The governing body of NASCAR is reminiscent of the ‘Great Oz’ with its true agenda hidden behind a curtain of mystery. Sleight of hand and misdirection create the illusion that NASCAR is a sport driven by the desires of its passionate fans.
They almost pull it off until something happens like the debacle at Richmond at the end of the regular season last year when the race results were blatantly manipulated to ensure certain drivers made it into the Chase. After a few days to review the incidents, NASCAR reacted by issuing fines and penalties. The boldest move was the addition of an unprecedented 13th driver (Jeff Gordon) to the Sprint Cup Chase.
When the fans suggested that NASCAR was equally as guilty of manipulation as those being penalized, Chairman Brian France was quick to establish who is in charge.” I am Oz the great and powerful,” he proclaimed. Well, maybe not in those exact words, but France emphasized that the governing body has the authority to make whatever changes are deemed necessary to “protect the integrity, which is our number one goal of NASCAR.”
The aftermath of this ruling brought out comparisons of NASCAR to the world of wrestling and did little to preserve the integrity of a sport that often struggles to define its identity. Is it sports, entertainment or perhaps a convoluted mixture of the two?
Race results have been manipulated in one form or another since stock car racing began. These instances have run the gamut from the standard practice of allowing ones teammates to pass so that they can gain extra points to drivers being told to let someone else win.
Darrell Waltrip found himself in one such predicament in 1990, his final year with Hendrick Motorsports. It was the first year since 1974 that Waltrip was winless.
But according to Waltrip’s recollection in his book, ‘DW: A Lifetime Going Around in Circles,’ he won at North Wilkesboro Speedway on April 22, 1990 in the First Union 400. Yet, Brett Bodine is credited as the official winner due to a scoring error.
According to the explanation given in the book, “NASCAR, and even Larry McReynolds, the crew chief at the time for Brett Bodine, later admitted to Waltrip, that Bodine did not actually win the race. Jeff Hammond, Waltrip’s crew chief, appealed to NASCAR officials to correct what was clearly an error in NASCAR’s scoring of the event.”
Waltrip took his protest to Bill France Jr. and was told by France to “leave that boy alone, D.W., that’s his first win and you are going to win a lot more races.”
NASCAR history is filled with similar examples. These were all accepted practices, until they weren’t. Who determines what is fair, where the line is drawn and who keeps moving the line? It’s often difficult to determine who is pulling the strings but in today’s world of social media, the fans have added their collective voice to shape the perceptions of right and wrong. NASCAR says that they are listening.
This season brought more machinations by NASCAR to deliver the type of racing they believe fans want with rule changes to the Sprint Cup Chase format that place more emphasis on winning. However, many fans have been adamant in their dislike of a system that places more value on one win than a season of competitiveness.
The changes were also intended to promote more competitive racing and discourage points racing. Over half of the race finishes this season have been impacted by late race cautions. Coincidence or design?
Is this a true reflection of what fans desire or NASCAR’s misguided interpretation of “I know I’m not the wizard you expected but I might be the wizard you need.”
This was never more evident than this past weekend at Richmond International Raceway when Marcos Amrbose and Casey Mears had an altercation after the race. A shove by Mears and a right cross by Ambrose overshadowed Logano’s second win of the season.
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this fight will make it onto the highlight reel as it showcases what many fans love about short track racing. These tracks are known for intense racing and competitors with short fuses. It also fits right in with the on again, off again motto of “Have at it Boys,” that NASCAR likes to dust off when the racing becomes a little too predictable
Once again, however, NASCAR intervened with fines and probations issued to the drivers involved. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that their rule book has been updated to make the line between what is appropriate and what isn’t, more readily apparent. But there are still enough gray areas that the fans can never anticipate which ruling NASCAR will pull from their hat.
Quotes from the film, ‘The Wizard of Oz’
Very well written Angie, I am OZ, I love it!!! Read this: http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/vintage-speed/top-nascar-engineering-cheats
Thanks Doug, glad you liked it and I really enjoyed the article you attached. Smokey Yunick was such an innovator and I’d love to know just how many rules were added to the NASCAR rule book because of him. I never tire of reading about his exploits but in my mind he wasn’t a cheater. He was simply smarter than the ones who wrote the rule book.