Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yeah about those regular updates...

My bad. Life has been busy. Besides, I have Twitter to keep folks updated on what's going on in my life.

Anyway, since the end of the 2010 NASCAR season, folks have tried one way or another to explain how to fix one thing that has gotten totally out of hand over the last decade or so: Sprint Cup drivers winning races and championships in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

I remember as a boy watching Nationwide (then Busch Grand National) Series races where guys like Mark Martin, Harry Gant, and the Intimidator Dale Earnhardt himself winning NNS races. But the thing about that era Cup driver coming over and moonlighting on Saturdays was the fact that a) they didn't race every week and b) they didn't win every week.

Nationwide only drivers competed for wins and championships and attracted top-dollar sponsors throughout the late 90's when NASCAR's boom really got started. That carried over to the 2000 season as well. But then, in 2001, something happened.

A full-time Cup driver also ran for, and ultimately won, the Nationwide championship.

I have nothing against Kevin Harvick, but his running both series is really the catalyst for what we have now: a "junior" series that has dwindling attendance and television ratings, an obvious lack of high-dollar sponsors going after non-Sprint Cup drivers, and unfortunately a class of talent that will never be able to groom their abilities and have the chance to move into a top tier ride.

Harvick, along with names like Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski are the stars of the Nationwide Series. Problem is they also run full-time in the Cup Series.

So basically what you have is a Nationwide Series that has lost its identity. Most folks call it "Cup Lite" (yes I spelled that correctly.)

So how do you fix this problem? Well there are several things that could help, but ultimately it comes down to one thing.

First: the small steps. The new Nationwide car. It debuted at Daytona in July. Junior took it to victory lane first. So folks are automatically in love with this new car. I agree. I got to take a look at one up close that hot July weekend, and I gotta say these new cars that will run full-time in 2011 are awesome. I think the racing is gonna be incredible in 2011 and since they are the little cousin of their Sprint Cup equivalents, the cost of building cars should go down for independent owners in this series because you can race the same car at Bristol that you can race at Michigan or Talladega.

Another option that I think should be implemented, but know very little about, it more stock parts and stock engines. Make the cost of running this series a little bit lower and owners could potentially be able to sign new and retain current sponsors because the cost of the series would be lower. I've heard several drivers say a top-tier NNS team could run on about half the current budgets if NASCAR stepped in and made the rule book a little easier to get along with.

Next, get rid of all these Sprint Cup/Nationwide companion events. In 1996 there were 12 stand alone races. Last year there were 9. If more Cup drivers had to go somewhere else in a weekend more often, I honestly think fewer would want to run the full Nationwide season. Of course with easier ways of traveling and most of these drivers having their own planes to fly around the country in, some one say this option really doesn't matter. Take what you want from it.

Ultimately, it all comes down to money. Didn't we know this was coming? The series has what I would say three times as much money pumped into it yearly than it did a decade ago. The series has built an identity of where it's perfectly acceptable for Cup drivers to race and win on Saturdays. And until NASCAR comes out and declares that this is a development series then Cup drivers are going to continue to win races. Only twice in 2010 did a non-Sprint Cup regular win a race, and a Nationwide-only competitor hasn't won a championship since 2005.

This series will continue to be dominated by Cup drivers until someone says what its supposed to be; what it was designed to be: a development series.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Gamecocks open 2010 with 41-13 rout of Southern Miss

Junior quarterback Stephen Garcia and freshman running back Marcus Lattimore found the endzone twice each on Thursday night to lead the South Carolina Gamecocks (1-0) to a 41-13 victory over the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (0-1.)

Garcia went 16-23 for 193 yards and Lattimore in his debut with the Gamecocks carried the ball 14 times for 54 yards and two scores.

Alright well there's your official morning after introduction to this story. Truth be told I don't care about numbers today. The Gamecocks last night proved to me that this years' team is a team that can win. It's a team that's talented enough to win and win big. And it's a team that might actually at the end of the year, play for an SEC championship.

By the way- that's the first time since the Liberty Bowl in 2006 that a Carolina team has put 40+ points on the scoreboard. Impressive? Yeah I'd say so.

Granted, Thursday's win was against a Southern Miss team from Conference USA, but of the teams in the conference the Golden Eagles are one of the elite. I guess. Honestly, being a fan of an SEC team, Conference USA isn't even on my radar.

Getting back to last night: Marcus Lattimore is a true freshman from perennial South Carolina high school powerhouse Byrnes. He made the decision to come to Columbia back in the winter and I knew it was going to be fun for the next four years. This kid has that x-factor - the thing that makes someone special in this game. He has the ability to make holes when they aren't there and can sniff out coverage before the play starts. To be a freshman and have that ability is quite unique. If he can stay out of off-field trouble, I seriously, SERIOUSLY, look for this kid to do great things.

