Sunday’s kinetic scene was a reminder of the raw drama upon which stock-car racing was built.
The 1979 Daytona 500, the most famous race in NASCAR history, ended with a fracas very similar to Sunday (though we don’t have the benefit of knowing the literal blow by blow thanks to an intrepid reporter with a smartphone).
There were $6,000 fines handed out to the Allison brothers and Cale Yarborough, but the joke always has been that the trio should have been earning residuals from NASCAR ever since an episode that became among the most indelible in racing history.
Perhaps there will be some wrist slaps for Busch and a few of Logano’s team members, but it should end there.
Unlike the Jeff Gordon–Brad Keselowski brouhaha that resulted in four suspensions, this wasn’t an unruly melee that put others at risk in the pits. It mostly was triggered by Busch acting alone rather than a mob’s roiling angst.
Yes, Jimmy Spencer once was suspended for sucker-punching Kurt Busch after an Aug. 17, 2003 race at Michigan International Speedway.
But that wasn’t captured on video (if it had, the reaction might have been much different), and it happened during the heavily image-conscious era several years before NASCAR christened the “Boys, Have At It” policy that effectively permits frontier justice as Busch attempted to administer.
While NASCAR must be careful about tacitly celebrating such displays of violence, attempting to legislate postrace emotion would be foolhardy and run counter to everything preached about why stock-car racing stands alone as a sport that showcases passion.
The only area that perhaps needs to be addressed by NASCAR is the scene that left Busch with a bloody forehead. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver put himself in that position to great degree, but the postrace brawls might need better ground rules that put some limitations on how many burly and physically sculpted pit crew members enter the fray.
A few other leftovers from Las Vegas:
–An announcement last Friday by Las Vegas Motor Speedway underscored what a sweetheart deal Speedway Motorsports Inc. received by moving its annual fall race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to Sin City.
As part of the deal, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority agreed to spend $2.5 million annually — $1 million to the track for each race as the title sponsor and another $500,000 on marketing and promotion – for a guaranteed $17 million over seven years.
But the contract also permits the track to sell title sponsorships for each of its races, which is why the Pennzoil 400 was announced as the new name for the March 2018 race.
Las Vegas still will fork over $1 million for the March 2018 race because the city’s name remains “prominently displayed” in the event’s logo.
How “prominently?” Well, you can look here and decide for yourself.
The market value of Cup race title sponsorships can vary greatly depending on the track and race, but it’s safe to say Pennzoil is paying well into the six figures – and possibly much more – to brand the race. Though the company had an existing relationship with SMI, a track spokesman confirmed the race sponsorship was a new deal with the track.
It’s another lucrative layer to why realigning the New Hampshire race makes fiscal sense for SMI.
—The rumblings about a new manufacturer entering Cup haven’t quieted since Dodge’s multiple meetings in the offseason with NASCAR. This past weekend, there was garage buzz that 1) Dodge might be moving down the road with a team; and 2) there could be another manufacturer interested.
Is the debut of a new automaker in Cup imminent?
It would seem unlikely given the lead time required and the approvals needed by NASCAR. As a guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast (Wednesday’s episode will focus on the 2018 Camry), Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said the NASCAR OEM council, which meets quarterly, regularly discusses the sport’s next manufacturer.
But Wilson, who would “love another manufacturer to join the sport,” said it would likely be 2019 at the earliest that it could be possible.
“There are requirements and things to do to get your car approved that suggest it’s not on the doorstep,” Wilson said at Daytona for the upcoming episode of the podcast. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing any 2018 announcements.”
—Kevin Harvick didn’t mince words in evaluating one of his first experiences with NASCAR’s new traveling safety team.
Based off the Fox broadcast, it took at least 90 seconds for safety workers to reach Harvick after his No. 4 Ford blew a tire and slammed the wall in a heavy impact. It’s understandable why Harvick’s ire would have been stoked by that response time, though it’s unclear if the new policy would have had an impact.
NASCAR’s new American Medical Response-sponsored crew features a rotating crew of emergency trauma physicians who are in a chase vehicle to attend to each crash. Each track’s safety staff still handles the primary response to an incident.
Regardless, NASCAR surely will be reviewing the Harvick crash to improve on best practices and procedures for helping a driver in need.
Two members of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew suspended 3 races for incident at Indy
Joe Gibbs Racing has suspended two members of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing pit crew.
Front tire changer Chris Taylor and rear tire changer Lee Cunningham will both be suspended for the next three races following a confrontation with Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, after Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The incident happened after Busch and Martin Truex Jr. crashed while battling for the lead on Lap 112 of last weekend’s race.
Joe Gibbs Racing has not issued a statement on the suspensions, but confirmed that Taylor and Cunningham will be replaced by Kip Wolfmeier and John Royer.
Joe Gibbs Racing provides crew members to the No. 78 team, which is why it issued the suspensions and not Furniture Row Racing.
In addition to their hopes of his winning there, fans attending Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will receive something special to remember him by.
CMS officials announced Wednesday that for every two tickets purchased to the Oct. 8 Bank of America 500, fans will receive a commemorative Dale Jr. bobblehead.
