Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the most wonderful time of the year, adding laps, and the passing of Mike Addington

Generally when people think about "the most wonderful time of the year," they recall the classic Christmas carol. Not me. While I love the holidays, even more so now there are little ones to watch tear into their mound of presents on Christmas morning, the most wonderful time of the year is now - when the racing season is starting to kick into gear. It starts this weekend with the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, then continues next week with the Toyota All-Star Showdown in Irwindale, and then we really get a head of steam going with the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the kickoff of SpeedWeeks 2010.

A note to David Newton and any other media member who is critical of Phoenix International Raceway's decision to lengthen the Spring race at the 1-mile oval in the desert: not everyone things long races are boring. Some people actually think extra laps and miles is a good thing, particularly if you're a fan that only has one chance to see a race each season. Can 600 miles at Charlotte drag on too long? Sure. Can 400 miles at Michigan seem long? Sure. But you know what? That's okay. Not every race is a barn burner. Experienced media people should know that. They are entitled to their opinion just like everyone else, but I often wonder to myself why some of these media members chose to follow the sport? Was it just because that's the assignment they drew when they were hired in? Because many of them rarely have anything good to say about the sport. Maybe 375 miles is too many at Phoenix. Why not wait and see before condemning the decision? It's possible that all it will do is add to the laps led total of the winner, as Newton theorizes. It's also possible that someone will dominate the first 312 laps of the race (the traditional race distance at PIR) and then have engine problems or crash out in the final 63 laps. How many times has someone won the Coca-Cola 500, but not been around to see the checkered flag in the race that is the Coca-Cola 600?

Sad news from the Camping World Truck Series world as former team owner Mike Addington passed away last week. Addington's team was always solid on the track, scoring a win with Andy Houston during his rookie season in 1998 and several more the next three years. He also put Travis Kvapil in victory lane a few times before Kvapil left the team to become a champion with Xpress Motorsports. Addington Racing is where Rick Ren came to the forefront as one of the best crew chiefs in the garage, always having trucks that were top-five material and if they were involved in any kind of smash-up on the track Ren and crew got them back out and in contention. Mike Addington was just 50 years old.

Friday, January 8, 2010

On simplification of the rules

I was in the car the other day listening to Sirius NASCAR Radio, as I often do when getting household chores and errands done. Heading back from Best Buy after buying some computer components I popped on the radio just as Sirius Speedway's Dave Moody was conversing with a listener about some change the listener was proposing to the championship format. The conversation quickly evolved into what the listener would do to change the sport and how the sport could use an "independent sanctioning body."

For the most part, the caller was a little misguided. I think I understand what it is he was trying to say - that the France family has their fingers in every aspect of the sport and that he didn't like it that way - but that doesn't change the fact that NASCAR is an independent sanctioning body. Like the caller, I am sure everyone who has watched the sport has disagreed with one call or another made by NASCAR officials. But that doesn't mean there is another sanctioning body out there that can effectively manage the sport.

Lost in the conversation with the caller is something Moody repeatedly told the caller: "I don't think you understand the rules." It started when the caller was confused on when a driver uses a backup car after a crash in practice or qualifying; apparently he couldn't keep it straight when that driver must start at the tail of the field or when he/she gets to keep the position earned in qualifying. That's neither here nor there in my mind; what I'd like to see is a streamlining of the rules to make the entire sport much easier for everyone to understand.

A race is one of the easiest things in the world to officiate. Even as kids, it simply is the first person to get from point A to point B. Sure, in NASCAR it's slightly more complex since there are 43 teams running and the race can last upwards of four hours. But there are so many rules now that the simplicity that made the sport so beautiful when I was a youngster is gone.

It starts in qualifying with a certain number of cars locked in the field. Once the race starts, there are many proceedures that can confuse fans - like the free pass, no passing to the left on a restart, the commitment line for making pit stops, freezing the field when the caution comes out, and on restrictor plate tracks the dreaded yellow line rule. And on and on.

That's not even getting into the rules governing the construction of the cars and trucks used in the races.

There are many reasons why NASCAR today is better than NASCAR of yesterday. The visibility and ease of access is second-to-none in professional sports. There are still many issues NASCAR has to deal with before the train is pointed back up the hill to the peak it reached in the mid-2000s - the generic car, some bland personalities, and the confusion over race proceedures are just a few of those issues.

Racing is inherently simple. If NASCAR hopes to regain some of the audience it has lost in the past five years, a return to that simplicity will help immensely.