Quite A Spectacle, That Talladega Cup Event
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
So, at what point does racing cease being a sport and commence being mere spectacle? For a significant number of NASCAR drivers, that point is race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. For them, race weekend at Talladega is spectacle weekend and they plain don’t dig it.
That was made obvious – again – after Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at the 2.66-mile, high-banked TSS oval. It was verbalized again and again after a mammoth final-lap wreck shredded cars, title hopes and senses of humor for many of those in the garages.
Left rubbing his head and grunting the most candidly was Dale Earnhardt Jr., by far the most popular driver in the field: The man whose family and career and following is so snugly affixed to restrictor-plate races in general and Talladega in particular.
His words after the race had to produce bi-polar thoughts among NASCAR fans who love him, but also love the restricted chaos which so color the events at Daytona and Talladega.
Among the words Earnhardt issued after Sunday’s race – a race which he led three times for 18 laps and who had chances for a good finish and good points day before the final-lap blender job took him out – were the following:
Junior talked about the cost: “That is what the package is doing. It’s really not racing. I don’t know, it’s a little disappointing how that all went down. That cost a lot of money right there. If this is how we are going to race and that is how we are going to continue to race and nothing is going to change I think NASCAR should build the
cars. It would save us a lot of money…everybody can get on the chip about it and get excited about all that which just happened, but for the longevity of the sport that aint healthy. I don’t care what anybody says for the good of the sport I mean it’s good for the here and now and it will get people talking today, but for the long run that is not going to help the sport the way that race ended and the way the racing is. It’s not going to be productive for years to come.
He talked about the show: “It’s not safe. Wrecking like that is ridiculous. It’s blood-thirsty if that is what people want. It’s ridiculous.”
He talked about the inevitability of potentially fatal wrecks: “I knew somebody was going to wreck. There has been a last-lap wreck in like 90 percent of these things for the last four years with this car. We can’t get away from each other with the bumpers lining up and everybody pushing all the time and spinning each other out. I mean that’s no good. It’s not working. Somebody needs to change it.”
He talked about possible changes: “The way we are going ain’t the right direction. There are plenty of engineers out there I’m just a driver. There are plenty of smart people out there that can figure something out where when one guy gets in trouble we don’t have 30 cars tore up at the expense of it.”
And he talked about his future at plate tracks: “If this is what we did every week I wouldn’t be doing it, I will just put it to you like that. If this is how we raced every week, I would find another job…I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.”
The thing is, Earnhardt, whose fading Chase hopes were mauled by Talladega, was not the only one saying enough is enough after the race.
Jeff Gordon, who finished second and may have revived his title chances at Talladega, joined in.
“I remember when coming to Talladega was fun,” the four-time champion said. “I really do, and I haven’t experienced that in a long, long time. I don’t like coming here. I don’t like the type of racing that I have to do.”
Earnhardt, Gordon and the rest of those who staggered away from their cars late Sunday afternoon know why
they “have to” show up at the plate tracks four times a year. Many fans love what they see at plate tracks. And sponsors love what fans love. And NASCAR loves what sponsors love.
The competitors get that.
“If I’m a fan,” Gordon said, “I would love that. I think it is incredibly intense. It’s wild. It’s crazy…From an entertainment standpoint, they should be lined up out to the highway out there.”
Correct. It’s wonderful entertainment.
But is it racing? Or is it something less? Something that disregards the competitive aspect of racing and substitutes instead, shiny objects and loud noises? Something more akin to sideshow geekery?
And if so, if competition is sinking lower and lower on the list of reasons people enjoy races – and that appears to be the case as you actually hear fans complaining that the events have become “too safe” for the drivers – what of racing’s future?
Hey, stunts are cool. But they also get stale and boring. The only way to sustain interest in them is to keep elevating the thrill factor. The stunts need to get bigger, louder, shinier: When Evel Knievel could no longer sell tickets to jumping buses, he moved to casino fountains and finally to a river gorge; when it became apparent that Ozzie Osborne really had no musical talent, he had to eat a bat; when David Blaine could no longer hold an audience with his pick-a-card-any-card act, he had to get hooked up to a big electrical device.
Good racing never gets boring. Stunts do.
The NFL rolls on without stunts in spite of the fact that dangerous hits are being legislated out of the game. Why? Because it’s got great competition.
Major League Baseball rolls on in spite of the fact that it’s more boring than the commercials which are so freely inserted into the telecasts. Why? Because of great competition.
To build a sport around shock factor, which NASCAR is in danger of doing, is short-sighted. Perhaps doomed to obscurity and irrelevance.
It could even wind up scaring off its top drawing cards. Like Earnhardt and Gordon.
So what? So others will gladly take their places?
That’s obviously correct.
But some of us would still rather see a race which features the best drivers in the world than stunts involving the most outlandish daredevils in the country.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments