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Sunday, March 26, 2017

OF F1's UGLY WINGS AND NASCAR's WESTERN SWING

The "new era" of Formula One opened at the Down Under Grand Prix while NASCAR's "Western Swing" ended with the Fontana 400 and I have a few comments on both.

First, F1:

Australia officially began the post-Bernie Ecclestone chapter of the GP Sport/Big Business. Liberty Media's purchase of the commercial rights was finalized some months ago and now it's all on that entity to re-energize F1's worldwide appeal after recent seasons of declining television audience. I would love to see this happen, as I became a race fan because of Jimmy Clark and Colin Chapman and Lotus, and the unmatched spectacle Grand Prix racing has been for decades at exotic locations like Monaco and classic circuits like Spa and Monza.

But, to be honest, I'm in full Wait-And-See Mode.

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars no-doubt spent to create and develop the latest quicker cars, their appearance leaves me shaking my head and saying again: F1 still doesn't get it. Those horrid front wings have more elements than the table I had to memorize in my high school chemistry class. The aero shark fins and stabilizing boards and ridiculous T wings atop or aft of the engine covers may well help the cars turn, but to the public, they are a turn-off.

I'm all in favor of wider tires and tons of horsepower, but the cars look horrible, and the series' Technical Working Group and FIA can't act fast enough to knock some sense into the designers so there's a full field of sexy-looking machines. And I think it's fair to be alarmed at the comments from many drivers that this new aero package creates so much dirty air the trailing driver stalls-out and makes overtaking that much more difficult.

Sound familiar?

These regulations, to be fair, were in the works before Liberty. But that doesn't mean, as one of its first bold actions, new ownership shouldn't insist on something better. Much, MUCH better. The Liberty execs can talk all they want about more social media engagement and a bunch of week-long Super Bowl-like events in America -- good luck with that -- but that's all meaningless unless people like what they see. I don't.

However, Liberty did have one piece of good news. VERY good news. Because, anytime Ferrari wins, which Sebastian Vettel did over the Mercedes of world champion Lewis Hamilton, the unrivaled passion that unleashes and the headlines it generates are GOOD for F1.

As for NASCAR, let me pose this question to the Powers-That-Be in Daytona Beach.

Imagine, for a moment, if someone came along and re-opened the oval adjacent to Disney World and got a Cup date. Then imagine if three consecutive races were scheduled in Daytona, Orlando and Homestead-Miami. Does that sound like a ticket-selling winner?

Of course not. 

And neither is this Las Vegas-Phoenix-California stretch. For all the happy yap about fans being able to see a three-pack of racing, cold and hard reality says there are not that many who have the time or money to do so. Most people have to make a choice, and common sense says Vegas is going to cash-in more often than not. Why force fans in the same general geographic region to make such a choice? 

Yes, I know, having been employed by one racing series, and paid to represent another, I understand how difficult scheduling can be. But, surely, the Western Swing as currently done isn't doing anything to boost stock car racing's popularity. There's not a single media person from one of those markets covering all three events, as I'm sure, NASCAR had once hoped. The number of retirees in their RVs making that tour cannot possibly be enough to make a meaningful difference.

With Vegas getting its long-sought second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series date next year, it's time to again re-shuffle the schedule, into something that makes more early-season economic sense for those with thousands of grandstand seats to fill.

But this should be obvious: NASCAR needs to showcase very early in the season the kind of multi-groove racing we saw last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Fontana needs to go sooner, not later, on a revised schedule.

P.S. -- In case you missed it, I think it's worth repeating the lead on my Arizona Republic story of a week ago, after Phoenix.


Before the NASCAR season started, who did seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson expect to be a week-in-week-out contender for wins and a Cup title?
“Kyle Larson,” Johnson told azcentral sports during a Valley visit just before the Daytona 500. “Now that he’s got a taste of winning, I think he’ll be tough.”