‘Those Who Cannot Change their Minds Cannot Change Anything’*

Kevin Harvick (left) and Rodney Childers’ rampage continues. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 13, 2018, 10:43 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

On Saturday night in the plains of Kansas, a rousing Monster Energy NASCAR Cup conclusion provided an ornate exclamation point to what had been heretofore uneventful. Several times before the KC Masterpiece 400, rousing races came to uneventful ends.

Kevin Harvick has won both kinds.

Every sport has its parallel outcomes. Every sport has games that are wretched from start to finish and others that are breathtaking throughout, as does NASCAR.

To quote yet another country song: Some gotta win / Some gotta lose / Good Time Charlie’s got the blues.

Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski duel. (Sarah Crabil/Getty Images photo)

The world – and the NASCAR fan base – is made up of optimists and pessimists.

Sure, the finish was great, but the rest of the race was a snoozer.

Most of the race was boring, but the end was classic.

Those are the same views, spun differently.

Even though two drivers, Harvick and Kyle Busch, have combined to win two thirds of the races, the season has been full of surprises.

No, young drivers do no rule.

No, Fords are not outdated. Quite the contrary.

No, a new Camaro model hasn’t offered a stern challenge to Toyota superiority. No, in fact, there is no Toyota superiority.

The Daytona 500 did not bode widespread good fortune for anyone.

(Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo)

This is not the first time I have pointed out the vast difference between the atmosphere at the track and the atmosphere in the old country.

Here, where traditionally the TV ratings for stock car races have been among the highest in the country, the alienation is oppressive. Most of what I read is about the disappearance of NASCAR enthusiasm in the young, and it’s true. But people here in Laurens County know that I spent many years writing about NASCAR. I meet many people nowadays for vastly different reasons, but if they know me at all, it is because they identify me with NASCAR.

NASCAR is as far from the youth radar as a shipwreck off the Galapagos. Most people who complain to me are older.

Two weeks ago, I was leaving a luncheon for honor students, and a member of the sponsoring Rotary Club approached me to ask that familiar question.

What’s wrong with NASCAR?

I was talking on the phone a few days ago with a coach who had taken a job elsewhere.

“I appreciate your time,” I said.

“Hey,” he said. “Before you go, could I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“What’s wrong with NASCAR?”

I’ve got the spiel down. The standard shortcut involves saying it’s easy to cite reasons but hard to determine where they lie in terms of importance. Sometimes I say it’s hard to solve a problem if the powers that be don’t acknowledge any exist.

In 2004, the Year of the Chase in the France calendar, NASCAR started changing everything at a dizzying pace. It was at about the height of its popularity.

After winning Friday night’s Truck race, Noah Gragson shows off his Spidey skills. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo)

Some trace the beginning of the end to Dale Earnhardt’s death, but, in the short run, NASCAR grew in the tragic aftermath. The sudden loss of its most legendary figure focused attention on the sport, and many people who had cared little for “car racing” started paying close attention, and NASCAR’s self-proclaimed visionary king, Brian Z. France, wanted to capitalize.

Kudzu didn’t have as many unforeseen consequences.

The changes got rave reviews at the track. After all, the hosannas came from those who loved the changes, not the ones who were growing more and more disillusioned by the day.

For almost a decade and a half, NASCAR has been changing and shrinking at the same time. One would think some of those smart fellows would have seen some correlation.

Out with the old! In with the new! Out with the success! In with the failure!

I’m a lifer. I loved racing from the first time I saw it on a quarter-mile dirt track in Greenwood, S.C., that was bulldozed a few years later. Two decades later I could still see the crumbling grandstands of that track each night when I drove into the parking lot to write about minor-league baseball.

This is not meant to be some definitive explanation. My views have been disseminated many times on this site and in other places before it, even before blogs and websites existed. I spent decades writing about the great hunt to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. The Lords of Daytona Beach took many shots at the old bird, but I don’t think they honed in on her until late 2003.

Maybe NASCAR sold its soul, and the Devil came a-calling. Literature provides many applicable allusions.

They change and change and change. Wasn’t there ever one of those smart guys who stumbled upon the notion that what the sport needed was to regain?

*George Bernard Shaw.

 

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(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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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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