Change is Good, But So is Sports Tradition

With the exception of a few critical monitors, the pit road officials will be replaced by cameras in 2015.
With the exception of a few critical monitors, the pit road officials will be replaced by cameras in 2015.

“Sports tradition is as American as apple pie recipes on Instagram” — Junior Johnson

In a previous life, when I learned that multiple speeding tickets resulted in a conversation with a judge, rather than a conversation regarding me strapping in as a replacement driver for the #3 GM GoodWrench Service Plus Chevrolet Monte Carlo, I began researching alternate methods of being up close to my favorite sport. 

Outside of purchasing my own car and equipment, procuring sponsors and hiring a crew, there were only two alternatives: Move to North Carolina, get a job with a major team, sweep floors, tote sheet metal — ‘gopher work’ — until I was promoted to hauler driver or crew member, OR (and this seemed easier), get a job as a NASCAR official.  

Working as an official, I reasoned, would be just as good, as I would get to wear a cool fire suit, and a headset/radio, and have the best seat for every event and get paid for it. Glad it was a previous life. You see, for 2015, the job of pit road official is obsolete. 

While the need for live officials will never be eliminated, the need has definitely been reduced by the implementation of video officiating on pit road. See? I would have been out of work again. 

To be sure, this decision isn’t a reflection of the type of job the officials were doing. Officiating pit road isn’t an easy job, by any stretch of the imagination. But pit road is a congested place, and even the most experienced eyes in the world can’t monitor everything at once. 

For example, is it humanly possible to watch the crews’ feet to ensure they don’t hit the ground outside the wall UNTIL their car crosses the back line of its own pit stall every time? What about counting the pit stalls a car crosses before stopping in its own, making sure its no more than 3? 

I have yet to see an official make a ‘bad’ call, because there IS a layer of redundancy in that Race Control has the final say in everything, but sometimes, ‘no’ call isn’t ‘good’.

Can cameras add or detract from pit road safety?
Can cameras add or detract from pit road safety?

Example: If one second on pit road equals 300 feet on the racetrack, then a half second advantage in the pits equals 150 feet of track position. This is a very over-simplified example. 

The bottom line is that there are now less people on pit road in harm’s way. 

But, let’s not kid ourselves, money has a lot to do with it. Paying all those officials costs a ton. The cameras are a one time hit and then set-up expense at each track. It cost less.

No one can argue that technology hasn’t benefitted the sport. Gone are the days when drivers could contest their position by pulling alongside another car until the final say came down from Race Control. 

Scoring loops track every position with absolute accuracy and leave no ambiguity on who was where when a caution came out. There is no longer a need to compare stopwatches when there may be an instance of a car coming in too hot to pit road. The loops don’t lie. Which is why, in my roundabout manner I say that ultimately this change is for the better. 

If there is one aspect an ‘Eye In The Sky’ improves, it is safety. Frankly, that’s enough justification for ANY change. But it also ensures consistency, which improves competition, and that’s the point. 

By ensuring that all teams are adhering to the same standards, there can be no question of an unfair advantage. Questionable integrity is not good for any sport. 

When I’m not writing about the sport, I sometimes fall into the ‘Traditionalist Fan’ category. I emphatically stated that scoring loops were a horrible idea, because now the car number on the roof no longer needed to be positioned facing the infield, which would screw up the look of the cars. 

When the Chase was introduced, I questioned why non-championship drivers would even want to enter the final 10 races. But this is no longer a bootleg sport with bootleg competitors. 

Some of us traditionalists forget why certain things are the way they are while railing against changing them. For example, why do crews fuel the racecar using cans, when other racing series have different fuel delivery methods? It began with fuel tanks. 

NASCAR mandated a 22 gallon fuel tank for parity’s sake, so crews began adding ridiculous amounts of fuel line to hold additional fuel. When NASCAR caught on, they mandated that no more than 22 gallons of fuel could be added per pit stop, and enforced that rule by mandating the fuel can we see today (and let’s be honest, there were sponsorship dollars attached to that, but that’s an different article for a different day).

I sometimes think that it’s the cat and mouse game teams play with NASCAR to gain a competitive advantage that I enjoy, rather than the results. 

But no discussion of this sort would be complete without a quick point about current NASCAR leadership. Sometimes, when I’m wearing my traditionalist hat, I really think Brian France is hell bent on making sudden right turns with the sport in its entirety.

Perhaps its the secrecy in which leadership makes their decisions, or perhaps its the influence they wield on all aspects of the sport. 

Perhaps its hearing, time and again, that no changes are forthcoming, only to learn afterwards that changes were indeed forthcoming.

I understand the sport must change with the times to stay relevant. I get that. NASCAR is the #2 sport in the US, though I think they’re kind of like the band Nickleback: Everyone and their brother say they hate them, but Nickleback sells a lot of records. 

Note to Brian France: If Nickleback EVER plays a NASCAR event, we’re through.  


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