By Bob Barney:
Many of us older racing fans long for the days of the grass roots racing of the 60's and 70's when great drivers such as AJ Foyt, Richard Petty and Johnny Rutherford was the mega-stars of their day. Even non-racing enthusiasts knew who they were and fans saw them as giants with abilities far superior than the rest of us, handling cars at speeds not even comprehendable to the average fan.
Things changed, Indy car racing became the national sport of the third world, but it lost its unique American flavor by the early 1990's. NASCAR, however continued to grow and dominate the world's racing scene throughout the 80' and 90's and actually began to rival baseball and football in fan attendance and loyalty. Then something happened. Actually, I believe two distinct "wounds" occurred in NASCAR which started a decline in the sport that we see to this day. The first wound was that of the death of Dale Earnhardt. He was a super star equal to any baseball or football star, and was killed at the home of NASCAR and the biggest race in that organization's year- The Daytona 500. The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of NASCAR racing, and it would be as an American icon football player was killed while playing in the Super Bowl. It shocked the sport. Then that shock turned to anger against NASCAR. To the fans, somehow NASCAR covered up the truth of the death, or worse, was even responsible.
The second wound was even worse for NASCAR. NASCAR, like the proverbial doctor who leaves the wife who put him through med school while working 12 hours a day in some diner, for his 23 year old bimbo nurse! The wife gets mad! NASCAR wanted to expand outside the South East. That was understandable. However, when they did this, they turned their back on the girl who paid their way through college--The Southern fan! They began to take dates away from famous Southern races like at Darlington and moved them to other parts of the country. Owners of tracks, like Bruton Smith started buying up Southern tracks, closing them down and moving the coveted date to other tracks, including one in Yankee land - New Hampshire! Then Rockingham lost all of their dates, and ceased being a NASCAR track. This final straw, coupled with the loss of Dale Earnhardt spelled a messy divorce between the owners of NASCAR (The France Family) and the fan base. It has never recovered.
This weekend, racing websites like www.racerap.com are filled with this feud, and the down-right hatred that the Southern race fan now has for the sport they once loved. Many claim that they will not even watch today's race. It's boring. It's fixed. It's just not real racing.
In some aspects I agree, in others I do not. NASCAR does need to listen to their fans again. In my opinion, the France family needs to step down from the public decision making of their sport and start to hire the experts and the "names" needed to bring back that loyal fan base. Ford Motor Company did it, the France's need to do it too.
However, the fan must also remember that the same people who helped build the sport, laid the seeds of its trouble today. "Big" Bill France broke the driver's union and forced an unsafe race to occur in 1969 Talledega. The top names boycotted the race, but France found others to take their place. The message? Safety came second in NASCAR. The result? Watch the videos below and look at the photograph to one of the most horrendous accidents to have ever happened on a race track. It was actually replayed on ABC Wide World of Sports! Yes, not everything was great about racing "back in the day!"
WARNING VERY GRAPHIC
CLICK BELOW TO VIDEOS and PHOTO