Wednesday, December 30, 2009

N(HL)ASCAR

Wednesday, most countries released their hockey team rosters for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games. Friday - New Year's Day - the National Hockey League will play their Winter Classic at famed Fenway Park in Boston.

So this seemed as good a time as any for me to make my pitch for the 2 sports I enjoy the most to get hitched. I grew up watching NASCAR. One of my uncles introduced me to it when I was 9 years old, and I've never looked back.

Other sports are fun to follow I guess. I follow many of them nominally just to stay informed. Baseball, the NBA, or even pro or college football - except to be an admitted fair-weather fan of local teams - has never knocked my socks off like racing. The only thing that now rivals my interest in racing is hockey.

As someone who has grown accustomed to trying to have my eyes follow action all over the track, hockey was appealing from the get-go. The speed of the game, the bone-crushing checks, the improv on both offense and defense, and odd-man rush toward the goal on one end of the ice while a scrum breaks out on the other end, etc. all mesh with my enjoyment of racing.

Over the last couple of years I've wondered about the possibilities of how NASCAR and the NHL can benefit one another. No question about it - both leagues want to expand their market share especially in non-traditional markets for both.

When George Gillett bought Evernham Motorsports and later Petty Enterprises, I was certain an NHL sponsorship package was nearby. Gillett owned the Montreal Canadiens, was a respected sports and business guy, and was now here in racing. But then, Gillett sold the Canadiens, and the partnership never materialized.

Its rare for one sport to use another sport to market/promote itself. In the early years of Joe Gibbs Racing, Dale Jarrett wore helmets with the logos of different NFL teams. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sponsored a few times by MLB for the World Series and All-Star Game including most famously when he won the summer 2001 Daytona race following his father's death earlier that year.

But I think both racing and hockey are in a unique situation where I think cross-league marketing will work. Both are still considered largely niche sports. Pools for Super Bowl picks or NCAA March Madness Final Four brackets are an annual occurrence. Yankees, anti-Yankees, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Red Sox, etc. still generate a lot of chatter around my workplace. Those of us who debate the Daytona 500 winner or predicted Cup champ number less than a dozen. And virtually no one around our place is bowing up over who is better - Ovechkin v. Crosby v. Sedin or Brodeur v. Kiprusoff v. Nabokov. So both racing and hockey have the opportunity to rub off a bit on each other's fan base and grow the interest level and excitement for both.

Consider the common markets for NASCAR and the NHL. I believe the NHL has a great opportunity to develop new fans within the NASCAR stands by rotating different skins on a car from race to race. For example, consider where NHL teams could be promoted thoughout the 30+ race NASCAR Cup season:
  • Atlanta - Atlanta Thrashers
  • Charlotte - Carolina Hurricanes
  • Chicagoland - Chicago Blackhawks
  • Daytona - Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Dover - Philadelphia Flyers
  • Fontana - LA Kings / Anaheim Ducks
  • Phoenix - Phoenix Coyotes
  • Homestead - Florida Panthers
  • Kansas City - St. Louis Blues
  • Loudon - Boston Bruins / Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Michigan - Detroit Red Wings - even Brian Keselowski gets it. He ran a Wings scheme in the Nationwide race at Charlotte back in May.
  • Pocono - Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Richmond - Washington Capitals
  • Sonoma - San Jose Sharks
  • Talladega - Nashville Predators
  • Texas - Dallas Stars
  • Watkins Glen - Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils
  • Montreal (Nationwide race) - Montreal Canadiens
For NASCAR markets without a nearby team (Las Vegas, Bristol, Martinsville, Darlington, Indy), the NHL could run either a "league" car promoting hockey overall or perhaps rotate one of the hockey markets not otherwise covered (e.g. Vancouver, Calgary, Columbus).

At the grass roots level, Baker-Curb Racing's Nationwide program signed a cross-marketing promotional agreement with the Nashville Predators a couple of months ago. A show car promoting the Predators new 3rd jersey sits in the Nashville Arena.


From what I understand, a Predators car isn't going to hit the track, but there is always hope. And at least its a start.

With the number of competitive NASCAR teams needing sponsorship and the need for the NHL to expand its number of fans, TV ratings, and lines of revenue beyond gate receipts, I think this is a promotional relationship that's well past due.

TMC

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What lies ahead in 2010?

Holy cow, has it really been a year? The debut post for this blog was December 19, 2008. Its been real, its been fun, and yes its been real fun. As far as I'm concerned, we'll keep this thing a'going throughout 2010.

Banktruck and I would like to wish all who are reading this a Merry Christmas.

With Christmas just a week away, here's a bit of racing wish list I've got for 2010:
  • I wish that tiresome Home Depot commercial with Joey Logano would go away.
  • I wish the sport would have more teams with fewer cars per team. It bothers me Yates Racing is no more now that its merged with Richard Petty Motorsports. I didn't like it when teams of Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, and Harry Melling disappeared either.
  • I wish Robby Gordon could get sponsorship to run all year.
  • I wish the number of start and parkers would decline. Instead, it sounds like the number of S&P's may increase with the return of the #49 BAM Racing team.
  • I wish more racing beat writers could be as honest, candid, and knowledgable as the late David Poole or the alive-and-kicking Monte Dutton.
  • I wish talent and potential were still relevant in getting rides rather than who can bring a sponsor with them. It bothers me Danica is bringing GoDaddy to JR Motorsports at the expense of lesser known, more talented, longer term drivers. Same goes with John Wesley Townes taking daddy's chicken money to Richard Childress Racing and Paul Menard latching on with Richard Petty Motorsports.
  • I wish I could go to about a half-dozen races in 2010; however, I'd probably be happy going to a couple of them.
  • I wish Dodge had what it took to support more than one competitive team. But it doesn't, Ford gets the Petty cars, and Dodge is left with just Penske Racing.
  • I wish Michael Waltrip's part-time #55 program included a few stints with Kyle Petty behind the wheel.
  • I wish newer fans (and drivers) could develop an appreciation for the history of the sport. Rick Houston does a great job at Stock Car History Online making it easy for you.
  • I wish Jack Daniels and Jim Beam could have stayed around. The schemes on those cars always looked classy and were certainly better than the neon green of GoDaddy.com.
  • I wish Stewart-Haas Racing success in avoiding a sophomore slump with Smoke as the owner.
  • I wish Digger and Jerry Punch would just go away. Hey...wait...I got an early Christmas present!
  • I wish the NHL and its teams would sponsor a Cup team.
  • I wish I could get use to seeing Matt Kenseth's #17 without DeWalt colors.
  • I wish Schaefer beer wasn't so hard to find.
  • I wish Jamie McMurray all the luck in trying to convince us he's a Bass Pro Shops outdoor guy.
  • I wish someone would use a dipstick to whip the living snot out of Team Genius at Castrol who have subjected us to that nonsensical waste of commercial time.
  • I wish more drivers and fans would join us at Twitter. The racing contingent already has a pretty good presence, and we have a lot of fun on race weekends using it. But there is always room for more!
  • I wish I could be a fly on the wall at Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR if Dale Jr. and the 88 team don't get things turned around by early in the season.
TMC

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A look back, and a bit forward

I'm starting to think about next year's prognostications, in light of the "excellent" job we did for 2009. Some time has gone by since those predictions, hundreds of miles run, and an adorable future racehockeyhuntingfootball fan added to the family. So I dont remember exactly why I picked Cuzzin Carl to win the Cup in 2009, other than he is talented, reunited (and it feels so good) with Bob Osborne, is part of the Roush machine, and I am convinced he will win the Cup during his career. Maybe I will just keep picking him until he does.

Apparently I did not anticipate the Roush machine taking some steps backwards this season. Apparently both of us did not anticipate RCR taking some major steps backwards this season. Did anyone see either of these coming? I doubt it.

Roush and RCR have been on a roller coaster for several seasons. Some years everyone in the Chase; some years none. Which makes predicting next year very dangerous, as both organizations seem to emerge like the Phoenix without warning. But pause for a moment in light of this, to consider the consistency of HMS. Dont get me wrong, I dont like that bunch one bit, but you absolutely have to respect what they have done, while other powerful, experienced, and well-funded teams ride the roller coaster.

Remember a few seasons ago when Toyota was first entering the series, there were sometimes 5 or 6 quality teams going home each weekend. Now we have 5 or 6 field fillers each weekend.

