You’ve probably heard that Nascar, the major league of stock car racing, is pulling out its big guns this weekend in an attempt to lure fans back to the track. It’s a smart move, considering that the Great Recession hammered the sport. While baseball, football and basketball took some lumps, Nascar had a figurative crash into the far turn.
Attendance is down sharply, car sponsors have pulled out and TV viewership and ad revenue have fallen by double digits. To counter the devastating trends, Nascar has tried to make the sport looser and more exciting. Last year, they added two abreast starts and eliminated spoilers to juice up the action.
This season they’ve told their drivers to “have at it” on the track, which is code for anything goes. It may seem like a good idea for bumper cars, but not Sunday’s Daytona 500, the industry’s premier event.
To get the racer’s take, I talked to Rusty Walker, one of Nascar’s top drivers when’s he not sitting out a suspension for aggressive driving. I asked which change he thinks is the most important.
“Hell, I love having a keg strapped into the passenger’s seat,” he said in a Tennessee drawl. “I got to tell you it gets hot as hell out there. We’ve been drinking gallons of water or Gatorade, but having a mini-keg as my co-pilot, that’s the most important innovation since disc brakes.”
I brought up the “have at it” directive, thinking he’d be wary. Not so.
“Hot damn, that’s gonna be some fun,” he gushed. “A little nudge here, a squeeze forcing some SOB into the infield. Hell, that’s a party.
“Rusty,” I countered, “aren’t the big stars gonna be pissed if you knock them out of the Daytona with a $1 million top prize. Besides, they race as teams. Won’t they gang up to protect their stars?”
The question almost made him drop his Budweiser. Well, one of his Budweisers. Then he recovered.
“I drive as good as they do,” he said adamantly. “And I got a team, too. Besides, my sponsor and chief mechanic got a few surprises.”
Rather than ask him outright, I just stared him down. Finally, he broke.
“OK, just between us. We got an automatic paint gun with 25 black cartridges that can fire in a 270-degree radius. The cartridges are filled with an oil- and water-based paint that dissolves in a minute. That is after the damage is done.
“Then, we got two six-ounce oil capsules, one under each end of my rear bumper to be used only on the last lap if I got the lead.”
“Anything else?” I asked.
The smile was sly, the proverbial fox in the henhouse.
“If it gets really heated, I have some massive speakers that can boom sound into neighboring drivers, but I don’t hear it.”
“Racing’s already loud,” I responded. “I don’t get it.”
“It is,” he said, “but when I slip in a CD and crank up the Barbara Streisand, these good ole boys won’t know what him ’em. I blast ‘People Who Need People’ and they’ll all just slow down and cry. I’ll coast to the checkered flag.”
Bill Regardie is the founder of Regardie Magazine.