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Kligerman: NASCAR is Uncool, Which Makes It So Cool

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“I met you. You are not cool.” – Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous”

NASCAR also is not cool.

How do I know this? No sport would be making the monumental news as we saw Monday, if everything was as cool as the backside of Pluto.

These are the signs of something feeling seemingly uncool.

And to be honest  —  I love that.

Many of you will start hitting your screens at this point, sending your misspelled death threats and attempting to throw me out of this sport. The fact is if NASCAR was actually “cool,” none of the 2017 enhancements would have happened (which would delight many of the longtime fans).

Over the last three years alone, we have seen changes in how NASCAR crowns a champion, how the cars are driven, set up and built … and now, how NASCAR conducts the simple matter of a race.

We are no different than the young man leaving middle school who is more interested in some fantasy role-playing game than girls. He enters high school realizing he has very few friends. So he decides to smoke cigarettes, wear a hoodie and buys overpriced sneakers.

Most of the “cool” kids will see through that, so he will remain where he started – uncool.

And that’s good.

The thing is, when you think back to your high school days, the most uncool people go on to do simply the coolest things.

NASCAR can be uncool, but revolutionizing its approach to racing could be the coolest thing yet.

As Hoffman’s character also said in Cameron Crowe’s cult classic about the price of fame and success in 1970s rock and roll: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

Which is exactly where NASCAR is as a sport. We are sharing the asocial actions together, witnessing some truly cool times.

Who’s cooler? Kim Kardashian? Or the anonymous man, three whiskeys deep at Pianos on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, playing acoustic sets on Wednesdays with a voice made of gravel and tobacco tar?

Sure, the man is not as “cool” as a reality TV show star on Instagram.

But give him two hours, as you sip on your cocktail or Pabst Blue Ribbon of choice. He will weave you through the ups and downs of a lost soul searching for what Kim Kardashian has. He will lament his past chances and the gig that made him a star for a week.

It’s his mysterious, dark and depressing reality that makes him so uncool.

His set will end, and you’ll walk up and say it was incredible. He’ll toss a glance, say, “Thanks” than go back to his phone to check a text. He’ll fish around his pocket for his Metrocard, look back at you and remind you that you can now find him on iTtunes. Although there have been millions before him in the same position, even he sees a need to change with the times.

He can remain uncool even while striving for a relevance that keeps him earnestly and genuinely appealing.

With Kim Kardashian, her life is supposed to be the coolest, but you know everything about it. We all can figure out what it’s like to be uber-rich, as you can just look at one of the million shows dedicated to their lifestyles. There really isn’t a big difference between partying with Kanye West and your best friends, aside from a possibly nicer setting.

Over time her reign as the coolest thing on the Internet will fade like the gloss on Kanye’s Lamborghini.

But the man at Pianos still will be playing on Wednesdays. And still entertaining.

It’s much the same with NASCAR.

For many years before and after the new millennium, we raced our way into the position of the fastest-growing sport in the land of the free. Many thought when they saw pop-culture stars at a race, that they would all become fans, and NASCAR would be cool.

It didn’t happen, and in my view, we are better for it.

We are not the coolest kids on the block.

We don’t find our stars on Page Six, or splashed in Internet scandals. Our races don’t draw the courtside celebrity appearances often seen at games that strive for the validation of a culture built around reality TV tastemakers such as Kardashian.

But who cares?

We have stars such as Jimmie Johnson, who is as real as any guy you might find sipping a Corona on a summer night in a tropical bar.

He also wields a beard so perfect, scientists will study it to help create lifelike robots. His athleticism, determination and simple grit have made him   a legend.

Or on the younger scale, we have stars who seem to represent the very definition of individuality. Such as Ryan Blaney, whose flowing locks my sister describes as “hot.” He is a Star Wars geek with a growing penchant for New York City who, if asked, could drive his car to Mars.

Or Chris Buescher, who represents the next generation of farmer. Doing your farming (whatever that might entail) while making sure it’s all on Snapchat and Instagram. He found a way to become a rising star by sleeping on a man’s couch.

Even Daniel Suarez, who calmly has carried the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders. Through that, he has found a way to win and become a champion. Now he has a chance at becoming a star that could be a bonafide hero in his home country.

We may have lost the chance at being cool, like the man singing at Pianos.

But the fact is our uncoolness is producing enhancements that 20 years ago would have been described as lunacy. Our stars are more real and interesting than any of the supposed “cool” ones out there.

No matter which way the sport heads, I think it’s going to be an unsterilized, chaotic, glorious, hell of a time.

That’s what makes it so damn cool.

Join me.

For we are not cool.

Mother’s tears a celebration of a journey more than a decade in the making

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — After her son Garrett raced to a career-high fifth-place finish in Saturday’s quintuple-overtime Xfinity race, Bethanie Smithley could not contain her emotions.

Memories flashed to when he wanted to race even though neither parent knew anything about the sport other than what they viewed from the stands. Then there was the sign that what they were doing was the right thing. And the memories of how pillow cushions helped Garrett’s racing career.

