For more than a decade, fans and insiders alike have bitched about NASCAR and its direction. The sport has lost touch with its roots. The season is too long. It’s too expensive. The drivers are boring. The racing is dull. Intermediate tracks suck.
And if the substance of the complaints hasn’t changed all that much over the years, neither has NASCAR’s response to any and all of it: It has done nothing. Well, that’s not entirely fair: the powers that be have added races and cookie-cutter tracks and given us the Car of Tomorrow.
There is, of course, some justification to all of these complaints, just as the governing body can make compelling counterarguments to refute each of them. But the fact remains that something is, if not rotten in Denmark, then at least wrong. Really, can writers, drivers, crew guys and, most important, fans be so wrong for so long?
Enter Ed Hinton, who has covered the sport for more than 30 years for outlets like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sports Illustrated and, currently, ESPN.com. Hinton knows the sport better and more intimately than virtually any other writer in the business (the possible exception being Mike Mulhern of The Winston Salem Journal). So when he writes that NASCAR has endured tougher times than this, you can believe him. Or when he tells you that Jimmie Johnson deserves your respect, you should consider it … or at least give it some thought.
And when Hinton provides a blueprint outlining a few straightforward solutions to many of those decades-old complaints, his words bear serious consideration.
In the past, chances were slim and none that someone like Hinton would be heard, much less heeded, inside in the halls of Daytona Beach. And, right or wrong, during those headier times, when revenues exploded and TV dollars ballooned and there was seemingly no end to growth, NASCAR could conceivably argue that it had no pressing need to change a thing.
Those days, however, are gone. And while it’s true, as Brian France said on Tuesday, that certain realities prevent any substantive change in the near-term, the fact remains that the current economic meltdown might provide both the impetus and the cover NASCAR needs to not only change the landscape, but – even more important – make itself healthier and more vibrant for the near future.
Here’s hoping they start by giving Hinton’s column a good, long, considered read.