MONTE DUTTON - WHAT’S IT GONNA TAKE?
At the moment, it seems as if everything is getting better in NASCAR except the bottom line.
Based on my conversations around town, lots of folks still haven’t noticed. Interest in these parts still seems confined to two words, an apostrophe and a question mark.
When’s Darlington? The fact that I thought everyone knew it’s the Sunday before Labor Day is not encouraging.
Summertime Daytona was a miracle that normally requires the laying on of hands. Then the Bee Bees (Brothers Busch) dueled it out in Kentucky. The elder, Kurt, won, and he needed it more, so what’s not to like? I suppose it wasn’t as much fun for those who don’t like the Bee Bees – if you like one, you like both, and vice-versa, I reckon – but I don’t see how even a Bee Bees detractor could fail to be begrudgingly entertained.
Chevrolets have come alive with three straight victories. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it was the Thursday after the race before I even realized Justin Haley was driving one. They’re easier to tell apart than they were five years ago, but I wish I could tell them apart some way other way than squinting at the front of the car for a blue oval, a gold bowtie or the letter “T” the way my late father would have written it in script.
I can see him cursing his cursive now after a vodka and Clamato juice over ice.
But things are getting better. Even if you think it’s been awful for the last some odd number of years (a common Bill Elliott measure of time), surely you must concede that it’s getting better.
The way NASCAR dials up “packages” – aero, engine, spoilers – reminds me of those machines at hamburger joints where you can brew up your own soft-drink hybrid. This week’s race in New Hampshire is a Diet Cherry Coke Dr. Pepper with a squirt of grape Fanta, as I recall.
For the first time since I left NASCAR as it left me, I think the magic elixir is getting results. The actual racing is getting better. Occasionally, I can even tell one young driver from another on the basis of personality.
Meanwhile, the cars wear color schemes – usually wrapped, not painted – that are the auto racing equivalent of the early 1980s Pittsburgh Pirates: three sets of trousers, three sets of jerseys, three sets of caps, mix and match every night. This week I think Ryan Newman’s wearing the black sides, yellow hood and pinstriped roof.
I find it all a little weird, but that’s not unusual in this stage of my human development.
The late Steve Byrnes once asked the late David Pearson what he liked better about NASCAR now than when he was racing.
“That’s the easiest question I ever been asked,” said Little David the Silver Fox. “There ain’t a damn thing better than it used to be.”
It is not unwise for NASCAR to gear its hobbled sport to the young folks. There’s not much money left in my generation. The task is a stern one. The other day at a football field, I eavesdropped on a couple ballplayers talking about how they could not wait for self-driving cars.
I never learned how to race, but I had to learn how to drive. Next thing you know the cars are going to be driving me in just about the same way the lack of young folks is driving NASCAR right out of business.