Stephen Garcia impressed me last night as well. After all the distractions and all of the Spurrier "Well, Stephen Garcia isn't real good right now, but anyways..." from spring and fall practices, I was concerned that the junior from Florida was going to go out and fall flat on his face in the season opener. After a rough start, he showed why he is one of the best SEC quarterbacks out there today. Bouncing off of players to score a touchdown and finding the strength to extend his arm past the goal line when being slammed into for his second touchdown of the night. Great all around performance by Garcia, the backfield, and this talented core of wide receivers.

I said yesterday that Carolina has the chance to win eight or more games in 2010. After last night, yeah, I believe that.

South Carolina will open SEC play next Saturday afternoon when the Georgia Bulldogs come to Williams-Brice Stadium for a noon kickoff.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oh yeah

I went with a new look for this blog. I figure if I'm going to make an effort to update on a regular basis that I should go with something that's not white background with black text and garnet headlines and links.

It'll probably change a few more times.

Oh and Go Cocks!

Welcome to next year...

I may be a little premature when I say this, but my Magic Eight Ball predicts an 8 win season for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Deep breaths folks.

I haven't really been able to pay attention much to fall camp because I kinda work in a business where the goal is to go as fast as possible, but from all indications the Old Ball Coach has him something to work with finally.

It's always been my opinion to lay low when you realize you have something going for you. In college I always tried to keep quiet when I understood the material (which is why I was always talking) and over the last few weeks, granted, Steve Spurrier has had a lot to deal with. NCAA investigators, claims that players took discounts to stay in a hotel near campus before dorms opened, and a Columbia media that constantly tries to discredit what ever this program has built during Spurrier's tenure have been the talk of the town and the national media as well.

All that aside, I think Spurrier's sly way of conducting business the last few weeks is a sign that this team is ready to move out of the 115 years of mediocrity it has seen and into an elite powerhouse in the South Eastern Conference and the NCAA as well.

Although I'm sure somewhere along the line there will be hiccups to this grandiose plan I have derived here today. But I think the leadership is in place to help get this team over that proverbial 7-game hump. It's been a while since the Gamecocks scored 8 wins in one season. Maybe its time for that to happen again.

I've always believed that success and momentum are hard to get but easy to hold on to. And for momentum and success the football team need do nothing but look down the road at what the USC Baseball team accomplished in the College World Series in Omaha back in July. Winning the national championship in one sport fully has the ability to spread to other sports in Columbia.

I also believe that once a coach has figured out how to win that he can win anywhere. Spurrier is a Heisman Trophy winner, has coached a Heisman Trophy winner, and has coached a national championship team.

"Why not us" was the phrase Spurrier used after being hired as head coach of the Gamecocks back in 2004. Why not us this year?

Eight wins would be awesome, but honestly I think this team is capable of much, much more.

Enjoy the season folks. This really could be next year.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why 19 is bigger than 79

Ok weird title I know, but I have a point to all of my madness.

I know in real numbers that 79 is way bigger than 19. But today, it's gonna be reversed. I'm sure some of you are saying right now "wow that idiot must have failed math." Well I did (a couple of times) but that's beside the point.

Over the last 3 years, Kyle Busch has put up remarkable win totals in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck series. He's now got 79 total over the three series (19 Cup, 40 Nationwide, 20 Trucks.)

And the majority of those have comes since he moved out of the inn at Hendrick Motorsports following the 2007 season, and into the season of a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing at the beginning of the 2008 season. He's scored 58 wins in that time frame over the three series. Yeah, that's impressive.

He won the Nationwide Series championship in 2009 - another trophy that some could say elevates him to elite status in NASCAR.

He started his own truck series team earlier this year and has been to victory lane in it 4 times this year, including the last two in a row at Bristol and Chicago.

Two weeks ago he did the triple at Bristol, winning all three races which is something that I figured he'd end up getting around to one of these days.

He's accomplished all of this against some very, very difficult competition, including his own JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano and 4-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

All this success, however, isn't all that great in my opinion. Yeah, like I said, 19 is bigger than 79.

Kyle Busch is a Sprint Cup Series driver. He should be winning all of the lower support series races he enters. Why? Because he's better than his competition in those races. There's a reason why he climbs behind the wheel of an upper tier car on Sunday and those other Nationwide and Truck series drivers don't.

