France’s Fall from A-List Status -- by J. R. Andres 
Sunday, October 11, 2009, 02:02 PM
Posted by Administrator
It couldn’t have come at a worse time. The integrity of NASCAR’s infrastructure had already been brought into question with the Mayfield mess that still hasn’t been resolved and now this involving one of their own. On the surface, it appears to be one more example of privileged excess gone bad, someone with too much money and too much time on their hands to follow the path of the Plebeians who have to play by the rules the Patricians have made for them.

It was reported in a police report that J. C. France, grandson of NASCAR’s founding father Bill France Sr., was arrested early Thursday morning for an alleged street race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Before he was released on a $4,500 bail, France was charged with DUI and possession of cocaine. His roommate and relative, Russ Van Richmond, the alleged driver of the other car involved, was also charged with DUI, possession of cocaine and possession of a controlled substance. It was said to be Lambo vs. Porsche … France vs. Van Richmond … but both were losers and I count myself and the rest of the NASCAR and the Grand-Am Series community as losers, too, if what was alleged turns out to be true.

It’s premature to condemn either individual at this point because the verdict hasn’t been reached but on the surface it looks pretty bad for an organization that prides itself upon squeaky clean images. There’s a mantra of leading, governing and living by example and everyone is expected to walk the line -- the drivers, the officials, the management staff and by way of extension, the family. Reputations that have taken years to establish can be destroyed in the blink of an eye and the damage rendered injures every one of us a little bit each and every time it happens because it matters to those involved in racing.

For those who are clueless, it's time they were given the big picture, the same one the rest of us have already seen.
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NASCAR TV Ratings Slip, Sliding Away -- by J. R. Andres 
Wednesday, October 7, 2009, 01:00 AM
Posted by Administrator
It depends on who you speak to and the demographics you’re referring to but one thing is certain, NASCAR TV ratings are down this year. After a considerable period of growth it appears that stock car racing viewership is dwindling. Some cite the recession or the COT cars or the NFL or the CHASE format or the start times or the broadcasters. Whatever the reason, the networks and the sponsors are fidgeting in their seats. Those in the know, i.e., FOX, ABC, SPEED, TNT and ESPN with few exceptions, are experiencing overnight ratings share and viewer numbers in decline. There are other concerns, too. Most if not all contracts between NASCAR and the networks extend to 2014 and there is no provision for the networks to pay less even if the ratings continue in their present downward trend.

One would think that Mark Martin’s quest for the CHASE Championship would be the "magic bullet" that would cure the disease but so far the patient’s condition remains guarded. No one is considering calling a "Code Blue" at this point but the specialists are scratching their heads trying to establish the etiology, a diagnosis and a cure. Everyone has an opinion but no one has the answer.

One popular notion is that NASCAR has peaked in popularity due to several recent changes in format that have caused the traditionalists to become unglued. Other potential reasons may be attributed to the generic COT cars or restrictor plate races that have taken the "edge" off a sport that was weaned upon individual innovation, nerve, gall and temerity.

It will remain to be seen what NASCAR comes up with and whether this year’s championship will generate sufficient interest to push the snowball back up the hill against the forces of momentum and gravity. NASCAR can’t make things better for everybody but it must listen and make things better for more than it has up to this point before that snowball reaches the point of no return.

Photos by J.R. Andres/Deborah Hepper


Or this?

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Fast Times with a Quarter-Mile High -- by J. R. Andres 
Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 06:23 PM
Posted by Administrator
The summer was almost over and the waves of Lake Huron gently curled and rolled onto the white sand beaches of East Tawas, Michigan. It was August 31, 1964, and we were planning our next cruise before heading home. Was it going to be the pier or Main Street? We sat there on the shore listening to “The House of the Rising Sun” on our Philco transistor radio talking about girls and cars, swapping lies about our conquests, always trying to outdo the other guy.

Suddenly the music was interrupted by a news flash that said Don Garlits had set a quarter mile record of 200 mph at Island Dragway in Great Meadows, N.J. The announcer seemed out of breath, hardly able to contain himself. We looked at one another and wondered how such a feat was possible. Garlits had gone where no man had ever gone before and it was the stuff of legends as far as we were concerned. It warranted a special news report that was tailor made for a motley group of Detroit 16 year-olds who thrived on a need for speed at a time when the automobile was more than just a means of conveyance from Point A to Point B.

From Ted’s Drive-In at the northern end of Woodward to the Totem Pole in Royal Oak, the story seemed to become larger than life as it was told and retold from Eight Mile to Square Lake Road. For street racers it was an event that rivaled the first man in space. The “quarter-milers” had a hero, someone to look up to, someone to emulate. He was one of us.

It’s difficult to imagine any radio station interrupting their playlist to announce such an event today, the significance to the populace being way down on the list of daily newsworthy happenings to all but a few gearheads who still maintain the lifestyle that has fallen from favor in the “green” world which surrounds us.

