Thursday, July 05, 2012

Smith Misses The Mark With Latest Scheme

Bruton Smith has had a lot of good ideas over the years.

His most recent brainstorm, however, is not one of them.

Smith wants mandatory stoppages in NASCAR
The Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO is forward-thinking, outspoken and prone to making grandiose statements to generate publicity on race weekends at one of his many race tracks. He did it again last Saturday, telling reporters at Kentucky Speedway that NASCAR should implement mandatory caution flags in all events, in an attempt to tighten fields and increase excitement.

“Call it what you will, but you have got to have caution flags," said Smith Saturday. "That creates excitement. You can't just sit there while nothing happens. It ruins the event and it damages our sport. Look at some of your other sports. (They) have a mandatory timeout period, TV timeouts and things that generate excitement. We need to be creative in what we do in NASCAR, as well."

Smith also took great pains to deflect criticism of the sport’s myriad 1.5-mile speedways -- many of which he owns – and shift the blame to others. "In my opinion, we cannot go out and start condemning mile-and-a-half speedways," huffed Smith. "They've been around a long time. I built Charlotte in 1960 and it has stood the test of time.

"Don't tell me it's the speedway,” he insisted. “(That’s) bull. What we have is a tire problem.”

Smith has always been in touch with the common fan. While many old-school promoters offered their customers little more than a wooden plank to sit on and an opportunity to stand in line for an overpriced, cold hot dog, Smith built infield “Fan Zones” at his speedways, offering ticket buyers something to hold their interest in the hours before the green flag flies. Those efforts have been copied at other tracks, nationwide.

"Don't worry Jimmie, the caution's coming."
He was the first to present grandiose pre-race shows, augmenting the usual “singing and praying” stunt shows, multimedia presentations and enough TNT to blast Al Qaeda into the next millenium. 

He dug up a perfectly good race track at Bristol Motor Speedway recently, after 30% of responding fans – “a majority” in his world – said they preferred the type of single-groove, wreck-strewn racing the track featured prior to a recent resurfacing.

Now, Smith wants to take the next step, inserting artificial stoppages in NASCAR races to eliminate long runs of uninterrupted competition; something he claims fans dislike.

Unfortunately, his latest brainstorm will create more problems than it could ever hope to solve.

The Speedway Motorsports CEO speaks glowingly of TV timeouts utilized in other sports. However, no major professional sport halts its contests artificially to do so, the way Smith says NASCAR should. Instead, they wait for a natural stoppage – incomplete pass, ball out-of-bounds, penalty, or other call – before extending the break long enough for television to air a few commercials without missing any of the action.

NASCAR could easily do the same, but that’s not enough for Smith. He wants the sanctioning body to alter the very fabric of the sport by inserting mandatory, planned cautions at specific points in each event. Doing so would virtually eliminate all strategy from the event, since crew chiefs would no longer be required to calculate (and often gamble on) fuel mileage in an effort to improve their track position. The men on the pit boxes would know when the next yellow flag is going to fly, since NASCAR told them about it in their pre-race briefing.

Forget about gambling on the weather, as well. Planned cautions take all the fun out of playing amateur meteorologist, since once again, everyone knows they’ll be coming to pit road just a few laps from now; rain or shine.

Worst of all, Smith’s scheme will encourage drivers to give less than 100%. There’s no reason for anyone to get “up on the wheel” and abuse their car in an effort to erase a 3-4 second deficit anymore, since one of Bruton’s phantom cautions will do the job for them in just a few more laps. There is also no point in racing hard to accumulate a big lead, since it all disappears as soon as Bruton’s next bogus stoppage occurs.

Mandatory caution flags will bring NASCAR one giant step closer to professional wrestling, since while the end result may not be fixed, many of the most important moves will be.

NASCAR's longtime Man of the People, Smith now mandates robbing the fans of their hard-earned entertainment dollar by presenting -- not a race -- but a show. “If we're in show business, let's deliver that show,” said Smith Saturday. “Right now, we're not delivering it.”

Unfortunately, Smith’s latest scheme is not “show business.” It’s manipulation, gimmickry and outright hucksterism.

And it has no place in NASCAR.

Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR


  1. split screan could create Bruton's TV time outs and promote fans to go to the track to watch commercial free entertainment. I think Bruton should go to the train station and watch the trains with his group of investors and see how exciting it is to watch scheduled departures and arrivals with very little effects of natural or mechanical events he is leaning towards.

  2. Unfortunately, two of the three comments submitted on this story were deleted. Despite the fact that they made some very good pointd about Bruton Smith's idea, they included name calling. We don't do that here. I'd love to have those posters try again, without the name calling.

  3. Dave, I couldn't agree more. While the mandatory caution for weather, inability to practice, etc, is a good thing, making them mandatory in EVERY race will ruin the sport I love so much. They're ruining racing in the name of making it competitive. In actuality, they're taking the competition out. I hear that guy that has a wrestling show in USA network is pretty good at stuff like this, why not hire him to help book a few races.

  4. Anonymous1:41 PM

    Dave, I think Larry Mac summed it up perfectly on Race Hub when he said he would have never thought he'd see the day that green-flag racing, the very thing they are there to do, is called "damaging to the sport." In my mind, this is just more evidence that Bruton needs to retire. He may have had his day, for the reasons you stated above, but he has lost touch with what this sport needs.

  5. Bruton's idea of mandatory cautions sounds just as bad, if not worse than this year's All-Star Race format in that drivers could pick and choose when they ran hard without the worry of a long green flag run. I don't know about you, but I was highly entertained by that 70+ lap green flag run at Sonoma and was looking forward to possibly seeing a caution-free race.

