Are the Glory Days of NASCAR Gone Forever?

Remember when NASCAR was in its glory days? Every race was memorable and the drivers were larger than life? Every team was allowed to build their cars for speed and find their own edge and driver skill and talent was a treasure held in high regard. Cars or drivers didn’t have to fit some mold to make them all the same to make the playing field even. Half of the game was building a car that when combined with the ability of the driver went out with the desire and a goal to win every time they went on the track.

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NASCAR shot itself in the foot when it started messing with a good thing. Fans were flocking to the tracks. Tracks were forced to add seats and some tracks had waiting lists for tickets. Drivers then were seasoned; they had driven the small hometown short tracks and learned how to win and how to race and do what had to be done to win. They had to win to get to the next race or get food on the table. They didn’t have high dollar salaries or sponsorships to fall back on, the had desire, fortitude and a love for the thrill of parking it in Victory Lane. When they finally made it to the Winston Cup ranks as it was called then, they knew how to win and they were hungry to make a name for themselves on the big stage.

Not enough credit is given to Winston for bringing NASCAR into its glory days on the national stage. During the Winston Cup era, the Daytona 500 became the first race to be nationally televised from flag to flag and fans became exposed in a way they never had before. Drivers began to become celebrities with faces and personalities outside the car and not just a name fans heard from inside the radio for the small number of fans who followed the sport mainly limited to the southeast where most of the tracks were located.

In that era drivers were real; they weren’t polished media darlings or high dollar sponsor salesmen. What you saw was what you got! They got their sponsors with their driving ability and their desire to win and refusal to lose. They became heroes to their fans and the fan base began to grow immensely. Throughout the 1990’s NASCAR enjoyed a boon in popularity.

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During the 90’s the superstars that brought the sport to the heights of its glory days with names like The Skoal Bandit; Harry Gant, Mr. Excitement; Jimmy Spencer, The King; Richard Petty, Ricky Rudd, Swervin; Ernie Irvin, Davey and Bobby Allison, Mark Martin, and Ken Schrader. Then you had Awesome Bill from Dawsonville and the greatest of all the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt. During the 90’s you also had the Labonte’s, Rusty Wallace and Owner/driver Alan Kulwicki. In the later 90’s you had Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart come along as well as the beginning of some of todays stars in the lower ranks.

The 1990’s were definitely The Glory Days of NASCAR. Those days are gone forever. That kind of racing is gone forever. A lot of it at the hands of NASCAR with rule changes and the institution of the chase and making all the cars the same in the name of leveling the playing field and taking the racing out of the teams’ hands and the drivers hands and sometimes making the race like a bunch of ducks in a row. The days where races were one or lost with the turn of a wrench or the brain of and engineer or the finesse of a driver on the track are over. In my opinion one of the first mistakes was made when officials were taken off pit road to monitor the teams and started depending on technology for everything. In my opinion technology has also taken fans out of the seats. Why go to the races now when you can get more and better information at home on TV and NASCAR apps. Including listening to your favorite driver without driving hundreds of miles and spending hundreds of dollars when if you’re not lucky enough to acquire a hot pass or be a part of a sponsor group you’re not going to get a glimpse of your driver except from the stands in a pick-up.

In the 90’s drivers were much more accessible than they are now. During my years of visiting the tracks I met many drivers and received lots of autographs and had pictures with many of them. I have met the Pettys, Dale Earnhart so many times he knew me by name, Rusty and Kenny Wallace, Ken Schrader, The Waltrips, Harry Gant, Bill Elliott, The Parsons, The Bodines, Jimmy Spencer, The Jarretts and many others now including the retiring Tony Stewart.

