Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 20, 2018, 10:13 a.m.
Never have I more needed a night’s sleep to consider a stock car race.
Naturally, I didn’t sleep well. I awakened at 6:30, and, when I yanked at the covers with my legs, somehow the contents of the lamp table crashed into the carpet. It took quite a bit of time to find the damned remote control. Then I tried to go back to sleep and failed miserably.
I’ve been thinking about the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race, won by Kevin Harvick last night.
With reservations, I guess it was great. Great doesn’t often arrive with reservations. Maybe if it’s a vacation.
It was a radical change, and, at least where sports is concerned, I do not often like radical change. I would like to point out humbly that the sport’s precipitous decline has coincided with its radicalization. NASCAR’s leaders, almost alone in their solidarity, felt the sport needed change. They changed and they changed and they changed. Dr. Seuss could write a story about this.
Meanwhile, back in Whoville …
The sport sped off into the distance, leaving a cloud of Chase (not Elliott, till later), Cars of Tomorrow, phases and stages, circles and cycles … and scenes that we’ve all seen before (Willie Nelson).
I just looked up the lyrics of this great song and came across these: After carefully considering the whole situation I stand with my back to the wall / Walking is better than running away and crawling ain’t no good at all.
The fans got left behind. They had to start listening to what D.W. and Larry Mac said to figure out what the hell was going on, and, half the time, what they told them didn’t make much sense. They lost interest. They moved on, but most will tell you that’s what the sport did to them.
Maybe I’ve actually let myself get indoctrinated, but most of the people I see on a regular basis tell me they used to be big NASCAR fans but they aren’t anymore. I don’t ask them. They make a point of telling me. They don’t often tell me what they don’t like. It’s more like they ask me what they don’t like.
Why do you think it’s gotten so bad?
I don’t think NASCAR can stop the bleeding any time soon unless something crazy happens. Something that will pop up on the morning news and lead off Sportscenter. Nothing tragic, though. Something like a knock-down, drag-out battle for a win that culminates in the winner sliding across the finish line on his roof, then climbing out of the smoking heap and duking it out with the sidewinder who turned his car upside down and still finished second.
Then that hero would have to build on that legend for about a decade, at which point NASCAR might be back.
The race held my attention. It reminded me of The Winstons in the 1980s and ’90s, a time when it didn’t take restricted horsepower and a monstrous blade across the decklid to run a slobberknocker at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
I don’t know why it does now. I thought technology was our friend. It’s not.
This morning I threw my caution to the wind. Fans didn’t know what their tickets were buying last night, so there weren’t that many of them. I doubt the TV audience grew for the same reason. If this garish, exciting race is to do any good, it must be capitalized upon quickly.
For all the surprising runs to the front by suspects unused to being rounded up, Harvick still won. Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex won the segments.
I kind of feel ashamed that I liked it.
Some people said they didn’t even notice the much slower speeds. I did. The cars looked like they were dragging. My first thought was one of the old, unfortunate Sportsman races, and then I thought of ARCA and IROC.
This new package requires skill, but it’s that plate skill, that “is that hole big enough for me to fit in?” knack, and not the auto racing kind of skill dictated by the sensations of pants seats.
The highest level of stock car racing should be hard. It should mostly be run without cruise control.
Damned if I wouldn’t run it in the Coca-Cola 600, though. Damned if I wouldn’t announce it on Monday. Damned if I’m not ticked off at myself for writing it.
I read over and over this morning that it’s not happening. The owners wouldn’t stand for it. They get to veto anything that costs big bucks unless it’s in the interest of safety. On the other hand, they must have been persuaded to spend money for the all-star race. These are desperate times.
NASCAR has changed so much that it no longer has any choice in the matter.
For this and a variety of other reasons, I’ve learned to love the bomb this year.
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