Archive for October, 2012

NASCAR on dirt is a dirty idea

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Racing

Though details haven’t been elaborated, last week NASCAR held a test at Eldora Speedway involving members of the truck series.  Yes, a dirt track hosted a test session for one of NASCAR’s top three series.  Once again NASCAR you make it way too easy.  What the hell are you thinking?

Maybe 15-years ago when the series was fledgling you could have pulled this off and made it a combined dirt and pavement series but not now.  The only way this novelty of an idea makes any sense is as a standalone exhibition event.  With the amount of money involved in the sport and how much of those dollars ride on results at the end of the season, a dirt race as a points paying event would be a travesty.

First off, how would you run it?  Would you make it a traditional “Saturday night” style event with several races culminating in one main event?  Would you keep it in line with all of the other races on the schedule and make it a standard 200 lap race on the half mile track?  Well the latter would be quite the pain in the neck because at Eldora it’s not really feasible to create a pit road style of set-up and trust me when I say a pit road would be crucial.

Think about it.  If it was to be run as a 200 or 250 lap race it’s not going to play out the same way we envision sprint cars or dirt late models flying around that place.  Instead, look more to ARCA at Springfield or the super modifieds at Syracuse – slicked off, one groove, around the bottom.  Okay, so Eldora has quite a bit more banking than those other two tracks but we’re talking about 3,400 pound trucks.  Plus, many of the drivers have extremely limited dirt tracking background (if any at all) so when you couple in those two factors  the number of tires they’d be blowing through (I don’t care how hard you make them) would be huge when you figure in practice, qualifying and the race.  You need a flawless pit road.

Another issue would be those drivers I just mentioned.  No, not in the sense that they’d be a hazard but that they’d be easy pickings.  Drivers who are not regulars on the series would love to take advantage of such competitors and find their way into a seat for the event.  You would see a huge increase of entries for this one race and that is in no way fair to the regulars who bust their butts every weekend of the year.  Say you have a points leader who isn’t well versed on dirt and then this event draws in 15-20 dirt track ringers who have never raced in the series before and never will outside of this event.  You would have to figure most of those 15-20 would make the show and have a great chance of finishing ahead of the points leader.  If other series regulars are comfortable on dirt they could finish amongst the ringers and relegate the points leader to a bottom half of the field finish which ultimately may lead to him losing the title by a points deficit at season’s end that could be attributed to the Eldora event.

All for the sake of a made-for-TV spectacle.  Let’s face it, that’s all this is.  It’s NASCAR looking to suck up a few more bucks mixed in with Eldora’s owner Tony Stewart looking to drum up some positive publicity surrounding his track that has been nothing but bashed in everything I’ve heard about it over the last couple of seasons.  Yes, I realize it has only been one test.  Yes, I realize there has not been recognition of serious intent, but things have still been placed in motion nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong on the aspect of this turning out to be an exhibition event.  If a race at Eldora does in fact happen and it’s utilized as a mid-season version of the truck’s own all-star race then I’m all for it.  But if it’s an actual points paying date on the schedule, I have one suggestion:

Host it on the weekend closest to April 1st.  Because this would be the ultimate joke.

It has not been officially announced yet, but U.S. fans of Formula 1 racing will have to tune their televisions to a new network starting next season.  SPEED TV – part of the Fox family of networks – will no longer be this country’s supplier of the world’s top echelon of motorsport (after 17 years) as the F1 airing rights switch hands to NBC Sports.  The main factor at play in all of this is that Fox is choosing to rebrand SPEED as an all-sports type of network.  Yes, there is already Fox Sports Network but it is working at a much smaller level than what SPEED has been at for the past decade.

I for one am highly disappointed in this forthcoming change.  Not so much the reworking and ultimately the loss of SPEED, but more so for the change in F1 coverage.  The current on-air crew is spectacular: Bob Varsha – the broadcaster with decades of experience covering F1 and all racing ; David Hobbs – the ex-racer with an immense racing resume and full of incredible stories; Steve Matchett – the former F1 mechanic throughout the 90s who is an encyclopedia of technical knowledge.  Toss in long time on-site paddock reporter Peter Windsor (whose F1 credentials are endless) and his successor the past three seasons Will Buxton and you have arguably the best Formula 1 broadcasting team in the world.

I know it is very early on in this change and details from NBC will eventually emerge, but based on their racing coverage in the past and what is being left behind at SPEED, I do not foresee much of an appetite to give the same devotion toward watching the series.

