Minter: Root Pruning Has Not Helped NASCAR
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments