Woody: Just Let ‘Em Race
No rough racing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments