Why Johnny Can’t Race

On the bright side, this started happening again.(Getty Images for NASCAR)

On the bright side, this started happening again.(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 20, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

One of the first lessons I learned about the NASCAR beat was away from the track, and I was slow on the draw. I should have already known it by then.

I was young and foolish. Somehow, I thought I had achieved some laudable goal by securing a job that took me to most parts of the United States. I loved it when friends, at some New Year’s Eve party or local bar, asked, “So, you know all the drivers, huh?”

Oh, yeah. Talk to them every week.

“What kind of guy is so-and-so?”

Never answer that question expansively. Say something upbeat but noncommittal. What I think doesn’t matter. Never mind that I deal with a person on a regular basis, and my friend has never met him. He will place no importance on my opinion if it differs from his (or, notably, hers). If he likes the driver, he tells it like it is. If he doesn’t, he’s a whiner.

Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)

Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)

I always tried to think like a reader. My employer even used it as a slogan for a while. I didn’t need the slogan. I always thought it important to hang around at a hardware store, or a barber shop, or a car dealership, and see what the fans were saying. It was easier in the 1990s and early 2000s. It seemed then as if everyone I encountered was in love with NASCAR.

You write about NASCAR? I love NASCAR.

Nowadays, the more common response is, Oh, I know it’s big. I just don’t much care about it. Or, I used to be nuts about NASCAR. I don’t know. I just got tired of it.

Most of them don’t know why. They don’t think about it.

Even this time of year, a week seldom passes in which I don’t see someone trying to explain what’s wrong. The economy. Room rates. Gas prices. High-definition TV. A lot of the analysis begins with the assumption that the racing is wonderful, the Chase sublime, and, so, it must be something else.

Fans. Can't live without them. (John Clark photo)

Fans. Can’t live without them. (John Clark photo)

I don’t think fans analyze it the way writers do, and with writers, it takes one to know one, so I do. The input that most of us get is from those who are still passionate. Most fans don’t write me. They just watch the races. Or don’t. Combining all the various platforms, and allowing for duplication, probably about eight thousand people pay attention to me via those areas. Others link when a slug catches their fancy via Jayski or some other connection, retweets, shares, et al. I wrote one NASCAR tome this year that wound up being passed along and clicked upon by somewhere north of forty thousand. That’s rare. It happened once. Another fell just shy of twenty thousand. Most times, NASCAR blogs hit a thousand. Some of my blogs get read by a hundred. I’m kind of selfish. I generally write what strikes me as interesting and just figure that might be true of others. It’s the freedom of the jobless, and, hence, the bossless, and the nothing-left-to-loseless.

By conservative estimate, five thousand fans don’t know what I write for every one that does. I appreciate every one of them.

My basic view is that NASCAR is firmly anchored in the country’s sporting mainstream, and that is anchored to a loyal core that’s similar to other tribes that intensely follow the progress of hockey, soccer, rodeo, the X Games, and something else at any given time. At the moment, NASCAR has maxed out its credit card with the young, but that is fleeting and will continue to be so. NASCAR’s original sin was in alienating its most loyal fans and throwing all its marketing fireworks at the fans who were bound to be here today and gone tomorrow. It’s lingering sin is forgetting that it is capable of being wrong.

Tomorrow came. The Hula Hoop didn’t last forever. Neither did MySpace. Or chat rooms.

Did some of the fans get tired of Jimmie Johnson? Sure. They got tired of everything else, too.

Everyone wants simple answers, and not just in NASCAR. So many oversimplifications. The Chase was a result of Matt Kenseth not winning any races. (Note: No Cup champion has ever been winless.) It’s been changed because of the letter J (Johnson up, Junior down). It’s that damned Brian France. Or that damned Kyle Busch. Or that damned Brad Keselowski. Everyone has his (or her) own private something to damn.

It’s like saying the American Revolution was fought over tea.

NASCAR has panicked in a tricking up the Chase, tearing down the grandstands, making everybody dizzy kind of frenzy.

Slow down / You move too fast / Got to make / The morning last / Kicking around / The cobblestone. – “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” Simon and Garfunkel.

Hold your horses. Count your money. Maybe one day, NASCAR will start feeling groovy again.

Thanks for reading, you one in five thousand. I’d like to invite you, the few, the proud, to read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.com, and take a look at my books.

Take a look at my books, ranging from NASCAR to fiction. Click here.

Do you enjoy my writing enough to invest in it? Patreon is a program where readers can invest in my writing and play a role in making it better. Click here.

About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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30 Responses to Why Johnny Can’t Race

  1. Robert Johnson says:

    As an old core fan, I’ll always follow it, there’s no getting past the fact NASCAR somehow managed to throw away it’s soulfulness. It was the money of course, but other things on top of that. The Chase was contrived, and recent changes in the Chase so desperately contrived.

    When something is clearly contrived, that’s the opposite of soulfulness and authenticity. That seems the long and the short of it to me.

  2. Carol Dahlberg says:

    I am also an “old core fan,” and will keep on following and watching because I love seeing my favorite drivers do well, or not, as happens some seasons. I hate the chase, and hate the contrivance of this year most….and hated it even more when Dale, Jr. dropped out and more than that when Jeff Gordon lost his chance for a fifth championship. NASCAR will keep mucking it up and I will keep watching and occasionally getting to go to a race because of the drivers, even when they go all PC and say the chase is wonderful, are fun to watch and I am proud when they do good works, even though it is tax deductible.

  3. John Irby says:

    I’m a NASCAR fan
    I know not why
    This confuses people

  4. Ricci, Jim says:

    This sport, NASCAR, has been my passion since I was 8 years old. My Dad took me to a local short track and bought a copy of Illustrated Speed Sport News, I read it cover to cover probably twenty five times a week till I got a new one and did the same till I found a neighbor who would lend me his. It is like no other excitement I have found. That’s me. It will never change. Weekends without a race are usually boring. I like reading you, have followed for so long it’s like NASCAR I never bored reading you, although sometimes I wonder where you are going,but I find that part of the fascination. Have Happy Holidays

  5. Walter Charette says:

    Merry Christmas from one of the one thousand,or is it the five thousand?????

  6. Dave Fulton says:

    Let’s hope that one day my great grandkids might find NASCAR as fascinating as I once did. Let’s also hope some weekly tracks find a way to survive.

  7. Ron Widman says:

    Went to my first NASCAR race in 1951 @Daytona I was 5 . Still going love it, it’s not perfect but very enjoyable. Can’t wait for Speedweeks. I don’t bother with stick and ball sports . Too many overpaid primadonas that don’t get punished when they break the rules. On NASCAR if you do not go to a race in person you are missing so much.

  8. Josh says:

    I, like other fans, have followed your writing on Nascar since the gaston gazette and even read the other articles the editors threw to you. as for nascar–I lost interest with the Chase–it wasn’t the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr that destroyed Nascar, it was and is simply the Chase–attendance began declining the year it was introduced and has declined ever since. The champion of Nascar should BE THE driver whom does the best throughout the season, NOT JUST the driver who finishes best in one race. Brian France tries to embrace the kiddie-generation too much and is forgetting that old people still have a lot of money (and say) in where sponsorship dollars come from.

  9. Robert Cornett says:

    I was once a really big fan but am now pretty much a casual watcher. The first big blow for me came when they started messing with the start times on Sundays, I assume to try to cater to the West Coast crowd. Except for East Coast late start races like the one on Sonoma, it used to be that after you got home from church, you’d sit in your chair for a sandwich lunch just in time for the start of the race. When they started messing with the start times, in addition to almost never knowing from week to week when that week’s race was going to start, by not starting at 1 pm eastern time it gave me the opportunity to get involved in doing something else for the afternoon and missing the start or most of the race. Next was the ‘lucky dog’. Remember the Watkins Glen race where Kyle Busch went five laps down early and with his being the only lap car during many of the following cautions, he got back on the lead lap, one caution at a time, to finish in the top 10. Just wrong. The final one came with all of those late race double-file restarts where the inside line no longer consisted of lap-down cars. You could count on one in almost every race and they made it so that I could miss the entire race and just catch the very end when almost inevitably someone who probably hadn’t led a lap would get a restart position far better than where he was before the caution (such as being in 6th place when a “debris” caution comes out with three laps to go and getting to restart in the third row). Anything I missed during the race I would get to see in highlights. Probably wouldn’t hurt to make the races shorter where there would be less “ride around” time and more racing for position during the middle of the race. Would also like a ban on anything Waltrip (don’t forget Rusty Wallace) broadcasting a race and a ban on those owning or working for a team in the broadcast booth.

