May 26, 2012
By Jim Fitzgerald
Up In The Marbles…After The All-Star Race
Could It Be Time To Retire The All-Star Race?
Let me tell you that, first of all, I didn’t have a problem with the All-Star Race. In fact, if I remember correctly, which is questionable, I was in Ocean City, MD at the Crab Bag, having steamed crabs, raw oysters, and Natty Boh’s. So, yeah, I thought the race was great. Then I got home, and watched the race again, as I had DVR’ed it. Full disclosure: The race the second time was not as entertaining as it was the first time. Maybe it was the menu while the race was live, or maybe it just lost something the second time around the same way a movie does when you watch it over and over. This is not to say, however, that I found the race unexciting and uneventful.
I enjoyed the segment concept. I thought that giving the winner a pass into the ‘final four” if you will, was fairly innovative. Was it the 1992 “One Hot Night” version of the race? Not really, but few are. There was a good bit of passing, and to watch cars and drivers scratch their way from the back of the pack to the front is always entertaining.
I think most of the people complaining about the All-Star race are people who did not like the outcome. If Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won this race, I’m sure there would be more people who would think it was the greatest race in the history of racing. Did I want to see Jimmie Johnson win? If you follow this column weekly, you know who my favorite drivers are. Did I want to see Matt Kenseth rolling around in the back of the field all night after winning a segment, just to preserve the car for the final shootout? Not really, but I understand the strategy. What I wasn’t a big fan of was teams such the No. 16 of Greg Biffle, the No. 99 of Carl Edwards, the No. 10 of David Reutimann, and the No. 14 of Tony Stewart using the race as a glorified test. Edwards and Biffle used engines that were very experimental, Stewart tried an odd setup, and Reutimann parked his car very early in the race after making a few runs.
I think people need to think about this race in terms of what it really is. It is an All-Star event. Well, wait, don’t we have an All-Star event every week? The baseball/football/hockey/basketball versions of All-Star games are players from different teams competing on the same field/rink/court in a special event. Every week, we have players from different teams competing on the same track. And then next week, we have the same thing. The following week, however…no, wait, it’s still the same thing. So, yes, every week we have an All-Star race, and that is awesome! True, every week doesn’t come with a burnout contest and pit crew introductions, but it might come with a burnout.
So what is so special about our All-Star race? Well, the format changes just about every other year. From fan votes to field inversions to segment quantity changes to the length of the race to the number of participants and the method of entry, our sport’s All-Star event has not been a very static event. It doesn’t pay any points, and aside from the bragging rights, the fans’ take away from the event only the memory. The NFL All-Star game, the Pro Bowl, is a joke of a glorified flag football game, and the NBA All-Star event is like a Rock and Jock Basketball game from MTV. The MLB version of the All-Star game at least has the home field advantage for The World Series on the line. The one thing that the All-Star race does have is that even if it went caution free and had no passing, it would still be the most exciting version of any All-Star event in major sports.
I have had my ear to the ground, and I’ve been listening. It seems that most of the fans gripes are about the sandbagging by the segment winners, and there was not enough excitement in the race. So, what would you do to change it? If you asked me to change it, and I had to fix the gripes that I am hearing, here is what I would do
If you dangle a monetary carrot out in front of a driver, they are going to chase it. The winner of each segment will most likely not drop to the back and wait for the end if they think they can grab more cash along the way.
- To get into the event, you must be in the top twenty in points in the current season plus the winner of the preliminary race, and the awesome fan vote. No previous winners, no last year’s winners, and no previous series champions. EARN YOUR SPOT by being relevant THIS YEAR.
- Keep the segments, and keep the segment winners, and keep the fact that the segment winners start 1-2-3-4 at the start of segment five.
- Extend segment five to 20 laps, so the full event is 100 laps. Caution laps should never count. 100 laps of green flag racing.
- Put the money on the line every lap. Right now, the winner of the event gets one million dollars. Put a bounty on every lap. I am thinking five thousand dollars is a good start. The leader of every lap wins five thousand dollars. That takes care of half of the winner’s money.
- The other 500,000.00 is awarded to the winner of the overall race after lap 100.
And now, I will suggest a most radical idea, one that will get me hate mail for sure. Before I suggest it, let me go back once more to Major League Baseball. The 2002 MLB All-Star game ended in a tie, when both leagues’ teams ran out of players. Fans were angry, players were angry…yet one more black eye on baseball. In 2003, the announcement came that the home field advantage for The World Series would be decided by which league won the All-Star game. Now, for whatever its worth, the MLB All-Star game means something.
Our All-Star Race means absolutely nothing, except one driver winning a lot of money. In the eyes of the fans, in the meaning to the fans, there is no meaning, except, again, bragging rights. And now back to the radical idea. If you REALLY want these guys to race in this race, it’s time to put some championship points on the line. Five points if a driver wins a segment. If he or she wins two segments, that’s ten points, plus one bonus point. If a driver wins three segments, that’s five points per segment, plus two bonus points. In simple math, we’re calling it seventeen, and so on. Winning the final segment and the overall All-Star race pays ten points.
Sorry, NASCAR, but there it is. I have made every lap worth leading, and I have made the event itself worth running. If you don’t make it meaningful, and no one ever seems to be happy with it, you might as well remove it from the schedule.
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