Tuesday, June 26, 2007

There's no gray matter in cheating

How much better could racing be if nobody had ever said the phrase "if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying?"

Seriously. Instead of spending all that time and energy working on ways to defeat the rule book, what would the sport have been like if guys had spent nearly 60 years working every bit as hard to make their cars better within the rules?

I absolutely reject the notion that enforcing rules takes away the opportunity for racers to be "innovative" or "creative." The fact is, of course, that thousands of mechanics over the history of stock car racing have made immeasurable contributions toward making race cars better without getting up every morning trying to figure out how to "beat" NASCAR.

Yet the "cheating" mentality permeates the sport. I think it pollutes it, in fact. Integrity is not a valued commodity among racers, it seems, as least not as highly as I believe it should be.

You’ve got people looking at the rule book and deciding that if something isn’t prohibited, by actual word printed in that book, it’s legal. This "gray area" is where they try to make a living, but what it shows me is a lack of "gray matter" in their brains.

Here are the salient portions of the rule governing penalties against Hendrick Motorsports at Infineon Raceway:

Rule 20-2.1
The car body must be acceptable to NASCAR officials and meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Streamlining of the contours of the car, beyond that approved by the Series Director, will not be permitted.
  • If, in the judgment of NASCAR Officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance, will not be permitted. All cars must remain standard in appearance.
  • Fenders may not be cut or altered except for wheel or tire clearance, which must be approved by the Series Director.
OK, where’s the "gray" there?

Why would flared out fenders between templates not be covered by that? The team itself said they were trying to get more downforce. Isn’t that "enhance aerodynamic performance" on the face of it? It wasn’t done for wheel or tire clearance and it wasn’t approved.

So don’t tell me it’s not in the rule book. Right there it is.

TNT coverage at Infineon horrible

It’s been a long time since a network did as bad of a job with a NASCAR race as TNT did Sunday at Infineon. Soup to nuts, it was not a good day.
The story in the prerace show with Marty Snider showing photos of race car drivers to people visiting wineries was just dumb. Show pictures of wine makers at the race track and see who could ID them.

Somebody had the bright idea to put the open-air rotating prerace show/in race analysis set inside the track between sides of the Turn 11 hairpin. Even if Larry McReynolds hadn’t been losing his voice, nobody could have heard him. It was an audio disaster.

Then the Kyle Petty in-car commentary thing was just a total bust. Somebody taped – TAPED! – him using a four-letter word as he was being wrecked and played it back. Then Bill Weber "apologized" for the language. Hey guys, you don’t get to say, "Oops, we’re sorry," if you playing something back on tape.

Finally, TNT went off the air after the race without showing the finishing order. That’s inexcusable. Several cars ran out of gas late and that jumbled things up, so maybe TNT thought NASCAR was going to have to sort the finishing order out and didn’t want to air bad information.

Well, they’re in such a hurry to get off the air they don’t have time to wait. That’s a simple ratings ploy. Viewership is highest when the race ends, but viewers start peeling off quickly during postrace coverage. By limiting itself to 10-15 minutes, TNT is trying not to have that drop-off count against its overall average, going out on as high of a ratings note as possible.

Two races ago, I got a lot of positive feedback about the job TNT did in the rain-delayed Pocono race. But the feedback this week has been about as bad as I’ve had in a long time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Keeping the deal real: Authenticity should be among aims for Earnhardt Jr.

We’ve moved to the next step in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. saga, wherein people will begin trying to read the tea leaves to see whether he’s going to take Budweiser with him as a sponsor when he
moves to Hendrick Motorsports.

I am going to be totally honest with you. I don’t know which company will be his primary sponsor in 2008.

But I do know that no deal for that was revealed Thursday at the Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Calif., where Earnhardt Jr. announced that he’s signed a personal services deal with Sony to endorse that company’s electronic products.

Earnhardt Jr., in fact, was on to us as we tried to pin him down on whether Budweiser would move with him. "I know what you’re getting at," he said, "but I am not going to be able to help you, not tonight."

Oddly, that didn’t prevent The Associated Press from moving a story on the wire that said Earnhardt Jr. had announced he would leave Budweiser for Sony in his new ride. That story was picked up by several major internet sites and, for much the day on Friday that’s what people were reading.

Sony might very well wind up being the primary sponsor on whatever car number Earnhardt Jr. drives next year. But Darrell Waltrip said last weekend he thinks it will be a beverage company, but not one "with a red can."

