May 28, 2009

ARCHIVES                                         

By Brian Danko

As the 24 hours of Charlotte was getting to ready to wrap up and NASCAR, in the midst of a downpour for nearly 30 minutes before they decided to end the torture for the teams and more importantly the fans, Mike Joy, NASCAR on Fox lead announcer said that NASCAR was planning on meeting with the teams on Tuesday.

It was a meeting with the car owners on the Sprint Cup series and then just the drivers. The idea was to talk about any concerns, problems or ideas that might arise during the course of the year.

It was then that I wondered if the NASCAR officials would schedule such a meeting with the car owners on the modified tour and then one for the drivers and after I realized what a good idea it would be, I knew then it wouldn’t happen because NASCAR might not like what the owners and drivers might have too say.

The modified tour teams returned to the Stafford Motor Speedway for the TSI 100 in a race that saw Jimmy Blewett end Ted Christopher’s string of early season wins but it was at the drivers meeting that things became very interesting when drivers Mike Stefanik and Eddie Flemke, Jr. asked a question and then were told to see the officials after the meeting for a clarification of the restart rule.

But a funny thing happened, both Stefanik and Flemke didn’t back down and demanded an answer to a simple question and as much as NASCAR officials tried to move on, both drivers said an answer was needed to BEFORE the start of the feature that night and what a better place than the drivers meeting.

Shawn Courchesne of the Hartford Courant posted the tension by video on his blog and needless to say, right now on the modified tour, things are not great. While that isn’t news itself, things might go so haywire that they can never be repaired. (Shawn Courchesne video CLICK HERE>>)

On Tuesday, I spoke with Mike Stefanik about the drivers meeting and things on the modified tour and while most of it was off the record, Mike made some valued and well thought out ideas about the tour.
“I guess we on the modified tour have a lot of passion for our series. You can say that we wear our heart on our sleeve for the series. I have said some things in the past about the tour but I realize that I also need to be more careful in what I say and how I say it.” Stefanik said.

“The biggest problem is that we don’t have a say in NASCAR. The guys down south make a lot of money so they don’t want to rock the boat but nobody up here is making money.”

“What I can’t understand is why change a race procedure like the restart, it’s worked fine for all these years and now a change but if they came to us and say this is why we are going to do it fine. I am all for change but it must make sense.”
While Stefanik is a nine time champion, seven times on the modified tour, he along with Eddie Flemke and Jamie Tomaino are just to name a few drivers that NASCAR needs to listen to. Throw in a car owner like Bob Garbarino and you have a small group who will tell you their concerns but also the concerns of the entire tour.

While NASCAR continues to view the tour as an angry lynch mob, which is the furthest thing from the truth but when you continue to make rules, change race procedures and other one sided decisions, it will raise the ire of the owners and drivers in NASCAR’s oldest series.

On Tuesday I also spoke with Eddie Flemke at Race Works, to get his take on the weekend and the drivers meeting. I asked if NASCAR called a meeting, could it be calm and civil.

“Yeah I believe it would. We just want some clarification on rules and procedures and we also need a place to air our grievances.”

Flemke said after the drivers meeting he talked with Race Director Brian Vance and Chad Little, Tour director and said he felt like nothing was accomplished.

On the NASCAR website, Jim Hunter, vice president of communications for NASCAR said about the meeting with the Cup owners and drivers, “I was impressed with the thought and the tone of questions from the owners and drivers and also impressed by some of their suggestions. We’re in a new age today, much like everything else.”

Rick Hendrick, owner of several teams including Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson said of the meeting, “I think it’s good that all of the stakeholders sit down together and talk about our future and the sport and the economy and what we can do to make it better. I learned a long time ago, that if you can get everyone involved, then they can’t complain.”

The modified tour is off again, for over a month before they return to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the New England 100 and wouldn’t it be a perfect opportunity for NASCAR to meet with just the owners and drivers to clear the air and talk as two groups with a purpose.

No yelling and screaming but thoughtful constructive talk. It is something that the owners and drivers deserve and NASCAR might be willing to learn that these people aren’t so bad after all.

George Silbermann, managing director of NASCAR’s racing series was at Stafford for all of the action and one must wonder why he wasn’t at the driver’s meeting to get the first hand knowledge of what dialog is missing between the officials and competitors

Back 20 years or so, NASCAR would fly up and meet with the teams during the winter months to talk about any rules changes or concerns and always something good came from these meeting but as Stefanik said, “NASCAR hasn’t had any of these meeting with us for a long time.”

If, as NASCAR says, that the modified tour is a vital part of NASCAR, then show everyone from the teams to the fans that they are important, that you do care and are mindful about what they feel needs to be done to improve and enhance the tour.

Call a mandatory meeting at New Hampshire. Ask questions of the owners and drivers and work for a solution to this hard feelings that currently exist between the modified tour teams and NASCAR.

It’s time for a change. Let’s see if NASCAR is willing to make the first move, just like it did with the Sprint Cup owners and drivers.