Finally while I am pondering predictions, let me go on record with this one: Kevin Harvick leaves RCR after the 2010 season, merges KHI with Stewart-Haas forming Stewart-Harvick Racing, drives a 3rd Cup car for them, and instantly brings SHR competitiveness in the lower 2 series. KHI is an impressive organization, and with his buddy Tony's success, you gotta think Kevin and Delana are ready to go Cup racing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nostradomus we're not

Back in February - not long after we dropped the green flag on this blog - Banktruck and I went on record with our predictions for the 2009 season. The sport was just awakening to the aftermath to an off-season bloodletting. Teams had shut down; wedding bells rang from marriages of convenience (e.g. Petty/Gillett, Earnhardt/Ganassi); crewmen were laid off; sponsorships were reduced, new teams were being formed - though we were to later learn most of them earned a paycheck by simply turning a lap or two; and questions loomed re: Dale Jr., Stewart-Haas Racing, and the remote possibility of a Jimmie Johnson 4-peat; etc.

Like it or not, here is the good, bad, and ugly realities of our pre-season predictions:

TMC's Tea Leaves

Daytona 500 winner - Kyle Busch - FAIL
Rookie of the year - Scott Speed - FAIL
- disclaimer: note I picked SS merely as a protest against the JoLo buzz.
Cup Champ - Jimmie Johnson - Ding, Ding, Ding - EPIC WIN
Underachiever - Casey Mears - WIN
Overachiever - Aric Almriola - FAIL
First driver to be fired - David Stremme - WIN - (Almirola was let go when the #8 team shut down. I don't view that the same as being fired.)
Will any manufacturer announce pull out? Yes - PUSH - Chrysler didn't announce pull out officially, but everyone left them but Penske. All that is missing is the press release.

Final 12 Chasers:
  • 99 - Cuzzin - WIN
  • 48 - JJ - WIN
  • 24 - Jeffy - WIN
  • 16 - Possum - WIN
  • 18 - Shrub - FAIL
  • 11 - Opie - WIN
  • 5 - Brett Favre - WIN
  • 29 - Happy - FAIL
  • 31 - Burton - FAIL
  • 33 - Bowyer - FAIL
  • 9 - Krispy Kreme - WIN
  • 42 - Montoya - WIN
75% hit rate - pretty good, huh? Tell me YOU didn't have RCR cars in your pre-season picks for the Chase.

Did I think the following would win a race in 2009?
  • 00 - Reutimann...No - FAIL. Sure, it was a fuel mileage win when the rains fell, but the official records for the 2009 World 600 will show Reutty got the hardware.
  • 07 - Casey Mears...Nope - WIN
  • 1 -T-Rex...Yes - FAIL - Two teams merged to form one yet operated as two. The Ganassi side made the Chase. The DEI side couldn't get out of its own way. Good luck at MWR T-Rex.
  • 2 - Kurt Busch...No - Ouch, FAIL. That's definitely a shot I'd like to have back. The deuce won twice.
  • 6 - David Gipper...Yes - FAIL - A microcosm of the rest of the underachieving Roush contingent.
  • 20 - Sliced Bread...No - FAIL - Like Reutty, JoLo stroked out a fuel mileage win. But he got a win nonetheless. Now if only Home Depot could tape a new commercial...please.
  • 29 - Happy Harvick...Yes - FAIL - This one seemed like an uncontested lay-up at the time, but who would have guessed an 0'fer year for all of RCR.
  • 33 - Hamburger Helper Bowyer...Yes - FAIL - Ditto
  • 42 - Juan Montoya...Yes - FAIL - He did everything but win. He led several races, was competitive, made the Chase, wrecked, scrapped with Smoke, etc. But he couldn't punch the rock into the end zone when it mattered.
  • 43 - Reed Coldsorespot...No - WIN
  • 82 - Scott Speed...No - WIN
  • 83 - Kris Kringle...Yes - WIN
  • 96 - Bobby Labonte...No - WIN
Banktruck's Bold, Ballsy Bluster

Daytona 500 winner - Jeff Gordon - FAIL
- both of our picks taken out by foolishness of Dale Jr. turning Brian Vickers into traffic
Rookie of the year - Joey Logano - WIN
Cup Champ - Carl Edwards - FAIL
Underachiever - Casey Mears - WIN
Overachiever - Tony Stewart - WIN
First driver to be fired - Aric Almirola - FAIL - As noted above, a team shut down is not the same as being fired.
Will any manufacturer announce pull out? Yes: PUSH - Chrysler didn't announce pull out, but everyone left them but Penske.

BT's final 12 Chasers:
  • Carl Edwards - WIN
  • Jeff Gordon - WIN
  • Mark Martin - WIN
  • Denny Hamlin - WIN
  • Jimmie Johnson - WIN
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr - EPIC FAILURE
  • Kyle Busch - FAIL
  • Jeff Burton - FAIL
  • Kevin Harvick - FAIL
  • Matt Kenseth - FAIL
  • Tony Stewart - WIN
  • Martin Truex Jr - FAIL
Only 50% hit rate - TMC wins!

BT's race winner predictions:
  • A.J. Almondjoy...nope - WIN - A win? Heck, A.J. didn't even lead a lap, yet arguably he did more with less in 2009 than anyone else in the series.
  • Sam Sideburns Hornish...nope - WIN - Wow, way to go out on a limb with that one BT.
  • Kasey Kahne't...yep - WIN. Kahne't? Yes he can - twice as a matter of fact.
  • Brad Keselowski...nope - FAIL - Smart pick but FAIL nonetheless. NO ONE could have foreseen the 09 team with BK at the wheel winning a race - not even at the unpredictable Dega.
  • Bobby Labonte...nope - WIN
  • Sliced Bread Logano...nope - FAIL
  • Mark Martin...yep - WIN - Hard to believe in retrospect this was even a point of debate. The old man made believers out of a lot of us.
  • Casey Mears...nope - WIN - A one and done year with RCR. This guy has blown through more jobs than George Castanza.
  • Paul Menard...nope - WIN - Careful, hope you didn't hurt yourself with that prediction.
  • JPM...nope - WIN
  • Flyin Ryan...yep - Oh so close but FAIL
  • Gipper 6...nope - WIN
  • Ewwiot Sadwer...nope - WIN
  • Gipper 78...nope - WIN
  • Reed Sorespot...nope - WIN
  • Scott NoSpeed...nope - WIN
  • Martin T-Rex...yep - FAIL
  • Brian FullofBull Vickers...nope - FAIL - The primary Red Bull car was surprisingly competitive much of the year. Vickers put the car on the pole a few times, won a race, and even made the Chase. Of course, he then disappeared like a fart in the breeze when the final 10 money races were run. Yet, 2009 has to be considered a step in the right direction for that team.
  • Mikey Waltrip...nope - WIN
Taken as a whole, I'd grade us collectively as a "B" for banking, beer, and B.S.

We tried our best to make some legit predictions. Some 2009 events; however, blindsided us like an aging quarterback drilled by a raging defensive end. Such as:
  • Jeremy Mayfield
  • Petty Motorsports' proposed acquisition of Yates Racing
  • Tony Stewart turning HaasCNC Racing into a contender with two cars.
  • Mark Martin having a legitimate shot at the championship with 10 races to go in the season.
  • The futility of Childress, Roush, Dale Jr. (well, maybe not so much on that last one...)
  • Marcos Ambrose, and
  • Reed Sorenson driving the #43 without a salary.
We'll try once again after the first of the year to see how 2010 might look.

TMC

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2009 in Review: The Hendrick Mystique

My apologies for being AWOL the second half of the season, but my life seems to be divided into two sections: pre-baby and post-baby. Training and running my first marathon July-November didnt help either.

Reflecting upon the season, a tip of the hat to TMC for bravely, and correctly, predicting an unprecedented 4th Cup for the 48 team. Perhaps he should play the lottery, as the odds against it were incredible, which is why I couldnt pick them.

My year-in-review post will be basically devoted to the incredible dynasty which is Hendrick Motorsports. Besides the 4th straight Cup, drivers finished 1 2 3 in points. This dynasty makes other modern-day sports dynasties pale in comparison: the 70's Steelers, the 80's 49ers, the 90's Cowboys, the 00's Patriots, the 80's Celtics and Lakers etc.

Since Dale Earnhardt won his last Cup in 1994, 15 seasons ago, HMS has won an incredible 9 Cups. 9 out of 15 during a period of increasing competitiveness. This includes streaks of 4 in a row from 1995-1998 and 2006-2009.

