Monday, September 23, 2013

The Negative DNA of NASCAR Fans

Of course, God loves circles best. The circle was his most basic and elemental concept. The earth is round, as is the sun and the moon and the stars and they all circle around one another. The tastiest fruits and vegetables are round and most flower petals circle around the center. First, came the circle so, I hope you don't consider it blasphemous of me to say, I'm pretty sure NASCAR is God's favorite form of auto racing.

Since God doesn't give us the benefit of his opinion, I'm going to throw out mine instead.

I just finished my latest Fan Council survey. Every week, after every race, NASCAR sends out these questionnaires to selected fans. In those surveys, fans can declare whether they believe races are the right length, too long or too short. They can rate the racing action and the television coverage. There are also inquiries that apply only to certain races - two-car tandem or pack racing, more or fewer road courses, green/white/checkered or not?  At the end of the survey is a blank place for respondents to say whatever is on their mind.

I often wonder if the employees who compile the results of the Fan Council surveys have any hair or if they are bald from pulling it all out. Mass confusion must reign in the counting room Or however the counting is done. Maybe they let computers do it for the sake of maintaining worker sanity.

My mornings begin with a run-through of all the major NASCAR sites – SPEED, Yahoo, ESPN, Fox and, naturally. I read the articles as well as the comments about the articles. If this daily routine has taught me anything at all, it is that expecting NASCAR fan-atics to agree on anything is hopeless. If there is one single thing on which they most often do come down on the same side, it is that NASCAR is wrong on almost every issue, and this is true even among fans who disagree with one another about everything else.

Fans hate the Lucky Dog and the Chase. They hate Start and Parkers and every network that broadcasts the races. They believe NASCAR throws phantom cautions except when they don’t throw enough cautions, allowing one driver stink up the show. NASCAR lets one driver get away with murder and penalizes another for biting his fingernails. Their drug testing program can’t be trusted. Everyone knows a driver can test positive for accidentally ingesting a single sesame seed. They have teams in a box that’s too tight, stifling innovation; they need to rein in these cheating crew chiefs. They call rained out races too soon; they put fans at risk by not calling races soon enough. They let “boys, have it” go dangerously too far; they chickened out and didn’t let “boys, have at it” go far enough.

Mike Helton is an idiot; Robin Pemberton is a fool and Brian France is the Destroyer of All That’s Wonderful about NASCAR. They don’t even get credit for good intentions although why it would be in the sanctioning body’s best interests to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs is beyond me. Pure meanness, I guess.

It didn’t used to be this way, you know? Not when NASCAR was perfect. Not when the good old boy drivers were men among men. Not when owners carted their racecars to the track on the back of a flatbed, wondering how they’d manage to buy another set of tires. Not when crew chiefs knew every trick in the book for getting something past NASCAR (it was clever then, not cheating).

Every championship in the modern era should have an asterisk beside it because they don’t count the same as they did in the Golden Years. No one should ever be allowed to match our heroes’ (The King and The Intimidator, respectively) record seven championships. (Normally, we hate NASCAR “fixing” things but in this case.....) Back then, if you recall, every race ended in a bumping and grinding last lap drag-race to the finish. (You say there were times when the winner was laps ahead instead of only seconds – I don’t want to hear about those).

So, I believe NASCAR should drop the Fan Council and stop trying to please impossible to satisfy fans. The more NASCAR gives, the more fans demand until they have become a mob of tin-pot dictators who threaten to give up NASCAR in favor of watching paint dry if their every whim is not catered to.

I don’t believe they’ll really do it anyway because week after week I read the same whiny posts on the NASCAR sites. They say the race was so boring, they slept through it but they still seem to know everything that happened on the track. They still managed to count every commercial. They still knew that Jimmie had a tire rolling out of his pit box until a NASCAR official stopped it! (Aha...if that’s not a conspiracy, I don’t know what is!)

Yes, I know how important fans are. Yes, I know it is our dollars spent at the tracks and our eyes on our television sets that make NASCAR viable. I know it is our passion and patronage that make sponsors willing to invest in our sport to the tune of millions of dollars a year. It know it is us our willingness to buy diecast cars and have 88’s tattooed on our arms and deck ourselves out in Jeff Gordon regalia that make NASCAR special.

But won’t we do that anyway even if NASCAR does what NASCAR does best and makes the rules about cautions and rain-outs and points systems? We talk off the top of our heads while they study complex issues, top to bottom, and try to assess the possible consequences of every decision. Do we really know what the ramifications of running Sprint Cup cars in the rain might be? Do we really know who might win or lose if Start and Parkers were booted out of NASCAR?  Is scheduling the calendar of tracks NASCAR runs on as easy as some of us seem to think?

That’s not to say I don’t believe NASCAR shouldn’t consider fans at all. If there is overwhelming agreement about something, such as instituting double-file restarts, then yes, of course, our contributions can be invaluable.

But in the day to day scheme of things, I think NASCAR shouldn’t make rule changes so often in a desperate effort to try to please its fans. It appears to be part of the DNA of a NASCAR fan to complain so, do your own thing, NASCAR, and don’t worry about trying to accomplish the impossible.