But That Was Back Before the Fall

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Stately Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Stately Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Clinton, S.C., Friday, July 25, 2014, 2:30 p.m.

I think a lot about the way things used to be. You’ll have that with washed-up sports writers. It’s a consequence of age. One looks back more once there’s more to see.

Back in the early nineties, most of us stayed in the same motels. The majority of tracks booked rooms for us, often because it was difficult to find rooms in places like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham if someone didn’t set some aside. Many of the motels were friendly dumps, but they were close to the tracks, and we didn’t do anything in them but sleep and drink beer. I was only vaguely aware that motel points existed, though I was aware of the benefits of frequent flying. Most of the time, we shared rooms.

Coincidentally, the first time I ever had a drink of cognac was in, of all places, North Wilkesboro.

During the first few years of the Brickyard 400, many of us stayed in one of those motels that seemed to have a new name every year. It was within walking distance of the Indianapolis racers’ hangout, Union Jack Pub, and that was before racers stopped hanging out. The motel also had a Mexican joint nearby, and Mexican joints invariably serve cheap beer in very large glasses, which made them well suited to me, Larry Woody, and Jim McLaurin, in particular. The track was easy to reach from there, which was fortunate because sometimes we might not have been inclined to arrive early on race morning.

We got invited to lots of social functions. What were media-driver golf tournaments in the nineties are now titans of industry/driver/charity golf tournaments followed by a fifty-dollars-a-plate dinner. Where it was once a sleeve of Titleists, now it’s a thousand-dollar raffle for a yacht. I played golf back then because I’d have been a fool not to. There were lots of pool parties, a few of which had even been planned. We shot skeet and drank margaritas, or, wait, maybe we shot margaritas and drank skeet. One track gave out free homemade liquor.

Oddly, I remember that clearly.

When NASCAR first came to Indy, in spite of the obligatory dump in which to sleep, we thought we were in high cotton, which I do not think is a word of racial derision in spite of the fact that it contains the word “cotton.” Redskins? An altogether different matter, but it’s apparently all right to be “Braves,” I guess, because they are brave. I’m wearing a cotton shirt, and, when cotton is high, I think there’s a potential to make more of them, most likely in Malaysia.

As usual, I digress.

Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I've seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.

Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I’ve seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.

For about the first ten Brickyard 400s, it never occurred to me that it was a boring race. It wasn’t like Daytona, but neither is Darlington or Richmond or Watkins Glen. I always liked watching a Jeff Gordon or a Dale Jarrett stalk another driver, and, similar to the Indy 500, I just found it exciting to watch the cars dive into turns one and three and drift out to the wall in the short chutes. Two days ago, I watched replays of the races in 1994 and 1998. I still didn’t think they were boring.

I haven’t been to Speedway, Indiana, since 2011. In 2012, my last on the beat, my sister died shortly before the race. I don’t think the racing has gotten more boring, or that it even is. What I think is that the 2008 tire debacle killed the race. People got pissed off, justifiably, and the officials of NASCAR and Goodyear acted like the Habsburg Dynasty instead of the representatives of an activity that relied on working people to succeed.

NASCAR remains in a malaise, and it’s not just the economy, or any of the other bajillion reasons cited. All of them are a part of the reason, but it just went out of style, not to me, not to you, but to the people I see around my hometown. I hear it everywhere, from the nurse taking my blood pressure to the optometrist reviewing the tiny veins and arteries wrapped around my eyes, from a friend’s son playing high school football to a onetime teammate of mine shipping a package at the post office.

“Man, I used to love NASCAR,” they say, over and over, male and female, young and old. “Now I don’t pay any attention to it.”

They never say why. It’s because they don’t know, either. Who knows how and why anything goes out of style? Certainly not NASCAR.

