Civil Discourse Now

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NASCAR: big bucks go to a sport where the "fix" has been in.

   The image of NASCAR, a/k/a American stock car racing, in the 1960s was of people grabbing real "stock" cars---as one would buy off the showroom floor---wheeling them into garages, souping them up, and racing them on dirt tracks or the beach of Daytona (okay, that ended a while back) or on some track in the South. Compared to cars raced at the Indianapolis 500, and any tracks in a USAC circuit built to sustain races, for cars made for the Indy 500, for the rest of a "season" until the next race out at 16th and Georgetown, the stock cars were relatively cheap. The notion was someone like Cale Yarbrough or Richard Petty would slap a number on a car's hood, strap in, and race.

   In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, NASCAR grew in popularity. The races seemed more competitive than Indy Car or IRL or whatever the 500 (and by that I mean the real 500) and its offspring had become. Part of the competitive mystique was derived from how "open" the sport seemed. Whereas a steering wheel for an Indy car---like its Formula One counterpart, equally computer-driven and centered on really advanced, almost NASA-type technology---could cost $50,000 then more and drivers would practically beg for money to be able to drive, I think most people still had the image of the car driven off a parking lot and straight to a track where a number and decals would be slapped onto it.

   That no longer is NASCAR technology. It has not been the technology for some time. Stock cars bear hardly any similarities to the cars, after which they are named, on dealers' show room floors. The chassis of a NASCAR entry is carefully molded for maximum aerodynamic qualities and lowered onto what amounts to a variation on an Indy car-type techno-ride. Gone are the days of duct tape and rides patched together from three or four wrecked models.

   With the increase in technology and the demands for capital on the race circuit---as the NASCAR circuit has gone from a nice business to one in which billions are raked into the enterprise---the ability to compete has come to depend upon money. In comes the George Steinbrenner: Roger Penske. [Background music: "March of the Empire," or whatever it is, when Darth Vader enters.] What seemed to kill Indy Car racing in the 1990s were (1) the capital demands that made competition except amongst a very few, very rich individual race team owners impossible so that Indy was down to Penske, Menard, Newman/Haas, and a couple of others instead of 30 ro 40 teams with 80 cars and (2) of course the pissing contest between Tony George and Roger Penske.

   This past weekend, in NASCAR, it appears the "fix" was in. Radio communications to drivers indicated some were told to slow down so others could pass and be in the Shootout for the Cup. A wreck might even have been staged. I thought the "fix" was in when Dale Earnhardt won at Daytona in a race where the other drivers seemed to melt away.

   Well, people wanted to watch a racing sport where there was real competition. Then the Big Money moved in and whittled the teams down. Amongst those teams, certain drivers were expected to be in the "race" for the Cup at the end.

   This past weekend for NASCAR should be what the 1919 World Series was for baseball. Throw out the cheaters---maybe that spotter on the back stretch, but also, if established by the evidence, the team owners in question. And btw, the Hall of Fame should induct Shoeless Joe Jackson (finally).

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