What makes for this Hendrick Mystique? I think I have finally figured it out, thanks to a little 1 hour inside look on Speed about a month ago. On Mondays, all 4 teams sit down with open notebooks and share everything. Not only do they have some of the smartest people in racing working there, they basically have 4 crew chiefs, 4 car chiefs etc on each car. Thats part A.

Part B is what happens at the track. Chemistry cant be over-rated but generally speaking these guys are calm, professional, and methodical in their approach to race day and during the race. Workmanlike, communication, almost surgical precision in everything they do, an absence of emotion, a focus.

Perhaps contrasts to other teams can better illustrate the point. At RCR they are still playing roundrobin with crew chiefs. Ditto Roush. Roush is the ultimate crew chief, calling too many shots, contra Rick Hendrick. Penske's guys dont even like each other let alone work together. JGR is closer, but there are some king-sized egos over there, too much "I" in "team."

The obvious exception at HMS, bearing more resemblance to the preceding paragraph than to his teammates, is the 88 team. In his 2nd unsuccessful season at HMS, at Talladega in November Jr dog-cussed his spotter and crew again at the end, calling them lazy &%$#@'s. He hasnt forgotten how to drive, and he has the best equipment in the series. What he lacks is that sense of teamwork that makes HMS what it is.

My personal opinion is he is not a very good communicator about his car ("this car sucks" is not adequate), and the only guy that could keep him on any kind of leash was Tony Jr, who is too old-school for today's technological Cup series. For 4 HMS teams to be competitive, somebody needs to get to Dale Jr and force him to grow up in his interpersonal relationship skills. That "someone" is Rick Hendrick himself.

A few years ago, he sat Jimmie and Chad down, served them milk and cookies, since they were behaving like children, and everyone got it all out in the open. Something similar needs to happen with Dale Jr. A fatherly chat. A dutch uncle. Whatever you call it, when Jr signed with HMS, he claimed Rick was like a father to him. It's time for Rick to act like Dale Sr would have for a talented driver who is way too big for his britches.

Incredible season for the 48, into the history books. And in my humble opinion, JJ nudges out JG by a nose on the all-time greatest driver list, by virtue of the 4 in a row. If youre interested, my list is:
1. (tie) Petty / Earnhardt
3. Pearson
4. Johnson
5. Gordon

Like TMC, I found my interest waning this season. But once the calendar changes to 2010 and teams head to Daytona for what's becoming SpeedMonth, I'll be back in the saddle.

Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 NASCAR in the rear view mirror

Matt Kenseth's double-up: Matt improbably wins the Daytona 500 and then backs it up with a bi-coastal win at California. He's ready to roll, right? Wrong. Not only does Kenseth not win again the rest of the year, the rest of the Roushketeers don't win the rest of the year except for a lone victory by lame duck Jamie McFrigginmurray deep in the year.

Dega: Brad Keselowski held his line at Talladega, Carl Edwards said "I dare ya", and Brad responded with OK. Cuzzin tears down the fence, and Brad continues for a jaw-dropping win.

Kez seems to have a ton of talent. Yet how he managed to win with his limited experience and in a perennial also-ran #09 James Finch car still baffles me. Admittedly, this was no hand-me-down Chevrolet - it was Hendrick Motorsports-built car just for Keselowski. Yet the driver had to race it, and the crew had to pit it. Its still amazing. The question of the future, however, is one of continuity. Will Kez be the next Cup superstar? Or will he be the next Bobby Hillin, Jr., Ron Bouchard, Phil Parsons, or Greg Sacks?

A restoration of history: The race name "Southern 500" returned to Darlington. Running it Mother's Day weekend rather than Labor Day isn't the same, but at least its a start.

All Star Wooooo! = NOOOOO!: A burn-out contest judged by Ric Flair, Kevin Costner, and Randy Moss?

And then having Joey Logano announced as the "fan's favorite" for the all-star race wild card entry? The all-star race has truly jumped the shark. The funniest part of the whole deal for me is that Flair leaked the news about Logano, and suddenly Twitter entries ran wild - several minutes before the announcement could be made on TV.

Coke 600: Scrambled eggs, sausage, and a Schaefer to start the day on a promising North Carolina spring morning...before the rain set-in to rain out the Coke 600. Had I known how much rain was going to fall, I would have chosen Noah in the Godspeaks.com Ark as the race winner in our pick 'em pool.

And then when the rains subsided on Monday...David Reutimann? A win? Really, is that even possible...is it?
The King returns: 2009 was truly a year of transition, turmoil, and mild success for Richard Petty Motorsports (more below). In the end, however, it was very cool to see The King back in victory lane. Sure, we all know he was there simply as a figure head for the team. But it brought a big smile to my face seeing him knocking back some Napa Valley red with winner Kasey Kahne.

Brickyawn: Is is still necessary to return to Indy year after year? NASCAR has proven its point. The stockers can run there though not with the routine side-by-side competition it has at other tracks or IRL cars have at Indy. The track can still sell a lot of tickets but not near enough to even fake promote it as a sell-out. The racing is terrible, the view for the fans is terrible, the TV coverage is terrible. Indy is an American, iconic, legendary speedway, but it should resume being an open-wheeled facility only. If NASCAR continues to run there, however, it really needs to move the date to a more meaningful date than its current random end-of-July or early-August date.

Where there is Smoke...: For the first 26 races, Stewart-Haas Racing realized success early and often. An all-star win, four wins for Tony, 2 poles and 15 top 10s for Ryan Newman, and Chase slots for both cars - pretty good marks for the team. TV announcers repeatedly tried to tell us this was the "first year" for the team. Clearly it wasn't as Gene Haas' team has been around a few years. But with Tony, Ryan, new crew chiefs, and a new attitude, the team's cars soared to levels it had not seen before. Certainly the pressure will be on Tony to improve his stock a bit next year and get Newman to victory lane and more consistent week to week.

Surprise #1 - The Aussie mate: Marcos Ambrose showed the Cup regular his skills extend beyond road courses. He finished 18th in points in his first full Cup season essentially driving a Michael Waltrip Racing Yota. Crikey, how does that happen? Props to him for doing so though.

Surprise #2 - the other furinner: Unlike other open wheel posers who ventured to Cup only to get spanked back from whence they came, Juan Pablo Montoya has honed his skills, listened to his crew chief, learned from other drivers, and solidly made the Chase. Bonus points paid to him for (1) creating a dust-up with Smoke in the final race (2) joining the ranks of Twitter and (3) completely ignoring the head-scratching "eating tacos" comment by Bob Griese. The guy has talent and drove smartly throughout the year. Why racing fans still refuse to give him his due is beyond me.

Turn off the lights, the party's over: In January, Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports to become RPM. The 43 was on the track, and the King was still at the track. But for the first time since the formation of NASCAR, Petty Enterprises was no more.

Kasey Kahne returned the team to victory lane twice during the year. It was surreal, however, seeing Richard Petty exuberant over winning while celebrating with a Budweiser-sponsored #9 car.

I was a harsh critic of Reed Sorenson in the #43. A little over half-way through the year, we we learned he had been racing for FREE when team management gave him the ultimatum of racing for free or taking a walk. Suddenly, he went from underachieving to overachieving in my mind.

A last minute, planned part-time 4th RPM program for A.J. Allmendinger turned into a full season ride, zero DNFs (though zero laps led to be fair), and contract with RPM through 2010. I wished A.J. could be hired when Red Bull sidelined him in 2008. Little did I know how well it would work out for him. I'm really looking forward to his running the #43 next year.

Late in the season, news emerges that RPM plans to acquire Yates Racing and change to Ford. So they offload volunteer driver Reed Sorenson but then PAY money to hire a salaried Paul Menard. With this kind of decision making, its no wonder Kahne has hinted he may bolt after 2010.

Speed round:
  • Introduction of double-file restarts was long overdue but well worth the wait.
  • Shout out to Monte Dutton, Matt McLaughlin, Rick Houston, and John Daly.
  • Goodbye David Poole, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, and Yates Racing.
  • So long Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and DeWalt Tools.
  • Top TV coverage: #1 TNT, #2 FOX, #5 ESPN (so bad they don’t deserve spots 3 or 4)
  • California Speedway has two races too many.
  • I thought Mark Martin would be competitive, but daaannggg....
I'm glad the season is over. My interest level is probably lower than its ever been - especially with demise of Petty Enterprises, the forced retirement of Kyle Petty, rare appearances by Sterling Marlin, prima donna drivers with entitlement 'tudes, etc.

