Curmudgeon, Troll, or Just Getting Old?

That would be me, sitting here, watching the NASCAR world bask in the glow of two months of nearly uninterrupted good news. The message is a little nuanced but pretty close to, “All is well.”

My automatic reaction is, “But-but-but-but-but. . . .”

The “automatic” part is troubling, because it leaves me fair game for the accusation that I’m just another geezer who was complaining about everything long before Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death, a commonly accepted date for the beginning of the sport’s decline. And yes, it’s true that the first NASCAR race I ever attended remains one of the best in my memory, and that was nearly 60 years ago.

But I think I’m capable of putting aside the tendency to disapprove of everything that’s happened since Winston got involved in the sport (1972) and look at some obstacles still to be overcome as this phoenix tries to rise from the ashes.

Here goes.

Jacque Villeneuve (27) was an interesting throwback at Daytona, where Big Bill France used to bring international racing figures in to legitimize his sport. That’s not needed, anymore, but the attention Villeneuve got certainly is.

Did you notice how much attention the non-Cup-regular teams got at Daytona? Greg Biffle, Jacque Villeneuve, Floyd Mayweather and even the I-know-how-to-keep-my-name-visible Noah Gragson got a lot of attention and maybe helped a bit with ticket sales.

This week in California, we have the 36 usual suspects with only a couple of driver changes among the least newsworthy rides.

I’m a longtime critic of the charter system, and this is one reason. People like to see Cinderella stories, underdogs, and stuff that’s different. For the most part, they won’t see it in Cup racing for a while.

The amount of charter swapping that took place over the winter surprised me; I’m not sure it will be a regular occurrence. For the most part, it only matters to hardcore fans, because most of the charter changes are among the bottom-tier teams, where the casual fan’s interest is limited.

What if things really do catch on, and every team has some level of star quality and lots of fans? What kind of reception would these charter deals have then?

Since they’re pretty much like franchises, let’s imagine this kind of thing happening elsewhere. How about in the NFL?

“The Minnesota Vikings announced today that the team would swap franchises with the Phoenix Cardinals next year, while the Cardinals in turn sell the Minnesota locale to the Seattle Seahawks, who would move there. The Cardinals will end up in Houston, displacing the Texans, who will move to Nashville. The Titans will suspend operations, while their owner uses the sale money to fly with Elon Musk to Mars, while Seattle will forego the NFL team to make a bid for the next Winter Olympics.”

Got that?

Team owner and Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 14, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
If the NFL operated like NASCAR, Joe Gibbs might have awakened one morning to find his team moving, or maybe even getting a new name . . . uh, never mind about that last part.

Another way Daytona contributes to the fast start for NASCAR 2022 is with nearly everyone having a shot at winning. All you gotta do is hold onto the draft.

It was great to see the Roush (RFK) cars mixing it up at the front most of the day, and that might continue to happen, but I don’t think I’d bet my Hyundai on it. Although Austin Cindric is in a much better car than Michael McDowell was last year, it’s helpful to note how many drivers have won at Daytona (and/or Talladega) and nowhere else: last year McDowell had just one more top five (at ‘Dega) and four more top tens in 36 starts. And even though I’m not a betting guy, if you want to put your gold on both of Rick Ware’s cars finishing on the lead lap at Auto Club, I’d be tempted to take you up on it.

So here we are. The Clash gave us an outrageous new venue for Cup racing, and it produced some pretty decent results. Daytona gave us lots of extra story lines and a good race, making everybody happy. Where do we go from here?

The next four weeks are stops from before we started changing things. Auto Club may have the storyline that this is the last superspeedway race before the track becomes a short track, if in fact that still ends up happening, but that track hasn’t been a rip-roaring success lately, so we’ll see if the upward trajectory continues. Las Vegas and Phoenix present yet two more weeks far from the core fan region; will the excitement subside? Atlanta has been repaved and kind of reconfigured, so that’ll be a story line.

Then comes an interesting test, the Circuit of the Americas. This is where we’ll get a idea whether the track’s 2021 success will continue, and whether the extra emphasis on road racing will prove wise. It’ll take a couple more years to really answer those questions, but there will be hints on March 27.

And so it will go. We’ve got two new-to-Cup tracks, a couple of road courses on the schedule for the second time, and the second Darlington date still fresh from its resurrection, so there are some fresh preview stories.

The big crowd at the L.A. Coliseum and the Daytona full house were impressive, so which way to we go from here?
Talladega Superspeedway on October 04, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

With luck, the same-old-36-cars every week will be livened up a little by some teams finding a new key to success in the NextGen car, and maybe The Money Team will show up a few more times.

Ah, the NextGen car . . . that could prove a good story line, too, as NASCAR works out the bugs. It was kind of funny to see Cindric stranded on the track Sunday, unable to move his car after blowing the tires celebrating. The problem filling the gas tank certainly wasn’t humorous, though, at least not to the teams.

Still, it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of good racing to keep the Coliseum/Daytona momentum going. The old guy, who’s really trying not to stay stuck in the past, hopes things succeed, although he’d still be a lot happier if the cars really were Fords, Chevys and Toyotas, not NASCARs, and if anybody could enter with a real opportunity to compete and win a far share of prize money, even without a membership in the charter club.

