Talk about a carnage in the making …Written by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For NASCAR, it’s a Catch 22. Make that a “Catch Fence 22.”
Restrictor-plate racing at Talladega and Daytona, NASCAR Sprint Cup’s two biggest superspeedways, provides spills, thrills and chills for the fans, but sheer dread for the drivers.
NASCAR has a new, electrifying highlight film, compliments of April 26’s demolition derby at Talladega that featured Carl Edwards’ No. 99 going airborne and testing the catch fence coming out of turn four on the final lap, while racing young Brad Keselowski for the victory.
It was, quite frankly, mesmerizing. But, upon touching down right side up, Edwards climbed from the wreckage and trotted across the start/finish line.
It provided a fuzzy, feel-good ending to what could have been a total disaster.
It’s the stuff, sappy movies, such as, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” are made of. It’s the stuff highlight films are immortalized by and it’s the stuff drivers agonize over, wondering what their role will be in the next treacherous, spontaneous, “Big One.”
That has become the accepted terminology for massive wrecks at both Talladega and Daytona, the result of 43 cars traveling at 200 miles per hour in a tightly wrapped bundle waiting for something or someone to become untied, unglued or unrelenting and then delivered crash on demand.
So whom do we mollify, the fans or the participants? When does common sense outweigh entertainment value?
The drivers were as excited as the fans at the conclusion of the Talladega wreck, but for a different reason. They were relieved that they had lived to race another day.
They parked their mangled machinery, but they didn’t put their emotions in temporary storage.
“We’ll race like this until we kill somebody,” Edwards proclaimed, “then [NASCAR] will change it.”
No less explicit was three-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, a victim of the last of the three “Big Ones,” at ‘Dega. “Man, it sucks racing here,” he said.
Ryan Newman, who got caught up in Edwards’ mid-air pirouette with Edwards’ car almost landing on top of Newman’s mount before getting punted into the catch fence, said, “Talladega is short for, ‘We’re going to crash, we just don’t know when.’”
Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., year in and year out NASCAR’s most popular driver, said, in his own convoluted way, that Talladega has a history of providing wicked wrecks ever since the arrival of the restrictor plate, and that has been celebrated by fans and media alike, using the term “The Big One,” to attract more attention.
“So there’s a responsibility with the media and the networks and the sanctioning body itself to come to their senses a little bit and think about the situation,” he added.
Translation: What can everyone do collectively to reduce the danger?
NASCAR, are you listening? Your star power is lamenting. These are drivers who have had success at restrictor-plate races. They’re not whiners. They’re winners. They’re the show. Show them some respect.
NASCAR tries to sanitize everything, but FOX race announcer Mike Joy went beyond all manner of moral cleansing when, after looking at the replay of Edwards’ crash said, “I did not see any debris go into the stands and that was very gratifying to see.”
This is sort of the attitude NASCAR adheres to. The catch fence did its job; no one was killed. Eight fans were injured but none seriously by Joy’s imperceptible debris. Fifty-seven lead changes. The fans loved it. Play on.
Of the 10 closest finishes in the Cup series since 1993, five have come at one of the two super speedways. One journalist is recommending that restrictor plates be used at every Sprint Cup venue. That’s preposterous.
Can you imagine the same tightly packed, snarling 43-car freight train we saw at Talladega competing on the 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta? Talk about a carnage in the making.
The restrictor plate was originally intended to curb blatant speed following Bobby Allison’s crash in 1987 at Talladega that was almost, eerily, an exact replica of Edwards’ flight into the fence.
It changed the future of competition. NASCAR stepped in with the restrictor plate that limits the amount of air going into a carburetor and thus reduces horsepower. Maybe it’s time to change back. Speed can be curtailed in other ways and that would give the competition some breathing room, especially at the two superspeedways. It’s not the speed, but the tight clustering of these 3,400-pound machines to within paper-thin clearances that creates the massive smashes.
How sick is this? Immediately after the Talladega race, Lowe’s Motor Speedway advertised it would put 1,000 tickets on sale for $14. Why 14? Because that’s the number of cars involved in the third and last “Big One,” at Talladega, where concession stands already offered a jumbo hot dog called — you guessed it – “The Big One.”
Kudos to the catch fence. All of the crashed car’s safety features met their intentions. There’s no indications the track configuration will be changing, speeds will be lowered or ‘plates will be scrapped. NASCAR even went so far as to say the drivers should do a better job of policing themselves and rules should be more strictly enforced. Shame on you guys.
Who do we appease in this delicate balance? The fans, of course, and that’s often unfortunate. There’s always going to be a danger dynamic that tugs at the fan’s inherent fanaticism. It’s too bad that dynamic has to be fed from time to time to keep it in existence. That is, according to Edwards, until someone gets killed.
If you see it differently, I’ll have to quote Fox color commentator Darrell Waltrip at the end of the Talladega race April 26, and this is verbatim: “I beg to pardon with you.”