He's driving equipment in the lower series that is so much better than his competition it's not funny, and when he wins I don't think he should brag about it. Rather he should say yeah I whipped em again. Give me the trophy and the check and let's get outta here.

Wrecking Jennifer Jo Cobb to win at Bristol in the Truck Series shouldn't be celebrated. Wrecking driver X in the Nationwide Series to take the lead shouldn't be celebrated. Making a pass on the outside of Jimmie Johnson for the win in the closing laps of the Sprint Cup race in Chicago - now that's impressive. That's what should be celebrated.

My point is this: people may say Kyle is one of the greatest ever; he may reach 100 wins across the three series; he may do this and he may do that, but until he wins championships and more races in the Sprint Cup Series, what does all this Nationwide and Truck success do to further his career? In my opinion, not much.

It's like Brett Favre going back to the college ranks. It's like Greg Maddox throwing in the minors. It's like Michael Jordan in a pick-up basketball game. Succesful athletes are celebrated and honored for winning at the highest level, not for beating up the younger, less experienced and less talented folks in a lower division.

I'm sure when Kyle reaches 100 wins across the three series that the media will appoint him the new King of NASCAR. But hopefully, if most of those wins aren't in the Sprint Cup Series, that they will think before they speak.

19 is bigger than 79. But call/email/tweet me when Kyle reaches 200 wins in the Cup Series - then we'll talk.

Friday, August 27, 2010

People Will Talk... about High School Football

Wow... Two days in a row. People are gonna start talking.

Anyway, Week #1 of High School Football in South Carolina is tonight, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the sport that takes my small hometown of Camden, SC under storm every fall.

Technically it's Game #2 for CHS tonight as they did play and win a "Week 0" game last week. But for our purposes it is officially Week 1 in South Carolina.

Camden opened the season with a 28-21 victory over the Spring Valley Vikings at Zemp Stadium in Camden. This is a series that has been on again-off again since 1970. But it was the first meeting between the two schools since my freshman year of 1997, a game that the Vikings won in Billy Ammons' final season as coach at Camden.

Tonight the Bulldogs will make a nearly 2-hour drive to Ware Shoals, SC (Where?) for a matchup with an inferior opponent. I say inferior... honestly I know nothing about Ware Shoals. I don't even know their mascot believe it or not. But, that's where Camden is going tonight.

Ware Shoals became the second game of the year after CHS decided not to play in-county rival North Central. That was a series I enjoyed, but in reality needed to end. North Central is a very small Class A school in the northern half of Kershaw County. And while it did provide them an excellent opportunity for a large crowd (which means more $$$) the games were blowouts and really did nothing to progress the teams every year.

Camden and North Central interestingly enough never played each other in the regular season until 2006. Yeah I know that's weird - 20 miles apart and didn't meet until NCHS had been around for nearly three decades.

Tonight Camden should pick up win #2 of the season as they look ahead to a matchup with the West Florence Knights next Friday night at home, a game I will be at... as a spectator. It'll be the first time since 1995 that I've actually gone and watched a Camden game as a fan. Very, very weird.

You can hear tonight's game on KOOL 102.7 FM or online at www.kool1027.com.

Yep, I had to get that plug in.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm back...

Or, atleast I'm gonna try to be back. It's been crazy these last 12 or so months and I have seriously neglected this blog. My bad.

I'm gonna try to update more often in the future. Instead of going with long, drawn out stuff, I think my goal should be to just write short updates - blurbs, random thoughts, etc. - just to keep folks updated (the 1 person who is actually subscribed to this blog that is.)

Anyway, it's an off-week in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the final one of the season. Atlanta is next week, followed by Richmond, and then the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off in New Hampshire in September.

Should be a fun ride to the title as there really hasn't been a clear-cut favorite throughout the entire season. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon have been 1-2 in the points for weeks now, but I don't know if consistency can win this chase this year. I think wins will be big. Someone needs to seperate themselves from the rest of the field.

Until next time, there's my random update for today. See you again in 3 months.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I say goodbye to a friend and an uncle

It's been about three weeks now since my family lost a dear son, brother, father, uncle, and friend. My uncle, Toby Eddings, passed away on July 24, 2010 at the age of 52. It was the that day his daughter Tiffany was married and on a weekend that brought the highest and lowest of emotions to my family.

It occurs to me that I have yet to properly say goodbye to my friend, and he was a friend. With the fast-paced life I've chosen to take on working in NASCAR (where I fly to a track on Thursday, go hard for three days, fly home Sunday night, and spend two days recovering before prepping and heading to another city) I've found it difficult to stop and take a minute and see what's happening around me.

