Who said everything was great? Not me
Goodness knows I love it when people call me “fat boy,” or make jokes about me “ruffling feathers behind the KFC.”
Every time I see that, I know that person has nothing when it comes to the actual issue at hand. It’s like politics. When all else fails, go personal.
Yes, I read the comments people leave on the blogs I write. Good and bad. And in reading the comments under the long one I wrote Monday about the six biggest myths held dear by some of NASCAR’s fans, I couldn’t help but laugh.
That blog was a little over 4,000 words. In all honesty, I was hoping they’d run one of them each day for a week or so. That way, it wouldn’t be so much to read in one sitting. I know you guys have better things to do than to read 4,000 words of my opinions in one sitting. I am not quite that arrogant.
But there they all are, in one long blog. I am happy people read as much as they did.
My point, pretty much any time I write a column or blog expressing my opinion, is to at least try to make people think about their own opinions and challenge them. It’s certainly not that I think people are “dumb” for having any opinion they might have.
Actually, the truth is I am counting on people to use the intelligence I think they have to do their own thinking and not let others to it for them.
I don’t care, ultimately, if you agree with me or not.
I really don’t. I do care, though, if you’re forming your opinions on suppositions and lies that have come to be accepted as “truth” because somebody has hollered them so loud and so long enough that people have started to believe them.
Monday morning I got an e-mail from somebody about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. It was one of those things that somebody had told him to “pass along” so everyone could know the “truth,” and I was urged to do the same.
Pretty much every word in it, of course, was pure lies. The e-mail even said “all of this has been proved to be true, you can check it out here” with a link to snopes.com.
Well, I clicked on the link and it took me to the snopes.com home page. I typed Obama’s name into the search function and the first thing that came up was something that denied virtually every line of the e-mail that had referred me to the site!
So I replied to the sender and said, “Please stop this. I don’t care who you support or despise, but it’s not right to pass along lies.”
The replay I got back was this: “I was just sending what was sent to me.” That’s what passes for analysis and examination these days, and I think that stinks.
Every one of those myths I tried to challenge are based on suppositions and assumptions that just don’t hold up when you really look at them. That’s what I tried to point out in each of them.
I never, ever said I had all of the right answers. All I tried to do was ask some meaningful, pertinent questions and challenge people to think about what they believe.
I also never said in any way that all is right with the NASCAR world.
Neither did I say that NASCAR shouldn’t worry that many of its fans who part of its core base are disgruntled, which is why many of those fans are prone to fall for such half-baked truths as the six myths to start with.
Basically, what I am saying is that the things NASCAR should be focusing on are some of the real problems that can and should be fixed – or at least worked on.
Things like: No. 6: Declining television ratings. The big problem NASCAR has there is that it’s responsible for making ratings the ultimate gauge of success and failure that it has come to be.
When the ratings news was good for NASCAR as it moved into the network television era, it’s all the networks and NASCAR wanted to talk about.
NASCAR officials will tell you that they never sent out a press release from the NASCAR public relations office trumpeting good television ratings, and technically there’s truth in that. The TV partners sent those releases out, most likely at NASCAR’s urging.
All NASCAR did was point to them every time somebody started talking about how great things were going for the sport. And you bet your sweet bippy they pointed them out to advertisers wanting to buy time on television broadcasts, too.
Now that the ratings have turned downward, NASCAR is telling you how poorly ratings actually measure the viewing audience.
Well, they can’t have it both ways.
The idea behind moving starting times all around was to push the ends of races back toward the start of prime time on Sundays, which is when the television audience is typically bigger than it is all week. It also, in theory, meant later starts in more western time zones with the idea that would increase viewership, too.
Well, it flat hasn’t worked. That might not be the cause for the decline, but it certainly hasn’t been the solution.
I think fans who clamor for regular start times – 1 p.m. Eastern for Sunday races not held in the Western U.S., for example – are right. And I think NASCAR needs to at least try that for a year or two to see if it helps.
No. 5: Doubts about officiating. I don’t believe NASCAR races are fixed. I don’t believe they can be, and if they had been somebody would have squawked about it by now. But you didn’t see that as one of my “myths,” did you?
There’s a reason. I don’t think the people making the competition calls can’t be called on having a conflict of interest. A lot of the guys in the control tower on race day also have a lot to do with doing the business of NASCAR. It’s impossible to separate the two completely, and improper not to try as hard as you can to do precisely that.
The finish of the 2007 Daytona 500 is the perfect example. If NASCAR had thrown a caution flag on the final lap when it SHOULD have (and when it WOULD have on any other lap but the final lap), there wouldn’t have been a side-by-side finish between Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin.
There would, instead, have been a huge controversy over however NASCAR called a winner based on scoring loops and video tapes. It would have been a huge mess. That still doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do, though. It would have.
From a business standpoint, letting the leaders race to the line provided a heart-stopping finish that was memorable for the fans. But if the people making that call had no stake in the sport’s business, and were just calling balls and strikes, in-bounds or out-of-bounds or anything black and white like that, they would have thrown a yellow and dealt with the consequences.
Do that enough times, consistently, and eventually fans will have to say, “Well, they call it the same way every time, you have to give them that.”
Make the calls based on the rules. Not on who sells the most T-shirts, or what’s going to make the better clip for ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
No. 4: The old “wink and nod” toward cheating. There’s no use for me to plow this ground again. If you’ve ever read a word I’ve written on this topic or heard a word I’ve said on the radio, you know where I stand.