All that was before Garrett joined JD Motorsports, an underfunded team that is at the track each weekend but not often noticed.

He overcame an early spin and avoided the late crashes to collect his third career Xfinity top-10 finish, spurring a family celebration on pit road afterward.

“It’s the satisfaction that going out on a limb for your child when you don’t necessarily want to go out there … is worth it,’’ Bethanie said between tears.

“It’s the payback. It’s the affirmation that we made the right decision and that all the sacrifices we made, the family vacations we didn’t take, it was worth it.’’

Garrett Smithley, a 25-year-old from Ligonier, Pennsylvania, pointed to the Daytona International Speedway stands and about where he and his family sat 12 years ago.

A passion grew.

He started racing in 2007 in Bandolero cars.

“I had to learn to tow a race trailer,’’ Bethanie Smithley said.

“I had to learn how to be crew chief,’’ said RK Smithley, Garrett’s dad.

One of the requests the family made before buying a Bandolero car was that they be showed how to set it up.

“We could have never dreamed this would turn into a profession,’’ Bethanie said. “We thought it would be a short-term hobby. Every time he’s moved forward there’s just been some provision that I felt was divine providence for him to be a race car driver.’’

The first time Garrett went to test a Legends car, they pulled up to the shop. When Bethanie opened the truck door to exit, Bill Elliott stood 2 feet away.

“He was one of our favorite NASCAR drivers,’’ she said. “To me that was kind of a sign that it’s going to be OK that your son wants to go racing. All along the right person has come along at the right time to help him move forward.’’

While driving a No. 43 Legends car, Garrett’s talent was spotted and he was invited to a Richard Petty Driver Search.

Former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope saw Garrett at a test, leading to Garrett’s ARCA debut in 2014. He shared a car at the test with another driver, who was much bigger. Garrett’s parents brought pillows from their hotel couch so he could fit in the seat.

The following year, Garrett made his Camping World Truck Series debut with the Mittler Brothers, the same team Carl Edwards made his series debut with in 2002. Garrett is in his third season with JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

“Johnny went on a limb,’’ Garrett said. “He had some better deals. He said I really want you to drive my 0 car.’’

As often happens the night before the first race of the season, Garrett couldn’t sleep Friday. He posted a picture on Twitter after midnight of the lit Daytona stands with the note: “Never taking this for granted.’’

“You come so close to not making it and not making it and not making it … this feels really special,’’ Garrett said.

Enough to make a mother cry.

“Along the way somebody has always noticed that talent,’’ Bethanie said. “I fully believe it will lead to him being in Cup one day. I don’t know how long.

“I also say because he’s done so well at these superspeedways, I think one of these days he’ll be in Victory Lane, although right now it feels like we’re there.’’

Instead, she and RK stood behind pit wall. The sun faded behind the stands and sweepers cleaned pit road. A few people pushed team pit boxes into position to be loaded onto trucks and head to the next race. RK and Bethanie were alone.

As they walked away, she turned to one person working on the pit boxes that she knew.

“I need a hug.’’

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Race results, point standings after Xfinity Series opener at Daytona

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Tyler Reddick began his tenure with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series by coming out on top in the closest finish in national NASCAR series history.

Reddick beat Elliott Sadler by 0.000 to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. It is his second career win.

The top five was completed by Ryan Reed, Kaz Grala and Garrett Smithley.

Click here for the race results.

With his win, the 22-year-old driver leaves Daytona with a nine-point lead over Sadler.

Completing the top five in the standings are Spencer Gallagher (-11), Ryan Truex (-15) and Reed (-16).

Click here for the point standings.

Tyler Reddick wins Xfinity Series opener at Daytona in overtime finish

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Tyler Reddick won the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona after a track record 12 cautions, a record five restarts in overtime and one red flag period.

Driving the No. 9 Chevrolet, Reddick beat his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in the closest finish in national NASCAR series history, earning his second Xfinity win.

The margin of victory was 0.000.

“That was insane. I just saw a picture of it like 10 minutes ago. It’s not much,” Reddick said in the winner’s press conference. “I guess it was just enough, just soon enough.”

The previous closest finish was .001 in the 1995 Truck Series race at Colorado National Speedway, won by Butch Miller over Mike Skinner.

The top five was completed by Ryan Reed, rookie Kaz Grala and Garrett Smithley.

“Feels amazing,” Reddick told Fox Sports 1. “This was a hell of a way to start off the year with JR Motorsports. … This is a hell of way to get my second win, my first win with JR Motorsports.”

Reddick is now qualified for the Xfinity playoffs.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” Reddick said. “It’s just going to take a little bit of time to het honed in. I guess we’re getting along good right off the bat. We were having some problems all day long. We were having some issues with the motor. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it held on all race long. It was getting worse at the end.”

Reddick, 22, led 11 laps in the race. None of them were in regulation.

