Saturday, May 27, 2017

Let's See How This Works

I'm not holding my breath, since NASCAR's track record (pun intended) is considerably less than stellar the last few years.

Today's issue, which is at Charlotte, goes back a few weeks ago to Bristol. That has always been a one-groove track, with many fans complaining that cars could not pass and that no real racing, therefore, ever occurred. Other fans liked the "bump and run," in which the overtaking car would hit the car ahead, knock it physically up out of the "groove" in order to pass, and sometimes knock it into the wall in the process and wreck it completely. Fun and games.

Dale Earnhardt (senior) once said of Terry Labonte after such an event that, "I didn't mean to wreck him, I just meant to rattle his cage." He was, as he said it, grinning like a jackass eating thistles, so some people questioned the sincerity of his statement. Terry Labonte, usually among the most mild tempered of men, attempted to express his opinion with his fists, but was successfully restrained.

NASCAR, never willing to leave well enough alone, brought a grinder to the track and ground the concrete pavement to provide a graduated banking, steeper on the outside of the turns and less steep on the inside. The idea was to provide multiple racing grooves, which had worked well on several asphalt tracks. It didn't work for shit on a concrete track; all it did was move the single racing groove from the bottom of the track to the top. No more "bump and run," because now when you hit the car ahead of you he cannot just move up the track, he can't do anything but hit the wall because he's only about one foot away from it. The "run" part turned into running away from the really pissed off driver that you bumped.

Nobody could come up with a way to "ungrind" the concrete, sort of like trying to teach a chicken to "unlay an egg," so some genius came up with some sticky gunk to spray on the lower groove to provide better traction and allow cars to race down there. Results are, to say the least, mixed. Sometimes it works until the sun comes out, sometimes it quits working when the sun comes out, sometimes it works until the tires heat up, sometimes...

Fast forward to the "All Star Race" last weekend at Charlotte, which was one of the best soporifics on television in weeks. The screaming by the announcers kind of spoiled the sedative effect of the event, but the racing certainly did not. There was only one pass for the lead, and that was during a restart when one driver caught the rest of them snoozing because nobody seemed to think anybody was actually racing. Everybody drove in the same racing line which, as I recall, has always been the case at Charlotte.

Everyone acknowledges that the main problem is the aerodynamics of the cars, in which when a car is the clean air of having the lead it is enough faster that it cannot be caught, let alone passed. Everyone acknowledges that solving that problem means a redesign of the car and getting rid of the "splitter." (Never mind what that is. It's an aerodynamic part that totally divorces the machine from being a "stock car.")

Everyone further acknowledges that racing is further degraded by excessively hard tires required, or claimed to be required, by high downforce that makes the car easier to drive and impossible to actually race.

Well, everyone except NASCAR, who seems to have decided that something is wrong with the Charlotte track. They noticed that everyone was driving in the inside of the turns, which makes sense since it is the shortest way around the track and nobody is trying to pass anybody. NASCAR decided that if the drivers would choose to drive up next to the wall, taking the longer way around the track, then the racing would be more competitive.

So, they went down to Bristol and got a bunch of that gunk and sprayed it on the upper groove of the Charlotte track in the hopes that it would provide closer racing. There's a few imponderables in that thought:
  Charlotte is paved with asphalt, Bristol with concrete.
  At Bristol they are going 90mph in the turns, at Charlotte more than 180mph
  The tire compounds used at the two tracks are very different.

The lengths to which NASCAR will go to avoid solving the problems with their racing program boggle the mind. Indycar had similar problems, and they addressed the car design. That made a big difference and began to re-grow their fan base, and they are taking that experience and building on it with a new car next year. They listen to their fans and undo their errors. NASCAR just piles on more gimmicks, like playoffs, and stage racing, and spraying gunk on the track.

1 comment:

  1. Things are only going to get worse unless or until they replace the Daytona Dumdums with competent leadership that actually knows something about racing instead of filling the positions with marketing weenies. Fans don't want spec series race cars. They want something that resembles what's on the streets. They don't want all sorts of fancy gimmicks and doodads to create parity. If you're a Ford or Chevy guy, you want to see a Ford/Chevy in Victory Lane either through superior driving performance or a superior race car. You don't screw up a track because a couple of drivers whine that they can't pass. The tracks were built for the drivers' pleasure. They were built for the fans pleasure.

    The more gimmicks they try, the less interesting the racing becomes, and the fewer folks want to watch it either in person or on TV/internet/webcast/streaming.

    If the Daytona Dunces really wanted to get fans back to the track, they need to get away from the gimmicks and add a few more bull-ring type tracks to the schedule and take away some of redundent cookie cutter track races. It was the short tracks that built NASCAR, something that's lost on the current (lack of) leadership in Daytona. They need to go back to places like South Boston and Myrtle Beach. Resurrect North Wilkesboro from being a ghost track. Buy back Pikes Peak International Raceway and go racing there again. And if they really wanted to get folks fighting to get back to the tracks, lower the ticket prices back to where the Average Joe can afford them and race cars that actually look like what's on the street. Ford makes a great turn-key racing Mustang. It wouldn't take much work to make an equivalent Camaro or Challenger. For the cost of one of the current kit cars, you could buy 3-4 of the turn-key race cars and bring down the cost for the race teams which in turn saves the sponsor's money and makes it more affordabl;e for sponsors to actually sponsor a race team/car.

    Oh well. If it makes sense, Daytona won't do it. Not under the current regime.