Here's hoping your holiday season is progressing well, dear Pop Off Valve readers, and without the drama that often seems to come with this time of year. Up to today - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - I was happily enjoying perhaps the most drama-free holidays of my adult life.
And then "Buck Bretherton" called. To quote from one of my favorite episodes of "Friends": "Can ... open. Worms ... everywhere." Adding my own postscript, I'd say: Holiday shot.
You remember Buck, right? He's the guy (Ed: not really named Buck) who handed me a bulging file folder of documents outlining how NASCAR and some of its partners view IndyCar, especially the recent rise of the open-wheel series while the fenders-and-hoods folks are slipping down the relevancy scale.
Buck asked me to once again meet him in the walk-in freezer of a nearby convenience store, which seemed to me overly dramatic considering the freezing temperatures in the great outdoors. Still, I've been scratching and clawing to make an impression at this blog, so I bundled up and slipped into the freezer. Once my eyes stopped watering from the yeasty smell, I saw Buck in the corner trying to pry open a case of beer.
Seeing me, Buck dropped the steak knife he was using and got right down to business.
"NASCAR is ticked off at IndyCar right now. The open-wheel weenies - that's what we call ‘em in Daytona, by the way - have been tweaking NASCAR's nose whenever possible and Big Brian and the boys are really steamed," he said.
I asked Buck how IndyCar was "tweaking" the stock-car community, and he pointed to a couple of examples:
- IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard's appearance at the annual Performance Racing Industries show included a statement that he wanted to see his series run doubleheaders with NASCAR's top-tier Cup series, perhaps at a road course like Montreal. "I think any time us and NASCAR can work together, I just don't see the negative with it," Bernard said at the time.
According to Buck, NASCAR peeps have refused to even consider such an idea in the past, and inside the bunker at Daytona Beach have moved beyond "no" and "hell, no" to an even less family-friendly version of negative in response. They just don't want to share the stage, so in a certain corner office of the Tower That Big Bill Built, things were thrown (and glass broken) when Bernard brought up the idea again - at a motorsports industry show to boot.
- More recently came a blog post by Julie Dolak on IndyCar.com which compared NASCAR's introduction of the boring, flawed one size-fits-all "Car of Tomorrow" to Bernard's brilliance in overseeing IndyCar's transition away from a spec car to multiple engine and aero kit options in 2012.
"That's a shot across the bow, right there," said Buck. "You want to tick my momma off you ask her about her sister who married the quarterback she mooned over all through high school. You want to tick NASCAR and Brian France off you mention what a dog the CoT is."
I pointed out it was a blog post, not an official statement from the series, but Buck scoffed at the suggestion. "We control the media in our neck of the woods and we expect the open-wheelies do the same. It was ‘IndyCar dot com' wasn't it? Same thing as coming from RB himself as far as Bri and the boys are concerned."
These seemed like pretty small issues to me - not really worth me sitting on a keg of domestic beer in a convenience store walk-in freezer in the middle of winter - but Buck said it pointed to something he hadn't seen in his many years with NASCAR: uncertainty and frustration.
"These guys are watching all the good news coming out of IndyCar - new engine and aero kit manufacturers coming in with others rumored to be interested, drivers getting rides lined up, SPEED records broken may be broken, series records being consolidated, the value to sponsors in triple digits - I mean it's all GOOD NEWS for cripes sake," barked Buck.
"NASCAR, on the other hand is hearing TV numbers are way down because fans hate the broadcast product, season ticket sales are on life support, the same bland guy wins the Cup every year, track promoters are unhappy, sponsors are bailing out, we don't know how to answer our own phones, attendance at the Hall of Fame is only slightly above the Biggest Frying Pan in the World - NONE of it is good news."
At this point Buck started to pace in between the cases of beer, clearly agitated. He never really struck me as fitting in with the "new" suit-and-tie NASCAR that evolved after the big-money TV contract; Buck always had that look of a guy with grease under his nails and hand-wipe streaks on his pants. But he clearly loved stock car racing, and didn't like the idea that IndyCar was poised for a renaissance while the Day-Glo-numbers-on-the-door crowd was struggling.
"We're the top racing series in the world (Ed: Um, Buck? Formula 1? Just saying ...) but this bunch of open-wheelies, with their preppy polo shirt wearing title sponsors and their South American coffee and moonshine mix of fuel that we're actually going to use this season ... I mean, except for the 500 - which we've made less important because of our Brickyard race and the 600 - you can only watch ‘em on the cable equivalent of a UHF station, but they have the temerity to take shots at us, to challenge us to a doubleheader with the Cup series, to point out how bad our decision was on the CoT ... it just isn't right."
I sat silently on the beer keg for awhile as the feeling in my butt and legs slowly leached away and Buck calmed down. He came to me because he saw me as a kindred spirit, a stock-car fan from way back when the likes of David Pearson and Buddy Baker raced wearing Hush Puppies instead of tailor-made driving shoes.
But I'm also on the other side now, open wheel and no fenders. Ashley Judd doing her weird dances on the hot bricks and so few Americans in the paddock a NASCAR fan wouldn't need to take his shoes off to count them all. Maybe it was my divided loyalties, perhaps it was the lack of blood flow, but I couldn't help but take a shot at the rainbow logo series myself.
"Kind of like David standing up to Goliath, huh?"
Buck's eyes lit up for a second, then his shoulders slumped. He moved over to the freezer door and punched the lever to pop it open. Halfway out into the warmth of the store, he turned to look back at me.
"Yeah, David and Goliath. Tell me again, how did that work out for the bigger guy, anyway?"