we can't take the sport back to its much-ballyhooed roots of high-speed bootlegger chases through the moonlit mountains of the South, fun as that would be. But we can try to inject some of the excitement, ingenuity, and plain old fun from that golden age, the stuff that NASCAR loves to talk about while simultaneously moving as far from as possible.