In the words of the immortal Harry Hogge, “Rubbin’ is racin’.”
While that quote is from the movie “Days of Thunder,” and Hogge is a primarily fictitious character, seldom has a line described more honestly the appeal to stock car racing. NASCAR is supposed to be a physical brand of racing that was manifested in the Deep South by men who were more interested in moonshine than fame. Most would agree that NASCAR has almost completely removed itself from that state in modern times.
While becoming one of the quickest expanding sports in the United States, NASCAR stumbled away from its core foundation, the roots that made longtime fans fall in love at first sight. To make the sport a national institution, this was necessary. However, once fans started getting a national interpretation of NASCAR, some things started to appear watered-down.
For instance, races in front of stands packed with passionate fans in places like Rockingham and Darlington have been shifted out to California and Chicago where attendance is often sparse. NASCAR has also issued rules over the years to crack down on contact and physical racing that can result in dangerous crashes. Many drivers have disliked these policies as NASCAR has always had an unwritten tradition of letting drivers sort things out themselves. Having officials constantly stepping in with discipline had seemingly hurt the camarderie that was built through drivers working out situations on their own.
Today, NASCAR announced that that will no longer be the case.
Coming off of a season where rules were at an all-time high and the result was a rather dull brand of racing, NASCAR officials have said that this season they will step out of the way and remove restrictions on contact and driver altercations.
“There’s an age old saying that NASCAR, ‘If you ain’t rubbing, you ain’t racin,'” NASCAR president Mike Helton said.
Without contact, NASCAR is nothing more than a slower version of drag racing or the Indy Series. There is a reason why NASCAR is overwhelmingly preferred in this country when compared to those two brands. It is because stock car racing is a “whatever it takes to win,” unpredictable kind of arena. People don’t want to see Helio Castroneves dominate his competition because his car is slightly superior and there’s nothing the competition can do about it. Racing fans want to see a relatively unkown driver earn a surprising win because he executed a bump draft to perfection.
When NASCAR was a uniquely southern treasure, it was an exciting brand of action and competition. It had all the things that makes people interested in sports. It contained raw and rugged passion. Why not take the model that made the South fall in love with the sport and reinstitute it to the entire country?
This season could be fun. Just 24 days until Daytona.