The NASCAR season is nearly upon us, and it’s a real ‘Plus ça change, plus la même chose’ time. A lot of the big sponsors have bunked off. Bye-bye 5-Hour Energy. Hasta la vista Target. ‘So long and thanks for all the fish’ Dollar General, Lowe’s, GoDaddy. These companies might mean zilch to my non-US readers, but they were big, with a capital B, cash cows for the sport. Mr Moneybags incarnate.
A lot of the big household-name drivers have gone too. No more a Labonte running. No Earnhardt, the junior version after his dad had a head-on squabble with a retaining wall at Daytona that turned into in a head-off squabble that led to the introduction of mandatory passive head restraints. No Waltrips, no Gordons, no Stewarts, who all followed in daddy’s footsteps. The uninitiated might need to be told that these men were gods bestriding the world that is the superspeedways of NASCAR.
Some of the money is gone, at least in part because those sporting human behemoths have gone. NASCAR had long been about the wedge, in the same way as Formula One still is beholden to Mammon. When your steering wheel costs upwards of 35 gees, as an F1 does, you need some cash in the attic. Fortunately, NASCAR is refreshingly lo-tech by comparison, and the racecars don’t even have a fuel gauge, so they actually run out of fuel on occasion.
The lo-tech thing is good, as is the lack of big money. NASCAR is sort of going back to its roots. Well, not in the sense of bootleggers trying to outrun the cops to the state line, obviously. But it’s definitely a bit more amateur hour again. Just bunches of blokes, mainly, because women have a lot more sense*, wielding spanners, twiddling with things, and cussing in an oily lockup garage on the outskirts of Dullsville, South Carolina.
On balance, I think this is a good thing. When I was watching the Wales Rally in Llandudno last year, the big names were fast, but the privateers were fun, driving their hearts out in cars with too little power and too little roadholding and handling. If I go to race meetings in the UK, the best racing generally isn’t the high budget stuff, the BTCC big boys and girls. It’s the races where somebody built the engine on the kitchen table and had the suspension springs shortened by a mate who happens to be a blacksmith.
*Than to spend a lot of time skinning their knuckles in the cold at 5:00 in the morning when a wrench slips, preferring instead to be fearsomely competitive drivers