Race Weekend Central

The Bristol Cup Race Gave Us Everything We Never Knew We Needed

The NASCAR Cup Series race last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway highlighted one of the things wrong with the sport and one of the challenges that exists in contemporary society. The former is one tied to scientific inquiry. The latter pertains to the evolution of society and the almighty need to feed the machine.

To start, the announcers did no favor to the Bristol race when tire wear became an apparent issue. Treating the issue like it was tantamount to the downfall of NASCAR and covering the Goodyear personnel as they mounted tires in a way that posited that if they did not get the tires on the wheels fast enough the race, no, the sport, nay, the country might perish. The rhetoric and hyperbole are so bombastic that any sense of actual nuanced discussion gets lost in the fray.

But one of the things to recognize is that someone made an error in judgment. As the Goodyear VP in charge of tire management and ridiculous racing requests (job title assumed rather than known) appeared on the screen with 100 or so laps to go, probably surprised by his own need to be part of the narrative of the race, he did his best to lay out the details. The one that stood out is that Goodyear had tested their tires with the PJ-whatever compound, but that NASCAR decided that resin was the track adhesive they would use.

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2-Headed Monster: Too Much of a Good Thing at Bristol?

Seems smart. Why use the track compound that had been the norm and one of the constants in the tire wear equation when we can solve for a new X and use the race as an experiment? No one will notice and certainly no one will see their racecars torn up as a result.

This error in judgment has more to do with the hubris of the organizing body than it has to do with anything that Goodyear did wrong. In the spirit of, um, confused engineering (?), anti-science ideology (?) or possibly redneck ingenuity (?), the sanctioning body determined that ignoring whatever information it previously had was the way to go. If there is one thing that continues to amaze about sports, it’s how wealthy, smart people make baffling decisions.  As a professor of mine used to opine, if sports ran like any other business, it would be out of business.

What turned out to be a bit of snafu that encouraged the high melodrama of a Korean soap opera actually turned out to be a pretty solid race. Stephen Stumpfʻs piece detailing the race provides a solid way of thinking about how the narrative given during the time of the event is not indicative of the way the race may have been presented. 

Jeff Gluckʻs ultra-scientific and thoroughly nuanced post-race poll found that most people had been in favor of the calamity that was the harsh tire wear at the bullring.

What we have is a tale of different worlds. For Goodyear, the race came off as one where the company may have looked incompetent, unable to provide the right tire for the track and one that failed to encourage solid racing. That the company had to mount extra tires gives evidence that at least they were prepared for some kind of challenge but they also did not predict the extent. Yet they did actually help manufacture a ʻgoodʻ race.

Another perspective came from the drivers, who totally had reason to freak, kept lamenting about the tire wear and expressing their frustrations with not being able to power down and use their car to the fullest extent. Boo-freaking-hoo. That is actually part of the game. Racecars, when conceived and set up, run in utopia, with best notions of handling and highest rates of performance. The real world is different, providing all kinds of permutations that take away from this perfect world scenario and placing drivers, engineers, and crew chiefs into problem-solving positions. That is perfect! Racing isnʻt just about the best car all the time (though it seems to be working for Max Verstappen in Formula 1), it is about best car, best driver, and best team. Denny Hamlin, Chris Gabehart and Joe Gibbs Racing figured out the the 3D chess game better than anyone else last weekend. Kudos.

The last part of the story is thinking about the concept of overreaction and crisis. Some PhD out there, way smarter than me, wrote about how one of the constants in the world, especially with the advent of 24-hour news coverage, is the perpetuation of crisis. Hence, when something is surprising, unanticipated or challenging, these events do not get framed in grounded ways but instead as over-the-top fantasies of failure and a sign of the wrath of God. The tire wear at Bristol was a surprise, and amazingly, everyone carried on and the race continued and good job everyone who finished.

The message given during the race seemed to argue that the whole event was a travesty to racing and that viewers would be lucky to get to see all 500 laps. Insert outrage and other cataclysmic measures.

This type of messaging surrounds entertainment all the time. A quarterback has a bad game, cue the pundits who will discuss if this player should be benched. An actor stars in a film that fails miserably at the box office, their career is over and they should be ashamed that they even appeared in film to start. The list goes on and the hot-take news cycle lives by this kind of overstated BS. Overreacting is the new reacting, and it is up to us to figure out whether or not that works.

One of Douglas Kellnerʻs concepts in cultural studies is to recognize how the media, among other things, expresses the novelties of an era. In this regard, we can see how the flat expression, monotone newscasts of the 1950s are distinctly different from how news is presented today, offering insight into our culture from both and the expectations that surround them. The heightened emotional element is part of the sell, the need to make events seem important while also acknowledging the desperation of maintaining solid ratings.

What we got at Bristol was the convergence of the manifestation of all things new media, athletes hoping for utopia, organizational arrogance and corporate scuttlebutt. In a way, we haven’t had a race as entertaining since Juan Pablo Montoya blew up a jet dryer at Daytona. On to COTA.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Ed Rooney

Never knew we needed??? People have been crying for this for years.
Do you even watch this sport?

Last edited 28 days ago by Ed Rooney
Shayne

I wonder what the first-time viewers might have thought of the race. Will they ever watch another race? We should ask Jeff Gluck since he apparently has the pulse of NASCAR at his fingertips.

Tire wear is a good thing. What I witnessed at Bristol was a tire fiasco, second only to Indy 2008.

sb

If tire conservation is The Answer, it’s an easy fix. Limit the number of tires assigned to the teams as they do with Xfinity teams. Voila! tire conservation becomes an issue.

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