Monthly Archives: October 2005

NASCAR is for Squares

NASCAR is for Squares

They’re slow, they’re ugly, and other reasons why NASCAR events are less appealing than Indy racing.

October 06, 2005

Several years ago, NASCAR jumped from its long-time affiliation with ESPN to a lucrative contract with NBC, Fox, and TNT. The result? Stock-car racing trails only NFL football in television ratings. What was once looked down upon as a regional “redneck” sport has blossomed into a predictable weekly episode that’s about as exciting as “The Dukes of Hazzard” without a Confederate flag. Even the SPEED Channel, a 24-hour haven for racing enthusiasts, has shamelessly cashed in on the popularity, featuring Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and other NASCAR stars sitting around a table playing Texas Hold ‘Em. NASCAR fans actually consider such parlor games as viable racing coverage. Frankly, I’m getting more than a little bored with NASCAR racing.

Thanks to an intense relationship with television, NASCAR has captured an astonishingly wide audience. The opportunity for prime-time telecasts prompted the installation of lights at some tracks, ending the previous inconvenience of having races postponed to the following day because of rain delays. This summer’s Pepsi 400, a prime-time Saturday night race held each July Fourth weekend at Daytona Speedway, was delayed for nearly three hours, yet TV crews continued telecasting from the track as a captive nationwide audience waited for the track to dry. The race resumed, ending around 2:00 in the morning. Lights also made it possible for a NASCAR race to be an eight-hour event, creating an adult beverage bonanza for fans already legendary for their beer consumption.

One thing hasn’t changed, however. NASCAR devotees continue to shun “open-wheel” racing—the roofless, fenderless race cars typically seen at the Indianapolis 500—for its former lack of close-quarters racing and undramatic finishes. Ten years ago, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George decided to take on NASCAR’s stranglehold on the racing market. George formed the Indy Racing League (IRL), featuring open-wheel, open-cockpit automobiles on oval tracks as opposed to traditional winding-road courses. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was one of the few oval tracks that the CART series, NASCAR’s rival before the IRL was formed, raced on. Tony George brought the IRL to the South, sometimes racing on short tracks usually associated with stock cars.

For the first couple of years, the closest thing the IRL had to a racing star was NASCAR’s current “angry driver” poster boy—Tony Stewart. Stewart’s temper tantrums made IRL race days memorable. After winning the IRL championship in 1996, Stewart left for the big money and high profile of NASCAR. Finally, George wrestled the Unsers, Andrettis, and other high-profile drivers from CART into his IRL series, but large attendance and television ratings remained elusive. Oddly, NASCAR can put 120,000 fans in the stands at tracks where the IRL draws crowds of less than 30,000.

To fully grasp just how sluggish NASCAR is, switch channels to an IRL race after watching a few minutes of stock cars. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a stock car qualifies around 185 mph, while an IRL car qualifies at around 227 mph. Racing experts have speculated that an IRL car could top 250 mph at a high-banked track like Daytona. Of the 111 races run in the past 10 years in the IRL, 50 have had a margin of less than one second between first and second place. NASCAR is lucky if 10 percent of its events are such close races. Moreover, in terms of actual drama, NASCAR’s notorious door-to-door bashing doesn’t compare to the action when IRL cars get wheel-to-wheel at top speed. Often, open-wheel cars become airborne after only the slightest bump. The crashes are the most spectacular moments in sports. IRL races wrap up in a couple of hours as opposed to NASCAR’s typical four-hour extravaganzas.

NASCAR’s stock cars (above) are a sluggish bunch compared to the Indy Racing League’s open-wheel, open-cockpit racing cars (below). (click for larger version)



The IRL also boasts an international flavor, while NASCAR practically regards guys from California as foreigners. The IRL even has competitive women behind the wheel. Danica Patrick, who drives for a team co-owned by David Letterman, almost won this year’s Indy 500 until low fuel forced her to cut back on speed. The best finish for a NASCAR star in an Indy car was Donnie Allison’s fifth place in the 1970s.


(click for larger version)



NASCAR fans are a stubbornly dedicated bunch. But their arguments that stock cars are more competitive than open-wheelers collapsed once Tony George’s league got a few years under its belt. It’s not likely that the stock-car masses will ever appreciate the fine art of speed. As a friend once told me, comparing open-wheel competition to stock car racing is like comparing boxing to wrestling. &

Abandoned in the Flood

Abandoned in the Flood

Volunteers from across the country joined in the heartbreaking task of recovering pets from the hurricane-ravaged coast.


