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Kligerman: How Is NASCAR doing? I don’t know (but turning left doesn’t make me dizzy)

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In reference to my fervent love of racing and cars, my dad always told me growing up that “You don’t want to be the person at a dinner party with only one thing to talk about.”

Racing and cars were all I talked about and all I cared about. But as much as I brushed it off at the time, I must admit he was right. I heeded his advice and now can talk fluently about many different racing series and NASCAR.

At least, I think that is the case, because that’s all anyone wants to talk to me about.

Whether I’m at a dinner party or a basement bar in Brooklyn, when the conversation lulls, the topic becomes racing. No matter how hard I try to shift the conversation, to no avail, I will end up answering, “So do you ever get dizzy going in circles for hours?”

And I am not complaining. This is to be expected, being one of possibly one who races and works in NASCAR and auto racing … and lives in the greater New York metropolitan area. This isn’t a topic many in the area are given a chance to broach, let alone converse with a living, breathing person about it.

And it shows, when the next most popular conversation pieces are, “What would happen if you went right?” “Do you pee in the car?” “How fast do you go?” “What’s the fastest you have gone?” “If an F1 car raced a NASCAR, who would win?”

“Is it even hard to drive in NASCAR? I drove my road car ‘X’ over the speed limit, and it wasn’t hard.”

Close your eyes for a second, and you could be excused for thinking you actually were in a 3rd-grade career day. Most of the time, I relish the opportunity to convince a potential new fan on the merits of auto racing, as if it’s instruction straight from the Bible to spread scripture.

Except I’m trying to spread the gospel of speed.

But there are times I would rather lop off one of my big toes. Usually, it involves a young man who is convinced that money is the only gospel in life. So he works 13 hours a day inside a cubicle on a high floor in Manhattan, living off antacid and ADHD pills and usually under the all-encompassing job description of “finance,” which is a direct byword for “insecure, Excel sheet drone.”

This guy will make horrible NASCAR joke after joke until I do what is advisable in any situation of this type: Knock him out. (Kidding. I walk away and buy myself a drink.)

But lately, a very intriguing question has been recurring: “How is NASCAR doing?”

And it’s spoken in the same reverential tones reserved for inquiring about an absent relative. As if I’ll respond, “Well, they got their latest checkup, and all is well there! They also recently lost their dog, but he was very old so it wasn’t terribly sad. They will love to know you asked about them. I’ll send your regards!”

The thing is, NASCAR is not a living being. It’s an organization of thousands. A traveling circus roaming the continental United States like a cast of gypsies all with different acts and goals. To cover everyone under one broad brush would be ill-advised at best.

But I know what is meant by those who ask. This type of person has read the articles. They’ve heard the rumblings and seen the TV ratings. Their cousin was a fan and no longer is. They had a connection to it that peaked in the heyday of  2005. And since then, they haven’t paid attention. They admit to being a bit naive. They want the God’s honest truth.

I want to give them the truth.

So I bring up all the reasons to be optimistic. I mention there is massive support on social media, that everything is cyclical, that autonomous cars are too far away to affect the sport. The Daytona 500 was sold out. There still are sponsors signing on for millions. But eventually they stop me and say, “Oh, OK, I just heard that…” and I reply, “I know what you’ve heard. It is what is.”

The reason they cut me off is they know I’m lying to them.

The truth is, I don’t know. No one knows. If someone did, then I hope they would use that type of power to cure cancer, or end global hunger. And add that you would have to identify what exactly are the underlying reasons, which seems an impossible task in itself.

Ask any number of people, whether fans or those working in the sport, “What are the biggest challenges facing NASCAR?” And you will receive exactly that many different answers.

So especially for someone such as myself who makes a living off of the sport, it would seem odd to be so ill-informed, to not have it all figured out. But not when you realize that in my line of work, you have the shelf-life of an avocado.

I love race cars. I love cars. I love auto racing in all shapes and forms. I’ve come to realize I don’t care if millions of others care or four others care. But I always will be excited by a manic finish such as we had at the Daytona 500 this year.

I always will feel a sense of euphoria from a whiff of racing fuel. The more I simply focus on my enjoyment level, and less on how many others also enjoy it, the more I actually enjoy it.

Therefore, I am going to start answering the question “How is NASCAR doing?” with “Great! Everything’s great.”

So then I can get back to letting the naive know  that believe it or not, you do not get dizzy driving in circles.

 

Bump & Run: Is a changing of the guard taking place?

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Parker Kligerman, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, joins Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing key topics in NASCAR in this week’s Bump & Run.

Six drivers in the top 16 in points are age 26 or younger — Erik Jones (20 years old), Chase Elliott (21), Ryan Blaney (23), points leader Kyle Larson (24), Trevor Bayne (26) and Joey Logano (26). After seven races in the season, is this an official changing of the guard in the Cup series? 

Parker Kligerman: Considering earlier this year when we did this feature, when asked to name a certain driver we had our eye on for 2017, I answered with a group. Specifically the 26-and-under group. Because, no doubt in my mind, this year is a turning point. There are enough uber-talented drivers in cars with astronomical funding levels. It was only logical we would see these young drivers become a conversation point. 

