The 2011 Speedweeks has been a sharp reminder for me that many people in the racing community disagree about what real racing is. No series in the past has been more criticized by racing fans than NASCAR. Many of the people criticizing are NASCAR fans themselves. We watch over old recordings of past races and think to ourselves, “Wow, now THAT was real racing”. I, too, have been wrapped up in this nostalgic attitude of the past as always being better than the present. Over the past few years, however, I have changed my attitude about this subject. The racing now, especially in NASCAR, is still very good. Sure, there are things I would like to change, but all in all, it’s good, hard racing.
This issue is not new to me. It was, however, renewed earlier this year at Daytona. Up until this year, drivers have been racing on the same Daytona surface since 1979. The track was more than due for a repaving, as we all found out during last year’s 500. Currently, the track is like driving on the freeway, which is a sharp contrast to the bumpy pavement that the drivers had to deal with for several decades. One thing that many predicted was that the drivers would reach speeds over 200mph, which happened. Others predicted that the drivers would find grip that they never had in the past; this too happened. One thing, however, that no one could really see happening is the type of racing that has been produced at Daytona this year, which some call the “two car tango”. Many fans were appalled and said that this new surface “ruined Daytona” and “killed the racing”. Other’s were bold and said things along the lines of “this so-called ‘racing’ is embarrassing to the once great sport”. Even the King, Richard Petty, said he was “ashamed to be a part of it” (referring to this style of racing).
Fans were undoubtedly upset and didn’t view this style of racing as, well, racing. In my mind, however, it was one of the best Daytona 500s I’ve ever seen. If this style of racing isn’t actually racing, then what is? In almost every series this phrase comes up, but in none more often than in NASCAR. With the spring Talladega race looming, there’s no doubt in my mind that this question will be raised again. It’s unfortunate, as the Daytona 500 was action packed from start to finish and had one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. I’m guessing that Talladega will be no different.
It’s too bad that so many fans are caught up in this idea that if the racing isn’t the standard type of race that is seen at places such as Texas or Darlington and if the racing doesn’t end up in a bumper-to-bumper amazing finish, that it’s not real racing, let alone good racing. This idea has to be thrown out the window. Fans week after week are selfishly expecting a perfect race. Last time I checked, that never happens. Even this past week at Texas, Matt Kenneth all but dominated, which translates into a boring race. Not too long ago, this type of racing was a regular week-to-week occurrence: one driver clearly has the best car and leads most of the laps. Over the past few years, the racing has become tighter and more action filled, such as the races at California and Martinsville.
Still, people criticize NASCAR of today as not being “true racing” or “real racing”. I don’t get it. I’ve not only seen races of the past, but I’ve also seen clips of races that took place long before I was born. There are many things that have changed, mind you. The faces are different, the cars are different, the tracks are different and the overall feel is quite different. The racing, however, is very similar. I would argue that the racing of today is actually quite a lot better. It’s unheard of to have one driver so unmatched that he laps the field, possibly more than once. Yes, there was beating and banging back then, but look at the racing today: there’s a lot of the same thing going on. People also will claim that NASCAR ruined Bristol by taking this beating and banging aspect out of the question. Again, fans claim that the new Bristol is not “good racing”. Truthfully, in my mind the new Bristol is just a smaller version of Dover. It’s still good racing, just different.
That can be said for any of the tracks that NASCAR races on throughout the year: they’re different from one another. NASCAR is one of the top series in the world and arguably houses the best drivers in the world. Why is it a bad thing to have different styles of racing in the thirty-six race schedule? In my opinion, there isn’t enough variation as it is. The restrictor plate races provide a different kind of racing. Some may like it and some may not. It’s not embarrassing and it’s not “not racing”. It’s just different. The same goes for every race of the year. Is the new Bristol not “racing” because it actually involves the drivers’ ability to pass instead of simply rooting them out of the way? No. This whole notion is utterly ridiculous and really puts an overall damper on the sport. I, for one, am looking forward to Talladega and am curious to see what kind of racing it produces. All in all, I hope this obsession over what’s “real racing” and what isn’t is put to rest for good.