  10. Hal Ashburn says:

    Just wanted to say Thank You sir for you’re writing. My dad liked it enough to subscribe to your paper even tho we lived in Yadkinville. The down home by writing about down home things. It don’t get any better. You
    are welcome up here in what was the center of racing anytime.

  11. Roger Miller says:

    One of the best moments in all of sports , the waving of the green flag to start the race, has been ruined by somebody thinking it was fitting to say boogity, boogity, boogity at the start of the race. It’s as bad as somebody butchering the Nation Anthem. Have always wondered why either of the Waltrips were considered a valuable asset during a broadcast. Oh and I would love to do away with the hour plus of prerace show which offers nothing of value and replace it with an hour of post race interviews. Lets hear from the drivers and get the raw reaction and not off the twitter feed, lets here how drivers setups went in the wrong direction or so and so cut them off or blocked them out of their pit stall. All I get in the pre race interview is each and every driver says how they have a good car and love the track, ho hum.

  12. Ann says:

    It is very interesting longtime writers and bloggers (not employed by Nascar) are throwing up their hands and saying “No Mas”. Does Brian not see this? Fans hate The Chase and this version was sinfully bad, a one race “Champion” among 4 other drivers with 39 other drivers on the track. Why is it so hard to award just on points for the whole 36 races? I don’t need the PT Barnum show every minute, what I want is good racing..the rest is just nonsense and filler.

  13. Randy Charest says:

    Nascar like everything else today is never happy with how much they can make.They always have to squeeze another dollar if possible.Since speed channel got bought out now l have to pay extra which l refuse so l can watch qualifying and practice.Everything is to money oriented.its so sad where this country is going…god give us strength. …happy holidays

  14. jason flores says:

    NASCAR has completely lost its way. If you want “game 7 moments” watch baseball or the grass grow whichever is more exciting to you. This whole chase is ridiculous and contrary to what racing used to be it’s just stupid. Its probally to late to go back due to the short term money but they are doomed to fail. The Nintendo generation won’t keep watching and the old school won’t care.

  15. jason flores says:

    Just tried to post a FIRST TIME COMMENT but was censured by somebody who reminds me of north Korea what gives

  16. Dash Riprock says:

    I quit paying attention, after thirty five years, when NASCAR became nothing more than a highly engineer dependent spec series. Between that and the Waltrips constantly flapping their gums I have had enough.

  17. Russ says:

    Like everyone that’s responded I know that Nascar isn’t as important to me as it once was. Why? I really don’t know. Perhaps its that as I’ve gotten older other things have become more important. Or, perhaps since I became involved in the business side of racing the romantic illusions faded away.
    Maybe its just life.

  18. David D says:

    Stopped being a every race all race fan when NASCAR decided to build a series of what seems to be basically the same track, scattered around the country and drop some of the tracks that made the sport fun. Every rule or change NASCAR makes now seems to be for the benefit of the business of racing not the sport. Ah well , I’ll still catch a few races every season but am no longer a fanatic.

  19. Monte says:

    Relax. It just took me a little while to approve it. If you saw the volume of spam comments, you’d understand. Thanks for writing.

  20. Duane says:

    I watch just out of habit, usually fall asleep during the race and wake up to see the end after the “debris” caution to make the race exciting. I wish you Monte had a radio show to talk about nascar instead of the propaganda machine we have now. But the powers that be could care less if it all ended tomorrow they already have their billions. It is all business it stopped being a sport along time ago.

  21. Mike says:

    Great analysis and commentary, Monte. I guess I’m in the minority. I like the new format. I have no doubt that the drivers are all racing harder now, especially in the last 15 races, and that is what I want to see, hard racing every week. I don’t much care about the championship. It’s the races that matter to me.

  22. Fidel Prique says:

    While we slept peacefully, the pod people arrived, led by a chubby-cheeked ho-for-a-dollar with a hairdo from the planet Mongo.

    It all went downhill from there.