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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22 Responses to But That Was Back Before the Fall

  1. Wayne says:

    I know why they don’t watch anymore. When I first became old enough to drink everybody drank Schlitz beer , had to have it. Then 30 years ago it was Miller in the clear bottle. There was a time when you had to have a Members Only jacket. A few years ago all my friends were playing golf, now none of them are playing anymore. All fads that went away. In the nineties people I know who never knew racing existed we’re paying attention,watching, going, buying scanners, etc. Now these same people no longer care because the fad has passed. Maybe on to some new fad. How a fad starts is hard to figure out, but they all seem to end, leaving only those who are truly interested, like me.

  2. Dave says:

    It’s sad to see Nascar become a “fad”. It is the epitome of American motorsports. But when the Little Prince BZF started tinkering with the sport to make it all things to all people, he failed..the product then becomes a fad. BZF tries to cater to the 15 minute attention span crowd..they look..they rant..they (claim) to boycott sponors and when their carnage is complete..armed with pitchforks in hand are on to the next institution to rant against. BZF, hasn’t figured that out, sadly.

  3. Ronny Crooks says:

    Good job Monte , miss seeing u at the track

  4. Monte says:

    Thanks, Ronny. I hope our paths cross again.

  5. Daniel says:

    Well said Monte. NASCAR’s time has come and gone.
    Unlike earlier days, our personal cars are nothing like the competing “stock cars.”
    Repetitive nose to tail lane jostling is too much like our daily commuting.
    A “Fast and Furious” and uncounted similar movies and video games provide far more entertaining car action than NASCAR reality.
    On TV, the too numerous mile and a halfs come off as same race different name.
    Shorter, multi-stage events such as Global Rally Cross better suit the attention span of younger motorheads.
    On and on….
    Time for “The Rise and Fall of the NASCAR Empire” by Monte Dutton.

  6. Bill H says:

    NASCAR has never been more than a niche sport and never will be. France developed delusions of grandeur and tried to build it up to a sport of national interest, and the novelty attracted quite a lot of people, but the novelty soon wore off and it is returning the the niche that it once held and which is its true place.

    Those of us who love it do so for reasons which we cannot even say. We just do. And if you aren’t one of us than you aren’t and no amount of rock bands at the track and hyping of “chase” arrangements at the end of the season is going to make you one of us. If you aren’t exciyed about being involved for one race then you aren’t excited about 36 of them.

  7. Tony Geinzer says:

    Sometimes, Monte, folks get too demanding for their incomes. I feel, even now, it has to be the Brickyard 400 brought to you by No Nobody Else, even though I am not a snob by any means, but, I’m more protective about the Brickyard 400. Also, TV tends to guess wrong about the Brickyard and I’d tend to have it be Saturday Day or Night. Also, I think the contraction of the Indianapolis Business Economy has hurt, too, and its tough for me, even though its my 2nd Hometown only because I always felt people treated me better on the road than at home.

  8. Brett says:

    I was once a huge NASCAR fan. Watched every race, and if I couldn’t watch I recorded it to watch as soon as I got free. Now I watch ‘none’ at all. I went to at least 2-races every year, and every BY400 from 1994-2010.

    It just kept changing into something I no longer care for. Too many of the tracks are almost identical now, while eliminating or ‘changing’ many of the good ole traditional tracks …Phoenix, Atlanta, Darlington, Rockingham. ISC,…and their quest to own & monopolize racing in America no matter who the squash or push-out to do it. The Chase, it’s just bogus. Green-White-Checker,…now a 500-mile race might be 500 miles, of 502, or 505, etc. The cars no longer look like their factory-counterparts,…ie ‘stock’ cars. Too many ‘super’ or mega-teams,…no more ‘little guys’. And mostly just too much wrecking,…especially in the closing laps.

    Way, way too much wrecking for a supposed top-notch series with supposedly the best oval-drivers. Not to mention the over-zealous commentators hyping everything. I loved DW & Larry Mac in their respective roles in racing, now their just irritating.

    Sadly it’s no longer racing, it’s racer-tainment,…or wreck-tainment. Brian France is no Big Bill France,…he’s ruined the sport in my opinion. I’m done until things change drastically.