It will be the 14-time Most Popular Driver’s final chance at earning his first Cup points-paying win at his home track (he won the 2000 non-points NASCAR All-Star race as a rookie).
“We wanted to do something special to celebrate with our fans all that Dale Jr. means to our sport,” CMS executive vice president Greg Walter said in a media release. “These keepsakes will be a must-have for collectors and avid fans alike, and a tremendous way to commemorate his last home race here in Charlotte.”
Fans that purchase two tickets before Oct. 1 (or while supplies last) will receive a voucher to pick up the commemorative bobblehead during the 500 race weekend.
After the first eight races of the 14-race K&N Pro Series West Series, Iwuji sits 15th.
He’s hoping the six-race sponsorship will help improve his performance to finish as well as he did in his K&N rookie campaign last season (10th place) – or better.
Iwuji’s best finishes this season are a pair of back-to-back 14th-place showings He also has three other top-20 outings.
“This season so far has been a great test of the durability of our team” Iwui said in a media release. “We’ve managed to bring home clean racecars which allows us to spend more time on trying to improve the cars and the way we race other teams this year in the West.”
Iwuji races this weekend at Iowa Speedway, the only time the K&N Pro Series East and West race on the same track during the season.
Iwuji is 12 points out of 12th place and 55 points out of 10th.
“I’ve raced these tracks, I’m here to compete, and I’m ready to maximize the capabilities of our team,” Iwuji said.
NEW YORK — On a rare Sunday off (after a few days in the pits covering one of the oldest and most popular racing series in the world), I decided to spend my day attending one of the world’s newest racing series, Formula E.
If you haven’t heard, it’s an all-electric Formula car series (think F1 with electric cars).
The race was being held in, as the CEO of the new series called it, “The Capital of the World” — New York. Specifically, a picturesque setting near a landing area for cruise ships in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. This fittingly positioned NYC’s famous Manhattan skyline as the backdrop for many pictures of the cars and track.
Formula E is car racing’s first disrupt-the-status-quo tech startup built on a Silicon Valley vibe, social media buzzwords and celebrity endorsements. Like the provincial tech companies of the West Coast, it was born because a couple of people believed there was an insatiable appetite for something that didn’t exist.
An eco-friendly, bring-it-to-the-people, electric-car test bed.
And car manufacturers the likes of BMW, Audi, Citroen, Renault, and Jaguar agreed and all joined.
The world’s tabloid hogs have joined, too, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Branson and (in attendance at the Brooklyn event) Michael Douglas, and Chris Hemsworth. The only thing missing amongst the Instagram-friendly metrics are what most racing series tout first — fans.
But before I go any further, full disclosure: I attempted to race in this series a couple years ago. It was 2014, and my NASCAR Cup team had folded. It seemed through a friend who was a CMO at an energy company that there might be a way to swing getting into a Formula E car.
It wasn’t to be as it was too new, too foreign, and we quickly got distracted by other opportunities. But ever since, I have kept a keen eye on its development.
Bring on NYC.
I was excited to view the upstart series up close. But after a little too much caffeine in the form of a coffee, a bigger coffee and then an energy drink to get home from New Hampshire. I wouldn’t rest my overly caffeinated body until 2:30 a.m. that day. It was a struggle to awake.
Awaiting me was a media credential. But it was to lay dormant as I decided to bring my girlfriend and conned my best friend into joining us. Mostly because he lives in Brooklyn, and this event has zero parking. The official travel guide tells you, “Not to bring a car.”
Certainly odd for a car race but understandable being in NYC. So I parked at my friend’s apartment, and we Ubered.
As we approached the ride-share dropoff zone, I oddly felt devoid of that half-euphoric, half-anxious feeling of attending a new racing series.
I turned to my friend and Blondie to say I remembered attending my first F1 race in Montreal at 14 years old and being able to hear the cars from 2 miles away. The city was overflowing with Formula One fever.
I’ll never forget walking up to the corner just before the hairpin at the Montreal circuit, as practice just had started and an F1 car approached. It sounded like a fire-breathing, human-slaying alien spacecraft was rapidly coming our way, and it was not going to be pleasant.
Suddenly, the sound was all around us in a flash of yellow, an ear-piercing scream and a loud BOOM! The Jordan F1 car of Timo Glock streaked past where I was standing. As he shifted gears, the sound and explosion hit me in the chest so hard, I could barely breathe.
It, to this day, is one of my favorite memories in life.
This event was not going to provide that.
Obviously one of the biggest departures from traditional motor racing is the cars don’t make a lot of sound. That’s part of what allows them to race in The Capital of The World. There are no issues with deafening sound reverberating through NYC’s already overflowing boroughs.
As we told our Uber driver to stop, a few Formula E signs were plastered on the walls around us. He asked, “What is this?” and my friend said, “It’s like a Formula One race.” The Uber driver replied, “Who knew? That is cool.” Not exactly a good sign for the promotion of the event.
Nonetheless, I felt good about being able to buy three tickets if our driver had no idea it was happening.