I don’t think NASCAR will change those last opinions, but I’ll argue that they make me a savvy judge of what helps a sport succeed, not just another grumpy old guy. Only one way to find out who is right.

“Drivers, start your engines.”

(PHOTO CREDITS – The cover cartoon comes from NPR, and the Jacque Villeneuve photo from Reuters. The Joe Gibbs photo is from Beyondtheflag.com. The empty stands at Indy is from USA Today, and the full stands appeared in Sportscasting.com.)

Frank Buhrman

17 comments

  1. Frank, I always like your take on things.
    It’s nice to know that I’m not the only old guy that cares about stock car racing.
    Thanks for all you do for our sport.
    Joe Schmaling

    1. Good to hear from you, Joe. Thanks for the comments, and best of luck for SCSCS this season. You guys do it the right way.

  2. There sure doesn’t seem like there is a business case for any non-chartered team to make a living by running a full season. That was the plan for the 66, but with Daytona paying 5 times what any of the other races pay and them not making that show, their plans certainly changed.
    Having to hide the payout of races is quite telling of how unfair the system of ‘open competition’ has become. Danbury Racearena effectively had a charter system. And what became of that?
    As a fellow dinosaur, I think Nascar (and others) have forgotten that its often grandpa who pays to take the coveted next generation of fan to the damn track to begin with. I also fear that world events will affect this racing season before much longer. Not very upbeat, huh?

    1. Some people earn their living by making things look as rosy as possible, and certainly their job has been easier so far in ’22. Only time will tell if our alternative view is grumpy geezer or reality. Thanks for the comments.

  3. No, today’s Cup fans will never know the joy of having 8 hometown weekly track heroes make the field like they did at Martinsville in 1974.
    http://racersreunion.com/dave-fulton/blog/2238/the-day-8-virginia-weekly-track-heroes-made-the-cup-field
    Today’s fans will certainly never see a one-off entry like that of 45 year old Sonny Hutchins claim a front row start and lead the first 70 laps. That folks was excitement. The sort that brings fans back and makes for great feature stories.
    Alas, you can call me Mr. Krabs or Oscar the Grouch as I agree with Frank.

  4. A well written article Mr. Buhrman. My observation, you are a lot more tolerant and adaptive that I am. You’re trying to not remain in the past. I cannot stomach this new NASCAR. I am one of the longtime, life-long, hardcore fans that NASCAR doesn’t want, and that literally drove away from racing. This is not even close to stock car racing! NASCAR should just do what they are long-range intending to do anyway, dissolve NASCAR and incorporate it into their all road-racing or predominately road-racing with a couple of token ovals, as one of their sportcar classes and call they whole thing IMSA. They can do it or whatever they plan to do with it, without me. I’m gone. By design, there is no place for me (or other true stock car racing fans) in racing anymore. The only sport that I have left, to be a fan of, for the present at least, that could very well change, is college football.

    1. I hope my less dire appraisal turns out to be right, but I see plenty to support opinions like yours. Just remember, NASCAR and racing aren’t the same thing. There are short track races readily available on Floracing, Dirt.tv, or elsewhere, and there’s still that revolutionary option of attending in person, which I recommend.

  5. Your title sure described me, lol. Sometimes I do wonder where I stand when I am watching some of these newer races/shows. We have some good talent out there, but I seem to make some comparisons to some of the older type of what I call pure racing. We were able to cheer for not only makes of cars, but drivers who were not in our favorite make. We knew the difference between racers and just drivers, plus we knew who the crew chiefs were and sometimes that figured in all of it. I feel really sad that fans today won’t know the varied feelings we had as their plates are “too full” today. We all have many memories that seem to reflect the “good old days” and although it is sad, sometimes I wonder if I am like the lady Gary Morris sings about when he sings “Better Than New”. One can substitute so many other things in those lines. Guess I am just getting old, lol. Sorry if I got a bit melancholy there
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lcc0sHENMlQ

      1. Perhaps our dear friend, Frank, will do an article on the difference between racers and drivers. I can think of a few from the past and just a very few in the present. Bet you can also…

        1. Having been neither a race driver nor a racer myself (although I can show you pix of the ’57 Olds that sort-of-almost became a hobby stock car for David Fulton, the late John “Chris” Young, and me), I’m hesitant to aim either label, but I can think of those who started at the bottom and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps (an expression nobody under a certain age uses or likely appreciates): Weatherly, Pearson, Earnhardt at the top; guys like Lennie Pond or maybe Wayne Andrews, who almost broke through; and the for-the-love-of-it part-timers like H.B. Bailey, Mel Larson, and Worth McMillion. Others might have great stories, but these speak loudest to me.

          1. Do you really have a photo of the JoFraDa Olds? You have to share that! What’s it been, 56 years since we started building our first race car?

    1. Well said. Just because I’m willing to accept some change doesn’t mean it’s found a way into my race-fan heart.

  6. Well said Frank! I personally struggle with almost all the issues you mention. I’ve concluded that a lot would be solved with a better product, better racing. Hopefully the new car (can we call it This Gen now that we’re racing it?) will significantly move the needle in a positive direction. I’ve also concluded if you replace the “or” in the title with “and” you’ve described me perfectly.

    Thanks again Frank!

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