Ken Schrader won the Busch Clash in the final pair of straight 50-mile distances.
I am an old-school racing guy. I love this sport but I like a lot of things the way they used to be. The Budweiser Shootout this Saturday is among those.
The race is now a longer distance, make-up-the-format-as-we-go-along-so-there-is-a-full-field event. It used to be short, quick and neat.
The Clash was first held in 1979 and featured the previous year’s pole winners. Twenty laps was the distance and $50,000 awaited the winner. That was a big winner’s purse for the time. Richard Petty was paid $73,900 for his Daytona 500 win a week later.
Win a pole position and you were in. The idea was simple and produced an elite field, the fastest of the fast. A goal all season long during Cup qualifying was to get into the Clash. This race was promoted every single week during time trials. Teams knew as much as a year in advance if they were in.
The 50 miles took approximately 15 minutes to complete. There were no planned pit stops. Only green flag laps counted and the first four years did not produce a caution flag.
When the race started the strategy was to get to second place for the final lap. This was in the day and age where a last-lap slingshot pass was nearly guaranteed. The leader under the white flag usually didn’t visit victory lane.
This was a fantastic way to whet the race fan’s appetite. The prestigious race gave everyone just a little taste of what 42 machines would look like for 500 miles seven days later.
The Clash has evolved with several different versions. Split 10-lap segments with an inversion in 1991 are where it started going downhill. The years with a qualifying race for the fastest second-round drivers were interesting. But when the distance and segments were increased and guaranteed former winners were added, the magic faded a little each year.
The 2010 version just shares a blind draw for starting positions with the event’s former self.
Now the Shootout is a halfway all-star and legends combination race. The movement of pole sponsorship from one beer brand to another brought about an obvious elimination of the pole winner connection. I understand the business relationship. But that doesn’t mean my taste in races changes any.
The seventy-five-lap distance will have two segments. Twenty five more laps and we are halfway to the Daytona 500 distance. Twenty-eight drivers are eligible, 15 shy of a full field. The teaser factor is gone. More cars and more laps don’t necessarily make a better race.
I feel the elite level of drivers is gone. The 1981 Clash had only seven cars. The finish was Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison. Who wouldn’t want to watch that group slug it out for 20 laps around Daytona? I remember watching the race. It was good.
I will be watching the Shootout. And am excited for it to go green. But the early format is still the best to me. I miss the Sprint Cup having a sprint race.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who co-hosts the One and Done auto racing talk show Tuesdays 11am ET at www.wsicweb.com )
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