The New NASCAR Season is Almost Here; Why Am I Not More Excited?

I have to keep reminding myself: the season is about to start. Yet when I start surfing online, my sports
“clicks” start with NCAA (as in college basketball), not NASCAR. I feel kind of guilty, but I doubt things are
likely to change.
When the Clash kicks off on February 4, I’ll probably be in the middle of something else, checking in
occasionally by computer or phone to see what’s happening. Daytona 500 weekend is my last weekend
before knee replacement surgery, so I’ll probably have far too much before-the-knife stuff on my plate
to even think about setting aside that much time for a race.

The beginning of any race remains a moment that electrifies my being like nothing else. (Photo from Speed Sport)

That’s not how it would have been a few decades ago, though. Back then, the schedule revolved around
being able to attend/watch/listen to “the race,” and the other activities were what had to
accommodate. Back then, it was an addiction; today, it’s something I have to struggle to remember.
How do you identify with NASCAR today when your “glory days” memory bank cranks up with Joe
Weatherly, David Pearson, and “independents” like J.T. Putney and Roy Tyner, then hits stride with the
Petty-Allison feud, the decision of whether or not to hate Darrell Waltrip, and the glory that was Dale
Earnhardt Sr. It starts to fade in proportion to the growth of NASCAR’s corporate ego, crashes with the
Car of Tomorrow, and watches the final embers die with the departures of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart,
and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Somewhere, deep down, a piece of me still says that things might change, but all the brain cells around
that aberrant one know those changes won’t happen, because they require the impossible: setting the
clock back. The money invested in the sport today blocks that totally.
Money. That’s the difference.
The NASCAR of my younger days didn’t have a whole lot of it. Most drivers had jobs other than racing
cars. Most owners, unless they owned a garage, were in it as a hobby. Most tracks, if they had a staff at
all besides $20-on-race-day folks, could fit them all in one office. NASCAR’s staff listing fit on two pages
of the race program, and it wasn’t just Daytona people; rather, it was every track’s flagman and chief
steward, plus all the other part-timers. I stopped by Daytona in the late 1960s and visited the
PR/marketing department. His name was Phil Holmer.

I’d heard Joe Weatherly was the reigning NASCAR champion and was from Virginia, and that helped me decide to attend my first race. Weatherly and Junior Johnson put on a great show before Joe won the race, and that made me a lifelong fan. (The color photo is a widely available publicity shot that I got from an eBay page selling prints. The close-up is from a Dave Moody blog when Weatherly was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Moody gave no credit for the shot, another one widely available.)

I could go on, but you see what I mean here. The lack of money made racing then what it was. To people
who like NASCAR 2024, the money makes it what it is: a bright, shiny spectacle with cars as evenly
matched as they can be made to be.
For last year’s spring race in Richmond – five days short of exactly 61 years after my first – 23 other cars
finished on the lead lap with winner Kyle Larson, and only one car of 37 total failed to finish. Joe
Weatherly won my first race by more than a lap over Net Jarrett; Worth McMillion was 23 laps behind in
10 th place, and only 11 of the 25 race starters were still around at the finish. The winner’s average speed
was 58.624 (on a half-mile dirt track), nearly 32-1/2 miles per hour slower than 2024 (on the three-
quarter-mile paved raceway).

It takes a rules package that governs everything you can imagine and some (a lot, actually) you can’t, to
achieve that parity, and it takes money. Nobody just buys and car and shows up anymore. Even former
boxing champ Floyd Mayweather, who’s worth more money than I can imagine, has struggled to bring
his Cup team to the track, for want of sponsorship.
On the Atlantic Rural Exposition fairgrounds dirt track in Richmond in April 1963, Ray Fox’s deal with
Holly Farms Chicken to sponsor Junior Johnson’s Chevy was a true sponsorship in today’s terms, albeit
for much less money. The factory Fords all carried the name of some car dealership, but it was hardly
the source of the team’s funding. Other cars carried the owner’s business, like Burton-Robinson
Construction Co. for Net Jarrett’s Ford, or the Burgundy Café in Washington, D.C., owned by the family
of Ratus Walters, for whom Larry Frank drove that day.

