Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It’s beginning to look a lot like NASCAR – again.

I was recently watching an old videotape of the Winston Cup Series running at Talladega, Alabama in May, 1992. Yes, that almost seems to be the dark ages from our vantage point more than two decades later. But it was a pretty thrilling spectacle, and a milestone along the way leading to an incredible championship battle, with the season-long victory claimed by the late Alan Kulwicki in the last race of the year.

1991 Winston 500 winner “Handsome Harry” Gant finished deep in the field a year later, while Dale Earnhardt claimed a top five.

As the laps of the Winston 500 ticked down to reveal a hard-fought win by Davey Allison that long-ago May afternoon, I recognized all of the drivers and their numbers. But what struck me just from casual glances at the screen were two things in particular. One was how easy it was to differentiate a Thunderbird from a Lumina and a Grand Prix from a Cutlass. The other? How cool all these cars looked as stock car racers.

Fast forward to 2008 and, along with a new title for the series thanks to Sprint, here comes the Car of Tomorrow. I get all the reasons that drove the development and implementation of this vehicle – wider, sturdier, and safer. But holy smokes – has there ever been a more uninspiring flock of “stock cars” to roll onto a superspeedway?

OK, it’s safer – but do I have to look at it?

I’ve complained about NASCAR plenty since Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed at Daytona. In my opinion, the sport of stock car racing’s top series began to drift away from what made it great in a cloud of marketing and a head-on frenzy to expand – and the revolting appearance of the Car of Tomorrow only made things worse.

But credit where it’s due: watching this year’s testing sessions at Daytona International Speedway brought back that old exciting feeling. The work in progress that has been the Car of Tomorrow has evolved from the ugly ducklings of that initial season to the real race cars I saw blasting around those famed high banks. The Gen-6 (“sixth-generation”) cars look like the real deal, and perception can indeed become reality.

“Hey, this looks like… a real stock car!” That it is…

Folks, the stock car is back, and boy did I miss it! Now if we could just get away from tongue-twister race names like “The Sprint Unlimited At Daytona” and return to the simplicity of monikers like “Bud Shootout…”

Well, one step at a time.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"I dunno... Let's just try it!"

When I was a kid in the late 1960s, I was as much into drag racing as I was music (a passion that also lives on; please visit my  site for more on that realm).

The two interests make a lot of sense now as I look back on that era. Both drag racing and rock music were seeing cataclysmic upheavals in all aspects, reflecting the wild times of American culture in general.

Two things in particular characterized drag strip culture in that era: a sense of wild innovation, and an appreciation of the importance of show biz.

Computer say, driver do: drag racing in the modern era...

Modern drag racing is similar to the other big budget sports - those big sponsorships demand professionalism and consistency of results. Anything that results in a dragster going faster now is most likely an innovation emerging from computer diagnostics.

John Peters' historic "Freight Train," restored for the enjoyment of future generations. Groundpounder, indeed...

In the late 1960s, though, computers took up entire rooms and were the domain of the pocket protector gang. Out at the strip, “going faster” was something obtained - or totally missed - by best guesses. “Hey, that thing goes pretty fast with one engine. What if we put in two?” Or, “Well, it looks aerodynamic to me.”

Tommy Ivo's attempt at implementing advanced aerodynamics: fail. Says Ivo today, "What a ride! This was it! The only thing that made me mad was I got so scared I closed my eyes and missed the whole show!"

What hurts drag racing today is that there’s little reward in trying out wild ideas. There are banks of data that answer all the questions before attempts are ever made, with the result that everybody’s running just about the same thing.

It’s rare to see something startling on the track. In the late 1960s, it was almost expected.

Of course, earlier I mentioned the show biz aspect. We’ll take a peak at that down the road, but here’s a hint of what I’m talking about!

Just another day at the office...


Friday, February 8, 2013

Return to action...

There are few things sadder on the Internet than a blog that’s fallen into inactivity, digital cobwebs hanging from that distant date in the past when the content was last updated…

Well, as Patti Smith exclaimed upon her return to the stage after breaking her neck in a fall: “Out of traction, back in action!”
My blog silence was not the result of a medical condition (fortunately!). Instead, I had the opportunity to focus on one area of my range of interests, and it demanded full attention. So I’ve spent much of the last nine months living in the past while working on the music of my band of the 1980s, Informed Sources. This effort ranged from mixing studio multitrack tapes and preparing for a commercial release to practicing and playing a one-off show in Philadelphia. And, of course, there was the creation of a Web site:
But after all those weeks playing the roles of recording engineer, art director, sales manager, web developer, publicist, logistics coordinator – oh, and guitarist! – it’s time to end the hiatus and dust off these blogs.
Keyboard, computer, action!