By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. With the last NASCAR race of the year coming up this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a familiar sense of finality wafts over the American racing season. I keep looking for glimpses of hope in the darkness and unfortunately only see more of the same. As the excruciatingly long death march of a NASCAR schedule shudders to a close - with the chances of Jimmie Johnson securing his sixth championship looking very good - the powers that be at NASCAR are not only broadcasting loud and clear that they're comfortable with where things are, they're doubling down on the status quo. And that can mean only one thing: More of the same.
The notion that the status quo is a comfortable place for the players in NASCAR to be was exacerbated this week by the news that Travis Pastrana was walking away from his quest of finding a home in the NASCAR scene. The action sports star had made an earnest attempt at cracking the NASCAR code with assistance from Jack Roush and Ford Racing, but it was not to be, as the money dried up and the prospects for 2014 were nil.
To say that this development is Not Good is an understatement, because as much as NASCAR likes to tout emerging young stars like Darrell Wallace Jr., the fact remains that the series is in a desperate race to attract new - and younger - enthusiasts to the brand, and Pastrana was the key to opening up the NASCAR fan base to an alternative demographic that would give the racing entity hope for the future.
Pastrana's exit may generate only negligible headlines, but make no mistake, this was worrisome news to the NASCAR elite. Because Pastrana will go back to a world that looms large as the biggest long-term threat to the NASCAR brand - the combustible mix of Global Rally Cross and the X Games.
Now some of you out there may scoff at the idea that the X Games or Global Rally Cross could ever be a threat to the dominance of NASCAR, but don't kid yourselves. Together this seemingly fringe racing pursuit has the demographic profile that NASCAR craves. It also has drawn serious interest from multiple automobile manufacturers for the same reason. And, the fact that these manufacturers can race and promote a more direct connection to their compact nameplates - and their respective showrooms - is nothing to sneeze at.
Because unlike in NASCAR, where the manufactures are kept at bay and always find themselves on the outside of the France family interests looking in, these manufacturers can help forge this alternative form of racing going forward and make it a compelling and more interesting form of motorsport that's not only more aligned with their brands, but more aligned with what they're selling in the showrooms and most important, where the market is headed.
So yes, to a large extent the racing world as we know it in America is governed by the status quo. For now. But there are signs that the status quo as we know it is due for a monumental shake up.
That chill in the air you're feeling is not just the sign of a early fall.
It's also a feeling that the winds of change are poised to blow through the racing world as we know it in a big way.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Watkins Glen, New York, October 2, 1966. Bruce McLaren (No.17 McLaren M2B-Ford) at speed during the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen that fall. McLaren would finish fourth that day in his McLaren powered by the DOHC Ford Indy V8 racing engine adapted for F1. Jim Clark (No. 1 Lotus 43-BRM) would win the race, followed by Jochen Rindt (No. 8 Cooper T81-Maserati) and John Surtees (No. 7 Cooper T81-Maserati). It was Clark's first win that season and the first for the famous BRM H16 engine. See a pic of the start here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD