by Chris Martin
Americans love their sports like few other nations do. They also cherish the concept of democracy. So you would think that U.S. sports leagues would be bending over backwards to accommodate the fans and give them what they want.
And yet, we’re still stuck with baseball’s designated hitter, NBA referees’ special treatment of star players, and the NFL’s ban on certain end zone celebrations.
That’s why it’s always refreshing to hear a story about a sports league heeding the wishes of the fans. So let’s hear a big round of applause for NASCAR, the governing body of U.S. stock car racing, who addressed fans’ concerns about two-car tandem racing.
With the circuit’s first big race of the season, the Daytona 500, coming up on February 26, NASCAR announced that it would be making some changes based on input from many racing fans. Earlier this month, NASCAR revealed that about 80 percent of fans surveyed did not like the racers’ reliance on two-car tandems during races at Daytona Speedway. This occurs when pairs of cars “team up”; one car runs right behind another for a stretch, and then the two switch positions. This tandem ultimately helps both cars reduce wind resistance, conserve fuel, and achieve higher speeds.
But fans at Daytona weren’t crazy about these tandems. They told NASCAR that they prefer “pack racing” where numerous cars are running near each other in a small area. They also want to see their favorite driver win the race by himself (or herself, with this year’s addition of former Indy car racer Danica Patrick to the field) instead of getting help from a competitor.
In response, NASCAR tweaked the cars to effectively discourage two-car tandem racing. Engineers altered the settings on the vehicles’ pressure relief valves. They moved up the cars’ radiator inlets. And they adjusted the rear angles on the racecars. Circuit officials said that the racing teams seemed happy with the modifications.
However, two-car tandems won’t disappear entirely. Instead, NASCAR says that the changes will promote a mixture of pack racing and tandem styles in order to appeal to the many fans who don’t mind that approach. That way, spectators can enjoy a variety of styles without sacrificing the every-racer-for-himself mentality.
In any case, NASCAR fans spoke, and the league listened. That in itself should come as good news to the millions of loyal NASCAR fans in America – most of whom will be watching the 2012 Daytona 500.