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On Tuesday afternoon, the Everett Silvertips made a bit of a splash by trading second year forward Ryan Chynoweth to the Tri-City Americans in exchange for a conditional fifth round bantam draft pick.  It became well documented after the move that Ryan had made a request to be traded.  A large reason for that was due to a bit of a slow start to his season and getting bounced around at the bottom of the lines sheet by new faces.

I was really surprised when I saw the news as Ryan was definitely a long-term piece of the rebuilding process for the Tips.  Sure the first couple of weeks to the season weren’t anything eye opening from him but last season was a very solid, promising year.  It seemed that it would only be a matter of time before he hit his stride and began to be a steady contributor to the team.  Beyond that you can’t deny his pedigree and figure that, at some point, his bloodlines alone would give him that little bit of an extra boost.

Now don’t even get me started on junior hockey players requesting trades.  Unless it’s for a family situation back home I find it completely uncalled for and a huge mistake by the player.  However, that’s a path to kick some rocks down at a later time.  That was my first real assessment of the situation.  My second?  The chance to have a little bit of fun with it in terms of potential underlying factors.  Let’s see if the Silvertips and Kootenay ICE make a decent deal at some point this season.  Kootenay’s General Manager is Jeff Chynoweth – Ryan’s dad.  Jeff’s dad – Ed Chynoweth – is the founding father of the Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League umbrella itself.  Needless to say, the name has some clout and when one of them talks people listen.  So, would it really be that far-fetched to wonder if Jeff offered possibilities of future business between the teams in exchange for the Tips granting his son his wish?  Or if that wasn’t discussed but the Tips choose to play that card if they ever do put in a call to Cranbrook?

How far off base – or, more appropriately, off the rink – am I with that?  Hell, I’m probably not even in the same building.  It’s just something fun to ponder and to keep in the back of your mind; more entertaining than anything else.  Which, with watching a rebuilding team on the ice, entertaining mental distractions could be a good thing to have at the ready.

 

Chris Economaki passed away.  I know I’m slow in mentioning this as it happened almost two weeks ago, but I knew I needed to join the ever growing stack of tributes for the greatest, most influential journalist the sport of racing has ever known; the greatest it will ever know.  In absolutely no way can you begin to tabulate how many lives Mr. Economaki impacted (tens of thousands would be a safe bet) or how many race tracks and series he helped to grow (easily in the thousands).  He was the one man who you wanted to know your name.  If you saw your name in print and he was the one who put it there, you knew you were legitimate within the sport.

From the time he started his involvement at the age of 13 up until the time of his death at the age of 91, he always stayed true to his beliefs and ideals about the sport.  As so many aspiring journalists and media members these days sell themselves out, Chris never did; never caved to the pressures of what the higher powers at be would prefer to see him write.  He wrote what he wanted to, he wrote it how he wanted to and he defended, promoted and denounced who he wanted to.  Whether you were a weekend warrior who only raced locally a few Saturday nights out of the year or if you were one of the world’s elite racers touring the world, you hung onto and cherished every word he wrote or said.

Given what he did for the sport I can say that I honestly believe I would never have had a job writing in racing if not for Chris Economaki.  One of our most important voices is silenced.  Easily our most important pen has run dry.

There’s only one thing that every member of the racing family can say: thank you Mr. Economaki.

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There’s no secret what my true feelings about NASCAR are.  I think it’s a joke of a racing organization that epitomizes the corruption of politics and money in sports.  If the corporation cared more about the racing than padding their back pocket then maybe they wouldn’t be pissing people off every time their cars take to the track.  Whether it be fans, owners, drivers or sponsors it seems that each weekend there’s someone who feels betrayed after the last checkered flag flies.  This past weekend was no different.

I do not watch the Cup series but it is the NFL of racing here in the states.  It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing it is only a matter of time before you overhear or see information and results regarding the races.  That was no different on Sunday evening when I flipped on Sports Center and saw the footage of the last lap crash at Talladega.  My first reaction: turn the channel because I don’t give enough of a damn to give the series even 45-seconds of my time.  So, that’s what I did but not before I saw the smoke starting to billow and Tony Stewart’s car begin going airborne.  No, I don’t know how it all ended but I saw all I needed to know that NASCAR had struck again.