That would let out Budweiser and Coca-Cola, leading some to speculate about Pepsi or perhaps some kind of energy drink.

There’s also this Adidas clothing deal that’s supposedly in the works, which would give Earnhardt Jr. his own clothing line – more than just T-shirt and ball caps, mind you – in the Tiger Woods/Nike vein. Could blossom into a full-blown deal with his car, too?

Just like what happened when he was deciding on what team he’d be going to, it seems like everybody has a theory. What nobody seems to actually have, though, is a clear idea of what’s going to happen.

That, actually, is not true. I think there are at least two people who know exactly what they’re going to do. That’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Elledge.

They may not know yet which company’s name will be on the side of Earnhardt Jr.’s car, but they do know exactly how they want to do business going forward.

The setting for Thursday night’s Sony announcement could not have been more elegant. The Nickel & Nickel Winery is in the breathtaking Napa Valley, and there was plenty of good food, fine wine and wonderful weather.

Several classic cars, all of them Chevrolets, were parked around the grounds to add ambiance.

One of them, a classic Corvette convertible, was enough to make any car enthusiast drool.

Was it what you would have expected from Earnhardt Jr.? No, but that doesn’t mean he was sending an "I want to be viewed as more of a grown-up" signal, either.

The site was picked for him, and it was aimed at impressing the people who’ll now be paying him and also giving him use the kinds of computers, high-definition televisions and cameras he already uses.

During the Q&A session, Earnhardt Jr. did make one startling revelation. He has at least two songs on his MP3 player by Barry Manilow, "Weekend in New England" and the "American Bandstand" theme.

We’ll pause for a minute here to let that sink in.


And we’re back.

Look, the reason Dale Earnhardt had so many fans for so long is that he found ways to project who he really was through the products he endorsed and the companies he worked with.

Earnhardt never seemed like a phony because he never was. He never pretended to be anything he wasn’t, and that meant he always came across as authentic.

That’s all Earnhardt Jr. has to do in picking the directions he’ll move in. It’s not about the money. Rest assured that when he decided to drive for Hendrick Motorsports he didn’t take the highest salary he was offered, and the decision about which company he’ll have as a sponsor won’t be all about the bottom line, either.

If he wanted to go for the most cash, the last number he’d want is the No. 8. He’s already sold a gazillion dollars worth of that stuff. If he changes numbers, his fans will buy more stuff. That’s simple math.

Whatever happens, he’s going to get paid. Handsomely.

Everybody knows that, even me.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

For what it's worth, Cup teams are worth a ton

There are a couple of racing “forums” that I look at fairly regularly. Sometimes they’re quite disturbing, to be honest, but every once in a while you find gold.

I look at the forum on www.thatsracin.com because, well, I’d get in trouble if I didn’t. I also check in at www.rpmwarrior.net, which can be an absolute zoo, but sometimes offers entertaining reading.

Saturday afternoon, it provided a link to one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in a long time. It came in the form of a link to a story of Forbes.com by Jack Gage about the value of NASCAR’s multicar teams and individual cars.

The first thing I did after reading the story was to send an e-mail to the producer who books guests on our show on Sirius NASCAR Radio. We need to have Jack Gage on to talk to him about his fascinating work on this story.

The second thing I did was start writing this blog. All credit to Gage for the rest of what I am going to talk about here (Note to ESPN.com – This is called giving somebody proper credit for the work he does.)

According to Gage’s estimates, the average value of a multicar NASCAR team is $120 million.

That’s up 67 percent from last year because the 15 teams listed below now field 41 cars, up seven from last year. Also, Forbes got access to more detailed information about the off-track revenues generated by these teams, significantly revising its estimates.

According to the story, Roush Fenway Racing has the highest total value at $316 million.

Hendrick is second at $297 million.

Here’s the basic list (and, yes, these are all millions):

1. Roush Fenway Racing, $316

2. Hendrick Motorsports, $297

3. Joe Gibbs Racing, $173

4. Evernham Motorsports, $128

5. Richard Childress Racing, $124

6. Dale Earnhardt Inc., $118

7. Robert Yates Racing, $103

8. Chip Ganassi Racing, $94

9. Michael Waltrip Racing, $91

10. Penske Racing, $75

11. Ginn Racing, $74

12. Team Red Bull, $53

13. Bill Davis Racing, $53

14. Petty Enterprises, $48

15. Haas CNC Racing, $46

Forbes.com also lists the most valuable cars in the sport, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the top three names on that list will all be on the same team in 2008:

