Race Weekend Central

Voices From the Heartland: Looking Back at How Fun NASCAR Was Not That Long Ago – Part 1

Remember when NASCAR used to be fun? After doing this here writing gig for Frontstretch almost six years, I sometimes lose sight of the fact on just how much fun it was, say, five years ago. Nowadays, it seems like we are all just bitchin’ about this and/or that and it really gets mundane after awhile.

With that in mind, I recently went back to some old columns I wrote back in 2004, just to remember what this column originally started out to be. What follows are some excerpts from my older work, along with some commentary about how things have or have not changed since then, both on a personal level for me and in the racing world. One thing I found especially amusing are some of the changes, personality-wise, of a couple of drivers since then. So sit back, print this out and keep it near the toilet for reading at your leisure. If nothing else, you can use it should you discover your teenager did not replace the empty roll!

Let’s start at the beginning. Voices From the Heartland was brought to Frontstretch on March 11, 2004 with the following fanfare:

A brief history: I am stuck in Iowa. Have been for the last 12 years. A good thing if you want to grow corn. Not so good if you are a NASCARnatic. However, I, and other NASCARnians (I’m making these up as I go along…) here in our very small town, have found a great way to cope with our geographic isolation. We secretly gather (after church, of course) at our local tavern, which, by a totally unrelated quirk of geographic isolation, is called The Finish Line, to watch NASCAR on RBTV (Really Big TV) and consume cold beverages.

As one may suspect, we have Gordon fans, Jarrett fans, Junior fans, Kenseth fans, a Busch fan, Labonte fans, Stewart fans and ceiling fans. (It was once rumored that there was a Bodine fan in town, but that was never proven. We do have the number for Ripley’s if he/she is ever sighted, though.)

Of course, along with all these fans comes a lot of vociferous, if not slurred, opinions and pontifications. During one particularly successful gathering, I found myself leaning against the men’s room wall, wondering two things; 1. How can we share our opinions and feelings with the rest of the racing world?… and 2. Why is my leg getting warm? Turns out, I was standing next to the heat vent.

The very next afternoon and four aspirins later, I searched the web until I found a racing site claiming to be in need of writers. The owner/editor agreed to my terrific idea of me writing a weekly post-race opinion piece and, after a hastily negotiated contract consisting of “do it for free” was settled, Voices From the Heartland was born.

Sadly, just before the 2003 Sonoma race, the website was inexplicably abandoned by its owner/editor and I have yet to hear from him. I am of the mind that if he ran screaming into the night, it was because of an all-night buffet at the local IHOP and not my writing that caused it. Whatever the case, the voices had been silenced… until now!

Since that time, a few things have changed here in small-town Iowa. Unfortunately, as I reported a few years ago, the dimly lit, smoke-filled Finish Line Bar & Grill is no longer with us. Falling victim to a combination of Jose Cuervo and questionable management, gone are the comfortably plain bar stools and the smelly bathrooms, along with the insightful writings and words of wisdom upon their walls. The secret gatherings no longer take place.

Oh, the building is still there, but it is now a totally refurbished, brightly lit sandwich, pizza and malt shop kinda place called the Bobcat Den that caters to a mostly younger crowd. Why, even the bathrooms are nicely painted, smell good and are always stocked with toilet paper! Hardly a respectable place to claim as the birthplace of a column such as this.

In April of ’04, I penned a column and dared NASCAR to “Tell Me Why.” All I had was a few questions! As I look back at it now, I see a few of them are still unanswered and must be totally out of NASCAR’s mentality to even think about.

Why can’t NASCAR simply put, say, three or four guys up in a booth filled with monitors and let them be the official judges during a race? With today’s technology, you get replays in an instant (hence the name “instant replay,” I’ll bet) and from every possible angle. All other sports have designated officials for their events… why not NASCAR? It’s not that hard, boys! I sit on my barstool every week and make the correct call after the first replay. If you guys in Daytona need some help, give me a call. I gotta be cheaper than Helton.

Why do they “red flag” a race with six laps to go and then, when they get back on the track, run four more caution laps for a two-lap shootout? What were they doing during the red? Shouldn’t the track be sufficiently clear before the red is lifted? Maybe the blower crews were doing paperwork in the men’s room when the red fell. There should have been TWO caution laps after the red at most.

And probably most importantly, this one…

Does anyone else think Kurt Busch looks just like Alfred E. Newman? If only Jimmy Spencer had knocked out that front tooth completely.

