Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Is our Sport Dying – Part III? Lost

Let’s follow history a moment as we continue the question is our sport dying? Let’s look back at a few things we have lost over the years: racetracks, asphalt racing, a generation of future drivers and mechanics, junkyard parts, ingenuity, growth, muscle cars, car brand recognition, and on and on.

Let’s look at the tracks we have lost over the years Langhorne, Nazareth Speedway, Sedalia mile, Springfield Fairgrounds, Riverside Stadium, Olympic Stadium, Lakeside Speedway at 92nd and Leavenworth Road, I-70 Speedway, Manzanita, Irwindale Speedway, KCIR, Bolivar Speedway, Adrian, Pleasanton, Topeka Raceway Park, Savannah, and Central Missouri Speedway. You can still drive by on Leavenworth Road and see where we would turn in to the old Lakeside. One of the best races I ever saw was between Larry Phillips and Terry Bivins at the Springfield Fairgrounds, 100 laps of pure fun

Asphalt racing, Missouri has one weekly asphalt track, during the 90s there was I-44, I-70, Bolivar, and Lakeside Speedways. These tracks gave us the Wallaces and Jamie McMurray. The American Speed Association introduced us to drivers Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. I-70 Speedway was the grooming track for Clint Bowyer. Now to get asphalt experience a driver has to travel to Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, or make a large step requiring lots of money and race ARCA.

We have also lost a generation of future drivers and mechanics. Think about this for a moment, the age of the person building your racing motor. Almost all tracks have a stock class (factory stock, stock car, hobby stock), what is stock on these cars anymore? Furthermore think about the age of these cars, most are based on the 80s Monte Carlo body. Last time I looked this is 2012 soon to be 2013, this class already qualifies as antique (25 years). How did we lose a generation, first and foremost the car was replaced by the computer. The children of the baby boomers became more interested in the size of a hard drive, the latest video game, laptops, and most recently the smart phone.

The auto industry has migrated computers into their cars and now we have heated seats, individual heat and cooling, back up cameras, engines which reduce cylinders, pedals which adjust, GPS and more. What have we done in racing with computers? We ignored them, outlawed them, and shied away from them, so the younger generation followed the computer not the car. Just this year fuel injection was introduced into Sprint Cup racing, yet the last carburetor was installed on the 1991 Nissan truck.

Which leads to today’s racing society depending on specialized parts. There are chassis specialist from the Modifeds chassis (Hughes, DirtWorks, Shryrock, Shocker, etc.) to the Stock class (Medieval). Shocks are specialized, engines are specialized, transmissions are specialized. Chinese produced parts have entered into racing. No one races parts from the junk yard anymore. In fact there are no longer junk yards (a baby boomer term) they are recycling parts stores.

This lack of utilizing auto industry manufactured parts, instead turning to specialized parts has led to a lack of ingenuity in the racing community. Everyone is a copycat. If the racing series had remained grounded in the stock portion of racing maybe we would not have lost a generation. Maybe the computer children would have discovered new ways to make racing even better. Maybe we would not be outlawing traction control but have an even better understanding of it and how to make it work for us. Maybe the racing community could have led the way in fuel injection technology, safety technology, chassis technology, etc.

The challenge for everyone involved in racing today is to return to growing our sport. NASCAR’s 2013 rules allow for a little more brand recognition, we need the same thing at the local tracks. We need to modernize the cars and create a new brand of muscle car, cars which the average fan can recognize and root for because they drive that same type of car. Can you imagine a Smart Car class? Me neither but it might bring the younger generation back. Tracks and series, whoever makes rules, needs to be open to modern technology and allow the younger generation to play, to experiment, to create, and to simply use their imagination.

These last three blogs have concerned what is wrong with our sport and how we have gotten to this point. The next two blogs will continue this theme but start challenging us on ways to improve, ways to grow, ways to utilize today’s technology, ways to work together as a racing family, ways to bring our sport not only back to what it was in the 1990s but to the top of all sports, but remember it takes all of us working together as a family to make it happen!

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