It happens every year but it still feels funny. An October weekend with no F1 race, or a Tudor Sports Car race, or an IndyCar race. But wait, there is always NASCAR!
NASCAR drivers are competing to continue into their playoff season and stakes are high. My curiosity was peeked last week when mainstream media got excited over a murky video of a driver running/scuffling/whatever between NASCAR transports and the news that Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and Denny Hamlin had exchanged paint with Penske driver Brad Keselowski on and off the track and Kenseth, in the video, was chasing him with a view to possibly harming him. As it happens he reportedly got him in a headlock. But the real news for fans was the fact that mild mannered Kenseth was involved at all. NASCAR must have felt the same way as they fined Keselowski $50K, Tony Stewart $25K, and Kenseth not a dime. In subsequent interviews with Kenseth and Hamlin, financial correctness prevailed. Each driver mentioned the name of his sponsors and their team and their car manufacturer and then described his part in the affair. All quite different.
In a pre-“NASCAR American Family” era, before drivers stood on the grid with all their living relatives and we got to watch their wives agonize over whether husbands would win the Duck Commander 500, when drivers and pit crews fought, punches got thrown and people fell down, NASCAR projected a far different image. They appear to have forgotten the impact that the fight Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison had on ratings when they tangled on the cool down lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. . “An estimated 16 million people watched the race, a number that jumped to nearly 20 million over the closing laps. CBS won an Emmy for the broadcast, televised the Daytona 500 until 2000 and showed a fledgling cable network called ESPN the value of the racing business.”
A driver’s reputation counted for something then. Fast fists and a feisty disposition were prized driver attributes. Among many others in NASCAR’s history, a hot tempered AJ Foyt and humorless Parnelli Jones were not men to be trifled with on the track because eventually you would meet them in the pits. The aforementioned drivers were the American alpha males of their age and, not surprisingly, they never tangled. Veteran pit people also thought that Foyt was very wise. Parnelli and the angelic looking Mark Donahue, an equally fierce competitor, did their fighting on the track in Mustangs and Camaros. Jones introduced overt revenge wrecking to road racing. It shocked the sporty-car crowd establishment organizers but it thrilled the fans.
The difference in the times? Today, Tony Stewart is the only driver in the pits who still reacts in the old fashioned way. And his recent troubles in a modified race probably have an effect on that also. One week after the blow-up and fines, Keselowski won the Geico Talladega 500 with Kenseth pushing him across the line to finishing second. Despite Roger Penske’s endorsement of his actions, the fact remains that had this happened 40 years ago someone would have insured that he met the wall in Talladega early, unintentionally, of course.
Denise McCluggage joins us again this week and writes a follow-up to her recent Range Rover trek to her ancestral home of Tin Cup, Colorado.
Denise is currently recovering nicely from surgery to replace a poorly performing hip. This is her second such restoration and we know you join us in wishing her a hearty “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” She is in good company as she is recovering in Albuquerque, tribal home of the Unsers and the Unser Racing Museum.
Please visit our Photo Gallery for more images from The Santa Fe Concorso.
Feedback: Sochi Sucks!
We were correct and so was Alonso. The Russian race was boring and it turns out there was a technical reason why. All the drivers were running out of their allotted fuel ration and dialed back the engine performance in order to finish. Brilliant! And boring.
Also on the Sochi post we suggested that perhaps Bob Varsha, Tommy Kendall, and Justin Bell would add a more American (We know Bell is British, but he is funnier than hell and we want him anyway) flavor to US F1 coverage. WHAT THINK YOU?
Have a great weekend and please don’t forget to share this newsletter with a friend.
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