Monday, March 22, 2010

Bristol Ramblings

A coherent themed blog entry be damned. Its time to Ramble On about Bristol! Why not start the video and groove to a Zep classic as you continue to read.

Combine the following ingredients into a NASCAR jambalya and what do you get?
  • Jimmie Johnson's 4 championships, late 2009 wins, and early 2010 wins
  • Dale Jr.’s continuing losing streak with few signs he's about to end it anytime soon
  • The economy - including continuing limits on corporate sports marketing/entertainment expenses
  • Continuation of 3 night overpriced minimums on hotels
  • High ticket prices especially as compared to corporate-sister track Charlotte
  • A faceless Nationwide series
  • $3/gallon gas
  • A re-designed track surface that rewards side by side, multi-groove racing and eliminates the need for a bump and run to make a pass.
I'll tell you what you get - empty seats and plenty of ‘em at one of NASCAR’s bellweather tracks. NASCAR, ISC, and SMI all have to be concerned about how long this flat to downward attendance trend is going to last. I think I'm safe in saying the acid test for NASCAR is attendance at Daytona (500), Bristol, Texas, Indy, and Charlotte (600). The 500 and 600 have been down for the last few years, and Bristol finally failed to sell out this year. It will be interesting to see the crowds at Texas and Indy.

Regarding the last point above, I don't put a lot of stock in it personally. I think the multi-groove track is great. Its more like old school Bristol. But a lot of nouveau fans who only started watching Bristol during the Earnhardt, Rusty, and Gordon years think the one-groove, bump-and-run track is the old school. They are wrong, but I think they are also some of the ones who haven't returned since the re-design.

When is someone gonna “bully up” and take on Jimmie Johnson? He can’t be beaten fair and square in the preparation, performance, or closing areas. So is it gonna take someone getting fed up enough to dump him or ugly him up a bit? First you’ve got to catch him I guess, and then you have to face your sponsors and the oval office if you choose to act that way. But you’d likely pick up a bunch of fans in the process.

I’m not advocating wrecking him. I’m simply saying it seems one of the few logical choices yet to evolve. The guy has won 4 straight Cups. He has zero rivals and has had zero feuds. Sponsors of other drivers have got to be pulling their hair out seeing Lowe's get all the attention. Left unchecked and with Chad on the pit box, Jimmie quite possibly could leave the King and Earnhardt in his dust with his future Cup championships.

So where could such a rival come from:
  • Kurt won’t do it. He's spent the last 3-4 years getting the Penske Polish. He's already had his ears pinned back surgically. He's certainly not going to go through that again by rough driving over the 48.
  • Denny Hamlin can’t do it. He tried a year ago at Martinsville only to get out-muscled by JJ when the chips were on the table. Plus, this year the 11 team can't finish the job on the track - much less affect someone else's day.
  • Jeff Gordon has too much at stake to do it. He's now one of the elder stateman and has an equity stake in the team.
  • Smoke has too many conflicting priorities to do it. He may have the temper and passion to do it. But doing so would negatively and severely affect his 'technical alliance' with Hendrick Motorsports.
Montoya, Harvick, and maybe Keselowski may be the only ones with the stones to do it. Bobby Allison reached his boiling point in the early 1970s. He said he was tired of Richard Petty getting all the breaks and the wins. So he spent a large part of 1972 finding Petty on the track and roughing him up about as much as he could. Later in the 70s, DW risked being the bad guy and ascended by running his lip and saying he was going to knock the King off his throne. Where is the mouth today that’ll say the same thing about JJ and then back it up?

Best lame excuse I've heard in years: Greg "The Possum" Biffle claiming his radio cord was unplugged from his helmet. He supposedly couldn't hear his spotter which in turn contributed to his drifting up and hooking bumpers with Mark Martin to end's day.

Second best lame excuse I've heard lately: Happy Harvick claiming JoLo was "chop blocking" him in Saturday's Nationwide race. So he couldn't wait anymore and did what he had to do. Or something to that effect. One of my sayings my wife hates is "Well, it is what it is." She'll holler at me "that doesn't make any sense at all." Well, Harvick was in the news all weekend for sound bytes that also didn't make much sense at all - yet paradoxically were understood by everyone.

