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Memo: The Age Of Gimmicks Is Upon Us

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 6 2010

Green-white-checkered restarts are a hit with some but are viewed as a gimmick by others. Kyle Busch liked this won at Richmond last weekend. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Let’s see what’s in the old Morning Memo today:

Welcome, race fans, to the age of gimmicks. It’s an age when fast cars, mechanical innovation, may-the-best-team-win and all the other things which have made auto racing the best sport on the rock are not nearly enough to keep ‘em coming back for more.

It’s an age when gaudy beats beauty, contrived trumps tradition, shiny eclipses texture, blended is better than pure and chips do not fall where they may, they are arranged.

It’s an age that has settled into all the major racing series and it’s an age that may end up costing racing whatever morsels of former dignity which still hang from the sport’s brittling bones.

It runs the risk of reducing racing to theater.

In NASCAR, the age of gimmicks manifests itself in things like wave-arounds, lucky dogs, green-white-checkered restarts and Chases for championships.

In the NHRA, the age manifests itself in four-wide racing and in IndyCar with multiple championships, push-to-pass and red rubber.

Some of it is about safety, some about containing costs but all of it is focused on generating excitement among the ticket- and gear-buying public.

In a time when a parent and child can plug into a box of electronics, sit in front of a mammoth flat screen and blast aliens and terrorists to bloody bits – or race around Daytona International Speedway themselves – from their couches, real cars just going fast is getting hard to sell.

You’ve got to parade out gimmicks. You’ve got to keep it unreal.

I get it. And, to be honest, I am not totally against all of the gimmicks which are being paraded out. In fact, I love a parade. Some of the things mentioned above have made things better without completely turning races into vaudeville: Double-file restarts, good; multiple championships, slap in the face.

And it’s not just racing that is, depending how you look at it, either dumbing down or sprucing up. Baseball is “enhancing” its fan experience with everything from bobble-head nights to post-game fireworks. Football has become more about loud rock music and tailgating than blocking and tackling and the inside of the new basketball arenas are now lit up like the outsides of Las Vegas casinos.

It’s all completely explainable – if not expected – in an era of everything, all the time.

Maybe the best thing to do is kick back and enjoy it. Give it all a chance and hope that when things like tapered spacers and delta-wing chassis are fed into one end, better racing will come out the other.

But right now, it seems kicking back is getting tougher every time a press release is issued by the major series’ policy makers.

Memo to self: Check into the costs of a RacinToday t-shirt cannon.

Big finish: The racing last weekend at Kansas Speedway had an odd feel to it. For the first time at the track, the spring weekend featured an inverted the order of events. The IndyCar Series race was held on Saturday and the NASCAR Camping World Trucks on Sunday.

Not sure why, but it sure didn’t help the quality of racing in the opening act. The IndyCars, which at Kansas in the past have put on some of the best races I have ever seen, were boring even at 220 mph.

And the finish was about as unfulfilling as they get – on the final restart, the lead car had seven lapped cars between it and those chasing him for the win. Needless to say, when the green waved, Scott Dixon might just as well have driven straight to Victory Lane. Where is a gimmick when you need one?

In the trucks race, a goofy, unforecast heavy rain and lightening and hail storm brought out a 90 minute red flag.

But what a finish for the trucks. Best finish of the year in NASCAR. Johnny Sauter being chased down by sparring partner Ron Hornaday Jr.

Everybody knew something big was coming. Said Todd Bodine, who finished third, “They were too far in front of me to see it. All I heard on the radio was ‘they’re wrecking in front of you, they’re wrecking in front of you! Keep going, keep digging!’ I knew that when you get those two together racing for the lead and something’s going to happen.”

“Something” did happen on lap 155 of the 167-lap race; Hornaday smacked into Sauter (a move that almost brought them to blows in the pits earlier this season). They both got seriously sideways, and then they both saved. Sauter, whose tires took less of beating from the sideways scrubbing, won but both suffered severe hyper-adrenalization afterward.

No gimmick need in that one.

Memo to self: Catch as many truck stand-alones as possible.

Own-horn tooting: Joe Gibbs was the headliner a couple weeks back when he was inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame during ceremonies held on Cup weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

But also honored by the hall was RacinToday.com senior writer John Sturbin, who was presented with the Excellence in Journalism award.