This is probably the same car that Larry Frank drove for Ratus Walters at Richmond in April 1963. Their luck wasn’t as good that Sunday, with an engine failure and 15th-place finish. (Photo credit in original caption above)

Once upon a time, a driver or owner could put together a last-minute deal with a local grocery store or
other business for race day, but spur-of-the-moment arrangements like that don’t happen with the
dollar amounts required today. (I still laugh at the memory of a Busch/Xfinity team member coming into
the Richmond media center 20-25 years ago and asking to use the photocopier and fax machine to send
the car owner a copy of the $10,000 check just received. Only with that proof of paid sponsorship would
the owner allow his car to run the race.)
All that money isn’t going away, at least not if the scores of people – from NASCAR vice presidents on
down – whose jobs would be affected having anything to say about it. That means “stock car racing” will
continue to fade into the distant past and the fading memories of those like me, who are no longer
NASCAR’s target audience.
But that’s OK. This weekend I will celebrate racing the way I like it, and it will be about as far from
NASCAR as you can get. The PA Sprint Car Series will hold its 2023 banquet (delayed three weeks by
weather) at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing at Latimore Valley, between Harrisburg and
Gettysburg in South Central Pennsylvania.

Here are the drivers honored at last year’s PA Sprint Series banquet, including 2023 Champion Garrett Bard (fifth from right) and the tallest guy in the back, Logan Spahr, who would go on to win the title in 2024. (Photo by the author.)

The teams to be honored have no paid staff, and while most of them have multiple sponsors, those
sponsorships are worth far less than it would take to get your name on the side of a NASCAR touring
division car. Some teams are self-sponsored; one driver used to write down for his sponsor: “My wallet.”
One reason they can do that is that the frame for a sprint car is relatively inexpensive, and the engine for
a PASS/RaceSaver car costs only 20-25% of that for a 410 sprinter, the gold standard for these open-
wheeled machines.
To the uninitiated, the money the division is paid is a joke: $400 to win, normally. BUT, the key rule is
that the money is spread out, with last place receiving half as much as the winner. Lots of other
economy classes pay the winner more, but the guys finishing near the bottom get $50, $25, or even
nothing. The RaceSaver Sprints model (RaceSaver is the rules package developed nearly 30 years ago by
Virginian French Grimes) is intended to give as many teams as possible the means to keep racing, and it
is supposed to discourage trying to outspend everybody else in search of big paydays.
It seems to work. Last year nearly 110 teams attempted to run at least one PASS event. Some younger
drivers use it as a steppingstone to sprint car divisions with larger, more expensive engines, and some
return from those divisions when the bills start to outweigh the excitement. Other drivers find a
comfortable cost-benefit balance with RaceSaver. The points standings from 10 years ago show more
than a dozen drivers who are still expected to race again this year, and a handful of those have been
involved for 20 years of more.

Erin Statler has run with PASS since 2008 and competed in the Virginia Sprint Series, another RaceSaver regional group, before that. She will make her 300th start with the series early in 2024. (Photo by the author)

So is the racing any good? My answer is yes, and more cars in a typical field have a shot at victory than in
As my schedule for this year begins to take shape, PASS races at more-or-less local tracks (most within
two hours of home) are what’s being added, not NASCAR events. That’s because my golden age of
racing translates more to what PASS does today than NASCAR. I identify with its drivers and owners, and
having affordable tickets and concessions doesn’t hurt, either.
Now I know there are trade-offs here. PASS races aren’t on TV, unless we’re running as a support class
and the show is being carried on FLO or another streaming channel. The drivers aren’t household
names, although most do have t-shirts for sale. The big money also means big media, and that’s not part
of the PASS equation.
Money matters in other ways, too. Should NASCAR return to racing like it had half a century ago (and
like PASS has today), drivers wouldn’t make the money they make, and LOTS of people would be put out
of work. I don’t want anybody to lose a job, but I can’t support jobs that underpin a product that will
never return to the top of my fandom list. PASS also is run by volunteers (of which I am one), and while
finding new volunteers can be hard, we seem to be managing.

I can’t quite give up NASCAR completely, although there seems to be a spiral heading closer and closer
to that end. The less I pay attention, the less I know about the newer drivers, which makes it all less
interesting. The continued heavy-handed micro-managing of everything by Daytona doesn’t help.
(That’s another inevitability with having all those high-paid employees: When Big Bill France was all but
a solo act, he could micro-manage as much as those trying to follow in his footsteps.)
Since my interest really focuses on the past, most of my contributions in this space (PRT) for 2024 will
involve history. I’ll do my best to make as much of it as possible positive.
I hope you enjoy the upcoming season, and I strongly suggest you include some local racing in it. Stocks, modifieds, sprints, or something else; dirt tracks or paved, just do it. You should get good competition,
and if you pick a lemon, at least you won’t have dropped big bucks checking things out. Try to read up
on tracks online and find out what’s best at the concession stand. Talk with the folks around you.
If one of them’s a big old guy with a beard, limping a little like he’s had a recent right knee replacement,
say hello, and maybe we can have a good conversation. Happy Racing!

Frank Buhrman

Photo by the author from Selinsgrove Speedway

Photo Credit (cover): 1970s Richmond shot is claimed by RacingOne and Getty Images in various online locations including PTR.


