Racing changes with the times

The wrapping paper is thrown away and Christmas 2016 is behind us. I hope that some of the care and compassion carries on into 2017.

I was fortunate to receive an unwanted gift. The Christmas Crud of ’16, as I’m calling it, has me reaching for tissues and just feeling lousy. I really enjoyed getting to see my son and his wife from North Carolina as they made a surprise visit on Christmas Eve.

I checked the garage and didn’t get the new race car I was hoping for. So the Mud Bus will continue to carry the WOW Racing Ministries message to Elkins Raceway in 2017. There was really no racing news from Christmas week.

I wanted to just think about and compare racing today against how it was done in the early days. I personally have been a race fan my entire life. I literally grew up with racing as the entertainment for our family.

My first memories as a small child were these brightly painted cars being raced by drivers from our community who were just as colorful. Broad-sliding these beasts on the edge of control, dirt track racing was just so exciting.

I saw drivers like Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett and Ralph Earnhardt as they honed their driving skills. Hickory Motor Speedway was truly “the birthplace of the NASCAR stars.” The entry list of regular Saturday night racing looked like the who’s who of racing.

Many of these racers worked other jobs and put in long hours preparing their own cars in small garages or barns.The cars were towed with a tow bar or sometimes even a chain with a pipe, a few used trailers or ramp trucks or a company wrecker.

Two times a year the NASCAR stars came to our local track. The Grand Nationals, as they were called back then, came into town and it was a big deal. Bigger trucks, pit crews with uniforms and these cars were newer cars that had been built from showroom cars. These guys raced for 250 laps on that slick North Carolina red clay. Then as time moved on, pavement came and the cars were more refined but they still were built in small garages. Those same racers adapted to the pavement and racing was still wonderful.

Those traveling Grand National drivers raced more than 50 times a year on everything from quarter-mile dirt tracks to two and a half-mile super speedways. These drivers and teams traveled together and stayed at local hotels. It was not uncommon to see these cars being repaired in motel parking lots or local dealerships or service stations. I took all this in and thought to myself, “One day I’ll do that.” I could identify with these hard-working people.

Moving forward to 2016, my how our sport has changed. Even on the local level, cubic dollars have replaced great individuals with hard work ethic and creative engineering.

Today’s local racer is usually under the age of 25. He has honed his craft on video race simulators and for the most part couldn’t build his own car if his career depended on it. He is either the wealthy son or his family has ties to a major business that can provide the massive amounts of money to be competitive in today’s sport.  T

he cars are beautiful pieces of engineering marvel. The chassis are built by one of several companies, and when crashed they go back to be repaired or rebuilt with new components. Almost every part of today’s race car is a purpose-built part and can be bought from one of several racing equipment suppliers. Very few engines are built-in house; they are bought or leased from one of several engine shops that specialize in race engines. I know there are still exceptions to the rule but generally speaking this is what has happened.

NASCAR has regulated the cars to where there is hardly any room for creative engineering. Yes, this along with rules that keep the cars from getting spread out have created close finishes, with lots of cars in the lead lap. Teams today race multiple cars from shops that measure in the 100,000-square feet and up.

Even on a local level, teams are using tractor-trailer rigs and hire drivers who just show up and race the car that has been prepared by a team of workers. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time identifying with drivers flying to the track in helicopters to stay in a million-dollar-plus motor coach.

There are still tow bars and trailers in today’s sport. The motor coach drivers use them to hook the Range Rover behind the coach.

Vacations for these drivers are spent at Aspen skiing or other international destinations. Nannies take care of the children. Ticket prices have driven the local race fan to stay home and watch TV, and even those audiences are dropping off.

Is there an answer? I don’t know. But the thing that keeps me watching is that when it’s all said and done, 43 race drivers strap into those cars and the race has to play out. The outcome can be predicted but they still have to race and anything can happen.

Local racing still has the average guy doing battle against these super kids and you can still find a few of the old guys like me with an open trailer and an older car that are just amazed that we still get to compete. We still stand for the National Anthem and open each race with an invocation and prayer.

The race has to happen to find out who will be the winner.  It’s not going to be long until the high banks of Daytona will roar with the sound of race cars once again. I for one will be counting the days till those next left turns.

Be safe and use designated drivers if you plan to party in the New Year. May 2017 be your best year ever. Happy New Year to each of you and your families from WOW Racing.