Friday, December 19, 2008

Response to Slate

By Bobby

In reading the column in Slate that Mitchell referenced (and also Cathy's comments), I was reminded of a few thoughts:

Slate is a liberal Web site that was founded by The New Republic editor Michael Kingsley, who was one of the first figures of the Left on the now-defunct CNN discussion programme Crossfire. Knowing the site's left-leaning roots, and one popular cause celebre is fringe environmentalism (a report on Fox News noted a while back the lobby of such is larger than of oil; now they control the government), they have a problem with NASCAR's tie-ins with Sun Oil and Exxon Mobil.

I also read a comment by McClatchy's David Poole on the subject.

One issue the columnist on Slate refused to discuss is racing safety versus saving planet earth. Safety in US motorsport has been mostly racer-led, and has been important for road vehicles. Obviously environmentalists do not remember the 1955 24 Heures du Mans, where Pierre Levegh's Mercedes ran over an Austin-Healy, flew into the stands, and killed over 80, leading to corruption in US motorsport as the American Automobile Association Competition Board disbanded. (Bill France was not a fan of the AAA; in 1950, France actually tossed out season-long points as some drivers raced in AAA-sanctioned races; ACCUS, which replaced the AAA as the national governing body of motorsport, has seven members currently – NASCAR, IRL, IMSA, SCCA, NHRA, Grand-Am, and WKA) His codriver, John Fitch, who was waiting his turn, became a racing safety advocate and began developing safety for both racing situations and street situations, such as the Fitch barriers on bridge posts. Furthermore, the environmental activists refuse to consider racing safety from the 1964 Indianapolis 500, where two deaths in the opening laps led to an alcohol fuel mandate that outlawed gasoline from that race. Sadly, when series such as the International Motor Sports Association does not understand that ethanol should never be mixed with gasoline in regards to how it is mixed (85% ethanol-15% gasoline or 90% gasoline-10% ethanol) because it destroys the reason alcohol fuel was used in racing (safety following that crash), it becomes a political weapon to race ethanol and not a safety reason, as was the reason at Indianapolis following that 500. A pit fire at Mid-Ohio this past season was worse because of the gas-ethanol mix that requires a special foam. (A pure alcohol fire can be diluted, as we've seen in the IRL.) Sportscar racer Jim Downing and his brother-in-law, Robert Hubbard, began developing a head and neck restraint after seeing fellow drivers die in basal skull fractures in various forms of racing. Now, almost every motorsport series has mandated a head and neck restraint.

When drivers were dying at an unusually high rate in the 1980's and into 1990's with “(Whelen Modified) Tour Type Modifieds,” (most notably Richie Evans, whose #61 is the only retired number in NASCAR, on the Whelen Modified Tour only, at Martinsville), tracks were looking at how to improve racing safety, using regular sytrofoam blocks to protect barriers. The barriers exploded on hard impacts, but the drivers were walking away and tracks needed very little time to simply replace the foam blocks. One of the most famous crashes was Jimmie Johnson's Watkins Glen crash in 2000 when he went nose-first into the styrofoam at The 90. The block flew and took the impact, but the former off-road star who was losing his sponsor (A new member of the sponsor's board of directors moved the sponsorship to his father's team) walked away without injury.

The recent development of the SAFER barriers and the Car of Tomorrow were both based on safety issues; NASCAR, the IRL, and others have wanted safety to take a bigger issue in motorsport as the ever-persuasive issue. Who knows if some of the innovations we have seen in the COT or the SAFER make it to street cars.

And speaking of that, why haven't we heard about the endurance mentality of a Sprint Cup race? Most races in sportscar racing are limited to under three hours with two drivers. IRL races are limited to usually two hours or less on street/road courses with the only race that is longer than three hours being the Indianapolis 500. On the other hand, all Sprint Cup races are at least 2 ½ hours long, and that means a Sprint Cup driver will be trained to race as endurance drivers compared to the sprint races everywhere else.