I’m glad I didn’t go all the way to Bristol, spend the money, sit in the rain, and then watch the 48 win again. I enjoyed my time in Vegas a few weeks ago despite Johnson's win. And I’m afraid I may well see him win yet again at the 600 in May – even if the track is no longer named Lowe's Motor Speedway. No way would I have wanted a tri-fecta of personal misery.

So Darrell Waltrip blamed the attendance woes partially on the weather? Geez, is this guy even remotely sane anymore? Does he honestly think today’s races have a large walk-up attendance segment? Jaws, this is 2010 man – not 1973. And for the love of Pete, would someone, anyone duct tape his hands under the desk. The constant pen handling and/or thumb-wars on TV is almost as unbearable as "boogity, boogity, boogity".

During my trip to Bristol last year, I really enjoyed the old timers race – even if it was a mis-matched field. I cheered lustily for every driver introduced having watched most if not all of them during my youth. I felt a bit embarrassed other fans - those who even chose to stick around after the Nationwide race - didn't show the same enthusiasm for the legends who returned for their entertainment.

Having drivers like Sterling and Rusty compete against 70+ year-olds in cars they prepared themselves wasn’t right. This year’s edition was better balanced as the drivers weren't allowed to bring their own cars; however, Larry Pearson’s and Charlie Glotzbach’s injuries make me wonder if we’ll see the legends race return. I pray Pearson's and Chargin' Charlie's injuries will heal with time.

Source: TheDalyPlanet's Twitpic

Truthfully, while its cool to see these old fellers run Bristol, me thinks perhaps the race should return to a slower, flatter track like the ¼ mile flat surface at Texas or Charlotte.

Here's one idea I've got to help ensure the races continue and the drivers are better protected. As the Nationwide cars begin their transition to their own version of the COT, it seems to me a perfect dumping ground for otherwise perfectly good cars would be for the old timers race. The Nationwide cars are bound to be safer than those things the old guys have run the last two springs. Plus the engines would be far more capable of running Bristol speeds and not give up within a few laps of being tested. I realize no one likely wants a 72 year old running the same speed as the Nationwide or Cup cars, so maybe the engines could be restricted with a plate, reve limiter, etc. while still keeping the durability for a short run.

Each time I see today's Bristol - whether it be in person or in that great panoramic TV shot from between the turns, I'm reminded of just how far this little track has come. Though the track first opened in the early 60s, I didn't get to go until I was in college in 1986. I was at the spring race to see Rusty Wallace's first win in the #27 Alugard Anti-Freeze / Blue Max Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 owned by Raymond Beadle. The car had a beautiful paint scheme on top of a rotten looking stock car body.

Check out turns 1 and 2 from this 1987 shot. Hey dude, who stole my stands?

Source for above 3 pictures:

On that spring day...much like yesterday...and March 2008 when I was rained. A lot. I'm pretty sure Noah had the pole. We paid $18 on race morning for an SRO ticket and stood on a hillside of the back stretch where all those magnificent stands and terraces are now built. We couldn't sit because of all the rain and mud.

Eventually the rain cleared out, the track was dried, the crowd roared, the race began, and Rusty claimed his first of many wins on the Tennessee half-mile. My ankles were killing me in class on Monday from standing up all afternoon on Sunday. My toes were pointed down about 25 degrees on the bank behind the concrete "stands" forming a day-long obtuse angle from my lower leg to my foot.

On to Martinsville. Hope you enjoy it. Tell me how it ends because I'm not gonna watch it. Its one of the 48's best tracks. I've seen enough of him this season to last a lifetime - no sense in giving up 3 hours of my Sunday afternoon for more of the same. The shame of it, however, is my wife has a Lowe's gift card from Christmas she wants to use for a storm door. So while I plan to avoid the Marty race, I may still find myself face to face with all-things Lowe's this weekend. Argh, just shoot me now.


1 comment:

  1. Music to my ears and words of missed yur calling....

    Wave rider out west ;]