  23. Robert says:

    I too was once a fanatic Nascar fan. For me, the chase had been good however not the new chase. I find like many the first 400 miles of a 500 mile race don’t really matter. Sure driver might have a wreck or blow an engine at mile 100 but that doesn’t really effect the story only the names. It seems to me that a race was once a long story unfolding in a 4 hour window. I am not sure if it is a change in racing or a change in me. Perhaps it’s all the little things that have culminated over the years. The cars, the drivers, the sponsors, me as I mature (well get older, the jury is out on maturity.) I have just lost that connection to Nascar. Now that I think about it, I have lost that connection for most sports. Maybe it is just the over exposure of sports.

    On a side note I love the truck series. I watch that like I used to watch Sprint cup. The dirt race is awesome not because the racing is good but because it’s different. I also love road races now. When I was in love with Nascar I hated them. Go figure!

  24. Andy says:

    I enjoyed this year’s championship run more than any other in recent memory save for Stewart/Edwards in 2011. That’s not to say that I’ll continue to enjoy it, it was something new and exciting this year and the thrill may soon wear off. If we’re to have a chase, I like this year’s format but all in all I would prefer that we go back to having the entire season count. I’ve been following NASCAR since 1968 and I’ve seen good years and bad years. That’s just how life is.

  25. Al says:

    “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going, don’t freeze up”. From the Thomas Wolfe novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Did Brian France read the book? Perhaps it is coincidental but things started to decline when he took the helm.

    Every facet of the sport has contributed to the decline. In reality a book could be easily written as to why fans have left the sport. We are talking about millions of fans here. TV viewership is down over 2 million fans alone. Average track attendence has dropped around forty thousand to less then 90,000 per race.

    Funny but as I write this Fox News is covering the loss of Sprint as NASCAR’s title sponsor.

    There is one thing that remained consistent with the sport. No matter what happens the France Family wealth increases and that’s what it is all about.

  26. Wayne says:

    As always, excellent perspective expressed here by everyone. My addition would be for the Chase drivers to be on their own points system because in my view they are racing only each other as far as points go. They reset the point totals at each segment so why not reset the way points are earned? When they start the Chase, put those 16 guys on their own system and as the numbers are pared down, continue that. What is the downside to this? Merry Christmas everyone!

  27. Monte says:

    That’s probably the best defense, Mike. You like the new Chase because it makes individual races better. It’s not my view, obviously, but I think it’s entirely defensible if, as you say, that’s what you want.

  28. Tim Nejman says:

    I became a big NASCAR fan in the middle part of the 1996 season, but I considered myself a traditionalists. I was very angry when the Southern 500 was removed from Labor Day weekend. I understand that the “powers” wanted races in larger markets, but we got way too many cookie cutter tracks. These cookie cutter tracks were created so 15,000 people could show up for an IRL race. The lucky dog rule is bad enough but the wave around rule is awful. Jeff Gordon finished behind drivers who were four laps down with forty laps to go at Texas. My suggestions: re-configure Fontana to a Rockingham type track, Chicagoland would be great as an up/down design like North Wilkesboro, if you stick with double file restarts the first drivers a lap down start in row 5– 9th and 10th position. Drivers only receive the lucky dog if their in touch with the leader (no more than 10% behind the leader of the average lap time at the track). For example 16 second laps at Bristol you must be within1.6 seconds of the leader. The chase is awful but I watched for the excitement of the race rather than a contrived system to name a champion.

  29. jason flores says:

    I have agree with most of what you said. The “cookie cutter” tracks need to go, but cost is going to stop that. The lucky dog is ridiculous. NASCAR is the only form of racing you get a lap back for nothing . Totally stupid! Thing is NASCAR will throw more “debris” cautions to keep tv interested. TV rules! Although your 10 percent idea isn’t bad the average NASCAR fan couldn’t possibly figure that out so it won’t happen. Double file restarts are way better than the old way so we’ll leave it up to NASCAR to come up with a way to mess it up more than they have. Find it hard to watch anymore . The first 350 -400 miles just dont matter.

  30. jason flores says:

    The chase is a rip off of what the NHRA has been doing for years. Typical of NASCAR to claim they thought it up. This generation of France is totally lost. He should watch baseball or something if he wants “game 7 moments”. Used to be the guy who had the best season won now just stay close and hope for a miracle l

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