Overtime was setup by a spin by Sadler with three laps to go in the scheduled distance on the backstretch. Sadler had previously been black flagged along with Chase Elliott for locking their bumpers together for too long with 26 to go.

Sadler was able to mount a comeback thanks to a crash with 22 to go.

It resulted in his third runner-up finish in the last three restrictor-plate races.

“I was trying to figure out how close to get to (Reddick),” Sadler told Fox Sports 1. “My spotter was telling me the 16 (Reed) was coming too, so I didn’t want to leave him the outside. Man, I really want to win this race. Most eventful race I’ve ever been a part of. Spun there twice. Got black flagged for absolutely no reason in my opinion but that’s the way it goes. … I’m proud that a JR Motorsports car went to victory lane, but I wish it was us today.”

Originally scheduled for 120 laps, the race ended after 143 laps. That’s a series record at Daytona.

The first overtime attempt was marred by a massive wreck on the backstretch that involved 18 cars.

The race marked the 100th for Xfinity as the series sponsor.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Larson

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

MORE: Race results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Garrett Smithley bounced back from a late-race accident to earn his first top five in his 67th start. His previous best result was eighth in this race last year … Ryan Reed earned his sixth top five. Four have come at Daytona … Spencer Gallagher finished a career-best sixth in his 41st start. Gallagher had been involved in a one-car accident on the second overtime restart … Jeff Green finished 11th for his best finish since placing 10th at Talladega last year.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: In his first start on an oval in Xfinity, Austin Cindric started a eight-car wreck in the tri-oval as the field began Lap 11. The wreck eliminated Cindric and Christopher Bell … With 14 to go in the original distance, the caution waived for separate spins by Garrett Smithley and Michael Annett in the tri-oval. Smithley was turned by Ryan Truex and Annett was turned by Brandon Jones … Drivers included in the massive crash on first overtime restart: Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Chase Elliot, Joey Gase, Aric Almirola, Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon, Matt Tifft, Jeremy Clements, Joe Nemechek, Brandon Brown, Cole Custer, Daniel Suarez, Brandon Jones, David Starr, Jeff Green, Dylan Lupton and Caesar Bacarella.

NOTABLE: Reddick’s win is his second at Daytona. He won the 2015 Truck Series opener at the track. The average age of the field was 28 years, 10 months and 11 days, the youngest ever at Daytona … The 357.5 miles in the race is the second longest race in series history in terms of miles.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When I have enough fuel, yes.” – David Elenz, crew chief for Tyler Reddick when asked if he likes unlimited restarts in overtime.

QUOTE OF THE DAY 2: “Either way, fine with me.” – JR Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. after being told the margin of victory was the closest in history.

WHAT’S NEXT: Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 24 on Fox Sports 1.

Barney Visser back at track, still recovering from heart ailment

Dustin Long
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Barney Visser won’t be back to full health for at least another three months, but the owner of Furniture Row Racing will attend tomorrow’s Daytona 500 three months after a heart attack scare.

The episode kept Visser from seeing Martin Truex Jr. win the team’s first Cup championship in person.

It occurred on Nov. 4 and he underwent bypass surgery two days later.

“There’s nothing like getting new pipes,” Visser said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “As good as I feel now, this is a home run.”

Visser, who has fielded cars in NASCAR since 2005, was back at a track for the first time on Friday.

“I missed the people and the competitive spirit,” Visser said. “I heard the engines fire up the other day, and I realized how much I missed that.”

Visser’s health scare was preceded by six months of angina, a symptom of coronary artery disease.

“It was just a burning lung sensation that would come and go,” Visser said. “So I should have paid more attention to that.  But my arm was numb all night the night before I went in (to the hospital), and usually you get up in the morning and you shake that stuff off, but it just wouldn’t shake off.  So I went into the hospital, and they started running tests and did an angiogram that afternoon, and they couldn’t stent it after ‑‑ they’ll try to stent it if they can, and one of them was 99 percent blocked, and they just couldn’t do it. I had to wait for a bypass on Monday.

“If there was a heart attack, and the doctors in the hospital told me there was, my cardiologist ‑‑ these guys take a lot of pride in this stuff and whether or not the patients have heart ‑‑ he doesn’t think I did because of the numbers, but I think what happened is on the gurney on the way to the angiogram, it just felt like somebody was ripping my chest open, and I started complaining about it, and they handed me a nitroglycerin, and I passed out at that point and don’t remember much after that.  They did the angiogram, and I remember a bossy little woman who was the doctor.  She was an angioplasty specialist, and she was going to do the stent.  Everyone was terrified of her.  That’s all I remember about that.”

Visser said his father underwent bypass surgery 40 years ago. But the team owner said he never thought he wouldn’t make it through the procedure.

Visser believes he’ll have more energy at the race track following his ordeal.

“I feel like I’ll have a little more gas after the race now,” Visser said.  “I remember Claire (B Lang of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) talking to me a few times after wins, and I don’t ‑‑ I just was almost dead.  I didn’t realize how tired I was.  I think it’ll be better now.  I’m looking forward to that.”

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