NASCAR Avoids Black Flags Thrown At NFL, NBA Major Leauge Baseball

Charlotte, NC – In a week where it?s sports/entertainment counterparts were ducking controversy left and right, NASCAR managed to stay under the radar with the running of the 14th-annual Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Questions about the weather and tire wear could hardly compare to the firestorm being hurled at the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and, yes, even the Tour de France earlier in the week.

In case you were totally out of the loop over the previous seven days, here?s a brief recap ?

NFL star quarterback Michael Vick made his first court appearance last week, pleading not guilty to charges of being involved in a dog fighting ring. Protests from all walks of life ? not just PETA ? have called for Vick, one of the NFL?s most visible players, to be banished from the league. Both Vick?s Richmond court appearance and Falcons? training camp in Georgia were picketed by hundreds of protesters. By the end of the week, sales of virtually all of Vick?s promotional jerseys, shoes and trading cards had been discontinued by his sponsors and marketing partners.

Meanwhile, NBA commissioner David Stern held an emotional press conference at mid-week to address the allegations that one of the league’s game officials had altered the outcome of games to satisfy his gambling bets and gamblers he owed money to. Currently, the FBI is investigating and the official is expected to be arrested and charged in the near future. Should the investigation find games were altered and worse ? more officials and organized crime were involved ? the league could be struck a death blow by loss of fan confidence and attendance. At the very least, the league has suffered a huge blow of fan confidence.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig grudgingly decided to attend baseball games in San Francisco late last week in the event Barry Bonds would surpass the all-time home run record. Selig ? along with thousands of fans and former players – have resisted embracing the feat as Bonds is alleged to have taken performance enhancing steroids.

Finally, the Tour de France collapsed under its own weight last week when the race leader of this year?s event was fired from his team for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs deemed illegal to the competition. For years, whispers of ?doping? have plagued the Tour and this latest incident will further diminish its impact on the sporting landscape and its ability to draw today?s all-important marketing and television partners – not to mention fans.

In short, it was a week of bad vibe harmonic convergence for sports, something NASCAR was able to avoid at Indy. In fact, this year?s Brickyard proved to be one of the most successful NASCAR events in recent memory.

Unprecedented promotion, thanks to the return of ESPN as a primary Cup broadcast partner, filled the flagship sports network and affiliates (ESPN2, ESPN Classic) for months prior to the event. Even the completely uninitiated NASCAR fan knew about this race months prior to this weekend thanks to promotional teasers played to near distraction during ESPN Sportscenter morning, noon and night.

The fact that ESPN?s coverage began at Indianapolis also proved to be a huge plus. While Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega, Bristol, et al are recognizable racing locations to most sports fans, ?Indy? is a one word moniker known worldwide as a temple of speed.

Frankly, you had to be living under a rock to not know about this year’s Brickyard 400.

All of this ? and a crowd estimated at more than 250,000 fans Sunday as a backdrop – this year?s Indy Brickyard 400 was an unqualified success in a time when fans of many other sports were questioning the morals and chemical makeup of its players, the ethics of their game officials, and the overall believability that the games were still on the up and up.

Not that NASCAR doesn?t have its share of issues.

Conspiracy theories still abound that the NASCAR inspection process is flawed and certain drivers get ?the call? ? or a free pass through the tech line. There?s also the recent inconsistency of punishments handed out by the sanctioning body for technical and on-track infringements. Others point to recent drug arrests of young drivers in the sport as a problem.

While those are certainly topics for possible concern and conversation, they pale on comparison to the problems of the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball these days. Whatever the ills of NASCAR may be, its top stars aren?t front page news for torturing animals and its officials aren?t under federal investigation for manipulating the outcome of events for illegal personal gain.

Hopefully, those entrusted with the welfare of the sport – drivers, crew members, officials, fans, everyone connected with NASCAR – will never allow that day to come.

Last Call ?
While the Cup crowd was basking in the comforts of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Series were fighting substandard conditions at O?Reilly Raceway Park.

One of the more competitive venues for either division each season, ORP (formerly Indianapolis Raceway Park) is a favorite place to race for competitors and fans alike as the .626-mile oval features great action-packed, side-by-side racing.

Unfortunately, the facility is well below grade when it comes to what competitors expect and need to stage major auto racing events like those conducted by NASCAR.

Featuring a grass infield and few paved areas that were worn out long ago, teams are usually not allowed to bring their race haulers into the track. That is especially true when rains hit the speedway turning the grassy areas into a quagmire ? conditions that existed for both divisions this weekend.

While Truck teams were allowed to unload from pit road this year, Busch teams were forced teams to unload virtually their entire transporters from a parking lot located outside Turns 1-2 and hand truck/cart the items into the infield. The size and difficultly of completely unloading a 53-foot race trailer is unimaginable unless you have to do it or be there to see it.

On both Friday and Saturday, teams set up shop in the muddy conditions exposing millions of dollars of advanced racing equipment to the elements. On Friday, this was a huge issue as teams tried to protect equipment ? and themselves ? under makeshift shelters constructed out of E-Z Ups and tarps during a seven-hour rain event.

At least it didn?t rain Saturday, but Busch teams were forced to battle the muddy conditions left over from Friday?s persistent rains.

This is completely unacceptable and, in its current state, ORP is totally unworthy of hosting an event for the second and third most popular forms of motorsports in this country.

Nobody is suggesting NASCAR pull the Truck and Busch dates from ORP. The racing is great and the fans pack the place. We?re not even suggesting that the track build a row of expensive, gleaming new garages for the teams either.

But we don?t think it would be too much to expect that the new owners of the facility (recently purchased from the NHRA) to pave the infield so team transporters can safely enter, park and exit the track.

And while they are at it, how about adding a new, wider and much SAFER pit road?

Finally, demolish the totally vile cement block building that is passed off as a bathroom and replace it was adequate, clean infield restroom facilities.

None of these things are too much to ask, especially when they will make the track safer, more enjoyable and better to compete at. Given the size of the crowds at ORP Friday and Saturday, we think the owners have the capital to invest in some new concrete, asphalt and a few rest rooms.

Hey, ORP – it’s time, no, way past time, to pony up on these improvements.

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