Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Shut Up And Drive!"

Like many of the fans across the nation, I've been following NASCAR's "secret fine" debacle, where unknown drivers were fined for unknown comments made, criticizing it's leadership. The web has been ripe with rumors of who was involved for speaking their minds. So far, we are led to believe that there were two; Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman. Of course none of this is official, it's all supposed to be a secret, so as not to let the news media replay the offending interviews. NASCAR has been tight lipped, merely saying the drivers were fined for "actions or comments damaging to the sport".

A quick glance at the less than optimal attendance at last Sunday's Indy race shows that the real damage to NASCAR's image is self-induced. Let's face it, calling the sport "stock car racing" is a misnomer. The cars are no more stock than a Formula One car. They are purpose-built from the ground up, with only a few decals to make them seem like an ordinary car. The cost of this, and all the other related expenses has driven ticket prices sky high. As the economy declines, fewer people have the kind of disposable income to attend the races.

But worse yet, are the plethora of rules forced upon the teams, owners, and drivers. A car 2" too high? Fine them! Too fast on pit road?
Fine them! I thought this was supposed to be racing!

When the moonshiners in the 1940's got together to see who had the fastest car, they would race on small dirt tracks. It was not unusual to see the cars driven to the track, raced, and driven home again. Mechanics turned ordinary cars into fast machines that hauled the 'shine when they weren't racing. These folks were true Rebels, running from the law one day, and running wide open on the track the next. That Rebel attitude is what started NASCAR in the first place, but over the years, things have changed. Now the rulebook is filled with things that aren't allowed, things that are mandated, and nearly every infraction carries some sort of punishment. Fans don't like rules, they pay huge amounts of money to attend the races, and want to see what they've always seen: their favorite driver tearing around the track and speaking his mind off the track. They want the sport to be like it was when it first began. Tempers, taunts, and the occasional fist fight are all ingredients to a day of racing. Take this away, and it lessens what fans came to see. They then respond by not attending the races.

NASCAR sees the sport as entertainment, not as racing. That's the key here; entertain the fans, sell them overpriced (official NASCAR) T-shirts, and make as much money as possible. Much like the WWF controversy (where the World Wrestling Federation was forced to become the WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment) NASCAR has lost all sorts of credibility as of late.

And that brings us back to the beginning of this blog; the secret fines for speaking out about an injustice real or perceived. The heavy hand of the sanctioning body crushes the naysayers! I grew up in the 1950's, when every conversation seemed to turn to the Cold War. We believed that the Russians were somehow going to invade us, and take away all our freedoms. Secret police would take us away for speaking out against them, and we'd never be seen again! I think this image is planted in the minds of fans to this day. No free speech, no Liberty.

If this behavior is to be considered the rule NASCAR, then please stop with the singing of the National Anthem, and having the military jets fly overhead. For we, as a sport, have indeed lost our freedom!

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