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.

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