    I like his idea for Bristol much better, by bringing a softer tire to the tracks. This would increase the chance of tire wear, which will add excitement by allowing teams to strategize around having worse tire wear through pit strategy, plus it would increase the chances of a car blowing a tire and spinning out, resulting in a caution. Right now the tires last the entire fuel run, but this other idea would make teams have to plan when they run hard on a run and how hard do they push the envelope.

    Cautions should happen naturally, not be mandated upon as that would lessen the legitimacy of the sport. Cautions also mean longer commercial breaks for the tv viewers. Maybe what could be done is mandate at what lap the network goes to commerical break as that wouldn't interrupt the actual racing action. Race fans could still use methods on the internet to find out what's going on during a commercial.

    Bruton's done a lot of good for this sport, but he's lost some credibility by publicly stating this idea that would turn a sport into a show. Let's not be like all those other "gimmicky" sports with the tv timeouts and frequent game stoppages. We're better than that.

  6. Anonymous1:57 PM

    "30% of responding fans – “a majority” in his world – said they preferred the type of single-groove, wreck-strewn racing the track featured prior to a recent resurfacing."

    I bet the farm (if I owned one) the fans won't return to fill the stadium after this stunt. And it's sad Bruton thinks it's the tires and not the cookie cutter mile and a half tracks.

    Great story

    Doug from NJ

  7. Bob Edmondson2:00 PM

    In more ways than one, Bruton Smith reminds me of Vince McMahon of WWE fame (and that is not name calling). Both are great promoters. The WWE is entertainment. I have always thought of NASCAR as sport first and entertainment second. There is a difference between sport and entertainment. NASCAR has no business blurring or confusing those differences.

    In my opinion, NASCAR has already given the fan more input than any other sporting venue. In my opinion, that is a double edged sword. Too much fan input can be a bad thing. While he will never admit it, I think this something Bruton will learn with the Bristol fiasco.

    As a track owner, Bruton needs to do what he does well and that is promote. He needs to let NASCAR do what they have done well for 60± years - sanction the events that he is fortunate enough to host. And NASCAR should do that without interference from track owners and fans.

  8. As a fan that watches 100 % of races on TV, I can't agree with Mr. Smith. Last week's offering was a perfect example of what would happen if we had constant " tv time outs ". The race had no flow due to the regular interruption by the tv partner pushing fried chicken or E.D. pills. It's even annoying when the stick and ball sports take commercial breaks; the flow of the contest gets lost while we are told of the latest and greatest thing ever which we have to own. Is the racing action less than stellar some weeks, sure. But manipulation of the race pace is no way to fix it. I don't know what it's going to take to fix it but I'm sure some day we'll see great racing week to week.

  9. Kevin2:14 PM

    I've been following NASCAR since the 70s. When they start throwing bogus cautions to bunch the field back up I'm through. Let the racing along and let it play out without interference as it always has. I don't see a problem now. Cautions breed cautions and I like racing and not wrecking.

  10. Dwayne in Memphis2:19 PM

    Ooh! Ooh!! Then during the cautions, the Masked Racer from Parts Unknown (really Jimmy Spencer in a mask - we know why he "retired") and his partner Fatback coming running into the pits and hit Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte with folding metal chairs. Who's to make pit calls? LOOK!! Running from the back to's Ray Evernham! And Larry Mac has thrown off his headsets and is running to the pitbox! OH NO! Jerry Lawler just pulled down his strap and threw fire on Matt Kenseth's car!! But here's Carl Edwards off the top rope!!

    Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Smith. Drivers are drivers...athletes, not actors. And Bobby the Brain Heenan and Precious Paul Ellering are NOT crew chiefs or car owners.

    WAY too many people think that NASCAR is professional wrestling as it need to really make it actaully BE professional wrestling.

  11. Why can't they change the strategy of the race just a little bit by having Goodyear develop two compounds of tire for the track. Designate one compound as the qualifying and standard tire which everyone will start the race on, and one or two sets in which everyone has to use at least one set of the option tires. And so there are no black helicopters circling, make sure the option tire has a very visible sidewall to designate it from the other tire.

    The tire doesn't necessarily have to be a softer tire, or a harder tire, just a different compound, or maybe even the same compound, with different colored sidewall. It would make the teams rethink there strategies and break up some of the long runs at least, which I would love to see especially since my home track is Texas and it produces some of the most BORING racing because of the long green flag runs.

    It sure beats the heck out of a manufactured caution

  12. I can't recall what idea by Bruton Smith has really been a good one. I remember the old days before the tracks went into over-glitz mode and back in the day the tracks weren't that bad. The Fan Zones are okay but a bit much as well. The grandiose prerace shows are awful. Bruton is the one who pushed night racing into Cup and it's cost a lot of local tracks their audience - why Cup needs to horn in on Saturday nights when they should be left alone for local tracks remains baffling.

    Inserting mandatory yellows makes no sense, but it's typical of Bruton.

    The issue with the racing remains the speeds at most tracks are too fast, dirty air is stopping cars from passing, and handling gets in the way of passing - it needs to be where the draft kicks in for passing (the way it did at Charlotte et al as late as the mid-1990s), the draft is more important than handling, and the speeds are not beyond what the tracks can handle.

    Timothy Bergman is only partly right - the change to tires needs to be reversion to bias-plies - bias-plies have a range and permissiveness that allows the drivers to race; radials have never been anything except a tire too prone to breaking the car away instead of letting the driver race it.

  13. At the Town Fair Tire 100 for the Modifieds, there was a mid-race red/yellow flag where the field pitted and got tires and fuel. I've gone to NHIS/NHMS since it opened in 1990 and seen over 30 Modified races there and never once can I remember the Tour having a halftime break.

    Dave Moody - Whose idea was it to have the halftime break? It looked like Bruton wanted to make a point there.