The primal excitement of top fuel drag racing continues to this day at strips throughout the country and it was once again evident at the recent FRAM Nationals that fast times and quarter-mile highs are available for the price of a ticket, an E-ticket of sorts that rekindled memories of that day 45 years ago when a simple guy from Tampa Florida accomplished something that others continue to strive for today. It all seemed so important in 1964 and for three days in July 2009 it became important once again.

Photos by J. R. Andres, Nate Jacobsen, Deborah Hepper

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Is Mayfield the Victim? -- by J. R. Andres 
Friday, July 3, 2009, 12:12 AM
Posted by Administrator
The ongoing saga of Mayfield vs. NASCAR took another turn when U.S. District Court Judge, Graham Mullen, signed a temporary injunction allowing Jeremy Mayfield to compete in this weekend’s NASCAR race at Daytona after being suspended two months ago for a failed drug test. Funny thing ... Mayfield didn’t enter the race. Sources close to the situation said it had to do with sponsorships but maybe there were other factors that no one’s talking about that made him sit this one out.

The circus atmosphere that has surrounded this matter from the start has polarized a number of factions within the racing community and brought to light some important issues that will surely be addressed when this whole thing is finally in everyone’s rear view mirror. At the heart of the matter is NASCAR, a family owned organization that sets the rules and the policies that everyone has to play by. For sixty years the France’s have guided the sport from humble beginnings to a place of prominence and like it or not, their decisions are final, or so they thought.

Jeremy Mayfield decided to contest his suspension after testing positive for a “recreational” drug and like Don Quixote has committed himself to clearing his name but there are many windmills yet to conquer before he, Rocinante and Sancho can rest easy once again, secure in knowing they fought the good fight for truth, justice and righteousness.

Many believe that Mayfield’s career is effectively over at this point, regardless of the final outcome and several drivers, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Robby Gordon, recently submitted affidavits stating they are not “willing to put my life at risk driving a race car on a NASCAR track with drivers testing positive for drugs that diminish their capacity to drive a race car.” No one can blame them. Others think that Mayfield is the victim of NASCAR demagogues who arbitrarily make decisions without offering any recourse for the accused to pursue the matter any further. These individuals are convinced that Mayfield effectively got the short end of the stick and the decision to keep him off the track was one more example of NASCAR’s excessive iron-handed style of doing things.

At this point, NASCAR has not indicated what its next move will be and the facts remain sketchy as to whether Mayfield did, in fact, have an illegal substance in his system. It’s clear that both sides are committed to seeing it through to the end and have the matter decided in court. When that time comes, one can only hope that something is learned by both sides in order to avoid the possibility of more windmills being built in the future.

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You Meet the Nicest People in a Hyundai -- by J. R. Andres 
Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 12:04 AM
Posted by Administrator
This song line (with a few changes) from the mid 1960’s motorcycle commercial was a portent of things to come when Honda and several other Japanese manufacturers began to promote their two-wheeled products in the U.S. The English were already here at that time with Norton, BSA and Triumph and of course, there was Harley Davidson, a time honored American company that eventually saw their once secure market share slip away with each passing year. It took a while but the populace in North America became accustomed to names like Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha, and that was just the beginning.

Over in the four-wheeled world, VW, Simca and Renault led a similar invasion but their numbers were small and the radar screens of the Big Three hardly even noticed the blips. There was a lot of denial then about the long term impact these brands would eventually have upon the automotive industry in this country and most of the car buying public continued to remain true blue to the Dodges, Fords and Chevys that were made in the good old USA in spite of it all. No harm/no foul or so they thought.

In light of the subsequent inundation of off shore products, it wasn’t surprising that in 2006 Toyota became involved in NASCAR, a racing fraternity of cars and individuals who cut their teeth on name brands manufactured domestically. After all, Toyotas are made here now so why shouldn’t they be allowed to race alongside Impalas, Chargers and Fusions? Don’t you know that they’re built by Americans and they pay taxes and they help the economy?

There are a couple of ways to look at this issue since Toyota is already a part of the scene and the hue and cry against their inclusion in NASCAR has already waned but a larger issue remains that no one seems to notice on their radar screens. Once again, it appears that another door has been opened by NASCAR to the likes of VW, Mercedes, Honda, BMW and Hyundai. Will Daewoo be next? What about Opel and Fiat and Lexus?

Sure, GM and Chrysler need to cut back their sponsorships because it’s hard to justify that kind of expenditure when you’re laying off people and dealerships are rapidly closing, but are the powers that be in NASCAR so misguided that they are willing to (once again) dilute a staple of the American landscape even further with brands so far removed from what this sport is all about? If you do, you might as well align yourself with Formula One, a series without a people and a country to call its own.

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