A Reluctant Tragic Race Fan
By Larry VanZandt On Wed, Feb. 19, 2014
In the classic one-act comedy, “A Reluctant Tragic Hero”, written by legendary (and long-dead) Russian playwright Anton Chekov, the protagonist Tolkachov (if you like, you can call him ‘Tim’) is introduced to us as a hideously-suffering individual who asks a friend to borrow a pistol.
How does this apply to you, the two or three people who might be reading this?
With me being a long-suffering, reluctant, and tragic NASCAR fan myself, having both watched this series and perfected the art of swearing at TV sets for at least a couple of decades now, the France Cartel’s constant monkeying with the cars themselves, rules and rule enforcement (or lack thereof if you happen to drive for a particular, four-car, and ridiculously-dominant Chevy team), the way the races are viewed on TV, where the races are ran, etc, etc, with the new 2014 points system that was announced just a couple of weeks ago, I am beginning to understand our Russian protagonist (from scene 24 above) as to why he was lunging for his friend’s throat at the very end.
In addition, given that the world was watching the 24 Hours of Media Blackout, I mean 24 Hours of Daytona a couple of weeks ago (“brought to you by the makers of the fine France Family of Dysfunctional Racing Products!”), and was witness to some of the worst bungling ever in a sports car endurance race, when I hear, that on short notice, NASCAR has decided to completely upend their championship points system in favor of a champeen-ship which makes the NCAA “March Madness” bracketing system look childishly simple in comparison…I’m well past ‘leery’ and am now standing firmly on the politically-perilous welcome mat of “Climate Change Denier.”
In short, I don’t really care whether or not this new-fangled Playoff system will save NASCAR’s bacon. The France Cartel’s misguided and sundry attempts to ‘fix’ this sport are something approaching a final straw for this particular fan’s (camel) back.
So, what exactly is this ‘new playoff system’ thingie?
Well, to summarize, I have no idea what’s actually supposed to happen, but I do recall seeing an official video that involved a bunch of confusing graphs and brackets, reminding me directly of Duck Dodger’s slightly-askew road map of how to reach “Planet X” ( I think heard the term “turbo space miles” mentioned a few times in the Official NASCAR Video of NASCAR outlining the new points system).
Since I have no idea (and nobody else I’ve shown this to knows either) as to what’s going to happen past race 26, I’ve created a list of what will (okay, ‘might’) happen before, and during the ten weeks of the “2014 Chase for the Remote!”…
- It doesn’t really matter anyway, as most primary and backup cars will be wiped out before the start of the 2014 Chase Grid, during the all-new ‘group qualifying’ sessions at Bristol, Richmond, and Talladega.
- The same five or six cars who won almost all the first twenty-six races last year will win almost all the first twenty-six races again this year.
- Whatever happens out on the track, Dale Jr. will still be on People Magazine’s list of “50 People Most Likely To Get Killed Or Maimed In A Spectacular Manner During A Wrangler Jeans Commercial Shoot.”
- Controversy will erupt when it’s discovered, about five weeks after Daytona, that there are at least 42 additional ways for a driver to crash a car during group qualifying.
- Given the new requirement that drivers have to win to get into the playoffs, several races will be hotly-contested for the win (meaning that almost all the first twenty-six races should be hotly contested…in theory, anyway), and highlight-reel producers will suddenly find themselves overwhelmed when the entire race becomes a crash-laden highlight reel, as drivers claw, scratch, spit, politely ask, and punt their way to the front. In addition, the words ‘PIT Maneuver” will also become commonplace, with viewers at home having to use an abacus to count the amount of times they hear it on TV during a race.
- (See #5) The author is also curious as to where in Arkansas (See ‘Hell’) this “drivers must actually win races!” requirement has been for at least the last twenty years.
- There is supposedly a national clown shortage. I don’t know what this has to do with NASCAR, but for some cryptic, strange reason…I feel that it’s important to mention.
