Jan 26, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series chairman Brian France (left) and president Mike Helton (right) address the media on the state of the sport during the 2012 Sprint media tour at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

February 18th 2001: The Day Racing Died

The only drama that remains in the 2012 Nascar season is who will win the Wild Card positions. With 46 points separating 10th place Brad Keselowski and the the rest of the field, only DNF’s can change this outcome. With drivers being so cautious this time of the year, I can’t wait for the chase to begin, at least the racing should get better, if not, Football Season is just around the next turn.

The Lenox Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday afternoon had me surfing for Law And Order re-runs 20 laps after the Green Flag. With absolutely no excitement on the race track, the highlights came from pit road, following storms on doppler radar, and gas mileage charts. Oh yeah…there were three cautions for 15 laps. There was debris on the track, and David Reutimann had a blown engine. Yawn….

Denny Hamlin, driver of the Federal Express Toyota obviously had the best car on the afternoon, but mis-communications with crew chief Darian Grubb regarding how many tires to take on the final pit stop kept him out of Victory Lane. Kasey Kahne, who had a pretty good car as well, grabbed the lead and was able to tick the laps down fast enough to get to the Checkered Flag before Hamlin could catch up…. Yawn.

Before The Day:

Bill France Jr. took over management of Nascar in January of 1972 from his father and founder  Bill France Sr, and with the help of the Waltrips, the Allisons and the Petty’s, brought Nascar into the age of television. By the time of his retirement after the 2000 season, he had built a product that was so good, that only the National Football League was bigger. Nascar was truly the number two sport in our country ahead of the NBA, Major League Baseball and rivaled even College Football.

Race tracks all over the country expanded in order to handle the new interest in racing. In 1997, Atlanta Motor Speedway expanded their seating from 60,000 to over 140,000. Daytona International Speedway added an entire section of seating down the back stretch.

Tracks were added to parts of the country that didn’t have access to racing such as Texas, Kansas and Chicago. Indianapolis broke the cardinal rule by agreeing to add a Nascar event to the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This expansion, albiet a little too fast, was all in response to the rising popularity of fans flocking to tracks in hoardes to watch America’s newest spectacle.

In the mid 90’s everyone was buying tee shirts, die cast cars and ball caps with their favorite drivers emblazoned on them at record paces. I was late getting tickets for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in 1998, and the only seats that were available were on the back stretch. The race was cancelled due to fires and ran in October. Still all the fans showed up, all 180,000 of them. The place was a mad house.

In 1999, Bill France Jr  signed the largest television contract in history at $2.4 Billion dollars which would start in the 2001 season.


After The Day:

Bill France Jr had turned the presidency of Nascar the Mike Helton, and appointed his son Brian France CEO and Chairman of Nascar. Mike Helton’s first day on the job was one of the darkest day’s the sport had seen, due to what happened on The Day.

Mike Helton then embarked on a seven year program to make the cars safer for the drivers, mandated safety equipment for drivers that had previously been optional, and worked to make tracks safer when there were accidents. The Car of  Tomorrow (COT), HANS Devices and Safer Barriers were all a result of changes made because of The Day.

The Nascar season unfortunately winds down at the same time as Major League Baseball and the Golf season. This happens to be the same time of year that college and professional football, basketball and hockey are getting started. Nascar , in their infinite wisdom, decided they needed a playoff system that would keep fans attention during such a crucial time of year. Thus, “The Race For The Chase”  was born.

We are seeing College Football about to make this same mistake, by implementing a playoff system that will destroy the need to win every week, and render the regular season useless. This is what has happened to Nascar.

We have seen the results all year. Drivers are being made so cautious by the the current system, they are no longer racing to win, rather racing to not miss the chase. The drivers who are comfortably inside the top 10 will do nothing to jeopordize their position, and the only racing we see are a few teams with a chance to make the playoff with a win. This is a terrible system that needs to be re-tooled to generate some excitement on the track.

Nascar has been trying to influence the competetion with tire changes, spoiler modifications and all that technical stuff, but the drivers and teams are to good. They make the adjustments and continue to give us racing that is hard to watch.

Now we have back stretches that are filled with fans that are disguised as empty seats, and you can actually find a good seat on the front stretch. Fans, or the lack of, are showing us there is a problem. I feel sorry for the fans who planned their vacations, bought tickets and expensive gas to get to the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 this past weekend, and had to endure the race. At least at home, I was able to watch those Law and Order re-runs.


The Day :

February 18th, 2001…The day racing died.


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Tags: Bill France Jr Brad Keselowski Dale Earnhardt Mike Helton NASCAR NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

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