But when the calendar turns to January and Speedweeks is back on horizon, I reckon my interest will return like a bad rash needing an itch.

TMC

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Alan Kulwicki: A video history lesson

Jimmie Johnson continues to march towards his 4th consecutive championship - despite his Texas troubles today. He has an army of engineers and mechanics, a hall of fame crew chief, an owner with a bottomless wallet, and a "do over" fake championship deciding points system.

Its hard to believe its been 17 years since Alan Kulwicki won his one and only championship at Atlanta in 1992. Its even harder to believe the number of fans who know little or nothing about him. NASCAR exploded with new fans in the mid to late 1990s as Dale Earnhardt continued to win championships and the new guy, Jeff Gordon, carved out his own legacy with wins and championships. Later, the sport attracted even newer fans as Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and even Juan Pablo Montoya joined the circuit.

Gordon made his debut in the Cup series in the same race Alan Kulwicki won his championship. To add even more drama, The King - Richard Petty - wrapped up his storied career in the same race.

I was at the last race of the 1992 season to see my hero wrap up his career and to witness the championship battle between Kulwicki, Bill Elliott, and Davey Allison. It seems only yesterday I was there. Yet its been 17 years.

The King banked 7 championships. Earnhardt won a handful in the 1990s to bring his own total to seven. Gordon has four - a number soon to be matched by Johnson. Kulwicki captured only one - yet did not survive even six months after winning it to serve as reigning champion.

ESPN prepared this nice, respectful piece about Alan's start, his championship run, and his passing.



TMC

Monday, November 2, 2009

Talla-do-over? Ah let's just move on

The race? Fuhgetaboutit. Everyone else has covered it better and much more quickly than me, so I'll throw out another random list of what's on my mind.

Staying out late not a "best buy" for A.J.Allmendinger

The fallout from A.J. Ibeendrinkin's DUI arrest last week was surprisingly pretty minimal. The King is apparently standing behind him as is Best Buy (for 2010) and his multiple sponsors for rest of this year. Yet, it isn't good. You simply can't have race drivers getting arrested for DUI in 2009 - even if the sport's roots are grounded in 'shine runners back in 1949.

The relevance of Twitter

#1 - One of the funniest tweets I read about predictions for Halloween in the Talladega infield:


I haven't seen any pictures from the weekend to prove/disprove the prediction. Banktruck, however, said he saw someone dressed in a Wonder Bread driver uni. Close enough I think!

#2 - Denny Hamlin gave a shout-out to his supporters on Twitter in last week's Martinsville victory lane. He also uploaded a picture of a congratulatory sign left outside his Mooresville house to Twitpic.

#3 - Kyle Busch exclaimed "That. Just. Happened" ala Ricky Bobby after he won Saturday's truck race at Talladega. He was baited to do so by Jeff Gluck of SceneDaily.com. Gluck told us on Twitter about the challenge. KyBu has so far said he has no plans to sign-up for Twitter, but he did get a big kick out of folks responding to Gluck's dropped gautlet. Sure nuff, when he won on Saturday - at Talladega no less - he paid up by saying it.

Now if only the 88 driver can McGrow a pair again

So Lance McGrew finally gets named as the full-time, unenviable job of crew chief for Dale Jr. in 2010. What was his status before? Crew Chief Intern? When will they start calling Lance "Jim Dandy"?

A bit perplexing are some of the comments from Ol' Junebug and McGrew about attitude, mental outlook, performance issues between the ears vs. under the hood, etc. Its also interesting about "changes" McGrew hopes to make in tandem with Alan Gustafson on Mark Martin's team. Think the Ageless Arkansan might raise a question or two about any planned restructuring?

One particular quote from Dale Jr. really made me laugh though.
“I can’t speak for everybody on the team, but my confidence was pretty down earlier,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s gotten better."
When I read that quip, I was immediately reminded of one of the funniest scenes of Monty Python's The Search for the Holy Grail (most relevant part starting at 1:20 mark).



Maybe Rodney Dangerfield was right

Just want to make sure I understand. Joe Gibbs Racing started the 18 team with Dale Jarrett and had a lot of success. When DJ moved to Yates Racing, JGR hired Bobby Labonte who helped take the team to the next level with many wins and a championship. When Bobby left for Petty Enterprises, JGR hired...J.J. Yeley? Remember that? (And don't forget JGR hired Jason Leffler as the initial driver of the FedEx #11 team before Hamlin.)

Steve Addington was faced with the almost impossible challenge of keeping a championship-caliber team together with a driver having even less talent than Paul Menard after a bender. After surviving that period of time, JGR woke up and wisely signed an angry Kyle Busch. KyBu wanted to win early and often. More important to him, he wanted to beat the Hendrick cars into submission.

So what happened? Well, we know what took place. Its only been the last two years, right? They smoked 'em. Addington put a team under Shrub that allowed him and the 18 team to return to its DJ and Bobby days -maybe even higher.

But with the good came the bad. KyBu is not a stroker - we know that. But he is a sore loser, bad mouths his team on national TV, and often gives up if he's not on the point. As a result, he didn't win the Cup in 2008 and failed to make the top 12 cut at all in 2009. Rather than work through the challenges of what needs to happen in 2010, what does JGR do? Knock Addington off the box. I think this move is nonsensical.

You can hear the hurt and frustration in Steve's quotes about the change, his future plans, and the definition of "success" in today's Cup racing:
"I've got a lot of respect for this organization and the people in it," he said. "But you sit back and you wonder, what do you got to do because you beat a lot of great guys in this garage in the past 18 months. And you start questioning what do you got to do to be successful in this business?

I've been with the No. 18 car for five years and the past two years have been awesome, and I think it's just, you just question what you have to do to make it over here."

Dave Rogers is a great crew chief on the Nationwide series, and I'm surprised its taken him this long to get promoted to a Sunday gig. But to get the bump at the expense of Addington, man oh man I'm just not sure that's good for all involved.

Cue Queen's Another One Bites The Dust

Nashville Speedway (the half-mile fairgrounds track - not the under-attended Dover-owned speedway) used to be one of THE places in the south to cut your teeth in late models with the hopes of movin' on up. Darrell Waltrip, CooCoo and Sterling Marlin, Mike Alexander, Casey Atwood, Jeff Green, etc. all ran here regularly over the years. From 1959 to 1984, NASCAR brought its top Grand National/Winston Cup drivers to town - many seasons twice a year. But no more. The backasswards Metro Council gubmunt and Mayor have finally pulled the plug on what has been a colossal screw-up by those organizations over the last 25-30 years. The city will be shutting down all of the fairgrounds including the speedway in 2010.

To add insult to injury, Dover announced its shuttering Memphis Motorsports Park and moving its dates to Nashville Superspeedway and Gateway Raceway near St. Louis.

OK East Tennessee, its all up to you. Bristol is about all we have left - and that track is almost in Virginia. We even lost Atomic Speedway dirt track just outside of Knoxville a year or so ago. Tennessee went from a vibrant motorsports date to having almost nothing other than a few bullrings in just a few short years. Sadly, this reality is not limited to the Volunteer State. I just feel it more acutely because its the state I call home.

TMC

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday's Mumblings

What a weak title. But its late, and I invested my time in typing the following vs. titling it.

Who says Twitter is useless? I won a Best Buy Racing hat on Twitter for my submission of this picture I took of Elliott Sadler's #19 Best Buy Dodge at Richard Petty Motorsports shop back in May. Not on Twitter yet? C'mon and join us. Follow TMC there as well as Best Buy Racing.

Denny Hamlin had some unbelievable horsepower Sunday at Martinsville. He needed it too with several late race re-starts against Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Juan Pablo Montoya. With his FedEx sponsorship, it was as if he opted for same day air delivery vs. 2-day ground.

Dave Despain aired a new Speed TV show Sunday night titled "On Assignment". The debut show featured the building of Talladega. I'm pretty sure, however, the folks at Comcast didn't get the clear message about who visioned and built the track.

Let's see, Little Brian would have been about 7 years old when Dega opened. I'm reasonably sure he could not have accomplished the feat of building the track and then standing up against the gaggle of drivers who refused to race on it. The guy may have been dumb smart enough to develop the Chase for the Championship, but track building at such a young age still seems a far fetched idea.

Richard Childress recently had an open house at Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, NC. The best quote of the gathering came from MRN Radio's Barney Hall. His quote about meeting Richard Childress for the first time: "He was so green he thought Johnny Cash was a pay toilet."

