Monday
Nov022009

All aboard The Oblivion Express

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.To say that NASCAR and its ruling France family cabal operate in a parallel universe devoid of any semblance of rational thought or visionary thinking is to state the excruciatingly obvious. How Brian France and his minions have managed to accelerate NASCAR’s already alarming pirouette into mediocrity with a numbing combination of non-decisions and a flat-out refusal to do anything proactive that might actually improve their on-track “show” or help position their antiquated, out-of-touch racing series for the future is almost beyond comprehension and will make for a nice B-school marketing class case study down the road one day. As in how not to do it.

But before I get into that, let’s just say that Sunday’s “race” at Talladega - and I use that term derisively, to say the least - was a monstrous bore, a snooze-fest punctuated by the usual assortment of terrifying incidents brought about by NASCAR’s steadfast refusal to do anything about the fact that its restrictor-plate “staged events” (I’d rather not use the term “races” as that implies that there was actual racing going on, because as Ryan Newman so succinctly put it afterwards, “It’s not racing.”) are flirting with disaster, and it’s only a matter of time before a major tragedy occurs.

How many times do we have to watch the replay of Carl Edwards’ previous incident from Talladega, when it was just pure luck that his car didn’t end up in the grandstands? And how many times do we have to watch Ryan Newman’s “Big One” from yesterday to realize that this is just sheer, unbridled lunacy on display, the kind that could very well kill or maim drivers or spectators on national television before something is done about it?

NASCAR’s predictable response? Higher catch-fencing presented with an attitude just seething with the not-so-subtle undertone of stay the hell out of our business, we know what we’re doing. Oh, really? I think not. NASCAR’s refusal to deal with the “elephant in the room” - the fact that their whole restrictor-plate shtick is not working by any stretch of the imagination - borders on the criminal. Their drivers despise it, and even their most ardent fans are growing sick of it. And instead of getting out in front of the situation all NASCAR can come up with is higher catch-fencing? It’s just despicable at this point, but yet it’s perfectly consistent with NASCAR’s in-bred attitude that abhors change, of any kind. (Or if they do change something, it’s done at such a glacial pace that it defies comprehension.)

But how could we possibly expect anything else from these Masters of the Oblivious? Why should we expect an immediate rule change to dramatically smaller engines, which would negate the use of restrictors in an effort to bring an aspect of throttle control - and real racing - back to the drivers? Because a move like that would make too much damn sense, that’s why.

Remember, this is the organization that just managed to do away with leaded fuel just three years ago, this while the rest of the racing world has been openly embracing alternative fuels for years. (And yet they’re still trying to sell the fact that they’re “green?” Please.) And this is the organization that still runs carburetors and is just now “investigating” the use of fuel-injection, even after its participating manufacturers haven’t used carburetors in production for years and have gone on record as saying that they could have fuel-injection systems up and running in their CoTs “in a matter of weeks.” This is the organization that flat-out refuses to do anything about their death march of a schedule, a slate of events in such a desperate need of a serious re-think that it’s laughable. And this is the organization that continues to sell sponsors on the fact that NASCAR is a growing endeavor, while the TV numbers and in-person attendance figures continue to plummet, suggesting otherwise.

NASCAR is an organization still operating in the “we’ve always done it this way” mode while the rest of the world has been operating in “the what have you done for us lately?” mode for a long, long time. To say that the rational world has passed NASCAR by is a gross understatement. As I’ve said repeatedly, NASCAR not only adamantly believes in the “not invented here” mindset, they take the madness one step further to the point that if they didn’t think of something it must not exist. I don’t find this mentality to be “charming” or “quaint” or an example of some benign state of “old school” thinking either.

It’s just pathetic.

Back to that B-school class case study. What does an organization like NASCAR - one that just loves to say how it’s all about “The Show” and that everything they do is about entertaining and pleasing the fans - do when the “The Show” itself stinks, and their whole “M.O.” is coming apart at the seams because of their abject refusal to deal with the reality of the situation? How can an organization like that be “fixed” when it’s filled with people who not only don’t get it, they’re incapable of getting it?

I’ll leave that to some creative and enterprising B-school professor. In the meantime, there’s a special train boarding in Daytona Beach built just for the France family and the rest of the NASCAR - ahem - “brain trust.”

All aboard The Oblivion Express, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a train that has been especially made just for you.

And it’s going nowhere - fast.

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