I'm not a racing fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I did tune in to a few minutes of the NASCAR race Sunday afternoon at Talladega because my brother-in-law and nephew were on hand to see the race in person. Curious as to what they were seeing, I watched a bit. Very interesting. I know it takes a knock for "not being a real sport," but what I saw was pretty amazing.
At one point, a driver's rear tire blew out and his car started spinning around, with debris and smoke going everywhere. Not only was the driver not hurt, he managed to get back into the race, but that's not even the amazing part. Not one other driver wrecked as a result of the blowout and subsequent spin. They just dodged the damaged car, the flying tire skin and drove through a blanket of smoke, all at well over 100 miles an hour without crashing into each other. Had this been I-270 in St. Louis on a weekday afternoon, several people would have been killed or maimed. I was impressed.
I was also impressed by the speed and efficiency of the pit crews. I don't know how any of them can make heads or tails of the whole thing. After the tire blowout, most of the other drivers took the opportunity for a pit stop. What a chaotic scene, with pit crews flying into action just as the drivers pull into a space so small it looks like they're parallel parking, then in a matter of seconds, he's flying back onto the track again. Wow.
The other thing I liked about this race was that Jeff Gordon won. Now, as I said, I'm no racing fan, but I live in southern Missouri, and you have to be completely culturally ignorant not to be aware of what Gordon represents to NASCAR fans: he's redneck kryptonite. They hate him. And in the same vein, they love Dale Earnhart, Jr., so a win for Gordon is a loss for Earnhart, which pisses off rednecks nationwide. And there's nothing I like better than something that pisses off a redneck. The only way it could have been better was if Hillary Clinton had been in the winner's circle to plant a big soul kiss on Jeff as he sprayed Pepsi all over his crew. Yee-hah!
But as I read the recap story of the race in the local paper, I noticed that in this race, along with Daytona, the cars are equipped with something called "restrictor plates," which evidently reduces the horsepower of the engines. Now, I guess that this is designed for: a) safety; b) improved competition; or c) someone's getting kickbacks from the manufacturers of restrictor plates. There's just something about that that I don't like. Restrictor plates. Restrictions. You can only go "this fast."
NASCAR can be all about the skill of their drivers on a level playing field. If you want me to spend what little of my income is left for entertainment, I want to see a race where there are literally no restrictions whatsoever on the type of vehicle you can enter. Extreme racing. Mad Max on a two-mile oval track. Corvette's with 450-cubic inch engines. Pickup trucks with huge nitrous-oxide boosters in the payload bed. A Winnebago with a jet engine mounted on the roof. Motorcycles. Dune buggies. If it rolls on wheels and runs on gasoline, let it race. And you're only allowed to pit for gasoline. If your tires blow out, too bad—you lose! And forget about all these professional racing teams; make this a regional sport in which backyard mechanics can create the ultimate tricked-out racing monster and race it for cash and glory. Tell me this wouldn't be a huge hit both in person and on cable television. Sell it to USA Network—if they'll show reruns of the Japanese geek-fest "Most Extreme Challenge," they would jump at this idea.
Oh, and by the way, consider this concept "copyright 2005, The Sandman." After all, internet sportswriting pays even less than teaching!