Q: While NASCAR is only my fourth-favorite form of motorsports, I do find it interesting. Many think Richard Petty was the greatest driver in NASCAR history with 200 wins and seven championships, but I strongly disagree. Not taking away from Petty’s greatness, but he ran in an era when NASCAR ran as many as 62 races in a season. Petty’s father Lee, himself a three-time champion, was the first one to turn NASCAR racing into a full-time team operation. Many of Richard’s victories in the first part of his career were against good old boys who worked regular jobs during the week and went racing on the weekends.
I would argue that David Pearson is the greatest of all time. While Petty’s victories came in 1,184 races, Pearson’s 105 wins came in just 574 races. Pearson won three championships, and most importantly, he never ran a full schedule in any season during his career! Can you imagine any driver in IndyCar, Formula 1, or IMSA winning a championship while running a part-time schedule?
Bob Isabella, Mentor, OH
MARSHALL PRUETT: My father was a huge Pearson fan. Got to meet him once when he was out for the Winston West race at Sears Point; I was five or six, and I swear Pearson was as tall as a mountain as I looked up at him. One of the most vivid racing memories from my childhood, which led to our shared fandom.
No doubt his achievements were mercurial, and no, the idea of a part-time driver winning a championship is unfathomable today.
KELLY CRANDALL: Richard Petty is idolized for many reasons, and one of those is because 200 is a big number. It’s why that statistic is one that drivers like Kyle Busch chase or Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon respect against their own numbers. But there is a case, as you mentioned, that Petty raced a ton, and there were certainly many more races on the schedule. David Pearson also accomplished a tremendous amount in the time he spent on the racetrack.
Trying to compare drivers across generations, formats, depth of field, etc., has never interested me because I don’t think there is an accurate way to say who is the greatest of all time. Every driver competed under a different set of variables. But when you’re looking at what Petty did in his era, it’s impressive. When you look at what Pearson did in his era, it’s impressive. The fact that Pearson never ran a full season and still won championships should certainly give his accomplishments even more respect. There is no way anything like that would ever happen again.
Q: Let me start out by saying I am not one of the guys who love to dump on NASCAR. Some of my fondest childhood memories are going to Atlanta Motor Speedway with my Dad in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But NASCAR has a really big problem. It isn’t that the Next Gen car isn’t protecting the drivers the way it should (though that is a serious problem). Nor is it drivers like Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick laying blistering criticism on the governing body. NASCAR’s biggest problem is that it has been steadily losing its credibility in the eyes of the fans for almost two decades.
Let me lay out what I believe to be the primary causes of this problem:
1) A North Korean level of secrecy. NASCAR keeps its rules and regulations under lock and key. It is literally easier to find information on how an atomic bomb works that it is to find a full copy of the NASCAR Cup Series rule book. Most other racing series including NASCAR-owned IMSA make it as easy as an internet search to find out the rules and regulations. Fans being able to see and understand the rules would greatly help with the frustration fans feel when NASCAR states that driver Crash Enburn and the No. 68 Yaya Mortorsports Team have been fine $50K and 25 drivers’ and owners’ Points for violating NASCAR Rule 14.1265A as noted in the internal TPS Report.
2) Uneven enforcement of the rules. Justin Clements was found to have an illegal intake at Daytona this year and was fined money and points. Denny Hamlin, on the other hand, was DQ’ed and stripped of a win for having several pieces of tape on the front of his car. No explanation was given for the difference in penalties even though they were both considered Level 2 at the time (Clements later won an appeal), but race fans were quick to point out that Hamlin was a vocal critic of the Next Gen Car and how NASCAR has handled the situation.
3) Intimidation tactics with all of the subtlety of a brick through the window. No critique of NASCAR would be complete without mentioning Rule 12.1; Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing. This vaguely worded rule is used to punish anyone who draws NASCAR’s ire. Another example would be Jeremy Mayfield failing a NASCAR-administered drug test for methamphetamine and 40 minutes later taking another drug test at a certified laboratory that stated his system was free of any drugs. Or more recently, Denny Hamlin backpedaling after having a closed meeting with NASCAR President Steve Phelps days after calling for new leadership in NASCAR.
Which brings us to NASCAR’s latest magnum opus of how not to handle a situation when your entire business model is dependent on the goodwill of your audience. According to NASCAR, after the race at Talladega the No. 4 car was randomly chosen to be taken back to NASCAR’s tech center for further inspection. During the inspection NASCAR found unapproved modifications to the body of the car and issued a L2 penalty.
Could this be true? Yes, it absolutely could be true. I will even go further and say that it is probably true. Stewart-Hass has been caught doing monkeying with the car before. (Except for the random part. I am completely convinced that NASCAR was looking for something to smack down Harvick with.)
The problem is that I am not certain that it is true, and NASCAR’s lack of clarity is giving the tinfoil hat brigade a field day pushing various conspiracies. NASCAR needs to explain exactly what happened and how it happened with a detailed presentation of all of the evidence, and the longer it draws this situation out, the worse this will become.
Rome, Lehman Brothers, and CART/IRL didn’t fall because of one huge mistake. They fell because a series of bad decisions snowballed into disaster. NASCAR’s ratings have dropped over 60% (losing an average of 5.9 million viewers per race) since the peak in 2005 and the fandom’s lost faith in 1 Daytona Blvd is one of the biggest causes.
KC: I’m glad you got all of that off your chest, HB. And since I know NASCAR reads RACER, I’m sure your thoughts will be seen by the appropriate people.