The columnist also refuses to understand issues such as the estate tax and activist courts in changing the schedule. First, estate sales forced the Staley (North Wilkesboro, in the Piedmont Triad, the #1 television market), DeWitt and Wilson (Rockingham, NC), Earles (Martinsville), and other families to sell their circuits to the major chains ISC and SMI because of the estate tax situation. The new chain owners, in addition to building their new circuits, wanted to buy these established tracks to take their dates away, and offer them to the new circuits they were building. What's even more of a concern is the Obama administration's plans to hike the estate tax back to Clinton-era levels or higher that would make things such as the forced sale of Martinsville Speedway (which the family admitted was a byproduct of the deaths of Clay Earles and later his daughter Mary Weatherford; track president Clay Campbell is the son of Earles' daughter Dorothy Campbell.) in 2004 that nearly led to a riot in the garage after after the track's iconic frankfurters were served differently by the new concession firm that took over after the sale. (The iconic frankfurters are well-known for their strong red color and toppings that would make Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi cringe if they were used for competition.)

Second, activist courts are peddling with the schedule. When NASCAR moved Florence's legendary Mountain Dew Southern 500 (in suburban Darlington) from September to November for the 2004 season, it was like scheduling a US Open-type course into a playoff situation that made the entire Chase tougher. Some fans disliked the move to the Los Angeles area for Labor Day, but NASCAR gave the Florence-Myrtle Beach market a reward by making it the penultimate event on the schedule, thereby making the fourth major tougher since it was not second to last in the regular season, but second to last in the playoff, making going for the championship even tougher, and a true wild card.

It took an activist judge and attorneys from The Cochran Firm (yes, that Johnnie Cochran) were able to force NASCAR to surrender the Florentine classic and give Fort Worth a second date on the schedule to appease the activists after NASCAR was sued. The more dangerous problem that developed was a precdent that took place for all sport; you could now sue a sports sanctioning body to force a schedule change. It also removed what Kyle Petty compared to a “US Open” type course with one that golfers would call a “Tournament Players Club” type course. (Golf majors are not held on TPC courses.) It also reduced NASCAR from four to three majors. ( The schedule is now controlled by courts, and it allowed Kentucky Speedway to sue NASCAR because of what took place with the Ferko.

The precdent is concerning. How would a football fan like it if someone in Los Angeles sued the NFL to order the Green Bay Packers to be moved to Los Angeles? The NFL would fight it, but the attorneys would state that what the Ferko lawsuit did was create the perfect storm that if someone wanted to sue the NFL to move a team to Los Angeles, it was now permissable because of the lawsuit that took away the NASCAR major at the sport's version of Lambeau Field or Fenway Park.

As for driver personalities, the personalities have been a part of the sport, and still are. While some of the drivers are more polished than they were even 30 years ago, it should be considered that Ned Jarrett was one of the first to take a Dale Carnegie course nearly 50 years ago to help out his career. There are still the drivers who win so much and look vanilla, but there are still the wild drivers such as rookie Scott Speed, the “outlaw” Kyle Busch, and a few drivers who gain popularity with their hard-nosed racing. There are also drivers who learned in racing that when they started, they had to field their own cars with friends to prepare it. They knew one crash could take them hours and out of some races. Many drivers started racing that way and do not want to crash out knowing even with fancy sponsors and no worries about finances, they will race to protect their equipment.

As for complaints about the playoff, a playoff system has created the ultimate in go for broke racing. A while back Cale Yarborough said that drivers now must have a strong beginning, middle, and end of the season in order to win the championship. Drivers cannot coast any longer in the last ten races to a championship. Jimmie Johnson's playoff dominance in the five years of the system shows he has joined an elite list of athletes who turn up the heat during playoff situations and win in that atmosphere.

The ultimate goal of the column is to drive down the US automakers, which has been the goal of liberal activists since the 1975 and 2007 Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, passed by liberal majorities (veto-proof in 2007 thanks to procedural calls), and the 1978 National Energy Act that has regulated fuel economy with more severe penalties. With GM, Ford, and Chrysler's top-selling vehicles each being their mainline full-size pickup trucks, the liberals want to destroy them because the new Big Three (Toyota, Honda, Nissan) have as their top sellers mid-size cars available as a hybrid, a subcompact car, and a compact car. The ultimate liberal goal for the automobile industry is to force everyone into a two-seat microcar that has no safety but ultra-economical fuel efficiency where a Big One will kill the occupants.

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