  1. Well said and I agree with you about NASCAR’s 2024 season. The world we grew up in is long gone. We are no longer a “Car Culture”. Today’s car is just a means of transportation. I enjoyed Ryan Blaney’s 2023 Championship season, and he was a throwback to the good old days with his personality and style. I will be watching and following the area’s short tracks this year.

  2. A long time ago in a place far, far away…
    Been several years now since I planned anything around a NASCAR race – even Richmond. Don’t know that I could name more than 5 drivers. Now a glorified IROC series. Best of luck with the knee replacement.

  3. Thanks for an Interested perspective Frank! Wished I was a bit more pumped but just not there yet. There are plenty of story lines to watch to see how they develop that would normally have me fired up but so far I’m not feeling it. I think in part it’s the constant overpromise/underdeliver has worn me down. Hopefully, next weekend will just blow my socks off as promised and all will be right again.

    Hope all go well with your knee replacement and it doesn’t slow you down a bit. Get that stagger set and you’ll be turning laps faster than ever!

    Thanks again and have a great 2024!

    1. I’m glad you give me a reason to follow things a little, David. Your analytical pieces are really well done.

  4. Sad that you can still relate to college basketball yet it’s been many decades since you’d have been in college. I stopped watching college sports when I finished college. I have no interest in watching rich boys do the same things over and over and over and over and over. Each NASCAR race is different, rules package aside…and in those days you mention, a car won by LAPS because they had more money for more durable parts, not because of driving skill. Thank God for the NASCAR of today (though I wished they COULD work on the cars more) and the parity it provides. Money has ALWAYS been in NASCAR, from Kiekhiefer (maybe I spelled it wrong) to Petty/Pearson/Wood Brothers (Ford Team) to Earnhardt Senior for Childress in the 80s and Waltrip for Hendrick. Now, in NASCAR, maybe that guy driving for a Kaulig or Rick Ware COULD win IF his team executes as HIS talent level is probably high enough to do so. A TRUE FAN will ALWAYS be a fan and support their sport.

    1. Interesting points. My take on the money isn’t that some have it and some don’t; everything has always been that way. I simply believe that the overall amount of money in the sport keeps it from returning to some “good old days” norms that might make it a better product. That’s one opinion, subject to debate, as is the case with your points. I’m sure people were going back-and-forth about then-versus-now when they talked racing 50+ years ago.

  5. Twenty years ago if you told me that today I’d be planning my weeks around college basketball games instead of NASCAR programming, my whole family and every friend I ever had would’ve laughed you off the planet. In the last years of my modern fandom it felt like NASCAR specifically had the intent of running off Tim S. Seemingly every week there was something new coming that I didn’t want or something being eliminated that I liked, and the lapdogs in media told me that not only did the excrement of NASCAR and their Chosen Ones not have any odor, but it was my job to eat as much of it as possible. Stage racing was the end for me. All of my stock car racing pursuits are historical in nature now. I miss what it was, not what it’s become.

  6. I’m with you Frank, nothing beats a good run Sat night race at a local track. I miss so many of the things that NASCAR seems to be running from, all to attract a new fan base. Hint NASCAR, it’s not working, and you’ve run off your former fanbase.. NASCAR will be dead and gone before I watch the Class in LA. I don’t like the races from Bowman Gray, so I sure don’t like it on steroids, with drivers that don’t have to pay for the things they’re about to do to their cars and others. As much as I was happy when the added another road course, having 7 last season went a bit too far. I’ve only missed the Daytona 500 in years that I was either stationed overseas or deployed somewhere in the desert overseas. I will forever miss the original Clash races that were held in Daytona. No not all of the convoluted stage race versions, the ones where you actually had to be a pole winner to qualify for the Clash. The ones where they ran a set number of laps, with no scheduled pit stops. CBS would air them, and only scheduled a 30 minute tv time frame. That was no BS racing. Then they screwed that up, as they couldn’t sell enough tv ads, beer and hot dogs.

    NASCAR wasn’t happy enough at screwing that up, so they added an All Star race. It started out ok, where you had to actually win a ran over the prior 12 months. Now anybody that has a NASCAR license, and is still breathing, has a chance to make the race. What used to be a great race to watch, and usually only took a couple of hours to watch changed. Now, just the driver intros takes forever. By they finally get to the racing it’s like why bother. They keep forgetting what their product is. Hint NASCAR, it’s the racing!! I’d love to say that they will eventually figure that out, but I’d be lying.

    I truly don’t know how they think that running/hiding from their history, will cultivate a fanbase that will stick around for more than a minute.

  7. I think Dave Fulton said it all when he said: “A long time ago in a place far, far away…”

    Also want to add that I was also glad about Ryan Blaney’s Championship win.

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