How I Miss The Old NASCAR

Sam HeganCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2009

Oh how I miss the days of old. I sat Saturday night February 14, 2009 and watched a replay on ESPN-Classic of the 1979 Daytona 500. I watched with total enjoyment seeing again a young rookie, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. battling with veterans Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough and his future nemesis, ole “Jaws” himself Darrell Waltrip.

These Hall of Fame drivers racing nose to tail and side by side encouraged me to put fingers to computer keyboard. I was enjoying the race as if it was happening today.

To see the different manufacturer’s cars battling with factory looking bodies, seeing the awesome coverage and hearing the play by play by some legendary commentators, Ken Squier, Chris Economaki, David Hobbs in the booth with Ned Jarrett and Mike Joy in the pits. It was truly fantastic.

I am still amazed at how fast those cars were. How fast they went down pit road without today’s mandated 55 MPH speed limit and how the pit crews survived from race to race. To hear the old style stock block engines with their 360-degree headers that made the GM small block engine sound like a wounded six cylinder brought back fond memories.

Even knowing the result, I still cheered on King Richard Petty as if they were running right now. All I needed was a little tire smoke and the smell of burnt oil, and then I would be in NASCAR heaven. Of course, every two laps it seemed we had to have today’s commercial package and that did sour it some so even fond memories have their limits.

I was on the edge of my seat again 30 years later hooting and hollering at Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough while they bashed each other down the backstretch of that last lap. Of course, the famous fistfight in turn four that sealed the TV ratings deal forever has to be recognized for the spectacle that it was and what it did for NASCAR.

I sat thinking to myself, why am I not excited about tomorrow’s Daytona 500 of 2009. Is it the announcers? That could explain it, because the current announcers sound like they come from the Ritalin school of race announcing with no real emotion or seemingly asinine comments from the old crew chiefs to Jaws.

The color commentary as the saying goes is all dried up. Could it be the constant commercials? Commercials are one of those hateful things that we all have to endure during the race tomorrow.

That is a good possibility, but I’ve almost gotten numb to the drone of hawkers for pecker lengtheners or ingredients to clean my engine. Thank God for NASCAR Track-pass that allows me to know what is happening during those hateful few minutes.

Commercial interruptions are bad and one of my pet peeves, but it has to be some other ingredient that makes me love these old races compared to today. The one shinning item that really separates today’s NASCAR from the grand ole days of old are the cars.

My friends that know me already know just how I hate today’s facsimile and the NASCAR of today’s quest for equality in racing.

The COT was a dumb idea when it was implemented last year and I haven’t changed my mind about that. I love seeing a car and recognizing it immediately because of body shape.

I like the idea of seeing a body shape and style just like you can find in the showrooms throughout America. I also would love to see a version of a current engine offered to the public used instead of the mega-dollar race only engines they all use.

If NASCAR wants to reduce expenses for the teams, engines would be a great place to start. Having the mega-buck engines that put out near equal horsepower is another try for equality by NASCAR, but it makes the cars less like a late-model stock car and more like a modified.

Ford is not allowed to race with a representative of their current OHC (Over Head Cam) engines used in the Mustang or trucks. Toyota likewise is forced to use an engine eerily similar to the current GM race engine. Dodge much as Ford is forced to use a variant of an older design engine no longer being offered.

NASCAR does not allow the new Hemi engine even though it is being sold in the very car being portrayed on the track, the Charger. NASCAR will not consider the Hemi, as it is a possible advantage to Dodge. Lord knows we can’t have that. Old rules that disallow OHC engines from back in the mid-sixties keep the Toyota and Ford factory style designs off the track.

Those rules are badly outdated and like the carburetor rule should be reconsidered. The only manufacturer that has an engine similar to their current factory offering is Chevrolet with its LS series of engines. NASCAR is in trouble with teams loosing sponsors and folding. The manufacturers are staying with NASCAR now, but how long will they continue to support it.

NASCAR is no longer a showcase for their designs. With NASCAR’s attempt to equalize the competition, stock-car racing is being made less an advertising tool and more an expensive luxury. Detroit and Tokyo are cutting expenses everywhere they can and if NASCAR can’t be used as was intended by them it will be cut.

I will admit that the side-by-side racing is great. I love an auto race as well as the next fan, but they had close racing even in years past. As pointed out by many fans, some of the old races were won by laps instead of seconds.

I concede that, but I will also point out some of today’s races where it still happens. One of the things they didn’t have then is huge wrecks on the Super-speedways as they do today.

So what is NASCAR trying to do? Is NASCAR promoting huge crashes for those fans that get off on such tripe? They did design a safer race-car with the COT after all. Not knowing what is in the mind of the officials of NASCAR, I can’t comment if that was a thought.

I hope not and I sincerely hope some common sense finally comes back to NASCAR in the future before there are real issues. The economy being what it is NASCAR needs to look at satisfying Detroit and Tokyo, not alienate them with an unrecognizable car.

The old reliable fan that helped NASCAR get to where they are today should also be considered. Racing is a way of being as much as a following for many of us. We come from small tracks throughout the country, some are even racers themselves and support the sport for the thrill it gives us.

What I’m afraid of is when older fans like me say enough is enough and walk away. True fans are the ones that are there through the good and bad times. I don’t like being ignored when expressing my opinion about NASCAR. That is how I’m beginning to feel and good fans are hard to come by today.

We aren’t the happy go lucky, Johnny come lately fan that only shows up because NASCAR is fashionable. We, the old fan loves stock car racing and we don’t like to look on the old races as being the best ever.

We want NASCAR to be great today and better than the past. So, when I say the 1979 race was an event I looked forward to, yet I’m not overly eager to watch tomorrow’s race should sound huge alarm bells in Daytona.