Car racing is about showing me the money

By Holly Vanorse | Mar 03, 2010

The day after Christmas, I begin one of three countdowns. Not just to the start of the Major League Soccer League season, or the start of spring when I can get my kayak in one of the area lakes, but to my favorite time of year. I start the countdown to when on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, I can ask the question I probably ask a million times during roughly 10 months.

"How are my drivers doing?"

That can only mean one thing — NASCAR has officially started its 36-race run for the Sprint Cup Series of racing. The cream of the crop? The Daytona 500, racing's version of the Super Bowl.

It's also the one race of the year that I watch in it's entirety, cautions, delays and all. It's also probably the one day out 365 that my cell phone goes completely neglected, even turned off for most of the day.

I develop tunnel vision, seeing only the television in front of me. I hear only the announcers, the cars racing — and crashing. I pretty much walk around with "Do Not Disturb" signs flashing in both eyes. 

I've been an avid NASCAR fan my entire life. That's almost three decades of racing my eyes have seen.

I've seen countless wrecks. Some when the driver was able to walk away and race again. Some when the driver wasn't so lucky. I've watched newcomers come in through the Busch Series (now Nationwide) and rise to the ranks of the Winston Cup (now Sprint).

I've also seen some of the top drivers fall from those ranks they worked hard to climb.

I've griped and rolled my eyes along with millions of other NASCAR fans when the rules changed from year to year. Especially with the arrival of the "Car of Tomorrow" (COT). And knew the COT could potentially kill NASCAR faster than the recession could.

Through all the ins and outs of racing, something has been happening more and more over the past few years, and it not only drives me — and other fans — nuts, but confuses the heck out of me.

Sprint Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide Series.

There, I dared to say it out loud.

Like the big hole that appeared on Daytona's beloved International Speedway in the middle of the racing season's opening event, Sprint Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series is a problem, and NASCAR doesn't want to do anything to fix it unless it becomes a huge, and unavoidable problem.

The Nationwide Series can be equated with the minor leagues. It's where the little guys go to learn. Where they start before climbing the ladder and becoming one of the big guys, a "major leaguer," a Sprint Cup racer.

Yes, it's hard to believe, but once upon a time, Jimmy Johnson was a "nobody" by the terms used to describe "minor leaguers."

Everyone has to start somewhere, be it on a dirt track or an asphalt one. They have to learn the ins and outs of the profession they've chosen. Learn how to make themselves better. Climb the workforce ladder. However, if you have the guys that already made that climb coming back down that ladder, fingers get crushed and people fall off.

The big guys like Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and yes, even one of my own favorites, Kevin Harvick, are among several of the big timers in the Sprint Cup that are known for racing in the Nationwide Series, and taking seats away from those trying to come up the ranks.

Owners of the Nationwide cars are more likely to put someone like Edwards or Tony Stewart behind the wheel of their car then say, John Diddly from Podunk, because essentially, Stewart is a name that will not only draw fans attention to the car, but will rake in a lot more money being a bigger name than "Diddly," therefore making the owner big cash.

Has racing really become all about the money?

Sadly, it looks like that's the turn, no pun intended, it's taken. Two races into the season and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already raked in more than $1 million in winnings. Edwards and Busch have pulled in, between Nationwide and Sprint, nearly $1 million a piece and Greg Biffle, between the two racing series, has banked on well over a million.

I'd hate to be like the racing naysayers, but seriously? Just to drive in circles?

When NASCAR officials were contemplating limiting, yes limiting, not cutting them off completely, how many races a Sprint Cup driver could participate in for the Nationwide races, Sprint drivers who did the multi-series run were livid. They whined. They complained. Said it wasn't right.

Really?

If they were just starting out and trying to come up through and there's big leaguer Joe Bob McAllister, seven-time Sprint Cup champion, sitting in a Nationwide car, making one less seat available for racing, they'd be upset that they were not being given the opportunity to show their stuff.

It also puts the multi-series drivers at an unfair advantage. Racing the same track in an actual competitive race, not a two- or three-car practice run, but an actual 30- or more car race, gives the driver of the car a better feel for how the track is that weekend. It allows the driver have more time to find that specific grove they need to ride in to move up the pack in the race. So, when it comes time to race the following day in the Sprint Cup race, they've had more practice than the single-series driver.

Fans are leaving NASCAR.

What do the NASCAR officials do? It announces that it's letting racing go back to just that, racing. Hoping that it draws the fans back in.

What NASCAR should have done is surfed the web, found the fan blogs or forums. Read why fans are leaving. You could sit there for hours, days even, reading the blogs and forum threads on various sites full of people questioning why Sprint drivers are racing in Nationwide. They question the fairness of it. The motives behind the drivers, car owners and even NASCAR for letting all parties involved do it.

Racing, which was once a "grassroots" sport, has, over the past decade, become just like pretty much every other pro sport in America.

It's all become about the Benjamins, baby.

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