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Kligerman: Everyone Should Try Attending the Daytona 500 because . . . America!

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Let’s face it: Big events are terrible.

More than 100,000 people descending on a destination laughably unfit for the attention. Bursting at the seams of its infrastructure and mobility. Anything you attempt to do will be greeted by a line. A line to move, a line to eat, a line to see, a line to pee.

Always in a line. And lines are awful.

The Daytona 500 should be no different. But it is.

Because most events attract 100,000-plus people because everyone wants to be there. The Daytona 500, on the other hand, has commentators, writers, outsiders and other sports aficionados telling you that no one wanted to be there.

The problem is they were there –  the forgotten, post-majority, God-fearing Trump voter. The people whose existence continues to be debated by the coasts. They do exist, and their existence is proven at the 500.

Sure, when you see the crowd and clientele in this incredible amphitheater location, it will trigger every stereotype you have been fed into your psyche.

Rednecks, hillbillies and cowboys. Overweight, toothless and uneducated. Surrounded by Southern, snakeskin-cowboy, industrial opulence.

But that’s because you want to see those things. You’ve been told to be prejudiced at the perceived fan base.

And that is much like heading to China and only seeing communists.

You’re judging by what you’ve been told and selling yourself on what you see.

The key in an event such as the Daytona 500 is to talk, which is impossible in the normal sense of using words and sounds. Most of the time it is so loud, hearing damage seems the only outcome.

But you will talk — via gestures, glances, pointing and jumping.

It’s all very primal, but it allows you to connect with the man who has had too many Budweisers and looks as if he spent the last day on the surface of the sun. The woman to your right who looks like the 1980’s stole every bit of life from her and left a deflated, gray-straw hair, coughing corpse in its wake. In a sleeveless Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-Shirt.

This isn’t Americana stoic in a museum. This is Americana in motion at 200 mph, and you’re a part of it.

You won’t find that at the Super Bowl, no matter which team is playing or where it’s located. You will get the wealthiest, most-educated and best fans that city has to offer. Because a ticket costs more than an Ivy League education and stadium capacity is limited to roughly 80,000, it’s a select few who can afford the privilege.

At the Daytona 500, you get the fans, the people, the Americans. They can’t afford to go, but they are there. Separated by a mere single railing from a successful oil executive grand poobah, drinking a Budweiser in a five-figure suite. It’s a rite of passage, it is near and dear to their hearts, and it compels them to revel in the high-octane experience.

And because of this, there never has been a better time for you to go. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been only a month since the end of the most recent Daytona 500, but it’s never too early to plan a trip for the 60th running in 2018.)

I was sitting at a bar in the Daytona airport when a man burst in, and the bartender asked how he was doing. The man – balding with olive-hue skin and wrinkled like an old piece of leather because of a lifetime of tobacco products – responded “@#%&ing terrible, I gotta head back to Connecticut”

He wants to stay in the sun. He agrees with what’s here. He tells the bartender, “This is the worst year yet, I was talking to a couple bar owners, and they are all preparing for Bike Week. No one under 35 likes NASCAR anymore. No one.”

The guy to his left agrees, adding “seems a lot of sports are having this problem.”

At this time, I had to leave. But the message was clear: Our perception is our reality and therefore there never has been a better time to attend.

Among the aging, graying, empty-nesters, and Medicaid-addled fan base sits a sport ripe for the young, vibrant and independent to make it what they want. It’s ours for the taking.

The NFL won’t listen to you, nor will the NBA, but NASCAR will — and through all its negative press, perceived fallacies and ridicule.

I ask you to find me a more American form of sport. You can’t.

Attend next year’s Daytona 500 (or any year) at least once for America, and you will see. It’s a big event worth attending, and the best time to go is right now.

Kligerman: The fight (or flight) predicament for NASCAR . . . and how to solve it

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You may have heard: Immediately following the race on Sunday, there was a fight.

A full-on, barefisted knock-down-drag-out to the hard and rubber-encrusted concrete.

If you travel frequently or at all, you have experienced your own version of such a confrontation. The indecency of modern air travel features lines, fees, faux elitism, bad wine, hierarchy and fellow travelers.