Writer Dustin Long recently sat down with Kyle Petty, Larry McReynolds, and Jimmy Spencer to talk about the state of the sport. Some really interesting and candid comments were made by the three of them - many of which didn't exactly make the boys at the beach jump with joy. [Click here] for the 6th and final report in the series. The article includes links to parts 1 through 5. Read 'em all.

Juan Pablo Montoya continues to impress me with his versatility on the varied Chase tracks. His on-track aggressiveness makes some of the drivers uncomfortable. For me, I applaud it. If it takes a new school driver to return old school racing, so be it. Rarely is anyone else willing to lay the wood to any of the HMS cars ... Dale Jr. excepted who self-imposes his damage. So its good to see JPM and his take no prisoners approach.

Its beyond me how Jeff Gordon can whine about getting roughed up by JPM. Gordon's a vet who remembers racing with Rusty, Earnhardt Sr., Rudd, etc. - or maybe he's forgotten with all the old guard gone by now.

On the flip-side, Joey "J-Lo" Logano and Brad Keselowski thinks they've earned their stripes enough to run over folks whenever they damn well please. A suggestion to ya boys - 2 words: Ernie Irvan. Don't become him.

Rick Houston of Stock Car History Online recently recorded his debut podcast. Do you like old school racing - or just want to learn more about the history of the sport and its characters from the past? Sample the podcast at SCHO, then give it a listen with iTunes, and subscribe to future podcasts.

Our Nashville Predators NHL franchise and Baker-Curb Racing recently announced a cross-promotional marketing agreement. For now, a Predators emblazoned BCR Nationwide car will be at the Sommet Center, home of the Preds.

Whether a Preds car hits the track itself in 2010 is uncertain. I hope to get by the BCR shop again soon and take some up close photos. Also, I've been planning to blog about my ideas for an NHL/NASCAR cross-promotion relationship for over a year. I need to get that written - perhaps after these last 4 races are run. Stay tuned.

TMC

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Marty Party

With apologies to John Prine, Denny Hamlin got his "Sweet Revenge" on Jimmie Johnson at today's Martinsville race. He reversed the finish of the spring race by passing Johnson about two-thirds through the race, staying out in front of him, and ensuring he didn't get moved out of the way by the 48 as he did in April.

Hamlin did something many others haven't been able to do lately. (1) He got stronger during long runs enabling him to pass the 48 and then stay there. (2) As the race wound down and the inevitable caution fever epidemic set in, he out-muscled the Hendrick cars with horsepower on restarts.

The two cars were pretty much the class of the field the second half of the race. Juan Pablo Montoya gave Jimmie a run for his money in the middle portion, but he used up his brakes a bit and couldn't cash the check when called to do so. However, with a 3rd place finish, JPM showed yet again he and the #42 team belong in this championship hunt. Were it not for his awful showing at Charlotte last week, he might still be nipping at the heels of the Hendrick juggernaut vs. wondering "what if?" these last four races.

The race had a few other entertaining moments:
  • Joey Logano draped himself all over A.J. Allmendinger like a bear skin rug resulting in the 44 getting wadded up in the wall. No truth to the rumor, however, that Allmendinger's dad accosted J-Lo when the race ended.
  • The slot machine hit cherries across the board when David Stremme, Paul Menard, Sam Hornish, and Michael Waltrip had a hand in wrecks - either of their own or by doinking someone else. The machine paid a bonus payoff because of John Wes Townley's wreck during Saturday's Nationwide race in Memphis.
  • Red Bull's Scott Speed Stupeed charged into the corner like a bull seeing red. Apparently he was so jacked up on sugar, caffeine, and whatever else they put in those thin cans, that he forgot he was at Martinsville in a 3,400 lb stock car vs. in a sweet F1 ride at Imola.
  • Near the end of the race right before a commercial, no one in the ESPN booth said a word for a few moments. Not Jerry Punch. Not Andy Petree. Not Dale Jarrett. Nor did anyone from the infield booth say anything. It was as if Bob Griese had just walked in the room taking orders for a Taco Bell road trip.
The primary story for me, however, was the race finish, NASCAR's hypocrisy, and ESPN's blindness to it.

The COT was supposedly developed first and foremost for driver safety. Its development was fast-tracked following the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in 2001. The required adoption of full face helmets and HANS devices - same thing.

The number of debris cautions the last few years has also seemed to be on the rise - although I don't have any empirical data to support that claim. NASCAR says the cautions are valid for safety reasons. Stray parts falling from cars and sharp carbon fiber shards from splitters may litter the track, and attempts are made to unfurl caution flags before tires are cut.

I find it interesting the "debris" is most often and conveniently found by the NASCAR tower in three circumstances:
  1. when the leader builds a significant lead and/or the field gets strung out during long green-flag runs (this usually happens when the TV network is at commercial)
  2. Dale Jr. does his mid-race fade and goes a lap down (the debris caution gives him the "lucky dog" and an extended attempt at some lame hope at winning), and
  3. near the end of the race having the effect of bringing the field back together for a double-file restart and hopefully a close finish to watch by drop-in TV viewers.
All for safety (or Dale Jr's sake), right? WRONG!

Today, John Andretti became another in a long list of Paul Menard victims. Predictable enough in its own right. Typical short-track stuff. John was spun to the inside front stretch wall. He tried to get going again to regain positions and allow the leaders to finish. He ran out of time, however, and ended up a car length off the call perpendicular to the racing surface. Rather than throw the caution on the back stretch or even turn 3, NASCAR let Hamlin, Johnson, and the rest of the herd race back to the finish line.

The full field - well, less the start & parkers - was headed straight for the 34 car! A couple of cars dipped to the inside trying to one last-gasp effort to gain an extra position. Had some of those attempted passes been challenged with a block, Andretti was a sitting duck to get double t-boned. A double t-bone might be an awesome entree at Three Forks in Dallas (especially with a nice bottle of Napa cab), but it sucks if you are hit that way in a stock car.

This is not the first time this has happened - nor even the first time this season. Just a few short weeks ago, Allmendinger was turned by David Stremme on the last lap. He could not re-fire his car, and sat on the front stretch certainly muttering "please let them see me, please let them see me". NASCAR allowed the field to race back to the line and then worrry about rubber necking as they drove around the stranded 44.

In my opinion, NASCAR took undue grief for not throwing a caution in the 2007 Daytona 500 as Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin came to the line for the win as all hell broke loose behind them. I agreed with the decision to let the leaders settle in under green. The wreck was behind them, and the track was wide enough for good driver decisions to be made and evasive actions taken.

At tracks such as Loudon and Martinsville, however, the track lengths are much shorter and narrower. I will concede neither stranded driver was plowed, no one was hurt, and the immobile automobiles didn't affect the eventual race winner. But that's beside the point. The drivers could have been drilled, and NASCAR made a bad no-call in both those situations.

Equally as bad to me as NASCAR's no-call was ESPN's no-review. Unlike most race weekends, when the network can't wait to wrap-up the burnout and victory lane interview so they can move on to Sports Center, The Simpsons, or an infomercial, ABC had time to burn today. They had almost 30 minutes for post-race coverage.
  • The finish was not replayed, and not a questioning word was uttered by the 3 booth guys, Alan Bestwick, Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty, or any of the pit reporters.
  • The top finishers were interviewed as were some of the driver notables but with bad finishes (e.g. Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart Darian Grubb-Tony's crew chief).
  • Tim Brewer gave a tech update on what Hamlin's Toyota post-race "look that way and cough" physical might involve.
  • Even Denny Hamlin's parents were located so they could be offered the "how do you feel?" question the ESPN pit folks have mastered.
Yet, ESPN couldn't find John Andretti to ask his opinion? Was John Darby, Robin Pemberton, Ramsey Poston, or anyone else from NASCAR available to explain the rationale for the call (or no-call) that was made?

Good hard racing - I love it. Short-track racing - all the better. Wrinkled fenders, rutting competitors out of the groove, tempers flaring, paybacks, photo finishes - can't be beat. But superseding all of that is driver safety. NASCAR simply cannot allow itself to be put in the position again of taking undue risk with an immobile driver just to see a fantastic run to the finish.

I'm not alone in questioning NASCAR's decision-making. Jim Utter from the Charlotte Observer had similar thoughts.

TMC

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rainy days and race days always get me down

With apologies to The Carpenters...

