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Tuesday Morning Memo: Tanks For The Drama

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 18 2009
Brian Vickers heads toward Victory Lane while Jimmie Johnson heads toward the pits for fuel. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Brian Vickers heads toward Victory Lane while Jimmie Johnson heads toward the pits for fuel. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Let’s see what’s in the Tuesday Morning Memo today:

* Put me down for a yes vote on the fuel-mileage-races thing.

Is it racing at its finest? Is calculating supply vs. laps what auto-racing is supposed to be about? Does it result in the best car and driver winning the race? Does it remind you of that “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer test-drives the Saab and with the salesman riding shotgun, he tries to run the tank down as close to empty as possible just for the shear exhilaration of it all?

Well, no, no, no but yes.

With today’s Sprint Cup cars, and with the tracks they run on, physics all too often stands squarely in front of exciting racing. The fact is, the things which make cars fast, can make them boring.

Racing on the big ovals has become a game of hide-and-seek; whoever gets out into the clean air runs, those behind seek – and a futile search it often is.

About the only things saving the day for fans at some races are cautions and restarts.

It is kind of what Dale Earnhardt Jr. was telling colleague Rick Minter in Atlanta last week and then others in the garages at Michigan over the weekend.

“The double-file restarts gave us an opportunity to be exciting for only a moment and we need to figure out how we can maintain that throughout the entire race,” Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt was in no way endorsing fuel-mileage racing but he was talking about the excitement that it produced as the Michigan race drew to a conclusion.

It was the don’t-chew-the-nachos-for-fear-of-missing-something excitement of seeing who would run out of fuel and perhaps have Chase hopes slashed, and who would finish the race and collect valuable Chase points.

It was the excitement of seeing cards turned over in a high-stakes game of Texas Hold ‘em.

It was waiting to see if the bomb under the table in the Hitchcock movie would go off before being discovered by the hero.

It was the drama of seeing Chad Knaus sweat.

Is that type of excitement preferable to Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch hammering away at each other on the final laps at Darlington? No, but that was six years ago, gang.

Competitors hate fuel-mileage races. It turns races into things over which they have little control.

But let’s face it, competitors do not really enjoy exciting racing all that much. They would all prefer to run out to two-lap leads three laps into the 500-mile race at Pocono and sit there for the next five hours.

The other day, a driver and a former driver lectured a reporter on television about the evils of fuel-mileage racing. The reporter, bless her heart, finally retorted that auto racing “is not all about you (meaning competitors)”.  It’s about the fans, she said. It’s about producing the type of drama which pays race teams’ bills and buys big homes on Lake Norman.

Right on.

A steady diet of fuel-mileage racing? No thanks.

But from time to time, fans benefit from the drama of a fuel mileage race.

Memo to self: Check the gauge today as I need no drama on the way to grocery store.

* It was Knoxville Nationals time last week and that brought back a few fabulous memories.

Like the first time I went up there to watch the greatest show on dirt. I had arranged to hook up with Tony Stewart and his then-Outlaws driver, Danny Lasoski, to do a “scener” story.

I pulled into town and circled the outside of the track on streets which had more people than cars on them.

Half of Iowa was there.

I finally opted to do something I never do at sporting events: Heed the wavings of a guy standing in a yard while holding a “Park Here” sign. Those kinds of “deals” can turn into nightmares.

Not that time, though.

I pulled in, was waved to a great spot in the front row and watched as sign guy walked toward the car. I wondered: Will this cost an arm, a leg or both.

The guy, cleverly disguised as an Iowa farmer, kicked off the bargaining with a thoroughly unexpected tactic: He was sincerely friendly.

I was caught off guard. I could only stutter as I attempted to get a foothold in the conversation which featured talk about the weather, the drive up, the drive in, my name, my health, racing’s health, Stewart.

Big City cool totally smashed, I finally muttered: So, um, how much?

Two bucks, the guy said.

I nervously dug out two dollar bills as quickly as I could as I wanted to split before he changed his mind about charging me just two bucks for a spot 200 yards from the Knoxville Speedway turnstiles.

Then came another cheap shot: He thanked me and shook my hand. I didn’t know if I should say your welcome or ask for an ID to make sure he lived at the house he was standing in front of.

I took about two steps away and then heard, “Hey, wait a minute.”

Oh, boy, the guy must have sobered up. Here we go. “Ah, yes?”

“You forgot this,” the guy said, holding out a plastic grocery bag.

I gulped hard.

Could there be a human head in there?

I took the bag and looked. It was a dozen ears of corn.

“Um, er, no thanks,” I said. “No more money,” I lied.

The guy looked puzzled.

And then said, “No, you get a dozen for free for parking here.”

Stewart and Lasoski were great, the sprint car Hall of Fame was incredible and I could swear my car was cleaner when I retrieved it than when I parked it that day.

I love Knoxville.

Memo to self: Suggest that they hold a big sprint car race near the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee.

* When Sprint took over Nextel a couple years back there was a bit of uncertainty for those covering NASCAR. Nextel and its top officials were laid-back and accessible. Sprint had the reputation of being a bit harder nut to crack.

Then there was Tom Murphy.

The senior vice president for brand marketing dealt the Sprint reputation, deserved or not, a big setback. Great guy.

The man treated me like gold. He made getting Sprint’s views on racing not only easy, but enjoyable. I sure liked Tom Murphy.

It stunk to find out that he was killed Friday. It happened in the most random way you can imagine; a boulder rolled off a Colorado mountain and hit his car. You would think living in this world and working in this business would render the concept of fairness laughable.

But, you keep hoping and that is harder to do today after what happened to Tom last week.

Memo to self: There is what they are calling a celebration of Tom’s life at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City Thursday evening. Forgive me if the celebration is low key on my part.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 18 2009
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