Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Changing Channels Distracting NASCAR’s Drivers

“Hey! Can you… can you hold? I got someone on the other line.”

Life is busy. There’s rarely a moment in my day when I’m not multi-tasking. The phone rings, somebody needs my opinion, paperwork to be filled out, supplies to be ordered, schedule an oil change for the car… it often feels like my life is flying by at 200 mph. The phone has a speed-dial, contact list and then there’s the rolodex. Yeah, I still have one of those dinosaurs on my desk. In order to complete the myriad tasks assigned to me at work and at home, there’s this vast array of people with whom I must maintain open communications.

It appears the same applies in NASCAR these days.

This new Dancing With the Stars system of racing at the plate tracks seems to demand the most of the drivers’ abilities in this arena. No longer do they have a nice dial on the dash with three or four channels to choose from, for when it is decided your spotter isn’t as important to listen to as your teammate. Now the radio has as many channels on it as my cable box. It looks like Jeff Gordon can call the governor from his cockpit, should he manage tune in on the correct station while he’s tooling around the high banks of Talladega.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this latest use of technology.

On the plus side, the teams are able to take the best traditions of NASCAR and implement them in this new plate package. There have always been stories of small teams blowing up their only engine in practice, and the next morning the big and best stable in the garage provides the financially strapped team with a replacement motor for the race. Maybe somebody’s tire changer broke his ankle Sunday morning, there’s always a helping hand willing to make sure the competitor has a fair shot and the needed crewman is loaned out.

With the new open policy of call up your neighbor anytime, drivers reach across the chasm of competition to lend a helping hand. They have to! Without the assistance of their newly minted friend’s bumper, there is no hope of keeping the leaders in sight, let alone the checkered flag.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: The Anti-Daytona - What the 500 Giveth, Talladega Taketh Away?

However, if we put aside the evolution of our sport and the cool new technology at the fingertips of the drivers, there is the consideration of just what are the drivers thinking about when they decide to change the channel?

With two hands on the wheel, the pilot must keep track of 42 other guys pushing their hot rods to the edge of control. Is his car overheating? Does he still have any brakes left, knowing his trusty crew chief has had them shaved down to next to nothing. Is one of the rookies about to overcorrect and drive into his buddy’s door? Meanwhile, the wall flies past his window in a complete blur, as nothing remains in focus at nearly 200 mph.

“Hey! Can I talk to you a minute?”

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

“Uh, just one minute. I have to try and avoid running over the lap down traffic… I’ll get back to you.”

Then there’s the whole difficulty of identifying who’s on the other end of the line. “Mike? No? Sorry, wrong number.”

I know I’m one of those few people who turn off all phones when they climb behind the wheel of a car. I shudder each time I pass some idiot who’s weaving in and out of traffic with a square bit of metal that connects their elbow to their ear. I hammer my wheel in frustration as I pass the next highway information sign that reminds us that texting while driving is now illegal, as I’m always watching some kid leaning against their wheel at the light with their thumbs flying in all directions.

And I am well aware that the average person sitting behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup stock car is in no way your average commuter. Still…

When the pre-race show demonstrates all the new and nifty ways my hero can flip back and forth to talk to at least a dozen different people during the race, then I watch the pitcrew polish up his bumper with a thick coating of PAM, something happens in the pit of my stomach.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Helton, I didn’t see him coming. I was trying to find the right channel for my spotter.”

There are lots of reasons to love and hate plate racing. While the ability to change channels between many teams has always existed, there was never the impetus applied to get drivers exchanging those frequencies until we discovered the fastest way around the track came in twos. I am enjoying the dancing duos, and the ensuing madness that comes with, however the conservative part of me remains hopeful that the next big one isn’t a result of the dreaded catchphrase of the 21st century… distracted driving.

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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