Larry Woody: NASCAR Is Supposed To Be A Nervous Wreck
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
I don’t know what part of “fans like wrecks” that NASCAR doesn’t understand. You’d think that after six decades they’d get it.
Wrecks – and the tense anticipation thereof – are what made NASCAR the thrilling spectator sport that it is. Or used to be.
Bruising, beat-and-bang action is what separated NASCAR from open-wheel racing. And bowling.
Take away wrecks and rumors of wrecks and what do you have? Glorified interstate traffic. Unscathed cars tooling around in boring little circles. The National Association of Sterile Auto Racing.
NASCAR acts as though the fact that its fans like wrecks is a dirty little secret, something to be ashamed of, like an elderly uncle that’s kept confined to the basement and occasionally gets out and wanders through the house in his skivvies. Generally in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. Well, at least he livened things up and gave everybody something to talk about.
Right now that’s what NASCAR desperately needs.
I’ve been covering this sport since the late 1960’s and I’ve never seen such a stretch of non-racing races.
Three of the last four Cup races have been wreck-free.
Even Bristol, once NASCAR’s most metal-mangling track, has gone from reckless to wreck-less. And they wonder why half of Bristol’s 160,000 seats sit vacant? No wrecks, no fans. Think there might be a connection?
During last Sunday’s Kansas race I switched over to PBS to watch 1960’s Lawrence Welk Show re-runs. The action was about the same but the dialogue was more interesting.
Before flipping over I heard the commentators gushing about “race-record average speeds.” That’s the most meaningless stat in sports – right alongside free-throw defense.
Actually, a high average race speed is not entirely meaningless; it indicates there’s been few or no cautions. The higher the average speed, the more uneventful the race.
When TV runs a promo or a track runs an ad for an upcoming race, do they show past footage of cars parading around in serene little circles? No. They show cars spinning and crashing and tumbling. They show smoke bellowing and sparks flying. They show wrecks.
And before the bloggers get their knickers in a wad, let’s make it clear: race fans don’t want to see a driver injured, any more than NFL fans or NHL fans want to see a player injured by a hard hit.
But, like NFL and NHL fans, NASCAR fans expect some contact.
Nowadays, thanks to safety innovations such as Safer Walls, reinforced cars and better equipment that includes custom-fitted seats and head-and-neck restraints, NASCAR drivers can go for a spin or take a tumble and not get a scratch.
Yet they drive like Miss Daisy, while fans doze off.
I remember a time when race fans hesitated to run to the restroom for fear they’d miss something. Now they can go soak in a hot tub and when they come back the running order will be the same.
I’m not smart enough to know the cause: generic cars, generic tracks or generic drivers. I suspect it’s a combination of all three.
We can debate the cause, but there’s no denying the effect: a wreck-free NASCAR is a drama-free NASCAR, tame, predictable and boring.
Maybe things will pick up Saturday night at Richmond. If not, there’s always Lawrence Welk.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments