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Woody: Just Let ‘Em Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 18 2010
Cars have been wrecking at Talladega and Daytona since the day the tracks opened. NASCAR can't prevent it. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Cars have been wrecking at Talladega and Daytona since the day the tracks opened. NASCAR can't prevent it. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

No passing.

No bumping.

No rough racing.

No action.

No fans.

That’s the downhill direction NASCAR has been headed in recent years, especially on the asphalt monster called Talladega. First they painted a yellow line on the track and said nobody could pass there. Next they outlawed bump-drafting in certain areas of the track – the drivers weren’t exactly sure where that was.

This after the application of restrictor plates to slow down the cars at Talladega and Daytona. This after abolishing racing back to the flag under caution (substituting the goofy Lucky Dog free pass). This amid a crackdown on rough driving.

Note to NASCAR: Rough driving is what the sport is all about. It’s what accounted for its boom in popularity. It’s what separates stock car racing from, say, Indy and lawn bowling.

If they tame it they’ve killed it, and right now it’s running a high fever.

Finally it seems to have dawned on the rules-makers that they’re about to legislate the race out of racing. NASCAR reportedly is considering easing up on telling drivers how to drive.

Many in the media are reluctant to second-guess NASCAR because – in fairness – most the rules have been implemented in the name of safety.

But let’s be honest: Auto racing has never been a safe sport and never will be – short of slowing the cars to school-zone speeds and puttering around inside foam-rubber walls. At that point racing would be completely risk-free – as well as completely spectator-free.

If racing were easy, even sports writers would be doing it.

I’m often amused by those who blame the troubles at Talladega on too-fast cars or bunched-up racing. I’ve been going there since the track opened and Talladega has always has big packs of cars and big pileups – witness last year’s tumbles by Carl Edwards and Mark Martin.

Some drivers, in fact, claim that restrictor plates create more hazardous racing by keeping the cars bunched up lap after lap.

I don’t know if it’s the tracks, the rules, the cars or the drivers – or a combination – but there’s no question that racing has lost some of its tingle in recent years.

One thing NASCAR definitely could do is ease up on “rough driving” penalties. The refs need to swallow their whistles and let ‘em play. The tip-toeing has gotten so bad the last couple of years that even Bristol was boring.

NASCAR has devoted the off-season to studying declining attendance and dipping TV ratings and pondering ways to revive sagging interest. Here’s a suggestion; line them up, drop the flag, and get out of the way. Go back to letting racers race.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 18 2010


  • Richard in N.C. says:

    The world keeps changing. It seems clear to me that if auto racing went back to the level of risk of injury to drivers or pit crews that it had even 10 years ago that it could risk an accident driving away thousands, even millions, of fans. Robert Yates said many years ago that NASCAR had far too much horsepower – way more than needed. It seems to me that reducing horsepower needs to be done as soon as the economy allows.

  • toni g says:

    larry ,your article is right on the money.let them race.pull off the plate and knock down the compression.bring back real racing.race back to the flag and no speed limit on pit road under green flag stops.pit crews be advised not to block the competitors pit box and lets go racing.

  • Randy Moore says:

    Lets do both!

    1. Go back to real stock sheet metal, and 5,000 unit minimum engines/bodystyle combinations. Keep the COT chassis and safety items, but drop the wings! Beleive that if you have to push a stock Camry, Taurus, Charger or Impala through the air at Daytona or Talladega, its going to be a lot slower!, especially with the V-6 you’ll be forced to run.

    2. Let ’em race!

    • Marc says:

      Sure you could revert to the time when the cars pretty much matched what was seen on the street and for the record that would be previous to the 1966 season as templates were first used at Daytona in 1967 but….

      … that would also bring back the era of all teams spending more time whining and complaining about some real or imagined advantage one team had over another. As late as the 2002 season the sport saw no less than three spoiler changes during Speedweeks alone all because teams were crying incessantly over perceived “advantages.”

      The end result would be more complaining, more rules changes and more importantly, far more races won by one or more laps as happened so often in the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s.

  • Bryan says:

    Great article. All fans should read this, like I’m sick of all this complaining about safety (especially at ‘dega) and complaining about boredom. This is ridiculous. Thanks for the article, pretty much everything I’ve been thinking about.