Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What We're REALLY Talking About...

The premise has recently been floated in some circles that NASCAR should find a way to limit the number of Open Wheel drivers allowed into the upper levels of our sport. The concept is a relatively new one.

In the 1960s and `70s, Mario Andretti won hundreds of Champ Car races, and a Formula One World Driving Championship. He raced and won in the NASCAR ranks, as well, and fans were happy to have him. A.J. Foyt wrote the vast majority of his extensive resume without the benefit of fenders, but like Andretti, was warmly embraced during his frequent forays into NASCAR stockers.

In the modern era, NASCAR has continued to embrace drivers from the Open Wheel ranks. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears and J.J. Yeley all climbed the racing ladder via the Open Wheel route. Stewart was an Indy Racing League champion before Joe Gibbs snapped him up and brought him to NASCAR. How, then, can anyone justify the idea of limiting the number of Open Wheel drivers allowed to join the NASCAR ranks?

The explanations run the gamut from “shaky” to “downright indefensible.”

Some say that Open Wheel racers are taking rides away from kids who have worked their way up through more traditional, stockcar-based feeder series. They never say “American kids,” but it’s right there, just below the surface. Nobody had a problem when Elliott Sadler and Denny Hamlin got their shots, but the minute Juan Pablo Montoya hit town, it somehow became terribly unfair.

Others see the arrival of Open Wheel drivers as an example of the ongoing corruption of “their sport.” First NASCAR closed North Wilkesboro, they say. Then Rockingham. Then they took a bunch of races from the mid-south and moved `em to the dad-gum West Coast, of all places, ignoring the very people who made NASCAR what it is today. And now, they’re ignoring the next David Pearson in favor of some kid from Columbia that doesn’t even speak good English.

Is it just me, or are we missing the real reason behind all this anti-Open Wheel backlash? In my view, the problem is not with Open Wheel racers. The problem is with foreigners.

The trend in NASCAR these days is one of radical isolationism. General Jack Roush traded in his straw hat for an Army helmet recently, promising to “go to war with Toyota,” in a fervent attempt to prevent the Japanese invaders from burying the competition under an avalanche of dollars -- or would that be yen? -- and destroying NASCAR as we know it.

I don’t recall Roush getting nearly so worked up about Chevrolet or Dodge in years past, despite the fact that Dodge is owned by the Daimler-Chrysler Corporation; a decidedly German entity. If we’re going to hold a lifelong grudge against the Japanese for their actions on the sands of Iwo Jima, shouldn’t we be equally unforgiving of the Germans we fought on the beaches of Normandy?

Or maybe, better still, we should bury those old hatchets and move on.

Like it or not, we now live in a global economy. No matter what Pat Buchanan says, we cannot simply build a fence around this country, post a 24-hour guard and allow nothing to pass in either direction. If NASCAR Nextel Cup racing is truly going to become the greatest racing series in the world, we should welcome the world’s greatest drivers to take part. No matter where they come from, and no matter what path they took to get here.

Any other way is shortsighted in the extreme.

And besides, who’s going to go to the Nextel Cup garage and confiscate Stewart’s hard card?

Not me. I want to live.


  1. KFarrar5:26 AM

    What about races in other countries? What happened with Austrailia and Japan? Do you want to see a NASCAR (points) race in Germany, France or Monoco? That isnt really what I want to see. I want to see Montoya at Martinsville, Bristol and Dover, then I'll be impressed.
    I dont want to see Kahne, Hamlin, Harvick and company racing on an F1 road course in Kuala Lumpur. Bring in the foreigners, lets see if they can make the grade. I dont really care either way. Call me selfish, call me an isolationist, but I think exporting NASCAR (races) to other countries, dilutes the interest that we in America would have in it.

  2. Lance from PA9:06 AM

    It is pretty obvious that the people who are against the open wheel drivers and also Toyota coming to NASCAR are against foreigners. I truly believe that of the millions of fans of the sport, this contingent comprises a small percentage of fans. The true fans are interested in good racing and don't care about race or ethnic background.

    I've gotta say, about two weeks ago there were three things that really bummed me out listening to the show. The passing of BH and BP were two obvious ones. In between, there was a lot of discussion about diversity on the show. There were a lot of callers who I felt were negative against minorities and foreigners. In my opinion, they weren't saying things just to get a reaction (as some callers have done in the past), but they really had a closed-minded opinion on the subject. On top of that, they was an underlying feeling that NASCAR belongs to the south.

    Wake up people, NASCAR is an international sport. It has grown over time, just as every other sport has. While you may argue that it has lost some of its tradition, and dare I say "southern" traditions, it has also resulted in unprecedented in-depth accessibility to the sport.

    The fans who have this opinion are the ones who perpetuate the opinions of the outsiders who think that NASCAR is nothing but a bunch of toothless rednecks who drink Budweiser. Those of us who love the sport know that this couldn't be further from the truth.

  3. Tony in Elmira2:03 PM

    Sometimes people are so short-sighted they can't see past the end of their nose. I'll keep this succinct.

    1. Foreign drivers or not, there are many deserving kids (and older drivers) that don't get the chance they deserve in NASCAR. There are only so many seats. You have to get noticed. We're not talking about Joe (or Juan or Pierre or Alexi) Schmoe who is being plucked out of a local short track series and dropped into Cup. We're talking about accomplished drivers who proved themselves in the big leagues or their series -- F1, Supercar, Champ and/or IRL -- and have realized the the real racing and big dollars are here in the US.
    Good for them in all regards.

    2. What makes anyone think that NASCAR is going to give up its American greenbacks to ship this sport out. The reality is this opens up NASCAR to be international. What that does for the sport? It peaks interest overseas. It does what the Canadian and Mexican fan base has spawned. In addition to NASCAR Mexico and NASCAR Canada (CASCAR) we get NASCAR Italy, and NASCAR France, etc. Only the best of those would ever make it to the US. And most would not care to b/c as much as it might be the most exciting and popular racing in the US, its arguable that its the best racing in the world.

    Let's face reality. NASCAR has welcomed Toyota. As well it should have. As far as foreign drivers. Chip Ganassi and the other owners who are bringing in foreign drivers, NOT NASCAR. It's amazing that folks can't make that distinction. Must be those black helicopters

  4. I believe if you are going to race in open wheele then stay there and don't switch over to NASCAR. check out my blog which is a class project