- Has anyone seen my dog?
- On or around race twenty-four, body men from the top thirty teams will mysteriously begin dropping dead from exhaustion, having had to stay awake for the previous twenty-five or so race weeks just attempting to fix all the damage from the group-qualifying, and post-group-qualifying (translation: during the race itself) melees. Grieving widows will begin a bizarre PSA campaign about two weeks into the Chase Grid: “Burn the Pace Car!”, and a Chevrolet SS pace car will spontaneously erupt into flames during the commercials. I’m not sure what the “Exploding SS” (not to be confused with the Russian advance during the later stages of World War II) has to do with public service announcements from widows of the deceased body men, but given that the PSA’s will also include Danica in a bikini, it will definitely bring attention to their plight…whatever their plight might be.
- Adding another one to the ‘cryptic and strange reason’ file, I have a sneaking hunch that it will be a BIG year for completely-naked, football-and-baseball-style ‘streakers’ who will attempt to branch out into professional stock-car racing. Unfortunately, the first track they will try this at will be at Texas Motor Speedway. Given that this race is the ‘Duck Commander 500’, and Phil Robertson (and shotgun) will be in attendance, the streakers will have to contend with both having to dodge cars traveling 190+ mph…and also dodging buckshot traveling at around 1300 feet per second. And yes, ol’ Phil will probably have something inappropriate to say about that, as well.
Seriously, though, I do hope something changes this year. While ‘dynasties’ are occasionally a good thing, I think this sort of tenure needs to be relegated to the history books, as I think I read somewhere about Formula 1 TV viewership from the 2013 season being down something like 10-15 percent, simply because Sebastian Vettel was winning most everything in sight. While it looks good for generating headlines in newspapers and lead stories on Sportscenter, completely obliterating the competition is bad for the sport (See “Porsche Obliterates Can-Am”, 1973).
IF Jimmie wins #6 (number 7? I’ve lost count), I have a sneaking hunch something drastic is going to have to happen, as I don’t think sponsors from forty-two other teams are going to handle the word ‘Johnsonville Juggernaut’ very well, playing second-to-forty-second banana for yet another year.
My concern is going to be for the drivers, and teams themselves, and how far they go to ensure a victory. How far will a driver push a car with a bad setup? How many times will we see a championship car receive an ‘accidental’ nudge from another driver, especially when one takes into account how rivalries (See: “Kyle Bush and most anyone else on the track”) occasionally carry on several races after an initial incident. Where contact between cars is encouraged, and in some cases fans are there to only see the carnage, in making this fell swoop to try to do a complete makeover in how the average, non-chase race is conducted, might it be possible that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction?
Yes, I have been complaining for years that the fans have been getting shafted for the first twenty-six races of a ‘chase’ season, as drivers can win a race or two, and coast through the rest of the season with top fives and top tens…and in some cases, coast through on top fives and top tens, and not win a race: How is ‘coasting’ good for the fans, especially those who actually pay go to see races at the track?
But to then establish an ‘elimination’ requirement in the last ten races? Where a single nudge can knock a chase participant out of the running? I just think that this isn’t a good social engineering experiment, where a (supposed) accidental “Sorry, front end lost grip in the corner!” can end someone else’s chances at winning a championship. With million$ on the line, I’m not sure the ‘honor system’ will exist, given that there’s at least twenty other pilots who are championship-level drivers, and only two different drivers have won the Sprint cup for the last 6 years…oh yeah, I’m definitely seeing gentlemanly driving ahead.
Whatever happens…NASCAR did do one positive thing in making this change: We are definitely going to be talking about it until the conclusion of race thirty-six. I hope it translates to more people being interested in NASCAR again, because as it is, nobody I know personally watches it any longer, and now I can’t even get my kids to watch it with me. If I watch races, I do it alone, much to the scorn and derision of those around me…a reluctant, tragic hero, watching the races alone, beginning to wonder if I don’t need to find something else to do with my Sundays.