The NASCARization of American road racing is a bitter, unwanted pill

Oh, how we all wanted it to be so different. Major league sports car racing in this country, which had become a mere blip on the radar screen in terms of media interest, had finally abandoned the ongoing folly of trying to run two separate series. And even though the demise of the American Le Mans Series brought about a deep sense of foreboding among the road racing faithful, there was a thin shred of hope that somehow, someway, it would all work out. So road racing enthusiasts held their collective breath that the unified product – under the guise of the NASCAR-owned TUDOR United SportsCar Championship – would turn out to be something remarkable and worthwhile. Well, it wasn't. Not even close, unfortunately. As a matter of fact the Daytona 24 Hour – commercially known as the Rolex24 – was a complete and utter fiasco.

The die was cast a month ago at the pretest for the 24-hour race at the Daytona International Speedway, when it was obvious to anyone in attendance that the "fix" was in. Jim France bought the ALMS lock, stock and barrel, and he'd be damned if his precious "Daytona Prototypes" would play second fiddle to the former ALMS P2 machines. And since the P2 machines, on average, were five seconds per lap quicker than the DPs, well, adjustments would have to be made. Oh, they were made alright. France and his minions huffed and puffed and came up with a $300,000 package of tweaks – per car – to the DPs that ensured that the P2s were out of contention the moment they were unloaded off of their trailers.

But that was just the first major sign that things weren't quite right, because that deep foreboding road racing enthusiasts felt – that the "NASCAR-ization" of the racing itself would ruin their sport – came to fruition in the most shocking way possible. As in, "you've got to be frickin' kidding me" shocking. This was everything the collective nightmares of road racing enthusiasts suggested it would be, complete with "wave-arounds," interminable "phantom" cautions and every other trick in the NASCAR "let's make a show of it" playbook. It was Bush League Bullshit of the most malevolent kind, folks. And it stunk to high heaven. (See photo coverage of the Daytona 24-Hour in "The Line." – WG)

The end of the race was The Last Straw for me, however. Any hope that this new series would be run with even a modicum of credibility was pretty much abandoned long before then, but that final "phantom" caution, which went on f-o-r-e-v-e-r, sealed the deal. The NASCAR approach to road racing is a complete joke. Add to that the fiasco of the phantom "avoidable" contact on the very last lap between the No. 45 Flying Lizard Audi R8 driven by Markus Winkelhock and the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Allesandro Pier Guidi, which initially had the Ferrari driver penalized and thus losing the class victory in GT Daytona, only to be reversed – correctly, thank goodness – and you have a recipe for a disastrous debut for the TUDOR Untied SportsCar Championship.

In a post-race statement, Scott Elkins, IMSA's vice president, competition and technical regulations, had this to say: "We regret the confusion following the race, and appreciate the patience by our fans, drivers, teams and the media so we could properly review and subsequently report this decision."

Really? I think the following statement would have been much more appropriate: "We regret the fact that we insulted long-suffering road racing fans with this piss-poor 'show' that we presented today. It was stupid, contrived and yes, everything you feared it would be. We're going to go back to the drawing board and fix the competitive aspect of the series – especially between the P2 and DP entries – we're going to do away with "phantom" cautions of any kind, and we're going to let the races unfold without manipulation, as it should be. We deeply apologize."

Yeah, like that's going to happen.

Last week I stressed that If this new series was worthy of serious attention and interest, then it had to be presented in the very best way possible. Let's just say that golden opportunity was well and truly missed.

I've never been more disheartened by the state of road racing in this country than I am right at this very moment.

The reality of the "NASCAR-ization" of major league sports car racing is a bitter, unwanted pill. Peter DeLorenzo/Autoextremist

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