1. Jeff Gordon, No. 24, $85,000,000

2. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48, $76,000,000

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8, $65,000,000

4. Tony Stewart, No. 20, $60,000,000,

5. Matt Kenseth, No. 17, $47,000,000

6. Kasey Kahne, No. 9, $45,000,000

7. Carl Edwards, No. 99, $38,000,000

8. Kevin Harvick, No. 29, $36,000,000

9. Ryan Newman, No. 12, $31,000,000

10. Dale Jarrett, No. 44, $30,000,000

If you’re at all interested in the business or racing, here’s the link to the whole story http://www.forbes.com/business/2007/06/15/nascar-valuable-teams-biz-cz_jg_0615nascar.html

It’s fascinating.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

This ain't news: Standing up for what you do only counts when you actually do what you say you did

K. Lee Davis is the motorsports editor at ESPN.com. Since ESPN is owned by Disney, apparently he believes it’s OK for him to live in a fantasy world, too.

I railed about ESPN claiming on Tuesday night that it “broke” the news about Dale Earnhardt Jr. going to Hendrick Motorsports. That’s just a flat, bald-faced lie.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, I began an e-mail exchange with Davis about my complaints. He basically told me to suck it up because I was mad that ESPN had beat me to the story.

Here’s his initial e-mail to me:

As far as who broke what yesterday. AP had nothing on the Hendrick Motorsports angle until nearly 4:30 p.m. Marty Smith’s story saying Junior was going to Hendrick Motorsports was published on ESPN.com’s front page at 2:11 p.m. At 2:20 p.m., I made the run through your paper’s web-site and the others I generally check to see who else might have the story. That’s part of my job.

Your site had zilch and every other site had zilch on the Hendrick angle. Plenty were reporting there would be a press conference (we were first on that one, too) and that Hendrick was a possibility, but none had it definitively as Hendrick, and Marty did.

So, it would seem to me, Marty broke that story. Give credit where it’s due.

He didn’t say anything about dragons and unicorns, but he might as well have.

Here’s what happened in the real world. At 1:30 p.m., The Associated Press moved Jenna Fryer’s story saying that Earnhardt Jr. had scheduled a press conference and that her sources said he was going to Hendrick. I was writing a story saying the same thing for thatsracin.com and charlotte.com.

My story was posted at 2:08 p.m.

I am NOT saying I was first. Jenna got her story out first, so if there’s credit due anywhere, it’s to her. But Marty’s story was no better than third. It was a good story and he had some details in his story that I didn’t. Jenna had stuff neither of us had, too. But all three stories were substantively the same.

I don’t think any of us “broke” anything. We all tracked down the same people and did all the reporting we could do and still get a story up with dispatch. This business of a minute here and there is how reporters get into trouble these days.

All three of us kept reporting all afternoon and evening, working to nail down more information.

That’s the job, too. For Davis to say that AP had nothing on Hendrick until 4:30 p.m. is just absurd. For him to say my site had “zilch” on the Hendrick angle is just flat wrong. He said my story wasn’t up anywhere at 2:20. That’s a lie. Flat out.

I work for Sirius Satellite Radio, too. Part of that deal is I have to post news to the web sites my paper runs before I give anything to them. I sent in my story, looked to make sure it was posted and then sent it to folks handling the Sirius shows that were on the air in the afternoon.

After that, I checked ESPN.com and the story they had posted on the Earnhardt Jr. announcement will still not yet the one written by Marty Smith.

Maybe you don’t care. That’s fine. This isn’t about me getting credit, it’s about ESPN trying to take credit when they didn’t earn it. I won’t stand for that.

Dale Jr. news makes for long day

A few thoughts that don't really fit anywhere else on what's becoming a crazy week:

--At about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, I was polishing off a few e-mails after doing the Sirius Satellite Radio show on the NASCAR channel. All I could think of was getting downstairs out of my office for a nap. I think the phone rang or something, but I got held up about 10 minutes. At 11:57 a.m., I got an e-mail saying Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a press conference scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. It's 10:55 p.m. as I write this and I have been up out of my chair maybe 30 minutes all day since.

