Imagine if Twitter had been around back in Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s day and he liked to tweet. Wouldn’t that be an interesting situation. It would pretty much go like this:
@TheIntimidator_3: All I wanted to do was rattle that sumbitch’s cage! He was in my way, so #NoRegrets.
Okay, so I doubt he would’ve joined Twitter, but it would’ve been cool to see what he would type. Since he was outspoken, he would get fined a lot for saying whatever came to mind. But, in today’s NASCAR setting, The Intimidator wouldn’t be able to say much, if anything, bad about a race or a competitor.
Two seasons ago in 2010, NASCAR was promoting the philosophy of ‘Boys Have at It.’ Not only did that apply to the style of racing, but it pushed drivers to speak more freely and voice once-silent opinions. The motto was an attempt to excite the fans and make the racing more thrilling to watch. This worked for a while, the big moment being when Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton getting into a physical altercation at Texas that year. Fans ate it up, young ones intrigued, older ones reminiscing about the years long before. It was a winning combination.
Then, lines began to blur; what was acceptable, what wasn’t? How did you determine what was intentional or on accident? This was the first bump in the road.
Drivers’ opinions was the next issue. Twitter is, as defined, a social media site. Interaction is key. People were ready to see the real driver, the personality that came out once the firesuit was off. Fans wanted the connection that was found back in the day, where a driver was their hero because they could relate. People such as Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman voiced their thoughts on EFI and ‘phantom’ cautions. It was a refreshing point of view. However, NASCAR didn’t see it that way, and all three drivers were slapped with fines.
This begs the question if NASCAR is becoming too strict and controlling. Can ‘Boys Have at It’ make a comeback?
Bringing the motto back would help, no doubt; lately, there have been less cautions, long green flag runs, and not much action. Fans are vocal. They want excitement, something NASCAR tried to create with the idea back in 2010. A looser leash on drivers’ thoughts and on-track scuffles.
Sounds good, right?
Not so fast.
I don’t think NASCAR realizes that they are the cause of some current struggles, like track attendance. If our sport would stop hovering, fans would start filling the tracks’ stands. Bristol, for example; our economy and hotel prices, combated with hum-drum racing, made the venue pretty bare. Bristol is one of the most hyped-up places on our schedule, and there is was back in March, seats not filled. Back in the day, if nobody came to the race, the drivers and their families didn’t eat. Attendance is still crucial as it was back then, for different reasons, of course.
Personally, I am amazed with Old School NASCAR. The fist fights, the white-knuckle racing, how it was easier to discipline; it took the worst to get in trouble. I like that. It was the core of our sport. Things have changed, of course, but wouldn’t it be nice to see drivers go against each other, not afraid of consequences or probations?
In no way am I supporting no control at all. If you wreck someone intentionally, and the crash is severe and causes injuries, punishment is deserved. But the small stuff shouldn’t be sweated, like Twitter comments about a new fueling method. Then, the rare times drivers get in each others’ faces. It doesn’t happen a lot, so, when it does, why make a big deal out of it. I would want the two to settle it on pit road through a heated conversation than ruin good racecars.
Instead of trying to perfect the sport, highlight the flawed moments. The extra breathing room could help NASCAR, which it needs at the moment.