It’s among the only times in the First World that we are offered a view of our fellow beings at their most selfish.

The modern-day traveler is tired, stressed, sweaty and fighting for space – and never more so than in the case of boarding a plane.

A terribly inefficient system lies amidst the zones, classes and gaggle of people trying to line up in an orderly way.

See, the airlines are spending millions to figure out two things:

  • How to take care of the loyal and high-paying customers, while …
  • Boarding the rest of the common customers, in an orderly and efficient manner.

The efficiency is critical because every minute cuts into the airlines’ ability to be on time and eats at their available growth. And you most likely have noticed that they are failing with predictable precision.

After boarding first class and the highest spenders, the flight attendant constantly is slowing the rest of the boarding process to provide orange juice and bubbly refreshment to the elite. It slows the process to a frustrating crawl.

Every time, they plead with you to do things orderly and quickly. But they actually are asking you to make their system look appropriate and as if it works.

The problem is, it doesn’t. Time and again, the best system is proven to be Southwest Airlines’ hands-off, pick-your-own-seat free-for-all.

No hierarchy. No loyalty.

The most antiquated of human systems. Every man for himself. The adult version of middle-school dodge ball. Cast in the open sea in an eat-or-be-eaten hunt for real estate.

Much can be learned from this for sports and fighting. And most of all for NASCAR, which always is walking a fine tightrope.

It must offend no sponsors by respecting its uptight corporate heads of state (i.e., the first-class cabin). But it also must satisfy the laid-back, casual fan (i.e., those in coach).

Intervening could cause an uproar from a fan base angry about overregulating and catering to a group that isn’t in line with customers paying for the show being provided.

But do nothing, and it might embarrass the VIPs who fund NASCAR with sponsorship that allows the show to reach high levels of monetary support.

It’s just like the airlines that can’t help but shoot themselves in the foot while catering to big-money types and enraging common customers who just want to get their carry-on bag in the fleetingly available overhead space.

NASCAR might learn that you make everyone happiest the quickest by saying “The hell with hierarchy, we are not intervening.” It’s the quickest and simplest way to board a plane for an on-time departure. It might be the simplest form of appeasing everyone.

I sat in a bar waiting for my red-eye flight Sunday from Las Vegas as ESPN played highlights. It showed Martin Truex Jr. taking the lead with two laps to go, but it focused on the Kyle BuschJoey Logano drama.

That was to be expected. What wasn’t anticipated was the reaction around me.

Suddenly, everyone in the bar was glued to the screen. As Kyle Busch’s car went spinning, there was an audible “Ooooooh!” and when Busch fell to the concrete, one guy said, “Whoa, what happened! What is going on?”

And the coup de grace: Kyle Busch, being interviewed with his face dripping with blood. An entire bar full of non-race fans with a couple occasional fans erupted in an audible roar! Another guy said, “That is last year’s champion! Wow!” (I politely reminded him it was two years ago.)

As the volume in the bar rose, a round of applause emerged from the back. They approved. They loved it. Some were in NASCAR gear. It was then I realized that it was in NASCAR’s best interest to avoid intervention.

The fans want a free-for-all. NASCAR wants the governing to stay between the drivers.

It makes for great TV, and it ensures we are providing the best platform for our sport to stay lined up for a popularity takeoff.

Make it every man or woman for themselves.

It might be the only system that works.

 

Kligerman: A sound opinion about the noise appeal of race cars

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It may seem odd to put NASCAR and Porsche in the same sentence.

But these two iconic brands have fans who are more intrinsically connected than you could imagine.

Not in the sense that Porsches ever have turned a lap in the Daytona 500. Nor in the sense that NASCAR fans own Porsches.

I would go out on a limb to say there is probably an almost immeasurably small amount of self-described NASCAR fans who own a Porsche.

The link between NASCAR and Porsche is far more cerebral.

And there’s an important lesson to be learned about the latest controversy gripping NASCAR this week: Noise reduction.

The longtime NASCAR fan often laments the days of old, remarking how much better things were “back in the day.”