--I came as close as I ever have to hanging up on a national television show Tuesday. I agreed to go on ESPN's "NASCAR Now" show live via the telephone at 6:30 p.m. to talk about the Dale Earnhardt Jr. story. I am listening to host Eric Kuselias, over the phone, as he starts the show. As he goes to ESPN reporter Marty Smith, Kuselias tells America that Marty "broke this story." OK, I like Marty Smith a lot. He's good. But ESPN didn't even break wind on that story Tuesday. Smith, Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press and I all three posted stories saying about the same thing at about the same time. It was about 2 p.m. or so, and it took that long because we all took time reporting and not guessing. If I had been as big of a jerk as a lot of people think I am, when Kuselias came to me I would have told him I had to go back to work to catch up on all that news that ESPN had been "breaking" and hung up the phone. Mark Packer, a talk-show host who works here in Charlotte, calls ESPN by another name - H-Y-P-E. That about covers it.

--So I get to the Charlotte airport Monday night after another big day in the skies over this great land of ours. My luggage was still in Boston (don't ask), but I got home OK. My wife was coming to pick me up and I walked down the arrivals area to one of the areas that has been designated "NO SMOKING." I know this designation has been made because in several places along that area the words "NO SMOKING" are painted in letters 20 inches high. I was, literally, standing with my feet on one set of those letters. Five feet from me, I hear a clinking noise that's undoubtedly a cigarette lighter. Twice already I had walked from other "NO SMOKING" areas because people were there smoking. The third time was my limit. I looked at this guy and said, "What does this say?" He said, "It says NO SMOKING." And then he took a puff. Lovely world, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Coach Hanna will be missed

Sometimes, all you need to know is who’s calling.
When my cell phone rang Wednesday afternoon, I glanced at the caller ID and saw the name “Mark Hanna.” Mr. Hanna was a teacher at my high school, but I knew his call had nothing to do with that.

A few months ago, I’d met Mr. Hanna at an assisted living facility in my hometown and we went in to see his father. Mark Hanna’s dad was Mack Hanna, and while Mark will always be Mr. Hanna to me, his father will always be Coach Hanna. It was the first time I’d seen Mr. Hanna in too long. It would be the last time I got to see Coach Hanna.

Coach Hanna passed away sometime Wednesday morning. Alzheimer’s, the
same thing that took my own father from me long before he actually drew his last breath, had done the same to Mr. Hanna. The day we went to see the man who taught me the real meaning of the
word “coach,” he didn’t know who I was. That hurt, sure, but it also
didn’t matter. I knew who he was, and what he had done for me and
hundreds of young men just like me.

Coach Hanna grew up in Gastonia, N.C., just like me. He just did it in a very different time. He became a young man as the world was trying to end itself, making him a part of what’s come to be known as the “greatest generation.” He served his country and then he came home to serve his community.

He worked for the City of Gastonia for nearly four decades, eventually serving as superintendent for the city’s electrical division. I worked for that department, thanks to Coach Hanna, for two summers while I was in high school, and I can tell you first hand that the people who do that for a living earn every dime they get paid.

For nearly 30 years, on every weekday afternoon (and a lot of Saturday mornings, too) of every summer, Mack Hanna hung up his hard hat and put on a baseball cap. For a lot of those years, that hat was Kelly green with a white “T” on the front. That stood for Temple, as in Temple Baptist Church.

For most of my adolescence, I lived in a house my parents rented for
themselves, my sister and I from the church. We lived in the upstairs and a lady named Arizona Stirewalt lived on the bottom floor. The ball field that Temple had was, literally, my back yard.
I loved baseball. I listened to Atlanta Braves games with Milo Hamilton at night and tried to pull in games from faraway places like Cleveland and Cincinnati when the Braves had a night off. I took the Sporting News for the box scores and read the paper, keeping up with the standings of the major leagues. My uncle Tam – his real name was Talmadge – took me along when he took his sons Ricky, Glenn, Greg and Joey to see the Gastonia Pirates play at Sims Legion Park. We saw Bob Robertson and Bob Moose and Fred Patek and Al Oliver and Frank Taveras and dozens of other
players who made it to the show, and guys like Zelman Jack and Frank
Brosseau who never quite did.

My dad had two things working against him when it came to baseball.
First, he grew up on a farm and worked all his life as a boy. He never got to play baseball that much. Second, he worked two jobs trying to keep a roof over my head. So he never got to watch much baseball, either.

When it came time for me to play the game in youth baseball, I had
plenty of desire and very little ability. Coach Hanna worked with me and got all there was to get out of me as a player, but it still wasn’t a whole lot. Ultimately, that didn’t matter. Good grief, did we have fun.