NASCAR is a unique sport in more ways than one. One way it differs from others is the impact of rain. Football is played in cold, heat, rain, snow, fog, whatever. Fans of basketball and hockey may get wet walking from parking lots, but the game goes on once inside. Even golf, baseball, and tennis can be played if the rain isn't too intense.

With NASCAR, even a minor amount of rain can bring activities to a screeching halt. Even other forms of motorsports can often run in the rain when they race on street circuits with grooved tires. But with slick Goodyear tires designed for maximum grip and many high-speed ovals comprising the Cup series, stock cars and rain simply don't get along.

Each year, you can almost bet a race weekend or two will be adversely affected by the rain. Qualifying might get rained out. A practice session might be lost. And a race might be shortened or postponed to the next day. As a general rule, however, NASCAR gets pretty lucky each season as they bounce around the US.

With 5 races to go in 2009, however, this season seems to have been affected more so than in recent years. Check out this list.
  • February - Daytona 500 - race shortened
  • April - Martinsville - qualifying canceled, line-up set by points
  • May - Coke 600 - race postponed to Monday (Nationwide race was also ended early because of rain)
  • June - Loudon - qualifying canceled, race shortened
  • June - Pocono - qualifying canceled, line-up set by points
  • July - Daytona - qualifying canceled, line-up set by points
  • August - Pocono - qualifying canceled, race postponed to Monday
  • August - Watkins Glen - race postponed to Monday
  • October - Martinsville - Saturday practice canceled, Sunday race in doubt
Nothing can really be done when the rains begin. Drivers, media, fans, etc. just have to wait it out and maintain an attitude of "ya gotta believe" the race events will continue as scheduled.

However, the domino effect of the rains can be pretty significant. TV and radio schedules have to be adjusted. Print/web media tighten their sphincters as they scramble to meet submission deadlines - especially when races are delayed on Saturday nights. Concessionaires and souvenir trailers often lose money as folks don't buy as much junk food or driver swag. Fans wonder if they'd have better chance at hitting the Powerball than booking an even-more-scarce, even-more-over-priced hotel room. Some leave altogether knowing they had one day to race before having to return to work the next day.

With the increasing fan dissatisfaction about the state of the sport, the butt-ugly Car of Tomorrow, vanilla driver personalities, cookie-cutter tracks, etc., I wonder if at least one positive change could be made in time for the 2010 season.

Perhaps NASCAR could spec out a COT 2.0 to accommodate driver safety, wider tire tread, side-by-side racing, AND a race car that will run in the rain when needed!


TMC

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The camp

Today's ABC NASCAR pre-race show featured the Victory Junction Gang Camp. The camp is the vision of Adam Petty, the passion of Kyle and Pattie Petty, and the commitment of NASCAR drivers, owners, sponsors, management, and fans.

If you didn't see it, click below to view it here. A must see.



You can learn more about the camp and/or support it at:
TMC

Thursday, September 24, 2009

PEE - Petty Earnhardt Enterprises?

From the founding of Petty Engineering by Lee Petty in the late 1940s - through the rise of the King in the 1960s - to Richard's domination in the first half of the 1970s - until Richard's retirement in 1992, Petty Enterprises was pretty solid. Richard's and the team's better days were clearly behind them when Richard stepped away. But with a wide variety of drivers, Petty Enterprises had a moderate level of success between 1993 and 2007 - although it was difficult to maintain the big mo' from season to season.

In 2008, the team's drivers often couldn't get out of their own way, the economy turned for the worse, sponsorships shrunk, and Petty Enterprises had 2 drivers under contract that didn't exactly fit the model demographic desired by Madison Avenue - Bobby Labonte and Kyle Petty.

Earlier this year, the venerable Petty Enterprises became no more. Though announced as a "merger", the King sold out to Gillett Evernham Motorsports pretty much adding nothing to the transaction except the famous #43 and the King himself as a marketable brand name.

Less than one year into the new relationship, the resulting Richard Petty Motorsports looks to be in a lot of disarray and turmoil. A newly announced letter-of-intent to acquire Yates Racing was met with hurt and confusion at the RPM engine shop. The employees were apparently informed their jobs were safe only to read a few days later the soon-to-be-Ford RPM would use Roush-Yates engines in 2010.

The President of the company, Tom Redden, left in the spring. And Mark McArdle was fired by the Gilletts after a garage area argument about the Yates/Ford announcement.

To me, this scenario is beginning to resemble Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2006-2007 time frame.

Absentee ownership

In late 2006 and into 2007, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. openly called out Teresa Earnhardt about the need to beef up the technology at DEI. Included in his comments was a threat to leave the team if things didn't improve. They didn't - and he did. Following Dale Sr's death through the 2007 departure of Dale Jr. through 2009's 'merger' with Chip Ganassi Racing, Teresa has not been visible much at all.

George Gillett bought the majority of Evernham Motorsports from Ray Evernham and has majority ownership of the post-Petty merged company. Yet, other than a single appearance on Dave Despain's WindTunnel show after the Evernham transaction, he hasn't been much of a presence at the track. In all fairness, he had a couple of other sports mega-franchises and a monster-load of debt to also occupy his time - the Montreal Canadiens NHL team and a UK soccer team. He has since sold the Canadiens, and he may have unloaded the soccer team as well.

His son, Foster, is supposedly a part-owner and the day-to-day owner representative for the team. Yet according to Kasey Kahne, Foster is AWOL as well. Kahne's recent comments and ones he made in the spring about the need for RPM to improve its performance have led many to believe this is a call-out much like Dale Jr. did with Teresa.

Hired scapegoat

Whether Max Siegel was hired by Teresa to truly run DEI or simply serve as a go-between for Dale Jr. and her will never be known. What is known, however, is poor Max was often left to answer questions at the track with data he didn't have.

Richard Petty now seems to be playing the role of Max Siegel quite well. The King is a part owner and does have his name on the building, the cars, and the haulers. Beyond that, however, his ownership and influence positions are limited. Yet, he's the one at the track answering the questions about the team's current and future situations.

Nothing spends like daddy's money

As a DEI driver, Michael Waltrip frequently showed he was a one-trick pony. Put him on a restrictor plate track and *boom* he could go. He could generally point it straight, mash the gas, draft a bit, and even slip up and win a few. Eventually, however, Mikey left to form his own team and was replaced by the consummate silver spoon driver, Paul Menard.

Menard was hired by DEI for one simple reason - and it wasn't his silly soul patch. Its the wheelbarrows full of cash his pop provides to promote his chain of midwestern Home Depot-wannabe Menard's home improvement stores. After a multi-year run at DEI with nothing to show for it, daddy moved his money and his son to Yates Racing for 2009.

So now look who gets stuck with him in 2010? That's right - RPM. I've been a critic of Reed Sorensen as an RPM driver this year - particularly in my beloved 43. But the thought of Paul Menard driving anything Petty related - including a Segway around the shop floor - turns my stomach. Yet because he'll drag multi-millions of his future inheritance with him to cover all 36 races, RPM will find a home for him just as DEI did.

These are just three examples. The comparisons might stop there. Who knows - its just my opinion and nothing more.

Kasey Kahne may well leave RPM at the end of 2010. If he does, I realize his leaving won't have near the impact of Dale Jr. leaving DEI. If RPM merges yet again or ceases to exist altogether, it won't be the same as DEI's merger with Ganassi. The bigger shock for me was when Petty ENTERPRISES took on an outside investor and then later merged with GEM.

And it wouldn't surprise me a year from now if Chip-N-Dale Racing merges with RPM/Yates to form PEE - Petty Earnhardt Enterprises.


TMC

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Forceful personality

I've been trying to gather my thoughts as to what to type about the New Hampshire race. I'm also working up a couple of other blog entries requiring more time and energy to compile than I have right now.

So in the meantime, I share with you this beauty of a appearance by 14x NHRA funny car champion, John Force. I'm not a huge fan of straight-line racing, but I know enough about it to know John's record, his wrecks, his unbelievably attractive and equally talented daughter Ashley, and his in-your-face way of communicating.

He appeared last week on ESPN addressing, among other subjects, allegations he took a dive in a race to get one of his drivers in the NHRA version of NASCAR's championship chase. He spoke these words meekly...not.

Note: I tried to embed the video itself. As of yesterday, the World Leader of Sports provided the code to embed it. Today, it doesn't work. I found the video on YouTube, but they will not allow it to be embedded either. Geez.

But, its well worth 6 minutes of your time to watch and laugh at this bizarre interview.