The Porsche fan and owner is no different. Old Porsches have skyrocketed in value as a freakish cult infatuation with any Porsche whose engine is “air-cooled” has driven demand well past comprehension.

And just like the move from air-cooled to water-cooled in 1998, every single change (even when it’s what Porsche engineers have decided is better) draws a litany of angrily-written-in-perfect-grammar posts and comments flooding the internet.

Most recently in 2015, Porsche announced it was replacing the venerable, beloved flat, six-cylinder engine in the Boxster and Cayman, the younger brother to the iconic 911.

They now would have a turbocharged 4-cylinder and be known as the 718. Removing the legendary, high-strung, wailing flat 6 was utter and complete blasphemy for the purists and the Porsche-piles.

Gone would be the sound synonymous with Porsche – a classic, crisp growl that would reach a crescendo at the top of the rev range in a symphony of engineering excellence.

Replacing it would be a much more reserved, timid growl and burbly overture. To understand the resulting irreverence, look no further than the hundreds of YouTube videos simply comparing the sounds of the old car vs. the new.

The new 718 Cayman and Boxster are faster with better looks, better handling, better interior and better fuel efficiency. As many reviews have stated, it is a better car in almost every way… except the sound.

I can speak from experience that Porsche dealers have entered an unenviable position in trying to sell you on every one of those attributes of the new 718. The problem is, even they know the reality.

It just doesn’t sound the same.

Why did Porsche do this? To see how many angry forum posts could be generated?

No (as funny as that might seem). It’s a sign of the times.

Fuel-mileage regulations have forced automakers continually to chase ever-increasing mpg standards. They must become innovative with their designs, and much of this has led to go the downsizing, turbocharged route.

The lesson?

Sound is important. It is one of a few senses that remind us we are living, breathing mammals in a vibrant world. Those who do not have it lament its loss and have described the frustration, loneliness, and isolation of being deaf.

That’s why outrage greeted the news this week that NASCAR was considering a reduction in the ear-splitting level of noise. It was met with the utter disgust of being told your home owners’ association won’t let you have your dog anymore.

Let’s be honest. NASCAR fans have put up with a lot of change over recent years. From formats, overtime procedures, car design and how a champion is decided.

Through it all, some things have remained the same — like the almost 60-year-old design of the Porsche 911.

For the better part of the same timeframe, NASCAR vehicles have been front engine, rear-wheel-drive, naturally aspirated V8s. That’s allowed the sound to almost be a constant.

And this is why I wonder “Why change now?” with the current state within the sport.

Unlike Porsche we don’t have government regulatory bodies telling us what to do. We don’t have to change anything. The only people we need to satisfy are the fans – who have been coming to hear the same sound for 60-plus years.

I saw one fan comment “It’s a sound that can literally be felt in the chest when you’re in the stands.” Why would you take this away?

But on the flip side, I can see the reasoning.

As I have entered the world of broadcasting (and have spent more of my life at racetracks than not), I have commented many times that it would be nice if the cars were quieter. The thing is, I am being selfish. Sure it would be easier to do my TV job, and even when I am racing, it would be less headache-inducing.

But I also am being paid to be at race tracks. It’s not about me or the executives trying to entertain VIPs. The sound is for the very people that make our jobs possible — the fans.

Therefore, NASCAR should take cues from the unfortunate situation in which Porsche finds itself. Be careful about altering the sound and remember the futility of the Porsche salesman who can name all the improved attributes of the 718.

We have provided many better changes. Let’s not allow anyone to say, “But it just doesn’t sound the same.”

 

Ryan: Why Goodyear hasn’t signed an extension . . . and more musings from Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. – As the exclusive tire supplier of NASCAR for more than two decades, Goodyear always is in the news (or crosshairs) for its ubiquitous presence.

When tires mysteriously deflate (or don’t), Goodyear gets blamed.

When a track repaves its asphalt, Goodyear faces heat to maintain quality racing.

When NASCAR adjusts its rules, Goodyear feels the pressure to accommodate durability and handling.

What would happen, though, if there were no Goodyear to kick around anymore?

Actually, that remains a possible scenario for next season.