With that said, I do not think the guard has changed yet. Not until we get to the Championship Four, and we are not talking about an eighth championship for J.J., or a second for Brad K., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, or Matt Kenseth, or a first for Denny Hamlin or Martin Truex Jr., but we are talking about how the average age of the Championship Four is far from midlife crisis age, and the 26-and-under drivers are the main contenders. Maybe even the winner. Only than can I say the guard officially has been changed. Right now, the guards are just swapping shifts. 

Nate Ryan: It definitely is evidence that a new era is dawning, but I’m not ready to say the group once known as the “Young Guns” is ready to ride off into the sunset. It’ll be at least a few more years — and several victories, plus maybe a championship — for that youthful crop to have displaced Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth et al. 

Dustin Long: No, it’s not a changing of the guard. Seven races is not enough. Just look at the number of wins those six drivers have combined to score this season: One. That’s not a changing of the guard. Yes, this group is gaining more attention with four of them in the top six in points heading to Bristol, but until they show this type of dominance — and win more often — for a full year will it be a changing of the guard.

The next two weeks feature Cup races at short tracks (Bristol and Richmond). Which driver or team will you be watching closely to see how they fare?

Parker Kligerman: Kyle Busch: I know … How boring! But bear with me: Kyle is EXCEPTIONAL at these two tracks, but his race cars have been nothing of the sort in 2017, aside from Martinsville (a short track). In my time at Kyle Busch Motorsports, it was these two tracks that I watched him very closely and realized I had some serious work to do to be able to consider myself win-worthy. His ability to deal with a very, very loose race car on the entry of the corners is what makes him so good at Richmond. But he can shoulder only so much. Will JGR bring cars worthy of his talent, similar to Martinsville?  

Nate Ryan: Joe Gibbs Racing and in particular Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Either could win at both races, and that would help quell the incessant questions about why JGR has struggled off the starting line in 2018. 

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. He has only one finish better than 10th so far this season. He won at Richmond last fall. I would expect him to run well at both tracks and climb higher in the points. This also could be a chance for him to score some stage points. He has only 14 this season — nine came at Martinsville in the first stage. If Hamlin doesn’t run well in these two races, then it would raise some red flags, especially with how the JGR cars have not been as strong on the bigger tracks. This is a two-race stretch for Hamlin to collect some much-needed points.

Which streak is likely to continue: Hendrick Motorsports is winless in the last three years at Bristol and Richmond; Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last eight races at Bristol and Richmond.

Parker Kligerman: I think HMS stays winless. Odd, I know, to bet against the team that just won the most recent race. But it’s hard for me to feel confident in any car out of that stable except the 48. And I know the 48 has momentum, but from what I saw at Martinsville, there is work to be done. Add in the 24 has not closed one out yet. The 88 seems to be looking for a bit of consistency, and the 5 is still lost. I don’t like the chances of HMS in the next two races.

Nate Ryan: Hendrick Motorsports, though I wouldn’t count out a breakthrough by Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose resurgence at Texas Motor Speedway seemed legitimate. 

Dustin Long: Hard not to go with Hendrick remaining winless at Bristol and Richmond in recent times. I’ll be interested to see how the Hendrick cars do the next couple of weeks since these tracks, particularly Richmond, have not been their best. After some sub-par performances, these tracks are an opportunity for the HMS teams to build some momentum. Question is if they will.

Watch Parker Kligerman on NASCAR America today from 5:30-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

NASCAR America: Racers need offense and defense in Martinsville

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On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman hopped in the race simulator to give a look at the details of Martinsville Speedway and explain how racers should approach the track.

 

 

NASCAR America live at 5:30 p.m. ET — Harvick interim crew chief, 2017 Cup rookies, Martinsville preview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview this weekend’s upcoming action at Martinsville Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts from Stamford, Connecticut, along with Parker Kligerman. Jeff Burton joins them from Burton’s Garage.

On today’s show:

  • Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 team announced its interim crew chief for Martinsville: Daniel Knost will take over while Rodney Childers serves a 1-race suspension. Also, rookie Daniel Suarez will have Scott Graves atop the No. 19 pit box, as Dave Rogers goes on a personal leave. How will this impact their preparations for Sunday?
  • We go in-depth with our Martinsville preview. What to expect, who’s hot/not and lots more, including the possibility the track may turn on its brand new lights for the first time on Friday if weather dictates.
  • The NASCAR America crew evaluates the 2017 rookie class in NASCAR Cup.
  • Parker Kligerman takes to the simulator on the best way around the .528-mile paper-clip oval, as well as how drivers must deal with wheel hop at the bouncy track and how grueling racing there can be.
  • Next stop on NASCAR America’s My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows is Connecticut! It’s the home of NBC Sports, 2015 Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano, and our track of the day – the historic 5/8-mile Thompson Speedway.

If you can’t catch the show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

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.