October 06, 2005Timmy DeRusha is Loretta Lynn’s tour manager. With a week off the road from a current performance trek, DeRusha didn’t lounge around his Tennessee home resting up for the next round of concerts. Instead, he spent the time in flood-ravaged New Orleans rescuing dogs and cats left behind when their owners fled the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.

Along with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, DeRusha loaded a pickup truck and cargo van with medical supplies and food donated by Nashville-area veterinarians, then headed to New Orleans. “The smell of that city . . . You could smell it from miles away, driving in over the bridge,” DeRusha recalled in a recent telephone conversation. With signs reading “Disaster Response Animal Rescue” posted on their vehicles, DeRusha’s group was escorted by a local fisherman who had previously supplied boats to various animal rescuers as needed. Guards posted outside the city allowed the group in after recognizing the fisherman. “We were armed, because [the guards] said that we might run across someone who wasn’t supposed to be in [New Orleans],” said DeRusha.

At some homes, DeRusha’s crew brought out dogs and cats while National Guard troops removed dead humans from the house next door. “People that left had spray-painted ‘PETS INSIDE’ or ‘DOG NEEDS RESCUED’ on plywood-covered windows in hopes that somebody would be coming along to get them,” said DeRusha. “But some of the animals had gotten stuck on balconies or rooftops and weren’t able to get down.” He said most of the animals were not vicious. “Most were traumatized, because they hadn’t had food or fresh water for two weeks,” DeRusha explained. “After we gave them dog treats and water and they realized that we were there to help them, then it was no problem at all. A lot of them were just really, really scared because all of a sudden the person that had been there taking care of them, in their mind, had deserted them. Then all this stuff happened that they had never seen happen before, with all the water coming in. The animals were survivors. Unfortunately, there were a lot of animals that we were too late for.”


An animal rescue volunteer coaxes a dog to safety. (click for larger version)



DeRusha and his crew used poles with nooses to catch dogs. “If they were too vicious, we just left fresh food and water. I’d say that nearly half the animals that we rescued were pit bulls. We were working in the inner-city area, mostly. That’s obviously what they do there, they raise dogs to fight. Some of the dogs needed rescuing whether there was a hurricane or not. They weren’t being taken care of . . . One was a three-month old pit bull pup. He tried to act like the most vicious of all, but when we gave him some food he began acting like a typical puppy.”

Other scenarios were simply horrifying. A pair of pit bulls were discovered in one abandoned home. The female was emaciated, though it was obvious she had delivered a litter days earlier. DeRusha could not locate the litter and surmised that the male, who appeared well-fed, had cannibalized it.

Rescued animals were crated, with the address of recovery marked on the crate so pets could possibly be reunited with owners. For five days straight, DeRusha hauled approximately 30 dogs and cats each day to Tylertown, Mississippi, where a temporary animal sanctuary had been erected on five acres of farmland.

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) brought more than 300 rescued animals back to Birmingham from Tylertown, Hattiesburg, and Jackson, Mississippi, where animals had been sheltered prior to rescue groups such as GBHS arriving. GBHS director Jacque Meyer was impressed by the number of people who came from across the country to help in the animal rescue effort. “It’s been very, very sad, but I am amazed at the number of people in the United States that have made an effort, using vacation time and their own money, to rescue these animals.” Meyer said that an abandoned warehouse in the Gonzalez area of New Orleans sat on higher ground that had stayed relatively dry. Abandoned animals migrated to the warehouse area, though some people were observed dumping off animals at the site. Food and water were supplied to the homeless animals at the site by the few officials allowed into New Orleans until the animals could be taken away.

Approximately 75 percent of the animals that Jacque Meyer brought to Birmingham were dogs, the rest being cats, along with an occasional goat or pig. They were medically treated at GBHS until the North Shore Animal League, an organization that finds homes for more than 30,000 animals yearly, took them to its New York state headquarters where they will be housed until either the owners find their animals through the web site, or until the animals can be adopted.

Meyer said the trauma endured by abandoned animals continued to affect many even weeks after being rescued. “Some wouldn’t sleep lying down because they were so used to standing up so they could survive,” she explained, adding that some rescued dogs kept trying to swim each time they were lifted up into the arms of shelter workers, even though they had been away from flood waters for days. &