Powers Roland and Jerry Reese and Dewey Moses and dozens of guys just like them were more than just my friends. They were my teammates, and Coach Hanna made us understand that meant something.
We thought he was teaching us baseball. Thumbs up was the steal sign. I never got that one. A closed fist was the take sign. I did get that one, but not as much as I would have if winning was all that mattered.

He kept on me about stepping out toward third base as I swung – putting my foot in the bucket, he called it. We learned to get in front of the ball, to hit the cutoff man and to always, in every circumstance, “run it in.”

What we didn’t know, at least not at the time, that baseball was only a small portion of what we were learning. Coach Hanna taught us to hustle – not in the gambling sense, of course, but in the sense of doing things with efficiency. He taught us to back each other up. He taught us to “chatter,” so we could encourage our
teammates to do their best and keep our own minds in the game. He taught us to respect the rules of the game and its code, too, the unwritten rules that mark the difference between the right and wrong ways to play the game.

We learned how to act like winners, whether we won or lost, and to
compete as hard as we could as long as we could. Coach Hanna and Coach Bennie Cunningham would have rather won a game against the other than breathe, I believe, but they both also knew that it takes a gentleman to be a good sport, and vice versa.

It took me a long time, probably too long for Coach Hanna’s liking, to understand how those lessons transferred from the diamonds of our youth to the world outside those white lines.

Coach Hanna helped me get my first summer job, keeping score for the
same leagues I’d once played in, and many nights he hung through another game after his team’s game until I was through with another one so he could drive me home. He gave me my second job, cutting the grass around the city’s electrical substations.

When I got out of college and got into the sports department of the
newspaper business, I found myself dealing with a lot of coaches. I
respected them all, I think, because I respected Coach Hanna. Anybody who had earned the title of “Coach” had, in my book, earned a measure of nobility.

My father and Coach Hanna both spent their final days in a world I
couldn’t penetrate to reach them, to tell them one more time how much they both meant to me. When my father died, I felt like in some ways that brought him back to me. I believe he knows now how much I miss him.

Now Coach Hanna does, too.

Kurt Busch went too far

Let's hope NASCAR puts its regulatory muscle where its mouth is this week.
It doesn't matter what happened on the track between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch during Monday's Autism Speaks 400.
I don't care whether you believe the wreck that put Busch into the wall and also damaged Stewart's car was Busch's fault, Stewart's fault or equally stubborn behavior on both their parts.
Silly stuff like that happens in NASCAR racing. Two guys get angry with each other and start banging sheet metal until at least one of them winds up tangential to his intended path. They get mad, pop off after climbing out of their cars, and then the next week reporters ask them if they've "talked it out."
NASCAR doesn't need to get overly active in officiating this stuff. It usually takes care of itself and the people doing it inflict their own penalties on each other. Sometimes there are innocent parties involved, and when that happens the sanctioning body might have to take a few punitive measures.
But when a driver goes onto pit road and pulls the kind of stunt Busch did on Monday, NASCAR needs to act -- swiftly and effectively.
Busch pulled alongside Stewart's Chevrolet on pit road and forced one of Stewart's crew members to literally jump out of the way. Now if that crew member hadn't seen Busch coming, you'd like to think that Busch wouldn't have gone ahead and nudged up against Stewart's car anyway, sandwiching a human being in as "collateral damage." But you're not sure, are you?
NASCAR, correctly, parked Busch's No. 2 Dodge for the remainder of Monday's race.
That's a start. Busch will be fined, undoubtedly. But I'm not sure NASCAR will dock him any points. The officials could say that putting Busch in the garage and dooming him to a 42nd-place finish at Dover effectively acts as a points penalty in and of itself.
But NASCAR talks all it can about safety. It requires crew members to wear fire suits and protective helmets on pit road, but those offer scant protection from a guy coming at them with A CAR!
Parked would be a good place for Busch's car again this weekend at Pocono. NASCAR hasn't seemed willing to send a cheater's car home, but maybe it will finally draw a line when the issue is safety and not the rule book.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Kenny Mayne ought to be ashamed of himself

Goodness knows too many people make mountains out of molehills in our society today.

But sometimes, you hear something and it just makes you so blasted mad you can’t just let it go.

Sunday night as I was trying to drift off to sleep, I had the TV set on the “sleep” mode and ESPN’s SportsCenter was playing. They did their usual 15 minutes on the latest biggest baseball game ever between the Yankees and Red Sox and a couple of other things, then Kenny Mayne got to the story about Sunday’s Nextel Cup race at Dover being rained out.

