Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can fans accept the ever-changing landscape of NASCAR?

   In many respects, advances in technology bring positive, beneficial changes.

   That is also true in NASCAR, particularly in the area of driver safety. The use of the HANS device and extensive work done on car chassis to make them more durable and help prevent serious injury – or even death – has been seen in countless examples over the last 10 years.

   But at its heart, NASCAR was always a simple sport.

   Build a car and engine that’s durable, run fast, outrun your competitors. Try to find an advantage others don’t have or ‘slip’ something by the track officials.

   Hopefully, make enough at the race to pick up your stuff and take it to the next one.
   It’s worked for over 60 years.

   These days, however, NASCAR – at least in competition terms – has been battling technology more than it has benefited from it.

   With changes in competition, technology and even society, rules have been changed or added in the sport affecting how races are run or even how drivers may act.

   The addition of a multitude of millions of dollars in corporate sponsorship has imposed greater demands on drivers and teams and greater responsibility, sometimes to the detriment of the once rough-and-tumble operation of the sport.

   The development of car technology has made them far more durable – thus eliminating the attrition factor once a part of 500-mile races – and also created unexpected problems in areas like aerodynamics.

   There are more big tracks than short ones, a trend which only adds to the aero problem and thus the cost of correcting those issues.

   NASCAR tried to keep its engines in line with its origins, but next year carburetors will yield to fuel-injection. Is there anyone who doesn’t think a whole new line of unpredicted issues will develop as a result in the years ahead?

   Yes, technology has done wonders for NASCAR competitors and fans, who now have access to more information than ever before about the sport they love.

   Yet, technology has also changed that once simple sport forever. I do not doubt that in some ways that’s occurred in every sport, but in NASCAR – where many argue equipment has more influence than the competitor – it’s far greater.

   The question remains: In the long term, will that be for the better?

   The answer is likely yes, but only if the sport’s fans are willing to accept the ever-changing landscape.

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