The Backstretch Blog: Don't know much about NASCAR history
Those of you that regularly follow this blog know I am a big sports history nerd. Throw back paint schemes, throw back jersey's or anything that reminds me of days gone by, I am a huge fan of. But I have to put an end to a sort of nostalgia cancer that is over taking NASCAR fans the last few years. The height of NASCAR's popularity was not the golden age of racing. Frankly, I think the entire conversation is ridiculous and we need to stop having it.
If I throw out a race, let's say the 1965 Southern 500. Sounds amazing right? Old school racing, drivers like Junior Johnson and Wendell Scott and Fred Lorzenen and Buck Baker at Darlington. Not even close. It was awful, race winner Ned Jarrett beat second place Baker by 14 laps. 14 LAPS! The good old days?
Last year at Darlington, 18 cars finished on the lead lap. In 1965, only 15 cars finished the race at all. It's also worth noting that a driver died in this race. Something that used to happen a lot in the "good old days of NASCAR."
And If you think '65 is an isolated race think again. In 1966, only two drivers finished on the lead lap at the Southern 500. In 1967, Richard Petty beat second place David Pearson by four laps and the very next year, again, two cars on the lead lap. Darlington this hallowed track, the site of the vastly popular throw back race every year the track were we got the closest finish in NASCAR history:
The racing at Darlington was bad and it was bad for a long time. No one today would ever stay to the end of a race with one or two drivers left on the lead lap. That's one of the reasons why races like Indianapolis struggle and why we bunch up the field for wildly popular races at Daytona and Talladega.
Here's another thing. This year there have been 12 winners in the first 20 races. Austin Dillon and Kasey Kahne are 20th and 21st in the standings, yet they both have wins this season. Which means there are at least 21 cars each week that have a chance to win, probably more like 25. Paul Dean Holt finished 21st in the 1968 Southern 500, 101 laps behind the leader. In eight years of racing he had just one top 10. There is no comparison when it comes to the competition. The drivers of this era are just better and the competition is closer. You don't even have to be a fan to see that.
Here's why we fantasize about old school racing. We as a society put a premium of nostalgia. It's not just in sports. And there were some good things about racing back in the day. The personalities were great. There weren't so many distractions, so it captured our attention. We ain't ever going back there and honestly, if it means watching a driver win by 14 laps, I'm not sure I want to.