The title is the main theme for this blog post, as it pertains to many aspects in the poker and racing world. My first example unfortunately once again is in the poker world. I qualified for a tournament which occurred over the weekend where the top three finishers win prize packages to the Borgata in Atlantic City valued at $2,000 for first and $1,000 for the runners up. I fought through the field of 80 players and nearly six hours later arrived to the final table of eight. I was down in chips compared to most of the other players and knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I made it pretty far, but once again got unlucky and came up short finishing fifth. It gets frustrating being so close to winning a major prize, but I've been keeping my head up. It's excellent practice for the real thing, which will occur Tuesday, June 23 when I go to the Borgata with my own cash and play in a $300 tournament. My recent finishes keep me optimistic because if I play as well as I have and dodge some tough luck there is no doubt in my mind that I can make it into the cash.
Being so close yet so far away can sometimes be a good thing. This past Saturday night was a prime example. The weather forecast looked iffy, but my friend and I made the two hour drive to Mahoning Valley Speedway to see some local racing as well as the Seven Card Stud Modified 100. Everything was going fine until early evening when the clouds started closing in during the heat races. Then during the preliminary features the thunder started rumbling, and during and following the 4C Super Modified race lightning was seen appearing to be striking behind the trees right outside the track. Things looked grim. The Modifieds came out for their pace laps and on the wave lap the raindrops started coming down. Fans including my friend and myself started briskly walking to our cars. Modifieds were called into the pits. However, before we made it to my car the rain suddenly stopped. Modifieds were called back onto the track and we headed back to the stands. The rain diminished to some drizzle and then a few minutes later came to a stop. We had dodged a bullet. The rest of the night was precipitation free and full of lots of side by side action. Videos from the night's racing can be found at http://www.youtube.com/ajcrdstr24.
A driver that has been the class of the field in the series that they race in is a prime example of someone who has been so close yet so far away from making it in NASCAR's top series: Clay Rogers. In my opinion, this guy is the number one short track driver in the country that deserves another shot. He has won three USAR Pro Cup Series championships with three different teams and is running circles around the competition with a fourth different team in 2010. He's had his chance in the NASCAR Nationwide and Truck Series, but I don't feel he's had a legitimate opportunity to show what he can do. In 2001, the then 20 year old received the call to drive for Robbie Reiser when Cup Series rookie Matt Kenseth couldn't drive the stand-alone events. At this time, Rogers only had one full year experience in these types of cars and struggled much like Ricky Stenhouse and Colin Braun have in the Nationwide Series this year. His other full time opportunity came mid-season in 2007 in the Truck Series. However, the team he drove for Spears Motorsports closed their doors following the season and Rogers never had much of a chance to show his talent on the track with a team that was on it's way out of the series. What impressed me the most was in 2005 when he drove for the underfunded Glynn Motorsports team. He had a fourth and eighth place finish and only failed to complete two laps in five starts. He even competed in the Nationwide Series finale that year for the same team and finished 14th on the lead lap, moving up from 33rd starting position. Unfortunately, once again, the team closed up in 2006. His impressive finishes in recent years in one-off starts with ARCA should be turning somebody's head as well. If I was an owner or a sponsor this guy would be the first person on my radar, and I'm baffled why he hasn't received the nod to move up to a top series with a top team.
NASCAR's latest announcements and rumors regarding their cars are an example of an organization being so close yet so far away. They're finally getting it. The current STOCK cars look absolutely nothing like anything you would drive on the street and it seems like they're finally going to change some things around with the splitter and perhaps switch to the pony car models. It may not be exactly what NASCAR in the past was all about, but it's a way better option than the Fusion and Impala which are not very comparable to the Thunderbirds and Monte Carlos of the past. Even if these new cars are a success and eventually result in less of an expense for the teams, there is still a lot that needs to be done regarding cost containment. The disconnect between the main three series and all of the developmental, short track touring and grassroots series is outrageous. I miss the days when the K&N Pro Series (then Winston West and Busch North) teams could run semi-competitively in front of a live national audience with the Cup and Nationwide Series a few times a year when they came to their neck of the woods. Besides the tape-delayed broadcasts of their races where has the exposure gone? How does NASCAR expect anyone besides a multi-millionaire businessperson or a kid with a vast amount of financial backing to make the giant leap to the top three series in the future? At this moment, the expansion or even stability of NASCAR (there is always team attrition) are looking bleak. Just look at the manufacturer involvement in stock car racing in recent years:
- Besides Penske, there is ONE competitive Dodge team in the top three series, Jason White. However, Mopar has a vast involvement in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series with nearly half the field driving Dodges, sponsorship of the Mopar Fast Five Award and primary sponsorship of one of the full time drivers.
- Despite struggling GM's gradual movement away from NASCAR the Chevrolets are still strong, predominantly because of Hendrick and Childress equipment. However, they helped produce the new Chevrolet Camaro body that races in the Sunoco National Tour: a model that they wouldn't even approve to race in the Nationwide Series! GM Performance Parts is also a sponsor with the series and I believe they have at least some involvement in the development of their spec engines.
- Ford's decline in involvement is evident with their performance in the top three series, especially the Truck Series where their only remaining long time representative Rick Crawford's team recently stopped competing due to a lack of funding. However, they announced that they will have a contingency program with the American Canadian Tour for teams that support their Ford crate engine program.
- Even Honda is entering the world of stock car racing, but through the development of a new body and fuel injected engine in the ISCARS series. Fuel injection is being considered for the future of NASCAR. Even though the cars and motors differ shouldn't NASCAR be paying more attention to and endorsing this concept?
The only manufacturer that seems to be keeping up with their involvement is the youngest of NASCAR's manufacturers: Toyota. As you can see from the examples, the manufacturers are continuing involvement in stock car racing throughout North America while they gradually reduce support in the most advanced series. It's very interesting because years back the short track series were saturated with General Motors products and none of the other manufacturers were providing any support. Now it appears to be going in the reverse direction. Something is wrong! If NASCAR worked more with the manufacturers and the lower-level series to explore technology that is more cost effective, maybe the manufacturers, sponsors and most importantly the fans would regain interest and more teams would be capable of advancing into NASCAR's mainstream!
As I digress finally, the next race I'll be going to is so close yet so far away. In fact, I'm not 100% sure when and where I'll be going next. Chances are I'll be traveling a few hours west to Motordrome Speedway near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the month of July. They have a few special events to pick from during the month: the Super Cup Stock Car Series visits on the 16th, ISCARS on the 23rd and the ARCA Truck Series will be there on the 30th.
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