|WOODY: The Chase puts the race back in NASCAR
|Posted: Sunday, September 9, 2012 12:00 am
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|A few years ago NASCAR – alarmed at the growing number of fans who were dozing off and toppling out of the grandstands during races – decided it needed to do something to wake them up.
One suggestion: Get its racers to start racing.
It was an antiquated idea, dating back to the sport’s rambunctious early days. Back then racers actually raced, rather than treating racetracks like school zones.
The first idea about how to get drivers moving – electric cattle prods – was rejected after complaints from the Humane Society.
NASCAR eventually settled on the Chase.
Despite grousing from critics who claim it’s too “gimmicky” and contrived, the Chase saved stock car racing. Pure and simple. It injects drama into the late season when NASCAR has to compete with college football, the NFL and Major League pennant races.
The Chase is NASCAR’s version of the playoffs in terms of interest and intensity.
At Daytona in February every driver rolls onto the track with one foremost goal: make the Chase.
Just as in the NFL, making the playoffs in NASCAR is the standard by which teams and drivers are judged. Make the Chase and they’re a championship contender. Miss the Chase and they’re tossed onto the slag heap of also-rans, relegated to spectator status for the final 10 races.
What do you call a driver who fails to make the Chase too many years? Unemployed.
The original Chase format called for the top 10 in the point standings to slug it out for the title during the final 10 races. Last year two Wild Card entries were thrown into the fray.
Watching the Race for the Chase over recent weeks has been intriguing. Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’ll rally? Who’ll choke?
Every event is a race within a race, dripping with drama.
Now the field is set, and NASCAR’s Dandy Dozen will rumble for the big, shiny trophy. And they can’t soft-peddle their way to the title. Every race they have to run hard or be trampled out of contention.
I don’t know who came up with Chase format – I’m told it was a collective effort – but NASCAR boss Brian France gets credit for approving it. Like his grandfather and father who ran the sport before him, Brian is a visionary who’s not afraid to take a chance.
Six decades ago Big Bill France was told he was nuts when he announced plans to pay drivers to run in circles and charge people to watch. Before long stock car racing had become the country’s most popular spectator sport on a per-event basis.
In the next generation Bill France Jr. ushered in the era of corporate sponsorships. Everybody laughed at NASCAR’s “rolling billboards,” sponsor-quilted drivers and corporate-titled races. But as the billions rolled in the snickering stopped, and today every sport – pro and college – mimics NASCAR’s corporate-sponsor formula.
Critics said Big Bill couldn’t sell stock car racing. They said Bill Jr. couldn’t turn it into a billion-dollar industry. They said Brian was bonkers when he implemented a playoff.
They were wrong, wrong and wrong.
For three generations the Frances have an impressive track record – no pun intended. Big Bill birthed the sport, Bill Jr. made it wealthy and Brian adapted it to a new millennium.
The Chase creates media hype and juices the fans, and without it we wouldn’t be having this late-season conversation. We’d be watching big, hairy guys fight over a pigskin. MP
Larry Woody can be contacted at email@example.com.