Race Weekend Central

MPM2Nite: We’ll Be Back After This – the NASCAR KFC Nightmare

This is a truly sad state of affairs. I predicted a few weeks back that NASCAR was sailing into its annual summer doldrums but in my worst nightmares I could never have believed it would degenerate this far this fast.

When I started writing about racing four score and seven years ago I dreamed of writing columns like the late Joe Whitlock, who I grew up reading at a tender age. I wanted to debate the burning issues in the sport and make my readers think about the differing points of view on issues.

I wanted to recount the magic of summer Sunday afternoons in terms so well written, fans would be moved to come out and join me for the Magical Mystery Tour that used to be the NASCAR Cup season and join what was then more of a cult than a sport.

I wanted to craft imagery so magical that it would allow those who had not seen the race to be able to envision it as if they were there. I wanted to write stuff like, “Two cars, belly to the ground, heading off side-by-side into the setting sun off of turn 1 …”

I surely never thought I’d be reduced to the level of writing about a commercial for fried chicken.

What were the big stories Saturday night at Kentucky? Well, first and foremost leading up to the event, it was whether the traffic nightmare of last year would be repeated. Thankfully, by and large it was not. Of course, it’s a lot easier to keep traffic moving when you reduce the amount of fans actually showing up by 25%. But let’s not go there; I don’t want Bruton Smith felled by a heart attack, at least not until he writes me into his will.

As a racing journalist (and I snicker to myself as I lay hold to that title) to me the big story Saturday night was aerodynamics. Despite NASCAR’s raising the skirts of the racecars (and I still snicker about that, too having listened frequently to Jim Croce’s version of The Ball of Kerrymuir) and the new sway bar link rules, that old bugaboo “the dreaded” aero-push was clearly in evidence Saturday night (June 30).

A driver could run down the leader from a quarter lap down but when he got into striking proximity, losing the clean air off the nose of his car, he was helpless to make a pass.

If NASCAR is going to run these kinds of cars at this kind of track, at these sort of speeds, this issue needs to be addressed and quickly.

Another storyline I thought might get fans talking was an apparent case of ill will between Ryan Newman and Joey Logano during and after the race. Maybe if they’d gotten into each other’s faces after the race, pushing and shoving a bit, we’d have had a story – one which TNT would doubtlessly have missed because they’d have been in commercial break showing that same damned KFC commercial again.

But having Newman and Logano square off has its limits; it would be too much like the Joker and the Penguin getting into a slap fight.

But traffic, the race itself and a potential feud brewing didn’t capture the imagination of the Vox Populi.

So what did, then? A particularly irritating commercial that appears to have been shown during every break throughout the 400-mile event. TNT may or may not know drama, but they sure as hell know how to air commercials.

During the course of the Kentucky race and in the late night hours after it, I received 57 emails, about typical for a Saturday night race. Two readers wanted to know if I knew what had gone wrong with Tony Stewart’s car (a sensor in the EFI system), three wanted to know what went wrong with Kyle Busch’s car and one wanted to celebrate his misfortune of what turned out to be a broken shock mount.

Another wanted to know why it seemed the Fords were so off the pace early in the race and if the new sway bar mount rules penalized the Fords more than the Chevys or Toyotas.

A handful wanted to know if I had an inside line on where Matt Kenseth was headed next year (I don’t). The rest wanted to talk about the relentless assault of commercials on TNT and that one obnoxious KFC ad in particular.

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Hey, I agree with ya’ll. I was watching at home Saturday and it was practically unendurable.

Comments ranged from mildly irritated to absolutely outraged. One lady suggested I start a boycott of KFC until they pulled the ad. Another fellow claimed that if he saw that commercial one more time before the end of the race he was going to run out and burn down his local KFC – hopefully having ransacked their reserves of mac and cheese and mashed potatoes with gravy first.

For those of you who only followed the race online, on Twitter or perhaps on PRN on the radio because you were without power after Friday night’s East Coast wind storms, here’s the skinny:

KFC is currently running an ad that promotes the fact if you buy a certain minimum number of pieces of fried chicken you’ll get not one – but two side dishes with your order, and some biscuits to boot.

The scary part about it is even as many times as I’ve seen the commercial I forget what the minimum order is and how many biscuits are included. My traditional order at the Colonel’s chicken shack, when I can sneak a visit past my cardiologist, is two original recipe center breasts and two biscuits so it really doesn’t matter to me anyway.

Just for the record, I always hit the drive-thru and eat my meal at home because I can’t stomach the butter substitute KFC hands out, which I have deduced is OW5 motor oil. And they don’t serve beer.

To promote this doubling of side orders, KFC has filmed a reprehensible ad that starts with a grandfather and his grandson (hopefully … I mean this isn’t meant to represent Jerry Sandusky and a victim, is it?) arguing over which side entry to get. Pop-pop claims it is his turn to choose and his vote is for mashed potatoes with gravy. A sullen and cantankerous grandson with no apparent respect for his elders counters that it is indeed his turn to choose and he’d prefer mac and cheese.

Unable to resolve their differences in an amicable manner the two physically accost one another. Hard-dee-har. What’s funnier than domestic abuse which has become a plague in the current economic climate? Abuse against the elderly is a particularly troubling development as the economy forces multi-generational families to live under the same roof. It’s a silent epidemic of voiceless victims and nothing to laugh about.

To add to the hilarity, the rest of the family has arrived home to witness Pop-Pop and Junior accost each other. One asks another if they should announce they’ve come home with both side orders but the other responds, “What, and miss this?” Had my mother or father ever arrived home to find me wrestling on the floor with my grandfather my thinking is they wouldn’t have been amused.