  9. Virgil L.Burkey says:

    Mr. Dutton,

    Still enjoy reading your occasional articles. At least you tell it like it is. I too, was once an avid diehard NASCAR fan. Went to 5-6 races a year, most courtesy of Ford Motor Sports in their suites.

    However, since Brian France took over, I have lost most interest. I still follow the sport, but not like I used to. I may turn the race on, but only flip back to it during commercials during a baseball/ football game and maybe the last 20 laps or so depending on the size of the track. I have no desire to attend a race and have turned down FREE tickets, even in the VIP suites.

    In no specific order, it started with the COT. Being in the Auto industry, generic looking cars did nothing but lessen our brand. Then there is the Chase. What a waste. There is no way NASCAR will ever become a stick and ball sport. Brian France keeps trying to emulate them and continuously tweeks the Chase format. The old Championship format was fine, it is what needed tweaked, i.e. (more emphasis on giving more points for winning with a drastic reduction from 2- 10th place, and no points for any one 31st or lower.

    It used to be, if you walked into a bar on race day the race was always on. Now if you walk into a bar and ask them to switch the TV so you can get an update and running order of the race, they look at you as if you are from some other planet or ask if you mean the tour de france our some marathon.

    Alas, NASCAR will never be the same. It’s only hope for survival is for Brian France to step down and let someone like you or Matt McLaughlin or some other wise sage from when things were good.

  10. Steven says:

    There used to be a means of progression upwards, for example Ron Bouchard. He raced at nearly every Northeast track before getting a ride in Cup. Many people watched Ron when he was in the bigtime. Logano is from CT but nobody saw him race here weekly. Danicant the celebrity had a sugardaddy so she’s in with the big boys, no need to bother with the little people. In contrast nobody can get into the Superbowl without talent. Hit the Powerball and you can race at Daytona.

  11. Mike Ray says:

    Great night at Wake County Speedway,Raleigh,N.C. last night!Going to bang out a story tomorrow before Charles Stanley airs at 10am.Should be on racerap.com late Sunday.I might go paint my racecar and listen to Indy on the radio.The articles you write are always excellent;if I knew the answer,I’d try and help the gang down south and take you with me, Ms.Hotrod and the Miss Priss the Maine Coon won’t work the track anymore,they retired!Peace,out!

  12. MarkM says:

    This year I’ve watched a total of four races on TV; the Daytona 500 & the Coke Zero 400. the All-Star race & the Coca-Cola 600, the least I’ve watched in a single season that I can ever remember, dating back to attending my first NASCAR Grand National, (pre-Winston Cup), race at Charlotte in 1968.

    Where did it end for me? It’s hard to exactly place the exact point. Losing Alan Kulwicki, whom I was not only a fan of, but knew personally to an extent was the beginning of the end for me.

    Looking back further though, the introduction of the radial tire starting in 1989 was a contributor, (though I didn’t realize it at the time), because it lead to so many once exciting tracks, (such as Michigan), becoming little more than follow-the-leader parades. The dreaded “aero-push” which the COT was supposed to address, which also help to eliminate side by side racing. The COT itself. The twisted up anteater looking cars just prior to the COT. The clueless way FOX, (& ESPN/ABC since they returned), broadcast races, acting as if the fans forget everything we know about NASCAR racing from one week to the next & have to have it explained to us yet again. “Boogity-boogity-boogity”. Digger. Hearing DW & Larry Mac gasping for air as each one breathlessly tries to out-talk the other. The idiotic “managing” of the sport by Brian France & Mike Helton, along with their minions. The endless hype, smoke & mirrors used in an attempt to hide the fact that the sport has essentially died, & what we have now is merely an empty shell.

    And to think that I used to never miss a single race, (either in person or on TV), & I once wrote about it as you did, (albeit online), & was even published in the first “Chicken Soup For The NASCAR Soul” book. Now I could simply care less about NASCAR, & that’s sad.

  13. Another Dave says:

    NASCAR sold its soul to make it big. Ever known that to be a long-term winning strategy?

