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Larry Woody: NASCAR Is Supposed To Be A Nervous Wreck

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 25 2012

Wrecks are what made the NASCAR world spin so rapidly back in the interesting old days. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

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.

Is tame racing killing NASCAR? (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

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 lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 25 2012
8 Comments

8 Comments »

  • Sylvia says:

    100% correct Larry! All the tracks are becoming the same “turn to the left” “turn to the left” – Should be interesting to see what BRISTOL will be like with removing the “agressive banking” as Bruton Smith put it. My husband and I attended Bristol last year for our first time, ended up leaving before the race was over. Very sad to see what the “most popular sport” has become. I don’t think some of the drivers want to bump and grind, even Jimmie Johnson smugly questions “why the fans want to see wrecks”. If all we want to see are cars go around in circles with NO ACTION, we may as well go to the park and watch the merry go round!!

  • earner says:

    Contact yes..Rubbing Yes..Wrecks not required..Points/Cars/Tracks/Tires/ & Very Rich Pretty boys who aren’t hungry = Parades & Interstate circle driving…They are now well on the way to becoming F1 where passing in the pits & getting the passing flag are the only passing available. But wait even F1 made an adjustment to correct this & a Race I watched 2 weeks ago had more passing than the previous Nascar race…Very Sad

  • racingphan says:

    Racing that rewards thuggish behavior? Pass. And a caution every ten laps? No thanks.

  • Mike says:

    Ken is correct with a few other addons. Use Kyle Busch as a current example of taking a stallion to the vet & bringing back a gelding. Still looks pretty good but lacks the fire. The areo & some “safety” specs also prevent close racing that quality [car & driver] will prevail. It used to be very close, with bumps, bangs etc, that was very interesting without serious wrecks. Kinda like the local tracks today, with better drivers & equipment. Of course if you can’t see a race in person, you sure as h**l won’t get much interest trying to watch the scripted [who pays?, we own?] TV offering. A small hope is the future networks WOW coverage [WithOutWaltrip] will at least show there really are a few other cars & drivers.
    I’ve also been involved & a fan of auto racing since a little before you started covering in the late 60’s. Not better or smarter, just a lot of laps.

  • Ken says:

    The threat of sponsorship loss, the threat of fines or punishment by NASCAR as well as points racing has neutered the drivers. They dare not take a chance because of the possibility of losing their job. Long gone are the days of Dale Sr. who believed that 2nd. was the first loser. The generic tracks with generic cars just make the Sunday driving in circles even more boring.

  • Joe says:

    Lamenting no wrecks in a race? Enjoy your WWE on wheels. I don’t think I can take much more of it. I wonder when they’ll really amp up the action with Hot Wheels loops & figure-8’s?

    I’m going to miss the great racing at Bristol…..

  • Wayne T. Morgan says:

    I would be happy to see a “gaggle” of cars fighting for a position even mid pack as well as up front. I do like a “record pace run” and you can if NA$CAR changes some rules etc. And I’m 62 and you said Lawrence who??

  • SAB says:

    Thank you for acknowledging that wanting to see intense action on the track (whether wrecks of near wrecks) is what made Nascar different. And wanting that does NOT make you a ‘non race fan’. Bristol didn’t sell out for years because everyon was polite now, did it?