The “them” that I am referring to
are the cellar-dwelling teams that are inevitable in every
form of sports: not everybody can win. They are the ones who
don’t have the money to compete with the multimillion-dollar
teams that actually buy world championships because they can
afford the star players.
It’s the lowly teams, though, that make sports interesting,
not just because they can be spoilers, but because on any given
night they can go out and reenact the epic tale of David and
Jeff Gordon, one of NASCAR’s most prominent drivers, voiced
his opinion about NASCAR’s version of cellardwellers, the
field fillers, after one of the them, Andy Hillenberg, wrecked
Gordon’s number 24 Dupont car in the Carolina Dodge Dealers
400 at Darlington, S.C. on March 21.
I’ll tell you what. There are a bunch of cars out there
that do not belong out there,” said Gordon in an article
on the ESPN Web site. “They’re way off the pace.
They’re in the way. We [just] about had several wrecks
before that, and I came on the radio and asked if NASCAR could
take some guys off the track, not just because they’re
slow but because they’re in the way.”
Even though the slower cars might have been in the way, NASCAR
didn’t ask them to make an early exit from the race. It
hasn’t done so from the very beginning of NASCAR in 1949,
when races were actually held on the beach at Daytona Beach,
Fla. But that is just about the only thing that hasn’t
changed about stock car racing, especially now that NASCAR is
heading in a new direction and leaving some of its historic practices
in the dust: the tracks, the rules, and the sponsorship.
With Brian France taking over for his father, Bill France
Jr., as the CEO of NASCAR, the sport has changed its name
Winston Cup Circuit to the Nextel Cup Circuit. It has made
a controversial rule change that makes later season races
more important. And it is in the process of eliminating some
historic tracks, such as Darlington, S.C.
Despite all these changes, the 43-car field for every race
is still a staple, even though some drivers, including Gordon,
that France and other NASCAR officials will take a closer
look at the field fillers.
When NASCAR first started, a young gun who didn’t have
a car could fix up his (no women drivers then) family’s
Chrysler, drive it to the race track, and take a crack at beating
the likes of Lee Petty, Benny Parsons, Tim Flock, and the other
drivers. Today, however, the sport has left those daydreamers
in the dust through advances in technology and the skyrocketing
cost of competition.
With the advancement of technology, NASCAR is becoming more
popular with every lapped turned, and if it doesn’t want to end
up being black flagged (cars are black flagged when they either
break the rules or are damaged and can’t compete any more)
by its loyal fans, officials shouldn’t even consider letting
go of the field fillers.
Even though Gordon and some of his peers believe NASCAR should
lower the number of cars on the starting grid, how can NASCAR
tell a driver with a license and enough money to put a car
together that he or she can’t compete? What would have happened
if NASCAR officials had told that to Dale Earnhardt or Sterling
Marlin when those racing legends were trying to break into the
Fans go out to the track to watch the stars of the sport
compete, but when a car with no sponsor on the hood passes
a big name
for the lead, with fewer than 10 laps left in the race,
they secretly cheer for the sponsorless driver. Take away
field fillers, and we fans will never have a chance to
pull for an
Hillenburg may not have the technology or millions of dollars
in endorsements that Gordon does, but he has the same
goal Gordon had when the race started, that is, to make
circle. If Hillenburg or another field filler were to
come across the finish line first, it would make one heck
a story, and
probably be the birth of a new star. These are just two
reasons why NASCAR should keep field fillers as part
of its heritage.