Except when we went inside, the ticket building was completely empty. We abruptly were told it was sold out and actually had been for months. Even though on Friday, Ticketmaster indicated (for $85, mind you), there were tickets available … odd.
We were told we could have free general admission tickets and maybe could get in with them. And this was something I knew Formula E did in its first season as a way to get people to come. I’ve always thought this was brilliant.
From there we went into the stringent security lines, where I got my first glance at what I will refer to as “the clientele” and not “fans.”
Two young men in front of me were the embodiment of the clientele. Both almost identically dressed in expensive, perfectly pressed, white button-down shirts, light tan belts and navy blue linen chinos.
I must have missed the memo.
One wearing Oliver Peoples glasses (if you ever go to an Oliver Peoples store, they will remind you President Obama wears their glasses) turned to the other as they were going through the security scanner. He remarked, “This certainly isn’t like Monaco,” and his friend nodded. Aside from wanting to punch him square in the face, I knew I was in for an experience only the Europeans can provide.
I call it, “European Exclusionary Events,” where they invite you to spend money to feel superior to the others around you. Hence our free ticket allowed us in, but Mr. Oliver Peoples took a very visible red carpet-lined hard left into the E-Motion club, and we were forced down a route past a port-a-potty.
The Europeans love this sort of thing, because it makes an event feel exclusive – as if you have done something to deserve the first-class version of race attendance.
But Americans do not. Sure we have courtside seats in basketball, but the guy who got a ticket from his company raffle can be sitting right behind Kim Kardashian. American events are put on to make everyone feel inclusive. Formula E missed that memo.
But I digress.
As we entered the general admission area known as “E-Village,” it was not overflowing but definitely not sparse. Scattered throughout were a few informational and promotional booths from car manufacturers and racing simulators. Par for the course at a race.
And here I bumped into a friend who lives in Brooklyn. He knew nothing about racing but had brought his wife and twin babies in a stroller. It was free and a block from their place, and the electric racing ensured their babies would be OK with the sound.
It definitely wasn’t something that would happen at a NASCAR race. I thought that was very cool.
The schedule listed a 1 p.m. start, and as 1 p.m. came, everyone in the E-Village excitedly was listening for a signal or sign that the race had started. And then suddenly at 1:05 a group of cars rounded the hairpin adjacent to the E-Village. There was no warning (not even a race announcer) and the only reason you knew was the chirping of the tires and smashing of bodywork.
Surely, they must have forgotten to turn up the race announcer. But as the laps continued, it became clear they had not put any speakers in the E-Village area. So here we were with what seemed a couple thousand people desperately wondering what the hell was going on.
This was incredibly perplexing because the whole selling point as an attendee of Formula E was that it was quiet enough to foster conversation. And to be able to hear the announcers so well they even could play team radios over the loudspeakers, so you could be immersed in the race.
Guess it didn’t apply to the free tickets and the people the series desperately should be trying to impress.
I became Formula E’s best friend as I informed people left and right about the rules and who was leading the damn race. At the other end of the E-Village was a nice lounge area with a big screen TV sponsored by VISA but with no volume. So once again, I was the on-the-ground Formula E informant, letting people know why they were pitting and what the energy percentage meant.
But the best part occurred as the race came to a close, as you only knew it was over because of the fans in the frontstretch grandstand that rose to give the winner a standing ovation. As the cars made their cooldown lap, a fan turned to me and said, “I think this is when they go pit and change cars.” To which I replied, “Uhh, no. It’s over. That was the winner.”
But then as the cars continued to trickle through the corner on the cooldown lap, another person asked, “Why are they going so slow?!?”
It was clear with no info whatsoever, these attendees might be there until Tuesday wondering what happened to the race.
Why was it like this?
I stood at one of the exit gates to survey the crowd as the attendees and clientele left the grandstands. I begged the event for a redeeming quality, something to make me want to come back, but to no avail.
It suddenly became clear as I looked at photos of the massive but mostly unfilled E-motion VIP club for Instagram “influencers” — celebrities, media, and marketing chiefs.
Was it that this event was not for you or me? That the series wasn’t aiming to impress a race fan such as myself? (A race fan who loved this form of racing so much, I responded “open wheel cars with little to no downforce and 1000 horsepower engines on city street tracks” when asked 10 years ago what my perfect race series would be.)
Everyone attending with me began to refuse to call it a race event and started using words such as “promotional display” and “a massive advertisement.”
It became clear that Formula E is for the sponsors, the car manufacturers and the series to have media outlets talking about how they have a presence in the future of the world.
So the CMOs, marketing managers and executives in linens and sports coats can walk into boardrooms with PowerPoint slides of their logos being called “eco-friendly” in the media. And use social media buzzwords such impressions, engagement and KPI (key performance indicator) while showing their logos with Instagram “influencers” drinking champagne and being eco-friendly.
Formula E is an event that has a purpose but to entertain you would be a stretch. It’s much like in school when the teacher tells you you’re watching a movie, and it turns out to be an instructional video. It’s a relief you’re watching a movie, but you still need to learn.
This is Formula E.
You’re provided a race and a damn good one at that. But it’s clear, the truth is it’s for show and not the kind that entertains.