Sturbin has been covering races in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for over 30 years. When the Fort Worth newspaper decided its readers did not deserve a full-time racing writer, Sturbin was laid off. The paper’s loss was RT’s gain.

Also honored were drivers Kyle Busch, four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and former team owner and engine builder, Robert Yates.

Busch was honored as TMS’s Racer of the Year; Gordon and Ambrose were honored with the TMS Sportsman Ship Award; Yates was awarded the Bruton Smith Legend Award.

Finally: Great to see Kenny Schrader, who finished ninth in a Kevin Harvick truck at Kansas, back on a speedway…momentum for the 2010 Indy 500 keeps building as this week it was announced that Graham Rahal would drive for dad and that Barry Green would return to help out Paul Tracy…I voted for Jimmie Johnson over John Force and Will Power in the first quarter Driver of the Year balloting because I think week in and week out, the competition is stronger and deeper in Cup than in Funny Car and IndyCar…it breaks my heart to be missing NASCAR Hall of Fame happenings this month but duty here – and pressure from the mortgage company – prevents. And finally-finally, memo to the NHRA’s PRO: don’t point a gun unless it is loaded.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 6 2010
7 Comments

7 Comments »

  • Nick H says:

    I found your site and this article by a very circuitous route because I don’t like NASCAR, NHRA at all or IndyCar much. But if you substitute the words ‘Formula One’ for any of the above, I completely agree with you.
    The argument is F1 at the moment is about “improving the Show”, and the reaction has been predictable. Many F1 fans have similar opinions to Joe Yager and Bill B above. But it’s clear that every high-adrenalin, high-money sport around the world is trying to crank up the volume and attract the fans, sponsorship and advertising revenue. But these alterations, or gimmicks as Jim describes them might just alienate the real fans of racing, hockey, baseball, cricket or whatever.
    And what will be left? A sort of sensationalised rollerball contest mixed with reality TV personality clashes.
    Doesn’t sound much like sport to me.

  • Joe Yager says:

    I’m a racing purist. I don’t like most of the gimmicks, but I understand why they are used. It’s real simple; dollars + technolgy = equality. Equality = boring racing. It was inevitable this was eventually going to happen. Indy car & NASCAR, in an effort to contain costs, just brought this about a lot sooner by trying to be the great equalizer. Spec cars and engine packages and restrictor plates makes everyone equal. Richmond was a great example of “track position” being important. After a few passes on restarts, thanks to “double file”, everyone just settled into a static place in line. This isn’t the drivers’ intention – just the way it all works out. Without all the yellows at the end the finish wouldn’t have been as interesting.

    Joe Yager

  • Bill B says:

    The line is blurring between sports and reality television. Personally I hate reality television.

    I am convinced that the NASCAR fanbase is divided right down the middle. 50% want pure, let the chips fall where they may, racing and the other 50% want gimmicks and contrived endings guarenteed to make every race “close” at the end. That is why it seems like everyone clamors for GWC finishes and then when they are institued you hear nothing but whining. The 50% that don’t like GWC won’t become vocal until the change is instituted. Once instituted the 50% that want the GWC become silent because there is nothing to complain about – they like it.

    One thing is for sure. All the gimmicks have made it clear that you don’t need to watch a 4 hour race. Only the last 45 minutes really matter and that is the downside of gimmicks.

  • Marc says:

    G/W/C a gimmick? Sure one the majority of fans asked for and now some of the same fans are whining.

    As for gimmickry in general, let me count the ways; 1. (MLB)Designated hitter, Divisions and wild cards, Oh and did I mention steroids the biggest gimmick of all. 2. (NBA) Drafting high schoolers, 3-point shots, in the paint traveling calls non-existent to the point 5-footers like Spud Webb could dunk, 3. (NHL) Again those damn wild cards, shootouts to settle tie games…. etc, etc… the friggin’ list is endless when looking at all sports.

    And frankly the gimmickry is far less in NASCAR than it is in most major sports.

  • ANM says:

    Memo to self, Is this the month those failed gimmicks in Indianapolis were suppose to bring back some kind of golden age?
    I seem to have forgotten.

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