A month into the final season of their current contract, Goodyear and NASCAR finally have started negotiations on an extension – much later than the typical timeframe.

Consider its five-year deal that expires this season was signed in October 2011 – more than 15 months ahead of the end of its previous contract.

In an interview with ESPN.com and NBC Sports, Goodyear worldwide director of racing Stu Grant said the company had its first major negotiations meeting with NASCAR in mid-February.

With the past year being devoted to finding a Cup Series title sponsor, Goodyear understandably was less of a priority.

“The NASCAR guys had a lot on their plate,” Grant said. “We had early discussions with NASCAR and agreed to put our extension on the back burner, but now we’re having discussions in earnest. We’re committed to NASCAR. NASCAR is committed to us. Our negotiations are going well.

“I think we’re in good shape.”

Still, it is clear that Goodyear now has some leverage. If the negotiations were to hit a sticking point, NASCAR would seem to lack options. Finding a replacement would be difficult. Even if it had a suitor, it would be a very tall order with less than a year of prep time to construct and deliver tens of thousands of tires for the 2018 season.

So Goodyear, which spends much of its time deflecting criticism about its product, would seem to be in the catbird seat to call more of the shots for this contract. That could be significant given that many improvements made to the cars over the past decade adversely have affected the tires.

But there don’t seem to be any stumbling blocks so far. Grant expects a new deal to be finalized by the season’s midpoint.

“NASCAR was in for our first face to face half-day meeting,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of earlier discussions, but that was the first big dialogue we’ve had that was all good. So we’ve kind of really kicked off that process, and having been through a few of these in the past, once you agree on the deal points, then you get the fine points and so on.”

Other observations from Atlanta:

–Runner-up Kyle Larson has been passed for the lead with fewer than 10 laps remaining in the past three Cup races.

Miami (losing first because of an all-time move on the final restart by perhaps NASCAR’s all-time driver) was forgivable. So was Daytona (running out of fuel on the final lap).

But Atlanta might be harder to reconcile for car owner Chip “I Like Winners” Ganassi.

The explanation provided by Larson for why he chose the slower high lane to fend off winner Brad Keselowski ostensibly makes sense. Keselowski previously had shown speed in the high lane, and Larson is among the best in running against the wall.

But you can make a case that the No. 42 Chevrolet driver overthought the move. The lower lane seemed faster on the 1.54-mile oval throughout the weekend. Why not force Keselowski to beat you on the outside and hope for the best?

And when Keselowski swings high, why not throw a block as Denny Hamlin did to Keselowski on the last lap of The Clash? OK, maybe the outcome is the same, and neither car wins. So what? It’s for the win.

Larson is an immensely talented driver whose ethics have been highly praised by his peers (see: last year’s Dover finish when he also chose discretion over playing rough). That praise can be damning, though.

He should have more than one victory on NASCAR’s premier circuit. It might take an unpopular — and unnatural — change in his approach to get the next win.

–The sample size is only two races, but it should be at least noted that Ford is undefeated since adding powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing (and that the Blue Oval led all but 12 of 325 laps Sunday between Keselowski and Kevin Harvick).

The uptick in performance for the Fusion brigade isn’t unexpected, but there’s one element that is. Team Penske, which typically is notorious for walling off other teams even when under the same manufacturer umbrella, seems to be embracing a greater spirit of camaraderie with SHR.

Team owner Roger Penske (who made “the unfair advantage” a thing in auto racing) even alluded to helping Stewart-Haas with its chassis over the offseason.

“Obviously (we) worked with Roush last year, they weren’t quite as competitive as maybe we were, but we knew coming in with Stewart‑Haas that they were going to be guys that could set a bar for us,” Penske said. “In fact, we built some chassis for them before Daytona, some center sections, and we had our cars in the wind tunnel and compared them.  So we know what they have and they know what we have.

“I felt that the camaraderie at Daytona was something we haven’t had for a number of years because we pretty much played by ourselves, and I think that that’s made us much stronger. But from a comparison standpoint, I think that we need that because if they’re better than we are, we’ve got to figure out why and vice versa, and we’ll shoot it out on the track there in the last lap or the last 10 laps.”