You cheat? Buh-bye.
If you bring a car to my inspection line that has an obvious effort to circumvent my rulebook on it, pack it up and get it out of here. And you go home with it, because you’re not racing.
We’ve got guys we’re sending home with legal race cars, and you want to bring your tricked-up junk into my show in their place? You have to be kidding me.
And please don’t start with me about how I am strangling “innovation.” What I am doing is making sure people play fair. Some people believe that every advancement in the chassis, the engines and the bodies on cars made in the past 30 years came from somebody “pushing the envelope.”
The really smart people are the ones who make their cars better and faster and DON’T run wind up fined and or suspended.
Send a team home for a race, deny their fans the right to see them compete and tell them why.
Watch how fast cheating dries up. I promise you that it would happen.
Heck, you don’t really even have to send the team and the car and the driver all home. Just change the rule that now makes the crew chief the responsible party for his team’s actions.
Make it the driver.
Put his butt on the line and see how many times and owner and/or a sponsor will put up with any crew chief’s shenanigans.
No. 3: It’s the economics, stupid. Should NASCAR be worried that people are being priced out of being fans? You’re danged skippy. Tickets cost too much. Hotel rooms cost too much. It costs way too much to camp at the track.
Some of those costs NASCAR or the race tracks don’t have the slightest bit of control over.
Maybe there are some people who think that Brian France has a hand in the price of a gallon of unleaded fuel or how much it costs to buy a case of beer, but I don’t.
None of that is the problem, though. They’re all symptoms of the problem.
Here’s what happens in racing, or pretty much any business, for that matter. Every so often, the business reinvents itself. Some fundamentals remain, but the model shifts and the people who figure out where that shift is going to land get there first and get in position to reap the success that comes with that format.
It’s much easier to do that when things are going well. It’s one big reason why the rich get richer. If you have things going your way, the day-to-day business stuff sort of takes care of itself and you can spend a little more time and money looking down the road.
Conversely, if you’re running around putting out fires trying to get the doors opened each day, there’s not a lot left for what the experts call “strategic thinking.”
NASCAR’s kind of in the middle of that spectrum right now, I think. Five years ago, it had its ducks pretty much in a row on the day-to-day front, but the luxury of long-term thinking got blunted by the looming change of the guard from Bill France Jr., whose health was beginning to falter, to his son, Brian.
If you want to think Brian France is the village idiot, you knock yourself out. I know better.
But it is absolutely true that he brought with him to the leadership position of stock-car racing a completely different mindset from the one his father and his grandfather had. The old way of thinking was pretty engrained at NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, so deeply that the shift Brian brought with him has met with some resistance.
If and when NASCAR gets to where Brian France wants to take it from a business standpoint, will he have led it to the right place ahead of the curve in the way that leads to true success? If so, all of the other economic concerns that we get so worked up about from day to day will work themselves out nicely.
Or will it be miles off the track with little immediate hope of getting back to where it was, let alone where it needs to be? For now, frankly, that remains an open question. That’s the really significant, and scary, fact for this sport.
No. 2: The Tiger Woods Syndrome If you want to be upset by something Brian France has said recently, here’s what it ought to be.
In response to a question about millions of dollars' worth of losses in 2007 by Motorsports Authentics. In a nutshell, he said NASCAR’s merchandising business has gone hat over tea kettle because Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a bad year on the track.
What? Look, without over-explaining things here let me just ask you one question. If I told you that only one driver sold significantly more product last year than he did the year before, who do you think that would be?
Earnhardt Jr., of course.
How, then, is he personally responsible for a sea of red ink washing across the “trinkets and trash” end of the NASCAR business?
Racing needs stars that the fans embrace. The key letter in that sentence is the “s” on the end of the word star. When Tiger Woods exploded onto the scene in golf, he gave the PGA Tour an almost immeasurable boost. But right now, that pendulum has swung a bit too far. What professional golf thirsts for right now are players – even one player – who can capture that sport’s imagination to anything close to the same degree Woods does.
If your city has a PGA Tour event right now, it’s either a Tiger Woods event or it’s not a Tiger Woods event. That’s two different classes of tournaments, and you don’t want to be in the second class.
The idea that Earnhardt Jr. – or any other single competitor – has to be a success for NASCAR to succeed is a walk on very thin ice, if you ask me.
No. 1: Too much of the same. One of my myths in Monday’s blog was about how there is no lack of personalities in the sport. There are plenty of interesting people and interesting stories if some fans would stop waiting to yell “FIGHT! FIGHT!” like they’re on the kindergarten playground long enough to read them or listen to them.
In one way, complaints that NASCAR drivers are too “vanilla” are right on the money – if you equate vanilla with white.
NASCAR needs diversity. If that statement bothers you, I am sorry. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s true.
If you honestly believe white men are the only type of person on this planet who have the skill, ability and desire to win a NASCAR race, I just have to feel sorry for you. That simply doesn’t make any sense at all.
Nobody is asking for women and minority drivers to be given a single thing other than a fair opportunity to compete. But because the deck has been stacked against them for so long, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to not only open doors but to build bridges on the road from where they are to where they need to be in the sport.
The current influx of drivers from different types of racing from different parts of the world is a great step in the right direction. It’s a path the sport needs to work every to keep blazing.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Who said everything was great? Not me