Earnhardt News
2000 Season

'Dirty air test' makes its way Tuesday to DIS
By Ken Willis

(August 13, 2000)
How important is this week's NASCAR test at Daytona?

Here's how important: Even Dale Earnhardt is showing up!

Now, Earnhardt goes to tests about as often as a University of Minnesota basketball player. But since Tuesday's aerodynamic shakedown is designed, basically, to save NASCAR's home track from the further embarrassment of bad racing, and since Earnhardt has been the loudest critic of "restrictor-plate racing," he damn well better be here.

Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevy will be among the 10 or 12 top Winston Cup cars in town for what's billed as a "dirty air test." NASCAR rules czar Gary Nelson has always said he came into the job with a very high priority of getting rid of the restrictor plates that sap horsepower and fun from the four races held each year at Daytona and Talladega.

However, no one has found a suitable way to keep speeds comfortably under 200 mph without some carburetor restriction. Comparatively speaking, it seems, designing the Mars lander is a seventh-grade shop project.

So this is the latest effort. NASCAR will tinker with the spoiler, experiment with an inch-high (or so) strip across the roof of the cars, maybe play with the front air dams - and who knows, maybe rub some garlic on the hood - with hopes of putting some racin' back into the racin'.

Gone are dreams of losing the plates entirely. This is being done simply in hopes of making the hole in the plate a little bigger - possibly an entire eighth of an inch! Don't laugh, that eighth of an inch, they say, means about another 75 horsepower, and while that won't turn Daytona and Talladega into overgrown Bristols, it'll be a step in the right direction.

It's good business

Tuesday's test, while important from a competitive angle, may also be the latest example of the blurring line between NASCAR competition and NASCAR business.

It seems apparent that this is due to the outcry from fans who were disappointed (to say the least) at Daytona's non-action during its Winston Cup events of the past couple of years. DIS officials, and certainly those at the parent International Speedway Corporation, can tell you (but won't) just how many seats went unsold for last month's Pepsi 400. They hear the howls from those who threaten to quit buying tickets, and the suits must fear that one day those threats will be seen through.

Therefore, NASCAR will do everything possible to make drivers and teams leave Daytona on Tuesday night screaming, "Real racing has returned to Daytona." Somewhere in the last paragraph of the ensuing press release, it will read: "Ticket office opens at 9 a.m. tomorrow."

If true, that would actually be welcome news. Here's hoping Nelson and his crew happen upon just the right combination that makes everyone want to take their seats with a smile of anticipation.

Lord knows, that would be the type of public relations boost needed, because guess what: If you didn't already know this, many ticket prices for 2001 actually went up.

Supply...and demand?

Let me start by admitting that all my business knowledge would fit comfortably in Dave Marcis' Goodyear cap. But still, I find it to be a unique business move - while demand is shrinking, or at least waffling, you raise prices.

Many tickets for next February's NASCAR events, as well as next July's Pepsi 400, are priced higher than they were this year. One longtime fan wrote this week to say that the $120 Winston Tower seats he had for this year's Twin 125s are now priced at $140. Yes, apiece.

"For two 45-minute parades," he said, remembering the follow-the-leader warm-ups of recent years.

The product becomes shaky, and prices keep climbing. Who do they think they are, the cable company?

Of course, it doesn't help that, just a few weeks ago a DIS official told a press conference the '01 ticket prices were at the same level as this year. Oops. It's a big corporation, so you can assume memos get lost from time to time.

This has been quite a tumultuous year for those on both sides of the NASCAR/ISC fence - business and competition. There was the ugliness over the language in the applications for media and competitors credentials, which turned some loyalists leery and turned many fence-sitters absolutely paranoid.

TV ratings have taken a mild dip, but a dip nonetheless. Some tracks are admitting declines in ticket sales. The on-track product, with a few exceptions, has been criticized from all corners. Two well-known drivers were killed in racing accidents. And on top of everything, the leader, Bill France, has been sidelined by illness.

My guess is we're in for some good news following Tuesday's test session. We could use it.



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