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These are big shoes to fill. Who do we have on the horizon that will ever offer the kind of excitement we saw from this assemblage of greats. Will NASCAR ever see what it has done to the sport that will bring the real fans back? A lot of the tracks have built large numbers of seats that are now empty on race day. Would they rather let the seats sit empty than bring prices into line so a man can bring his family to the races without taking a month’s salary? And if a family does scratch and save to be able to make it to the track for the experience one time will the race be worth the money and sacrifice they made. NASCAR needs to take a long look at what made NASCAR Racing the beloved sport it once was instead of a sport just for the rich or corporate sponsors or for the diehard fan that will scrape together money for a ticket if it means not paying a bill or buying as many groceries.

Bring NASCAR back to the fans that made tracks need to build new seats. The middle class working man and even the low-income families just making ends meet. We made the sport and we’ve been forgotten.

Bring back the glory days of NASCAR when racing was real racing and every move was not regulated by a governing body that ties the teams and driver’s hands and let the best team win.

 

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1 Comment

  • One can only go to a certain point in blaming NASCAR for the decline of the sport’s popularity. A lot of fault lies with the drivers themselves. The crop of drivers that began coming to the fore in the latter 1990s lacked the inherent professionalism of the generations that preceded them. Far from lacking personality or NASCAR in some form stifling their personalities, the drivers of the last 16 years have had the wrong personality – surly, self-entitled, loudmouthed, sometimes spastic, and in the cases of Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart maliciously vengeful. Stewart began wearing out his welcome by the time of his first championship, Harvick began wearing out his welcome in his second year by getting suspended from a race, the Busch brothers came in with immaturity by the bushel, Carl Edwards began to get tiresome even before his disastrous attacks on Brad Keselowski, and so on – true professionals in the Petty-Pearson-Cale-Allison mold simply have not risen to the sport’s fore. Jimmie Johnson’s biggest problem is he’s a factory hack, put into NASCAR by former GM racing boss Herb Fishel as his next designated champion, to be blessed with full factory favoritism from the very start of his Cup career, never once having to prove anything outside of the Fishel umbrella – he’d have earned more respect if he’d started with a smaller team like the old Morgan-McClure outfit and won races there.

    The blame on technology misses the point – it’s lack of winners and lack of lead changes that are the biggest immediate problem. NASCAR’s endless reapplication of the 5&5 Rule to cut downforce has never once succeeded in improving any aspect of the racing. 40 lead changes a race is supposed to be the norm for the sport; now it’s all but extinct. NASCAR’s handling of technology has been poor; its idea that downforce is the enemy of passing is fundamentally wrong. The real issues are the cars have too much horsepower, do not generate a drafting effect worthy of the term, and have too little tire on which to race. It was here with the switchover to radial tires that the first mistake was made, for radial tires overall do not have the forgiveness of bias-plies – what is telling about the 1990s is how much passing increased in those spots when the tire raced like bias-plies – giving more footprint on the surface and thus being more forgiving. The present-day renaissance of Indycars and the Truck Series illustrates that underpowered overgripped racecars produce the most passing.

    It wasn’t NASCAR that made the cars “all the same.” They’ve been “all the same” since the days when the 1966 Dodge Charger 500’s fastback aerodynamics were copied by Ford for its 1968-69 stockers onward – when the 1971-72 Chevrolet resembled the 1971-74 Dodge Charger and ’73 Mercury run in 1974-75, the 1981 Pontiac Lemans directly influenced Bill Elliott’s 1980s Fords, etc. People seized on this “NASCAR made them all the same” myth because NASCAR debuted common templates – itself a response to the reality of Form Following Function.

    “Why go to races now?” To see firsthand the competition. No amount of information streaming can replace the real thing. As for tracks and prices, market economics have already adjusted, to where I can get two-day TIX at New Hampshire for less than I could a Sunday ticket there 15 years ago.

    Fans also need to do some adjusting. The days of hand-built racecars are never coming back – technological reality has dictated that. What NASCAR needs to adjust is it has to stop with the “who can drive a loose racecar” ideology. Make the cars so secure to the racetrack that the drivers have no reason not to fight for the lead; put all the points incentive toward most laps led and races won. Eliminate the Chase as well.

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