Toyota Racing Development made a shrewd move last year in aligning Furniture Row to the powerful Joe Gibbs Racing stable and effectively creating a six-car team. It can’t be that way with Stewart-Haas and Penske, but Ford definitely will get more championship contenders out of this arrangement. If Penske plays nice in a way it didn’t with many others in the past, it increases the title odds for Ford’s expanded field.

–Roughly nine hours before he would be celebrating his first win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Keselowski was carrying his daughter, Scarlett, around the garage, giving the nearly 2-year-old a tour of his No. 2 team. After the win, he took a page from the Steph Curry playbook and briefly brought her on stage for the postrace news conference.

Keselowski delivered a typically thoughtful answer when asked about it:

I’m really lucky to be a race car driver, but it’s challenging to balance your work life and your professional life.  I’m no different than most everyone else.  I want to have a family and I want to do all the cool things and see all the cool things you get to see when you have kids and a wife and all that, but I also want to win. That means I have to be the best professional possible, and I have to put in hours that aren’t always going to be fun, right.  So part of that and trying to maximize my work‑life balance means trying to find the appropriate times and places to blend the two, and that was my opportunity, and I’m going to always look for those opportunities with my wife and daughter and family in general.

“It’s part of the challenge of doing what we do, but I’m still really lucky to live this life and to have an opportunity to race for a great team and travel around the country and see all kinds of cool things and meet all kinds of cool people and have fans and all that, but I feel lucky that I have a team that’s kind of letting me have some slack with all those things and try to find that right balance because I’ll never forget Roger’s son Greg told me, this is one of the first questions he asked me.  He said to me one day, he said, ‘How do you balance your work life and your home life?’

“For a lot of years, I had a terrible work‑to‑life balance with respect to just being all work. … I would say that my time with my family is my time to sharpen the axe, and believe me, when Scarlett wakes up at 7 a.m. and I’m still really tired, I really want to go to work.  I get some good reminders there how fun work is. But in general, I just enjoy the time, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, and I feel like I’ve got the best balance I’ve ever had, and I feel very fortunate.

–It’s been a less than auspicious debut for the ballyhooed 2018 Camry that is running as a 2017 race car. Though Matt Kenseth (third) salvaged a decent day for JGR, Kyle Busch’s struggles were perplexing.

Las Vegas isn’t make or break yet, but TRD and Gibbs will want to make a statement about their new model on a 1.5-mile track.

–Regardless of where you come down on the DeLana vs. Dillon debate, there is no question that it has elements of the type of rivalries that have built NASCAR. There’s so much backstory over the past five years here, it’s hard to pick a spot to begin explaining Sunday night’s flare-up.

While feuding isn’t fun for drivers (or their significant others/wives), it’s compelling to follow.

–Good nugget from NBCSN analyst/NBC Sports.com columnist/occasional ace driver Parker Kligerman on NBCSN’s Monday Morning Donuts podcast about why two Richard Childress Racing cars had battery problems.

Kligerman noted that teams are employing batteries so powerful, there might not be a need for an alternator, which can add a few horsepower. Kligerman said many drivers toggle their alternator off for qualifying laps or on restarts for extra oomph. There could be some kinks to work out if teams are trying to employ that strategy for a 500-mile race.

–Let’s not forget how Dale Earnhardt Jr. feels about splitters, both on his podcast and on Twitter. At this rate, #TeamValence could be trending nationally during a Cup race this season and continue to build the momentum for eliminating the front-end part. Until then …

Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch take top two spots in Atlanta truck qualifying

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Christopher Bell captured the pole position for Saturday’s Active Pest Control 200 Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bell’s 180.922 mph in his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota beat the No. 51 of team owner and teammate Kyle Busch, who is running three races in two days at the 1.54-mile oval.

Austin Cindric will start third, followed by Chase Briscoe and Alex Bowman.

NBCSN analyst Parker Kligerman qualified 19th for his first truck start of the season after missing the season opener at Daytona because of a transmission failure on his qualifying lap.

Click here for how Camping Truck Series qualifying unfolded at Atlanta.