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It's time for some New Year's resolutions

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2003

ATLANTA Resolutions and a new year offer the hope, however faint, of change. But like most idealistic promises, they prove to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

That's why there shouldn't be any resolutions before the 2004 racing season. Otherwise you might be tempted to be resolute about the following ideas:

NASCAR should be more forthright in its plan to revamp the schedule. Instead of disguising a plan to give California Speedway a second racing date in Southern California while ignoring its promise for the same at the Texas Motor Speedway, the sanctioning body should stand by its word to examine each raceway's amenities. If it did, there would be second races in Texas and Las Vegas, only one race at Darlington, S.C., and no race at Watkins Glen, N.Y. There are waiting lists to get tickets at the 140,000-seat-plus tracks in Texas and Las Vegas, while Darlington can't sell all of its 64,000 seats. At Watkins Glen, the problem isn't seats. It's surviving an entire day when the toilets don't overflow and the electricity doesn't shut off.

Competition director John Darby should continue his hard work in putting the sport back in the hands of mechanics and drivers, not engineers. Cutting more than an inch off the rear spoiler and prompting Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. to develop softer tires is a good start. Now take it even further.

Develop a more-definite rulebook. Fines don't work when drivers can get $10,000 an hour to sign autographs, so develop a system of point reductions and suspensions for violations. Publish the penalties in advance so every team knows what to expect if they get caught stepping over the line, and, most important, be consistent with the penalties.

Demand facilities like the Michigan International Speedway develop a traffic pattern that doesn't force fans through a three-hour maze of country roads that leave you 25 miles out of your way. Remember, part of ''Realignment 2004 and Beyond'' was to look at each track's traffic patterns. If it can't handle traffic, give the racing date to an organization where traffic isn't a problem likeCART.

Stop the multi-car operations. The single-car team is as out-dated as an eight-track tape deck. Four or five people shouldn't own half the starting lineup. It makes the multi-car operations too powerful because they can share information and talent.

Move racing dates to take advantage of weather. Don't schedule races in Texas during the middle of tornado season; don't schedule races at Rockingham, N.C., in February; and don't schedule races at Daytona Beach in July the middle of the monsoon season.

Make drivers accessible. The biggest misconception in racing is NASCAR drivers are easy to reach. They are not, especially when they use motor homes as safe havens and golf carts as getaway cars.

Demand NASCAR to take an active role in the search for sponsorships a role that doesn't include the sanctioningbody trying to steer the dollars into its own pockets. NASCAR has more than 20 official sponsors. That's enough. Nowfind deals to keep race teams in business. Remember, nobody ever came to watch race officials stand on pit road.

Stop the silly idea of creating a 10-race runoff for the championship. The idea being considered by NASCAR and pushed by the media in North Carolina is to take the top 10 drivers in the point standings after 26 races and allow them to have their own competition in the final 10 races for the championship. Essentially it's a race within a race. It's not fair to the drivers out of the top 10 or to the speedways not home to the final 10 races. The current point system works, but it can be enhanced if NASCAR would award five bonus points to the winner of the pole position and a heavy bonus, say 20 points, to a race winner. Another variation would be to count only the top 32 finishes in a 36-race season toward the championship. Not only would that lesson the severity of a poor finish, it would keep junkers off the track at the end of the race and allow injured drivers a chance to recuperate without hurting the entire team.

Continue the work on safety and demand every speedway to have the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barriers in place where needed before the 2005 season.

With Nextel coming in as the new sponsor this season, maybe this is a good time for change. Just don't call them resolutions, because they'll all be forgotten a couple days into the new year.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.



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