Folks who defend the practice of start and park in NASCAR -- which is once again an issue thanks to Jennifer Jo Cobb and 2nd Chance Motorsports at Bristol -- tend to fall back on two main themes:
1. It’s been going on forever.
2. The teams who do it have no other choice.
Both arguments are ridiculous.
Repeating a mistake over and over doesn’t make it better. It institutionalizes it.
And I’ve never seen anyone with gun to the head of a team owner telling him he has to compete in a series he doesn’t have the money to compete in.
But let’s not get into all that. Let’s get to the real reason that start and park is tolerated.
It’s the romantic attachment to the idea that the little guy can put together a race team with more determination than money, show up at the track and run with the big guys. That worked in 1960. In 2011 it’s an anachronism.
In 2011 a start-up team is never going to compete against the likes of Roush-Fenway, Childress, Hendrick, etc. by scraping together a few thousand here and a few thousand there by starting and parking. And quitting after a few laps sure doesn’t impress any sponsor worth having.
But the idea of providing opportunities for small teams is worthy. Everybody likes to see the little guy do well. Every likes a good underdog story.
So if NASCAR really wants to keep this small-team-can-make-it myth going, it needs to lend a helping hand.
There are plenty of ways to do that, but they all involve providing small teams with some of the resources they need to compete.
So how about NASCAR establishing a program to do just that? Any team that enters only one car would be eligible.
Teams in this program would be allowed to participate in NASCAR-funded test sessions and be given access to wind tunnel time. Teams in this program would get discounted rates on tires whenever they buy enough tires for the entire race.
Teams would receive NASCAR-funded pit-crew training. They would receive bonus money on top of their prize money whenever they finish the race.
This would, of course, be expensive for NASCAR, so the cost ought to be spread around. There are two good ways to do that.
One is the luxury tax concept. In baseball, the teams on payroll binges are taxed to send money to the poorer teams. NASCAR could “tax” its super teams in the interest of improving the level of competition on the track each week. The NFL calls that parity and it makes the sport healthier.
Another way is for NASCAR to recruit a sponsor to foot part of the bill. The sponsor would get a prominent position – although not the hood -- on each car in the program.
There are probably numerous other ways that small teams can be helped enough that they won’t have to resort to starting and parking. Whatever form it takes, there has to be come kind of help.
The time for ignoring the problem is over.