'Dirty air test' makes its way Tuesday to DIS
By Ken Willis
(August 13, 2000)
How important is this week's NASCAR test at Daytona?
Here's how important: Even Dale Earnhardt is showing
Now, Earnhardt goes to tests about as often as a University
of Minnesota basketball player. But since Tuesday's aerodynamic shakedown is designed,
basically, to save NASCAR's home track from the further embarrassment of bad racing, and
since Earnhardt has been the loudest critic of "restrictor-plate racing," he
damn well better be here.
Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevy will be among the 10 or 12 top
Winston Cup cars in town for what's billed as a "dirty air test." NASCAR rules
czar Gary Nelson has always said he came into the job with a very high priority of getting
rid of the restrictor plates that sap horsepower and fun from the four races held each
year at Daytona and Talladega.
However, no one has found a suitable way to keep speeds
comfortably under 200 mph without some carburetor restriction. Comparatively speaking, it
seems, designing the Mars lander is a seventh-grade shop project.
So this is the latest effort. NASCAR will tinker with the
spoiler, experiment with an inch-high (or so) strip across the roof of the cars, maybe
play with the front air dams - and who knows, maybe rub some garlic on the hood - with
hopes of putting some racin' back into the racin'.
Gone are dreams of losing the plates entirely. This is being
done simply in hopes of making the hole in the plate a little bigger - possibly an entire
eighth of an inch! Don't laugh, that eighth of an inch, they say, means about another 75
horsepower, and while that won't turn Daytona and Talladega into overgrown Bristols, it'll
be a step in the right direction.
It's good business
Tuesday's test, while important from a competitive angle, may
also be the latest example of the blurring line between NASCAR competition and NASCAR
It seems apparent that this is due to the outcry from fans
who were disappointed (to say the least) at Daytona's non-action during its Winston Cup
events of the past couple of years. DIS officials, and certainly those at the parent
International Speedway Corporation, can tell you (but won't) just how many seats went
unsold for last month's Pepsi 400. They hear the howls from those who threaten to quit
buying tickets, and the suits must fear that one day those threats will be seen through.
Therefore, NASCAR will do everything possible to make drivers
and teams leave Daytona on Tuesday night screaming, "Real racing has returned to
Daytona." Somewhere in the last paragraph of the ensuing press release, it will read:
"Ticket office opens at 9 a.m. tomorrow."
If true, that would actually be welcome news. Here's hoping
Nelson and his crew happen upon just the right combination that makes everyone want to
take their seats with a smile of anticipation.
Lord knows, that would be the type of public relations boost
needed, because guess what: If you didn't already know this, many ticket prices for 2001
actually went up.
Let me start by admitting that all my business knowledge
would fit comfortably in Dave Marcis' Goodyear cap. But still, I find it to be a unique
business move - while demand is shrinking, or at least waffling, you raise prices.
Many tickets for next February's NASCAR events, as well as
next July's Pepsi 400, are priced higher than they were this year. One longtime fan wrote
this week to say that the $120 Winston Tower seats he had for this year's Twin 125s are
now priced at $140. Yes, apiece.
"For two 45-minute parades," he said, remembering
the follow-the-leader warm-ups of recent years.
The product becomes shaky, and prices keep climbing. Who do
they think they are, the cable company?
Of course, it doesn't help that, just a few weeks ago a DIS
official told a press conference the '01 ticket prices were at the same level as this
year. Oops. It's a big corporation, so you can assume memos get lost from time to time.
This has been quite a tumultuous year for those on both sides
of the NASCAR/ISC fence - business and competition. There was the ugliness over the
language in the applications for media and competitors credentials, which turned some
loyalists leery and turned many fence-sitters absolutely paranoid.
TV ratings have taken a mild dip, but a dip nonetheless. Some
tracks are admitting declines in ticket sales. The on-track product, with a few
exceptions, has been criticized from all corners. Two well-known drivers were killed in
racing accidents. And on top of everything, the leader, Bill France, has been sidelined by
My guess is we're in for some good news following Tuesday's
test session. We could use it.
T h e E a r n h a r d t C o n n
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