Tuesday, August 1

Talladega Nights

I started watching Stock Car racing in 1994, commonly known as NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Racing). Now there's a contradiction for you "Stock Car Racing" because there is nothing Stock about NASCAR race cars. The term "stock" or "bone-stock" is applied to cars with no modifications whatsoever. In fact if you pulled apart Jeff Gordon's Number 24 Dupont Chevy Monte Carlo you'd be hard pressed finding any factory parts. The cars are rear-wheel-drive, high-powered, low-tech hot rods with a roll cage chassis and thin sheet metal covering, and are powered by carbureted engines with 4 speed manual transmissions. The engines are limited to 5.8 L, with cast iron blocks, one camshaft and a pushrod valvetrain. Dubbed as "1950's technology" I happen to think its great!! Europeans have their multi-valve, 7-speed paddle shift transmissions, Uber-technological V-8's in Formula 1 revving at an astonishing 20,000 RPM's, Americans keep it simple...

Daytona Beach Florida is where it all started. In the 1930's a man called William France (the same Family still owns Nascar this day) thought it would be entertaining for people to watch un-modified cars duke it out in the unpaved race tracks of Daytona Beach (literally on the Beach). A visionary man i say. Of course as the years went on, with the cars increasing speeds and driver injuries/fatality at an alarming rate, race cars had to be modified not only for handling but for safety reasons. A sanctioning body also had to be implemented due to unscrupulous sponsors stiffing race event purses... Almost 60 years later, NASCAR now the 2nd most popular sport in terms of television ratings, ranking only behind the NFL, although now FULLY-modified purposely built race cars, the series is still referred to as Stock-Car racing.

Believe it or not it is actually a fun sport. Sure the stereotype among race-fans is that 'they only go around in circles'. Well, they do, but if you really put it into perspective-- they're going around in circles at a sustained speed of close to 190 MPH in 405 Rush-Hour Freeway proximity. Contrary to what other race drivers say, that is NOT easy to do, and for us mere mortals that's a freakin' phenomenonn.

I attended the 1998 Nascar Race at the California Speedway. It was a great experience overall except the race itself was boring. The cars were awesome and the V-8's sounded Thunderous scary. Its unlike the high-pitch deafening screams of Open-Wheel race cars when they open up the Throttle... I guess you can say Nascar possessess the grunt of the Heavy Metal Music while F1 is tenor like Andrea Bocelli-- Bohemian and technologically advanced. Both superb and impressive... Anyway the race itself was boring and i blame that on the Speedway's wide configuration. Its so wide that race cars would approach corners 4-wide sometimes 5 wide (yea its that wide...) and it almost gives the illusion that they're not actually going 180 MPH. That's not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it is good, except the race cars would exit the corners still 4 abreast. That is not exactly exciting racing, it's more like synchronized swimming, only in super fast-mode. Well Nascar fans in Southern California i'm sure don't mind too much, even if its the most boring race on the bill, they're just happy Nascar is here... I wished the Speedway was configured more like Daytona or Talladega (or even the short stack Bristol) it makes for a better Nascar race... Anyway Jeff Gordon won the race by almost a half a mile. In F1 terms that's like winning by 40 seconds... And to add to the boredom there was only 1 caution leaving the lapped cars, well, lapped ( See in Nascar, Caution-flags aren't only race stopage for wrecks, its an opportunity for lapped cars to regain them.... A typical Nascar event has 5-10 cautions).

Another Nascar stereotype is like Baseball's-- its boring. Cars that look like street cars going around in circles and unless there's a crash some people wouldn't so much give it a glare. Unless you're there in the thick of things it is unjustifiably boring. Nascar and the California Speedway is a testament to that...

Although i've gone back at least 2-3 times a year since then, i haven't returned for a second Nascar go-around. I don't think i was impressed enough. This year though less profitable race series IRL, Grand-Am and ALMS chose not to schedule the venue--probably citing facility cost. Champ cars still test there but have not staged an event in nearly 4 years after having been the mainstay race since the inception of the Speedway.


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