In a post I made last year about this same time I called out the organization for scripting and manufacturing the outcome of their championship.  Restrictor plate racing – what Talladega and Daytona are – is the same exact concept just on a smaller scale.  Instead of playing out over the course of months as the title script does, these races play out over just a few hours.  The racing at these two tracks is nothing more than made for TV cheapened sport.  NASCAR wants the big packs of cars which lead to the big wrecks, plain and simple.  Why do they want that?  Because the supposed “racing fans” who tune in to watch plate races only want to see “The Big One” – more viewers on TV lead to more people wanting to put their butts in the seats which leads to more bottom line dollars for the company.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has now retracted his post-race comments from Sunday in which he referred to restrictor plate racing as “blood thirsty” and if every race were like that he’d find another job.  I for one full on applaud him for saying what he did; I am discouraged to hear that he apologized.  The only way this will get fixed is if more drivers had the pair of attachments necessary to make these comments and then stand behind them.  All of the drivers hate it, but none have what it takes to speak up as an individual because they are scared of NASCAR.  That makes it even more important for the guys in the garage who strap on the helmets to band together and become one voice.  No, there is not a drivers union but that doesn’t mean they can’t act like there’s one.

Good job, NASCAR.  You once again managed to manufacture a disgusting spectacle that resulted in millions of dollars lost to the teams in wrecked racecars and put dozens of lives in jeopardy all for your own personal satisfaction.  I understand that it’s all about trying to make as much money as is necessary to sustain a business, but there comes a time where you have to draw a line – a fine line – between a hard earned dollar and what you are putting it on the verge of becoming.

Blood money will not benefit anyone, not even you.

The Natonal Hockey League and National Hockey League Player’s Association are scheduled to have talks both tomorrow and Thursday, but ultimately those talks aren’t expected to lead anywhere.  Gee, what else should we the fans expect?  The league’s regular season was slated to start on Thursday with four games.  Instead of being at the rink, however, everyone will have their focus on seemingly pointless meetings as the two sides talk about “secondary” issues and nothing that will have a profound impact on the creation of a new CBA.  Meanwhile, more players are heading overseas to play in Europe.  It doesn’t take a genius to see how those movements do not bode well for the hopes of the season being reinstated.  If a deal was close, every one of those players would be staring at the phone waiting for their agent to call and not tying up the line with their travel agent.

One bright spot of the lockout – using that term extremely loosely – is the added focus to the lower levels of the sport.  The American Hockey League will get tremendous exposure thanks to both the added media as well as NHLers heading down to play.  Some will go even further south in the development leagues as both Scott Gomez (New York Rangers; Tri-City Americans alum) and Nate Thompson (Tampa Bay Lightning; Prince George Cougars alum) will go home to Alaska to play in Anchorage for the Aces of the ECHL.  One side note to Gomez: last lockout he played for the Aces and fell victim to a cheap shot that resulted in broken ribs (and disciplinary action to the team’s PA announcer for comments made during a later game).  An NHL owner’s greatest fear which is ironic because you can point the finger at them for creating the scenario in the first place.

Meanwhile I have put all of my NHL apparel in the closet.  My Canucks license plate frame is in hiding.  Anyone know where I can buy some NHLPA apparel?  Screw the owners and let the players play.  The day the puck once again drops will be a great day for hockey fans but will pale in comparison to the day that Gary Bettman finally goes away.

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Now that the NHL has officially begun to cancel games they have made it so much easier to despise them.  I can’t say definitively that I won’t talk about the lockout from this point forward, but I will do my best to avoid it at all costs.  Instead, I too will focus my attention to the other leagues still playing with the Western Hockey League being my primary point of emphasis.  By far and away the best developmental league in the world, I realize just how incredibly lucky I am to get to enjoy it on a regular basis thanks to the Everett Silvertips.  Through the years I have been able to witness some great talents come through town both for the Tips as well as the visiting teams: Gilbert Brule, Brandon Dubinsky, Shea Weber, Milan Lucic, Peter Mueller, Carey Price, Leland Irving, Ryan Murray.  The list goes on and on.

It’s too early to say, but last Wednesday night we may have witnessed another name to pencil onto that list.  Tri-City Americans second year goaltender Eric Comrie put forth one of the best performances I have ever seen.   Every shot he was reading the whole way.  Every rebound he was in position to make a follow-up save.  If a shot was wide and he ended up waving at it he would watch it all the way to the boards.  My body hurt just watching some of the lunging, sprawling stops he was making.  The kid was standing on his head.   Oh, did I mention all of this was just during the pre-game warm-up.  Through the years I have learned that it’s tough to get a read on how a skater will perform that night based on the pre-game skate, but goalies give a little bit more of an accurate read and that night was the first time I’ve seen a net minder win a game for his team during warm-up.

Yes, it was just one date on a long schedule but I will stand up and applaud Eric Comrie for proving what every good parent and every good coach tries to instill in their youngsters: if you practice great, you will play great.   Don’t be surprised to be hearing and reading his name for a long time to come.