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Minter: Root Pruning Has Not Helped NASCAR

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2010

On hand for the announcement this week that the 2011 Chase would open at Chicagoland Speedway were driver Kevin Harvick, track president Criag Rust, Illinois Senate president John Cullerton, driver David Reutimann and NASCAR's Steve O'Donnell. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

When I read Kevin Harvick’s comments about the upcoming schedule changes, the first thing that came to mind was an old lawyer’s tale that has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

Harvick observed that NASCAR’s latest shifting of race dates is justified based on the results of schedule changes back in 2001.

“The biggest boom we have ever seen in this sport came in 2001 when we went to new venues in Chicago; went to new venues in Kansas and you had all this movement with the schedule and you created all these new fans,” he said.

That’s where the Abe Lincoln story comes in.

According to legend, Lincoln, then a trial lawyer in Illinois, used the following illustration to sway a jury in his favor.

Lincoln supposedly told the story of a farmer who was fixing a fence when his young son ran up in a panic, crying: “Dad, sis is up in the hay loft with the hired hand and he is pulling down his pants and she is pulling up her skirts and I think they are going to pee all over the hay.”

To which the farmer replied: “You got all the facts straight, but you have drawn the wrong conclusion.”

The same could be said of Harvick.

Yes, 2001 was a big year, growth-wise for NASCAR, but it likely had little to do with adding race tracks in the Midwest.

In 2001, despite the tragedy at Daytona, NASCAR was still very much Dale Earnhardt’s sport. The overwhelming number of black shirts, No. 3 insignia and other signs of Earnhardt loyalty attest to that.

And NASCAR was still very much a Southern, working man’s sport. Even the TV crews that had come on the scene when NASCAR signed its network deal were as down-home as they come. Larry McReynolds, Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons and others were from an earlier, simpler time in the sport, and new fans took a liking to them.

The races and the racing back in 2001 still had a decidedly Southern flavor, unlike today when there are only a handful of drivers from the Southeast, and none of them winning very often.

Back in 2001, Dale Jarrett was a multiple winner, and Elliott Sadler gave the Wood Brothers a victory. Bobby Hamilton won at Talladega in Andy Petree’s car, as did Joe Nemechek at Rockingham, two victories for one of the sport’s smaller teams and something that hasn’t really happened since now that the Car of Tomorrow has made racing safer but at the same time made it more difficult for the smaller teams to compete.

Sterling Marlin gave Dodge it’s first win in its comeback to the Cup series. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won three times. Bill Elliott won the pole at Daytona and ended a seven-year drought with a win at Homestead.

Ward Burton won at Darlington, and Rockingham and Darlington still had two races apiece.

And George Jones sang the National Anthem for the fall race at Charlotte.

It’s also worth noting that the two races, at Chicago and Kansas, didn’t come at the expense of an established track. They were simply added to the schedule – a win-win for the sport. Not so with the current changes.

If NASCAR wants to recreate some 2001-like excitement, maybe it needs to borrow from the American Idol format and host an audition where a driver in the mold of Bill Elliott or Sterling Marlin or Bobby Hamilton or Dale Earnhardt would wind up with a quality Cup ride even if they don’t turn out to be the best pitchman for a sponsor. And the judges ought to be real people. It wouldn’t hurt to have NASCAR’s last good ‘ol boy, Sterling Marlin, on the panel too.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2010
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • sparky69 says:

    I suspect Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. are turning about 8500 rpm’s in their graves at the thought of the sport they worked so hard to build turning into what it has. What a shame.

  • scorer27 says:

    Great commentary Rick. The fun and excitement of NASCAR is gone (temporarily I hope) and you nailed it right on the head with everything you said.

    I believe losing races at North Wilkesboro, Rockingham and Darlington is a major part of it. Those are great racetracks and they replaced them with places like Californication & New Hamster….great sleeping aids but not very entertaining.

    NASCAR is now populated with too many drivers who are pretty and great spokesmen for their sponsors but who are about as exciting as figures at a wax museum. When was the last time any of these drivers called the fans out who were booing him to meet him in the parking lot of the local K-Mart? When the biggest thing that happens in a season is Danica dabbling in NASCAR then you know you have a problem.

    Bonzaibonnie touched on the real issue. The Chase. It’s contrived, it’s phoney, it’s all hype with little substance. Because of that I hope JJ keeps on winning the championship every year until NASCAR scraps it and goes back to what actually worked. There was nothing wrong with the old format. It was created to help NASCAR compete against the NFL and it didn’t work, so flush The Chase!

  • Ken says:

    This will be as effective as rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

  • banzaibonnie says:

    Grt rid of the Damned chase, and all else will work it’s way out. Guess when Brian’s folly started? Right!!!

  • joe says:

    Rick……….”And George Jones sang the National Anthem for the fall race at Charlotte.” Don’t get me started on some of these people they have singing the National Anthem now. I expect NA$CAR to have someone Rap the song any day now!