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Minter: Racing No Longer Family-Sized?

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 8 2009
NASCAR president Mike Helton. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

NASCAR president Mike Helton. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Wednesday  observations:

* In the past three weeks, racing duties have carried me to two Georgia dirt tracks, Dixie Speedway and West Georgia Speedway, and to Daytona International Speedway.

At Dixie Speedway, I had barely gotten inside the gate when track owner Mickey Swims pulled up in an old water truck and said, “Come ride with me.”

For the next hour or so we circled the track watering the red clay. Then we jumped in an old wrecker and began packing down the clay into a smooth racing surface.

As we slipped and slid around the 3/8-mile oval, we talked about old times, about NASCAR racing, and about his son Mike, who died two years ago. And we talked about how after all these years, we both still love racing.

At West Georgia, promoter Sammy Duke drove up on the Ford farm tractor that serves as the track’s wrecker. We talked about old cars, antique tractors, farming, and racing. Before I left, he insisted I take an old-fashioned Scoville hoe that he’d found in a junk car he’d bought some time back.

At both dirt tracks, drivers, crew members and fans who had become friends over the years took time to visit.

At Daytona, it wasn’t exactly that way. I thought it was just me until I read a piece by veteran NASCAR journalist Mike Mulhern on mikemulhern.net.

Mulhern nailed it when he said NASCAR had lost its family atmosphere.

“It has become much bigger, yes, a much bigger business…but at the same time much too corporate. This sport has lost that folksiness.

There is no longer much sense of family.

Maybe that died when they buried Bill France Jr. a few years back.

Bill Jr., with his gruff but folksy approach to people and the sport, epitomized – along with Petty and Junior Johnson and the Woods and Bud Moore and Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress – the ‘NASCAR family.’”

Mulhern wrote that NASCAR president Mike Helton has been all but missing in the garage of late.

“Helton used to be, well, almost one of the guys; his forte was working the garage, keeping in touch with the men under his command, available to questions and answers and suggestions. Now he seems more isolated than ever.”

He also wrote about how in many ways the late France Jr. was as accessible and conversational as Swims and Duke are on the short track scene.

I don’t think Mulhern is trying to be mean. I think he’s saddened by the latest trends.

So am I.

* In the past, there was rarely ever anything wrong with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that a trip to Daytona or Talladega couldn’t cure. He’s always been good at drafting, and seven of his 18 career wins have come at those two tracks.

But this Daytona trip was no help for the slumping star.

He was never a real factor in the Coke Zero 400 and wound up crashing out on Lap 76 in a multi-car melee.

“We just got it driving good and just freed it up enough to where it could go up through there and we were just trying to get around them,” he said. “Everybody was in the way at that point, and we were just picking them off one at a time.”

His 39th-place finish dropped him to 21st in the standings, 356 out of a possible Chase berth.

His luck wasn’t any better in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona. He crashed in it too and finished 39th.

Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Earnhardt’s restrictor-plate successes came in cars prepared by the Eurys – Tony Jr. and Tony Sr.

* Richard Childress Racing finally broke into the win column with Clint Bowyer’s victory in the Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona. It was the first win of the year in Cup or Busch for RCR, proving once again that success has a way of being fleeting even for the best of organizations.

The team was back on the bad luck trail after Saturday’s Coke Zero 400.

The best finish of the four RCR drivers was a 16th by Jeff Burton. Wrecks were to blame for the poor finishes of Kevin Harvick (26th), Bowyer (29th) and Casey Mears (34th). After putting three drivers in the Chase each of the past two years, RCR now has none in the top 12. Burton is the closest. He’s 15th, 105 points away from 12th.

* Regan Smith continues to show the power of perseverance.

The reigning rookie of the year, who has just a part-time ride this year, ran his string of running at the finish of Cup races to 51 at Daytona on Saturday, and he did it in impressive fashion.

He drove Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevy to a career-best 12th in the Coke Zero 400.

“It was a good result, but we really wanted a top-10 and nearly did it,” Smith told reporters afterwards.

Smith, who has been running at the finish of every Cup race he’s ever started in his career, will return to the track on July 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 8 2009
6 Comments

6 Comments »

  • Monte Dutton says:

    NASCAR is like a religion, and the biggest problem it has is keeping the allegiance of the true believers.

  • Big Henry says:

    Please. Sports don’t have “soul”. NASCAR is a big business. (The fact that it is privately owned and violates a number of Anti-Trust and probably RICO laws, is another matter) If you want a family atmosphere, go to your local short-track. And quit whining.

    PS to Sally: Um, scientists are pretty sure what happened to the dinosaurs and it wasn’t that they were “too big”. Please google “dinosaur extinction” and educate yourself.

    Rant complete.

  • SallyB says:

    Nascar sold it’s soul for ‘bigger and better’. And maybe that’s exactly why attendance and ratings are slipping. That ‘one big family’ feeling used to be a lot of the attraction of being a Nascar fan. After all, didn’t a lot of dinosaurs become extinct because they got just too big to survive?

  • Glen Harness says:

    KillerB, it’s terrible because NASCAR is losing its soul.

  • 3KillerBs says:

    Yes, Nascar is no longer a small-time sport of purely regional interest. Its the biggest motorsports series in the US and the second biggest series in the world.

    Why is this so terrible?