I can’t quote exactly what Mayne said because I only heard it once and don’t plan on listening to it again to get my dander back up. But the gist of it was something like “If a lot of people named Cleetus…call in to work sick on Monday, it may be because the NASCAR race was rained out on Sunday.”

Mayne used “Cleetus” and another Southern-sounding name, then added “Susan” because “NASCAR has women who are fans, too.”

OK, first, it wasn’t funny. Mayne is better than that.

But the main point is that it’s yet another example that, first, people who work in the national media think that everybody who watches a NASCAR race is a tobacco-spitting, overall-wearing, barefoot-going rube. And, second, that people who aren’t tobacco-spitting, overall-wearing, barefoot-going rubes are inherently better people than those who are.

I get SO tired of trying to make this point, but I can’t help myself.

Suppose Kenny Mayne had been introducing a story about NBA fans having to wait until Thursday night until the final series between Cleveland and San Antonio begins. What if he had said, “All of the Leroys and Darnells (or any other stereotypical names for black people) you know will spend the next few days waiting for Thursday night ...”

Or suppose Mayne had said, “It’s going to be hard to get a hair appointment or schedule a session with your interior designer next week because there’s a big figure skating competition coming up.”

Reckon Mayne could have gotten either those stereotypical remarks past the people at ESPN who ought to be making sure things like that don’t happen? I doubt it.

Keep in mind, now, that in less than two months ESPN becomes the network that carries Nextel Cup races on a weekly basis. There’s no law that says everybody who works at ESPN has to like racing to stay on the payroll, but the idea that the fans of any given sport can be described by using terms like “Cleetus” is absurd.

I guess Mayne thought “Bubba” would be a cliché.

Is this a big deal? No. The world’s not going to wobble off its axis because of a bad throwaway line on an ESPN broadcast.

But I grew up in the South and I still live here. My dad’s father had a farm and so did several of my uncles and great uncles. My mother’s father worked in a textile mill, and then my mother worked in another mill pretty much until she wasn’t able to work any more. Some of them liked NASCAR and some of them didn’t know what a race car was.

Everyone of them, though, did have one thing in common. Every one of them was every bit as good as Kenny Mayne will ever be, no matter how many suits he has and how many times he smirks at you on TV.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Eldora event serves a good cause, but the fun has to be a factor, too

This week’s Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway, the legendary dirt track near Rossburg, Ohio, sounds like it will be a blast. Two dozen or so Nextel Cup stars gathering at the track Tony Stewart now owns to play in the dirt.

The event has grown exponentially in just its third year, and since the proceeds of the event go to a great charity like the Victory Junction Gang Camp it’s a very good thing.

This year’s event, set for Wednesday night, will be shown nationally via HBO pay per view. Proceeds from that go to the charity, too.

You do worry a little bit that this thing might be growing too fast. They’ll try to cram around 20,000 fans into Eldora, and I’ve been there. That’s probably 10 times more people than live within a 25-mile radius of the track itself.

You wonder if all of the fans who’re lucky enough to be there will come away happy, just because of the logistics of handling all that many people.

I know the people who’re putting the event on are going to try to make sure everyone has a good time. But I do know they’re working especially hard to make it an enjoyable evening for the drivers who come to participate. That means all of the media and maybe some autograph-seeking fans who attend might not come away totally happy.

In this case, I think that’s OK. I think the priority of an occasional event like this should be to make sure it’s fun for the people who’re putting on the show.

When Nextel Cup crew chiefs raced each other in thunder roadster cars before the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, it was a mess. There might have been 10 decent laps of actual racing in both heats and the feature put together. But it didn’t matter that much. Everybody had a great time and that’s what the event should have been all about in the first place.

Being in the Nextel Cup business is a hard way to live. Yes, the money is great at the top level. But these guys absolutely work their fingers to a collective nub.

They’re in the sport because they love it, but every once in a while it’s nice to see them have a chance just to do something for nothing but fun.

That’s what the race at Eldora this week should be for the drivers. A chance to have fun.

You know they’ll get out there and want to compete, and that’s because they’re who they are. But this is not a championship event. Some of the drivers have raced on dirt before and some of them haven’t. And that’s OK. Nobody’s going to be handing out style points.

Somebody will count the laps and they’ll keep score about who’s first and who’s last. And there will be a count on the money that’s raised.

But the only things that really should count at Eldora on Wednesday are the smiles around the pits. For one night, racing will be fun again, and that’s plenty enough reason for this event to go right on happening.