Here’s the ironic part. In the commercial, as Pop-pop and Junior battle, it’s apparent that the rest of the family has actually gone to get dinner at KFC and thus they have no actual voice in the decision of which side or sides to get. Perhaps mom screwed them both by getting green wings with a beaks and anuses salad?

I felt maybe this commercial was a result of KFC’s sympathies towards the Occupy movement. Those who were truly hungry and passionate about their dinners were excluded from the decision-making process, all while those with the money got to choose for everyone how the meal would go.

The rich get center-breasts. The poor and excluded argue over the last biscuit. Or maybe I’m reading too much into the most annoying 30 seconds ever presented on TV since Wayne Newtown replaced the Beach Boys in the Washington D.C. Fourth of July concert. Yes, James Watts, we still remember.

It was almost frightening to see the indignation unleashed in Twitterville overnight on the Mac and Cheese/Taters and Gravy issue. It seemed that it was all anybody was talking about at sites like John Daly’s The Daly Planet.

Even mainstream journalists were in on the joke on their Twitter accounts. The normally mild-mannered Jeff Gluck of SBNation, watching from home Saturday, went off on such a multi-Tweet rant about that KFC ad he appeared to have gone insane.

At one point he wrote “Should we tell them we got two sides. YES DAMNIT!!!! SO WE DON’T HAVE TO WATCH IT AGAIN!!! (Punctuation and capitalization are his, not mine.)

It’s too bad for KFC they green-lit an ad that gets so many of us grinding our teeth. They’d been on a roll with the two hipster doofuses in the 1970 Dodge Charger rolling up to the drive-thru for their classic chicken pot pies while jamming to Motown – where they then inappreciably exiting their car to eat. If you’re wearing a vinyl-leatherette jacket, wouldn’t it be more comfortable to eat inside with the AC? But I digress, as is my prerogative.

Truthfully, KFC wasn’t the only offender pointed out by my readers in their invectives against Saturday night’s commercial marathon. A lot of them would like to see that Nationwide ad with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick vanish more than their deductibles.

Some weren’t thrilled with Mike’s Hard Lemonade ad featuring the carcass of a deer coming looking for its head (Washington Irving, eat your heart out). Boner pill commercials draw negative comments weekly, and if you’re an adult and you decide to dress up like Spiderman to get a free burger on the Fourth of July, you need to also grant your spouse an uncontested divorce.

Seriously, what’s the toppings on those burgers? It looked like cat-sick to me.

But yeah, Mac and Cheese vs. Taters and Gravy has elevated itself into the pantheon of most loathed commercials ever aired given its constant repetitions. It was so bad that late Sunday night I was having a great dream with me at a Barrett-Jackson auction in bad sneakers with a large sum of money to spend, except the dream was interrupted with a replay of that KFC ad.

Had I come back from commercial with Taylor Swift trying to run me over with a 1970 Mach 1, it would have been the embodiment of how to ruin somebody’s perfect day.

More at fault then the chicken parts purveyor in this nightmare is the network presenting the race itself, TNT. Four races deep into their six-race schedule, TNT has presented what’s been almost a parody of a NASCAR race broadcast, presentations so disjointed, off topic, poorly presented and so constantly interrupted by commercials they are unwatchable.

According to the stats, TNT is averaging four minutes of racing followed by two to three minutes of advertisements. That’s not going to work. Take a really good novel … in my case my favorite guilty pleasure book, Stephen King’s Christine, (“Don’t make fun of my car, Arnie!”) and before reading it go through and tear out every third page.

There will still be some good writing and an interesting story but with so much missing you’ll never be able to put the plot together.

Characters will have been sidelined with you having no idea what happened to them. Plot lines will have unfolded, but you’ll only catch up with them in retrospect 20 pages later. And eventually, you’ll get annoyed at the lack of continuity and not being able to figure out what’s going on, tossing the book in the trash. (Or through the screen of your TV if you stumble across the Pop-pop vs. Junior ad.)

Racing is a difficult sport to broadcast. Many networks have tried and only a few have succeeded, and in those instances it was only for an ephemerally brief period like ESPN in the mid-to-late 1980s. There’s no scheduled timeouts in stock car racing. We don’t have a halftime or seventh inning stretch.

In the old days, the networks would cram the commercials in during caution periods, but there are so few cautions these days that’s not working any more. My guess is the deli meat and beer industries are suffering in the NASCAR market, because you used to be able to go to your kitchen to make a sandwich and grab a brew under caution – even if you were one of those gourmands who demanded mayo, horsy-style sauce and pickles on your lunch.

Bruton Olin Smith insisted this weekend that NASCAR start adding mandatory cautions throughout the race to bunch the field back together and provide for more exciting racing. The ASA series already has a rule that if the race goes green for 75 laps, a competition caution will fly.

I’m still on the fence on the issue. It’s gimmicky but I’m coming around to the idea if all the teams and drivers knew going into the race that a caution was going to fly at the one quarter, halfway and three-quarter mark of the race they’d plan and adjust their strategies accordingly. Everyone would be on the same page (presumably torn out of a Stephen King novel).

Teams would have more chances to adjust on their cars, hopefully resulting in a larger number of competitive entries scrapping for the win at the end of a race. Fuel-economy races would be greatly reduced in number and I hate seeing someone win on gas mileage.

OK, give it a shot. Anything beats the current status quo which involves fans and media members reduced to discussing commercials after a race.

Networks pay big bucks for rights to NASCAR TV. They say they have to recoup that cost with ad minutes because we are after all watching for free. The only logical solution is to air the commercials side by side with the racing like they do with the Indy cars. Nobody is seeing the ads if they’ve all turned the TV off in disgust halfway through the broadcast anyway.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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