TMC

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hockey and Baseball Schaefer

Tuesday I e-mailed the Nashville Predators ticket office to order a block of tickets for a group hockey event. I couldn't help but laugh when the account representative who handled my order was Dan Schaefer.

I e-mailed him the link to this blog's Schaefer posts and told him I would explain later. Before having a chance to do so, he replied with "Schaefer - the beer to have when you're having more than one." The jingle! It was almost like sharing one of those life-long, Greek fraternity secret handshakes.

He said his dad lives in Oklahoma and still prefers to drink Schaefer - because of his name and because he likes it. I asked him to get a specific location where his dad buys it so I could add it to the Schaefer Seller Google map. His reply? "My dad can't get it out there. So I buy it in Nashville and give it to him as a gift for Christmas and his birthday."

I'd expect nothing less from a Schaefer family.

Dan also e-mailed me a 1950s era picture from Ebbetts Fields, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers back in the day. Schaefer sponsored the scoreboard back then, and I knew from my prior research Schaefer had been a prominent advertiser with several Major League Baseball teams.

Dan then shared some trivia I didn't know. When the Dodgers got a hit, the "h" in Schaefer lit up. When an error was committed (I presume by the opposing team), the "e" was lit.

I not only found that nugget to be pretty interesting - I could also relate in a round-about way. I often commit errors of my own when I'm lit on Schaefer.

TMC

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Has the King driven a Ford lately?

I was gone much of last week - and was without web access the whole time. That scenario is almost unthinkable in today's wired world yet it was true. Lots of co-workers asked me jokingly why couldn't I just get over not having access to work e-mail. I responded "Work e-mail? Racing news is what I need!"

Sure nuff, I returned to find the huge news for me as a Petty fan that Richard Petty Motorsports has signed a letter of intent to acquire Yates Racing and plans to convert all its racing teams from Dodge to Ford beginning with the 2010 season.

This will not be the first relationship between some of the participants of this venture and Ford. Many are writing about Kasey Kahne's grooming in the sport by FoMoCo. About the time he was ready to be promoted the upper echelon of Cup, Ray Evernham and Dodge swooped in and plucked him away. Kahne was subsequently sued by Ford, and dollars had to be exchanged just so everyone could get along.

Elliott Sadler also drove the #38 M&M's Ford Taurus for Yates Racing before leaving to replace Jeremy Mayfield in the #19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge - which then became Gillette Evernham Motorsports - that then transitioned to the Richard Petty Motorsports we now have.

Forty years ago, however, a bigger story was the defection of Petty Enterprises from Chrysler's factory team to the Ford contingent. I was 4 at the time Petty made the decision to race a blue oval. My biggest concern at the time was ensuring I had a cool H.R. Puffenstuff lunch box for my looming kindergarten start. So I've had to research the reasons for the manufacturer change.

Apparently, the Pettys wanted Chrysler to develop and field an aerodynamically slick car to compete with the Ford Torino Talladega slated to be released in 1969. When the engineers and marketers didn't deliver or call Petty's bluff, Richard bolted.

So how did it work out for PE and the driver by then established as the King of NASCAR? While not a championship season, I'd say the stats represent a career season for most drivers.
  • Started 50 of 54 races
  • Won first race started in a Ford - 1969 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside
  • 10 wins (20%)
  • 31 top 5's (62%)
  • 38 top 10'2 (76%)
  • 2nd in points to David Pearson
Side note timeout: Am I the only one who thinks it would be cool if A.J. Allmendinger showed up at Daytona wearing one these gold lamé driver uniforms? OK, back to the blog...

The King reached a personal milestone in 1969 in his Ford. He won his 100th Grand National race on August 22, 1969, in the Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC. Only one other driver - David Pearson - has reached the 100-win marker, and it took the Silver Fox an extra 9 years to do so.

Interestingly, Petty's relationship with Ford in 1969 helped Pearson complete one of his 105 victories. In the summer Bristol race, Pearson fell ill. Fellow Ford driver Petty took over as relief driver and raced Pearson's #17 Holman-Moody Ford to the victory.

1969 was also a watershed year for the King's leadership amongst his peers. Bill France Sr. built what is now known as Talladega Superspeedway about an hour east of Birmingham. The majority of drivers believed the track to be unsafe with the design of the cars and the tires on which they raced. The drivers formed a loose union-like alliance called the Professional Drivers Association and elected Petty as its inaugural president. Upon arriving at the new behemoth track, the drivers rallied around Petty as the King held court. The majority decided the track was indeed unsafe to race.

France, in his defense, didn't flinch and said something to the effect of "if you aren't gonna race, get off my property." The first flatbed hauler to fire its engine and head for I-20 toted the Petty blue #43 Ford Torino. It pulled out, and the majority of the name drivers/teams followed right behind the Petty rig. Again to Big Bill's defense, he said screw 'em and ran the race anyway with a bunch of scrub drivers. That decision pretty much ended the PDA, and all the drivers - including Petty - were back in 1970.

While the current courtship of Yates Racing by Richard Petty Motorsports seems all but a done deal, its hardly the first time Petty has danced a jig with the team. As far back as 1981 when Richard was trying to prolong his career while allowing his upstart son Kyle to flourish at Petty Enterprises, the King flirted with the prospect of leaving the family team to drive for Harry Ranier.

At the time, Ranier owned the team driven by Bobby Allison who finished a close 2nd to Darrell Waltrip in the 1981 championship. Whether the rumors of Petty joining Ranier in 1982 adversely affected the team's championship hunt isn't known, but Petty didn't jump - at least not until 1983 when he joined start-up team Curb Motorsports.

The chief engine builder for Harry Ranier was Robert Yates who had defected from DiGard Racing and driver DW in the late 70s. In 1987, Ranier Racing hired a young buck who hadn't fallen far from the family tree - Davey Allison. Later that year, Ranier sold the team to Robert Yates. Fast forward about 20 years, and Robert sells the team to son Doug - and now we've got RPM buying Doug's team.

A lot of details remain to be worked out for the acquisition to be finalized. In the end, I guess I don't care if Petty cars race Dodges, Ford, Toyotas, or friggin' soap box derby cars. As long as Petty is around, I can't help but be a fan.

But geez Louise, accepting Paul Menard in a Petty car will be about as painful as eating a plate of beets and brussel sprouts. Yuck. Guess I better start working myself up a soul patch.

TMC

Saturday, September 12, 2009

State Park Schaefer

Each Labor Day week, our department from work goes to a Tennessee state park for a few days of training, company updates, juvenile "team building" activities, golf, and consumption of a prodigious amount of beer.

While my fellow employees and I had all the beer we could want provided to us last week, we did not get to choose the brands. Standard bearers Bud Light and Miller Lite were the only brands provided. But considering they were available without limit, they drank pretty well.

Knowing the limited choices on the front end, however, I took care of matters a bit by taking my owner personal sixer of Schaefer. And just to cover myself (and my non-Schaefer beer) when the Schaefs were gone, I packed my Schaefer coozies.

In an effort to uphold the Schaefer Hall of Fame code of honor, I did what I could to spread the Schaefer story experience - albeit in a non-NASCAR race setting. Sure enough, a couple of co-workers said they wanted to be considered for the ring of honor.

Oscar was first - and to say she enjoyed her inaugural Schaefer is an understatement.

Check out her Twitter entries following her consumption of the Schaefer swill (follow her on Twitter @nascarl0vr).
  • Last night was fun. I am officially not a schaefer virgin anymore!!
  • Its official- not a schaefer virgin anymore! I drank it w/ a veteran and loved it. I can't believe it but I will now choose it over miller!
  • @toomuchcountry. Thanks for the great schaefer experience!
Cara was next to pull one out of the cooler. Now while she's not a Twitterer and didn't offer her approval to the world in less than 140 characters, she one-upped Oscar by drinking a 2nd one!

After she had her first one, she grabbed a 2nd one as did I and we headed to one of the multiple cabin parties held during the week. We ran into our supply chain vice president who stayed at the park with us to speak to our group the next morning. Our exchange went something like this:

TMC: VP, what's going on?
VP: Its all good. Hey, what is that you're drinking?
TMC: A Schaefer.
VP: A Schaefer? I haven't seen those in years. Why?
TMC: 'cause I wanted one. Cara has one too. Its her second.
VP: What?? Where did they come from?
TMC: I brought them.
VP: Really? Schaefer? Man, that's crazy.
TMC: You oughta put it on national contract so I can get better employee-preferred pricing.
VP: Not sure about that. Not sure we can get purchasing volume compliance.
TMC: Don't underestimate the volume I can move for you my friend.
VP: Now that's funny.