Well folks, here we are, five years later. We have the glorious Chase, SAFER barriers, double-file restarts (as we should) and the wondrous Car of Tomorrow (which is now today), but yet we still don’t have independent officiating of the races. Apparently, no one can be trusted to do it right like the suits in the ivory tower.

As for the red flags, it still amazes me the number of caution laps run after they red flag a race for a wreck and subsequent debris. Did ya notice last weekend how long it took just to sweep gravel off the track in one turn in Montreal? I still say, if you’re gonna stop the race get ALL the work done and run ONE caution lap! But that is only for debris; rain is another thing entirely.

And for a while there, after Spencer punched him, before he got his ears pinned back and before his even goofier looking little brother came along, Kurt Busch really did remind me of Alfred E. Newman! I don’t care what anybody says!

Now, you may think that with the economy the way it is now, this is the toughest time in the history of the sport for teams to find sponsors – but that is not necessarily the case. Back in ’04, there were many teams that had sponsor problems way back then! I offered my advice, but sadly, no one seemed to listen.

Taxpayers are already footing the bill for a squad of military sponsorships, why not one for PBS? (Public Broadcasting Service). I’d love to see a car sponsored by The Red Green Show, one of PBS’s most popular shows. Just imagine, the car would be half red (the green part, of course) and half green. They wouldn’t have to spend the big dollars for the fancy colored duct tape when repairing a fender… just slap on the normal gray color.

In fact, I would put liberal amounts of it on before the car was wrecked! Anyone who has ever watched the show would know it would look more natural that way. To further keep costs down, team communications could be handled by a couple of “borrowed” Nextel cellphones with the walkie-talkie feature. That should get things done.

What about U-Haul? With all the money saved by not having to buy a fancy transporter, they could focus on buying some primo engines.

Personally, I would love to be the driver of the Craftsman Tools racecar. No matter how badly I broke it, they would replace or fix it free, guaranteed, no questions asked. Come to think of it, that would be a perfect ride for a Bodine.

Why can’t one of these desperate race teams pull some strings and secure a Tampax sponsorship?

Now I don’t care who you are, those were, and still are, some primo ideas right there! Meanwhile, that Todd Bodine has found a steady home in the Truck Series, which means we can save that Craftsman sponsorship for Steve Wallace.

Now remember when Jeff Burton drove a totally white No. 99 Ford Taurus for Roush Racing at Texas Motor Speedway in ’04? At first glance, you might have thought it was sponsorless, but as one Roush employee told me later…

“As for the Texas car, it was sponsored by Wite Out correction fluid. I guess the scheme was so modern and forward-thinking, nobody realized it.”

In today’s economy, a Wite Out sponsorship makes even more sense. No need to repaint the cars – simply brush large white lines over the previous sponsors name! People would get the point.

NASCAR has loosened up a bit, though, in recent years by allowing liquor companies to sponsor cars. Perhaps I helped them see the light when I questioned their policies:

NASCAR’s ban on certain advertisers makes no sense. It’s OK to have cars sponsored by products to make my penis larger, but NOT OK to see the No. 07 Jack Daniel’s car. (Too much of which has the opposite effect…)

Now, I’m not gonna sit here and take credit for the No. 07 Jack Daniel’s car that we see racing today, even though I did call it back in ’04. Any idiot would know that you simply cannot run a Jack Daniel’s paint scheme on a racecar with, say, the number 36 on it! You have to have the number 07, or what’s the point! Bottoms up!

And while there is no more Viagra car poking its way through the ranks anymore, Joe Nemechek is trying to fill a void in the Nationwide series with his ExtenZe car. Rest assured, men, some teams are still looking out for your best interest! I suppose, now that Viagra spent all those advertising dollars to help you rise to the occasion, ExtenZe is the next logical step. I mean, if you’re gonna go, might as well go big!

In closing, towards the end of April in ’04 I published my first retraction of sorts after I took huge amounts of flak for giving a “thumbs up” to all those fans who voiced their displeasure with NASCAR by pelting the track with beer cans at Talladega:

In my commentary on Wednesday, I gave “two thumbs up” to ALL the fans at Talladega. Well, now that I think of it, “two thumbs down” to anyone who misjudged their abilities and didn’t make it over the fence. Please remember that when throwing debris, a man has got to know his limitations. You don’t want to hit a fellow fan just because you have a weak arm.

And finally…

NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter said those that threw stuff on the track were “in a small minority.”

Gee, guess those few guys were REALLY thirsty… and could run pretty fast.
Let’s see, whom haven’t I alienated yet…

Stay off the wall (but make it over the fence),

Jeff Meyer

Writer’s Note: Tune in tomorrow as we continue to remember when NASCAR was fun!

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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