  14. Johnnie says:

    Although I would agree on the ’98 400 being a good race, I’d say it was possibly the point where NASCAR was starting to curve away from racing and more towards a glitzy marketing show. For example, the “No Bull 5” cars having money sign markings on the rear passenger windows looking like they came from a Saturday morning cartoon (and the race was still a Saturday afternoon date) and NASCAR’ s insistence on a green flag finish (the sight of the car of Jimmy Spencer being towed off while he was still in the car after his crash just after suffering a concussion, then the crash at the last restart making the green/yellow finish look a lot like the ’67 Indy 500 ending) was a sign of things to come – which, sadly, is true.

  15. Al Torney says:

    You knew I’d have something to say about this. Actually I agree with all of the above very well written comments. Sine BZF took over fans have been bombarded with wait for this, wait for that. The constant reminder that things will improve in th future. I guess the fans go tired of waiting. In fact I think the fans got tired of the rhetoric that NASCAR was listening to them. They probably were listening but it was going in one ear and out the other.

    I totally agree with Steven. NASCAR is living the CART-IRL problem. Not the split but bringing in drivers who bring no fans with them. In addition NASCAR is reaching out to the groups of people who have the least amount of disposable income: Under 25 year olds, Hispanics and African-Americans. This is not a slur on these folks it’s just a pure fact.

  16. Charles Wll says:

    Once upon a time I was a fan. That was back when characters drove brand name “stock” cars. Now all the cars are the same as are the drivers. No matter who wins the same guy gets out of the car and reads or from memory does the same things as the guy last week did. In short its boring.

  17. W in Augusta says:

    What a great blog post by Monte and spot on observations by each person commenting. I say ditto to each one and I’ll add that I have never considered BZF a fan of our sport. His dad and grandfather were fans, benevolent dictators yes, but fans still. I surely miss the characters we used to watch and listen to. Bowyer is the closest thing we have to a character these days and even he has been real quiet lately.

  18. David says:

    Found where someone posted the 1999 Drivers Reunion on YouTube. Most enjoyable 4+ hours of NASCAR viewing I’ve had in a long time.

    Loved the stories.

    Was nice to see DW in a position where he wasn’t the show … Matter of fact most of his stories were “corrected” by Dick Beatty, the Allisons and other drivers.

    Those were the days

  19. Tim S. says:

    A big factor for me is this emphasis on championship championship championship all the time every time. They’ll talk about the individual event briefly if it’s a special case, like which of the Glimmer Twins gets to 5 Indy wins first, because that’s a real hand-wringer, not. The rest of the time it’s all points as they run chase standings not locked in time running out win and you’re in whew clinched a spot. Hooray.

  20. W in Augusta says:

    My wife asks me every week why I have the sound muted during the race.

  21. Mike Riffle says:

    The reason I don’t watch is they have forced parity down the throats of the fans. The days of the independent racer that made the sport are gone. A Bobby Allison wouldn’t make it in todays oligarchical world of Nascar. They shot themselves in the foot with the Chase and continued tinkering of the car. 20 years ago you cold name the great engine builders of the sport. Good luck now. Creative genius of drivers and crew chiefs are gone, the car is cookie cutter and now for the short attention span fan they have to put the drivers names on the window of the car. There are hundreds of guys around the country that could be in a Nascar ride, Bubba Pollard and Augie Grill come to mind, but they don’t carry the Nascar pedigree, nor the huge check like Danica. So the talent pool is diluted. They ran a great tire company out of the sport with the piss poor excuse of the Tire Wars. Goodyear can’t get it right after all these years, Firestone walked after putting up with the France BS. You hit it on the head Monte, Nascar lives with dictatorial blinders on and have chased many like me away from the sport. My money is now spent with the Southern Super Late model series, where guys still get up on the wheel and every now and then there is the occasional sleight of hand magic done with the car. Then when they get busted they lose the purse and the points but then they don’t have to bend over and grab the ankles for the sponsor like in Nascar. The inmates now run the asylum in Nascar.

  22. Monte says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I sympathize, obviously.

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