Notes on Bristol: Dismal Attendance, Good Racing

Lisa and I always talked about going to Bristol someday. We got to—when it was covered with dirt for the late models, which entered the turns at something like 150 mph or so. I was amazed. And now that Bruton Smith has again reconfigured the surface, it does seem like the Bristol of old.

I sure do wish more people would’ve gone to see it.

To see a half-empty grandstand there of all places honestly shocks me. It’s easy to blame the economy, and to a large degree that’s just true; the bottom 99% have less disposable income than ever right now, and so….it’s cheaper to watch on TV. That’s all there is to it.

This isn’t to say NASCAR’s ignorant of it all. Neither are the promoters. BTW, I’m very glad Gordon and Kenseth were OK after that huge wreck when Gordon cut a tire. Scary business. Anyway, there was a little something for everybody today. Rubbing, banging, tempers, precision passing (what the late, great Larry Rice might call “Slip and slide, dip an’ dive—”), and a close finish—old-time auto racing with new-age cars. Not bad. Also, we saw emotion; Kahne in the winner’s circle, Logano and Hamlin’s confrontation in the pits….this also reminds fans that these aren’t robots; they’re flesh-and blood human beings who can be pushed past the edge just like the rest of us. A place like Bristol will show you the location of your personal emotional edge, too.

Racing is supposed to be dramatic, like any other sport. This is part of what creates fans’ intense loyalty—how will my driver do this week?—and passion. Those amazing passes and re-passes, for example….now that’s what I go to see. I want to see battles for position, and to be honest I don’t much care what position we’re talking about, so long as it’s close and nobody gets hurt. That’s pretty much the main thing for me when I think about the quality of a particular race. Was the finish close? Were there lots of passes, or was it a one-groove, freight-train show? Was there drama in the race’s overall “narrative” or was it a snoozer? (Mind, I can be tempted to like a snoozer so long as the winner’s someone I particularly like, but that’d better be a Jack Hewitt or a Tony Stewart….) I want to see drivers at the very limit of their abilities, never lying down, fighting to close down on the car ahead. Those are my personal hopes for any race. Also, to reiterate, that nobody gets hurt. Nobody.

NASCAR still has work to do if it’s to fill those empty seats, and I hope that will happen; maybe we can’t do much about the economy, but if NASCAR bends a bit more in the direction of the fans as it seems to be doing, maybe this is a reversible trend. I hope so.

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About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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