The next morning as part of his introductory remarks, he paused a moment and called an audible on how he wanted to start. To paraphrase, he said "I ran into one of your co-workers last night...who was drinking Schaefer...just because he wanted to. And then he wanted me to put it on contract. Wildest thing I've seen in a while. Anyway, I appreciate your having me here this morning..."

I plan to buy him a 12 pack of it and attach a "thank you" note for his speaking to our group.

Note: A new feature was recently added to Bench Racing. I've created a map of known Schaefer sellers in case you want to find some near you. That's the good news. The bad news is I don't know many places selling it anymore. That's where I need your help. Comment here or contact me with places you've seen selling it, and I'll add a thumbtack to the map for it.

TMC

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tunes Before Speed in Richmond

For those who are going to Richmond next weekend for the race - or if you are just going to be in Richmond during the week, check out racing writer Monte Dutton at Grandpa Eddie’s Alabama Ribs & BBQ at 11129 Three Chopt Road. He'll be there Thursday night, September 10. Kyle Petty - who jammed with Dutton in the spring - also plans to be there to sit in for a few tunes.

Dutton, who has covered NASCAR since 1993, is also a songwriter who often performs near tracks while on assignment. He's also been known to drop-in on a fan's tailgate event...maybe one TMC has attended?


He currently authors a weekly syndicated page, “NASCAR This Week,” circulated by King Features Syndicate. On the side, the veteran writer enjoys writing songs and performing them.

In 2007, Dutton’s first non-sports book, True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. It was the culmination of a three-year period in which he compiled interviews and gathered notes during his spare time. He tracked down singer-songwriters whom he admired and just happened to be performing near NASCAR tracks. On NASCAR off weeks, he frequently traveled to music hotbeds like Nashville and Austin.

And he taught himself to play guitar.

“I’m completely self-taught, probably to a fault,” said Dutton. “I didn’t look at a video. I didn’t read a book. I certainly didn’t take lessons. I just bought a guitar at a pawn shop and started playing around with it. In music books, they have those little grids with chord names. I figured the dots on the grids were where you put your fingers. “In retrospect, that was one of the few things I got right.”

Only one of his songs, “Martinsville,” is about NASCAR. It was loosely derived from the experience of several friends who attended a stock car race for the first time and told Dutton of their adventures. (I wish he'd write one about Schaefer experiences in Charlotte!)



Capitalizing on the fact fans know him for his race coverage, Dutton has been scheduling concerts that tie in with his NASCAR travels. He opened for Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison in Charlotte last fall. He played before a Kannapolis Intimidators minor-league baseball game two nights before the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte. In addition to Grandpa Eddie’s in Richmond, Dutton has performed recently near the tracks in Charlotte, Dover and Pocono. Later this month, he will play and serve as emcee at Pawlessfest, a music festival in Gainesville, Texas.

“I knew I could play my songs,” he said. “What I’ve tried to learn is how to entertain people with them. I talk about my songs and tell stories between them, but not so much that it upsets the messages I’m trying to convey.”

So if you are near Richmond this Thursday, drop into Uncle Eddie's, catch some tunes, drink some beer, talk some bench racing, get an autograph, and buy Monte and Kyle a round for me. I'll pay you back...I promise.



TMC

Saturday, September 5, 2009

NASCAR.com shout out

Writer Rick Houston is owner, operator, chief contributor, and janitor at Stock Car History Online. He's also an author - writing a book about the Busch Grand National Series (later known simply as Busch Series and today as Nationwide series). Perhaps he's most famous 'round these parts for helping a friend of mine and me land the elusive picture of the Al Loquasto-driven, D.K. Ulrich-owned, Schaefer Beer-sponsored Buick.

Today, he authored an article for NASCAR.com spotlighting a local business focused on customer service and one that sees an uptick when the NASCAR teams, media, and fans hit town. Only he didn't cover just any business. He spotlighted McIntosh Bank in McDonough, GA - the bank where my friend is a vice president and commercial loan officer.

Rick highlighted the bank and Ron's business and customer focus, and he also gave a shout out to Ron as a long-time race fan, a race car model builder, and even our search for the Loquasto-Schaefer car. Heck, even little ol' TMC got a mention!

Purty kewl if you ask me.

TMC

Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day weekend in simpler times

Sunday night the Cup drivers will fire 'em up to race 500 miles on Labor Day weekend...at Atlanta. Up front, it feels great to have NASCAR back in the south this weekend where it belongs. Which old school song fits best? Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back in Town? Aerosmith's Back in the Saddle? Ray Charles' Georgia On My Mind?

Bottom line - NASCAR is not in southern California this weekend and that's a good thing.

But they're also not at Darlington. On Labor Day Monday.

I've only been able to attend one race at Darlington. It was the final Southern 500...well, before they chose to lift the name and artificially apply it to a Mother's Day weekend race. And to be completely honest, I didn't attend a sho-nuff Southern 500. I attended the Mountain Dew Southern 500 in November 2003 - a race won by Californian Jimmie Johnson.

Back in the day, however, life in the town of Darlington, the state of South Carolina, and the deep south overall focused on Darlington. They had a parade with grand marshals such as Goober from The Andy Griffith Show.

They had a Miss Southern 500 beauty pageant - not a fire-suited Miss Sprint.

The track had the Pure Oil Record Club to recognize the fastest qualifiers in each manufacturer. The club was later renamed the Unocal Darlington Record Club where Darlington first-time drivers had to pass a test given by the veteran drivers before being allowed to compete. As a veteran driver, A.J. Foyt still had to complete the test yet you think Joey Logano will have to do so?

The Darlington infield had enough rowdies to scare even the hardcores at Riker's Island. Yet, a bond existed amongst them with a fondness for racing, cold beer, and pretty ladies - although not necessarily in that order. This Johnny Russell song exemplifies the uniqueness of the infield community.



I contend from its beginnings until the late 1970s a Southern 500 victory may have been a more prestigious, rights-bragging, resume-padding win for a driver than the Daytona 500. Its difficult for me to even acknowledge that possibility because Richard Petty struggled to close the deal on wins at Darlington - bagging only three victories. Meanwhile, David Pearson made the track his personal bee-otch nabbing 10 victories over the years.

From day one, this blog has included links to several racing books I've enjoyed over the years. In this case, one book in particular jumps out as a "must read" for any old timer or noob looking to learn more about the history of NASCAR from the late 1960s through the early 1970s - Jerry Bledsoe's The World's Number One, Flat Out, All Time Great, Stock Car Racing Book. The book will have you laughing and also shaking your head at the fun stories captured by Bledsoe back then.

Racing at Darlington has so many great memories. Too many to blog at one time. And too many to be available on YouTube. :-) But here are a handful of some good 'uns.

1979 - Rookie Dale Earnhardt was injured in a bad accident at Pocono. As he recovered, David Pearson was hired to drive the Rod Osterland #2 Chevy. The Silver Fox had been fired by the Wood Brothers following the Rebel 500 at the same track earlier in the season after many successful seasons together. Even after being fired by the Purolator-sponsored Mercury team and hired by the unsponsored Chevy team, check out Pearson's attire in victory lane.



1980 - Terry Labonte from Texas made his Cup debut in the Southern 500 in 1978. Two years later, he pulled off an incredible move at the start/finish line to outfox the Silver Fox.

1985 - Awful Bill from Dawsonville cemented his place as a southern folk hero at Darlington in 1985. He had begun to gather a solid fan following in the early 1980s - particularly after winning his first race at Riverside in 1983. But in 1985, he drew fans like nobody's business as he won everything in sight in his Coors Ford. When he won the Southern 500 and collected the Winston Million big bucks bonus, his legacy was secured.

1965 - Cale Yarborough tries his Superman impression and leaves the yard. No HANS device. No COT. No full-face helmet. Simple aluminum seat. Limited roll bar padding. His adventure reminds me of Jimmy Horton's quote after he flew over the wall at Talladega: "You know you've had a really bad crash when the first guy to get to you is holding a beer can. "



I'll likely watch part of this weekend's race. But it simply won't be the same as watching those guys earn their Darlington stripes on that gritty, greasy, ill-shaped speedway a few hours to the northeast of Atlanta Motor Speedway.

And now that Cup has returned to the south this weekend, would it be asking way too much to restore "Dixie" to the race name?


TMC