Often in life, we never realize how much someone means to you until they are gone. This is no different. Never again will I be able to jab with him about college football at Thanksgiving. Never again will he be pestered by my grandmother (his mother) and my mom (his sister) about going to the doctor, or wearing cologne at the dinner table (which I laughed at even if nobody else did.) And never again will I be able to share stories of my career as a sports journalist.

He and I shared a lot of similarities. Both of us caught the journalism "bug" at an early age. He was a statistician for Camden High School athletics as a teenager. He worked for WACA Radio in Camden, S.C., which later became WCAM Radio and eventually into WPUB/WCAM Radio, where I spent seven years of my life as an on-air talent.

We both grew up in the same house - my room was the same room he once had. He enjoyed making people laugh, much as I do, and we both had no greater joy than impressing my mom and grandmother talking sports on the couch at home.

Both of us stubborn, thinking we know more than everyone else (I also get this from my dad so don't think the Mays side of my family is no different.) And both of us share a very dry wit and sense of humor.

I remember the first time I got to sit in the play-by-play chair as voice of the Camden Bulldogs. The regular play-by-play guy had a separate engagement and was unable to announce that night. I got tagged to fill his spot. It was my audition as a year later I became the full-time Voice of the Bulldogs. Toby listened that night on the internet and later wrote a very flattering blog post, hailing my ability and the fact that he was proud of my career choice.

I wish I had kept that blog post - I can't find it online anymore.

Later as I grew as an announcer, and then when I was hired by Sprint Vision in January, his pride in me grew. I've learned in the last few days that he often bragged about me to his friends and co-workers.

I know his life at times wasn't easy. His divorce, numerous medical problems, and having to move to Georgia and then North Carolina to find a newspaper job were all difficult times. But I think that didn't bother him. At the end of the day he was able to be proud of what he'd done that day.

I said earlier you often don't realize things until its too late to do anything about it. I hadn't seen him since Christmas. And now living just 40 minutes away from him, I feel worse that I never made an effort to drive down after work just to go have dinner or share a story.

Not to get too sappy, but I encourage whoever reads this to make that effort.

The past few weeks have been difficult for all of us and I'm sure in the weeks and months ahead, particularly the holidays, will be even tougher.

I take comfort in the fact that he was a very religious man, and also that his ailments that took such a toll on him over the past two years are no longer hurting him. I wish I could have spent more time with him over the years, but the memories will always be special.

I feel the most pain for my grandmother, my mom, his children - son, daughter, and son-in-law - and especially to his friends that he touched on a daily basis.

We all must go on. Life doesn't stop, for me especially. So with this, I say goodbye to my uncle. My friend. He's really not gone as long as we remember him.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

AMS is filled with great NASCAR moments

(So, most of you probably know that I got hired to be a producer for Sprint Vision and I've spent the last month and a half living the dream. I meant to update that but never got around to it. So here's some random thoughts to chew on...)

After the madness that was Speedweeks 2010 at Daytona, followed by two weekends on the other coast, NASCAR finally returns to the southeast this weekend with the Kobalt Tools 500 for the Sprint Cup Series and the E-Z-GO 200 for the Camping World Truck Series at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

AMS is a fast 1.54 mile quad-oval that has been a fixture on the Cup Series since 1960. When I say fast I mean it too... the track record was set in 1997 by Geoffrey Bodine at over 197 mph and is the fastest single car lap on a non-restrictor plate racetrack that currently sits on the schedule. Glenn "Fireball" Roberts won the pole for the inaugural event and went on to win the race as well. The track has seen many renovations over the years from the building of new grandstands, new garages, a complete track redesign in 1997 to name a few; but it has seen its share of exciting door-to-door racing.

But I think more or less, Atlanta Motor Speedway is home to some of the greatest moments in the sport's history. I begin this walk down memory lane at the 1992 Hooters 500: the final race of the season that year. The moments that happened in that race will go down as legend... Richard Petty's final race and Jeff Gordon's first - the passing of the torch if you will. The epic points battle that came down between Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki in the closing laps that gave Kulwicki the title by just leading one more lap than Elliott did. The unfortunate turn that took away Davey Allison's shot at winning the title in a wreck on the frontstretch. Or maybe its the fact that both Kulwicki and Allison were both killed within a year of that race that made the players so much more of a part of that race. Many call the 92 fall race at AMS the greatest in the history of the sport. Hard to top that one for sure.

The fall 1996 race was also a good one. This championship run came down between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon. Early in the race, the 24 team had a problem with loose lugnuts warping the stud of a tire. Repairs cost Gordon nearly three laps but in typical "Rainbow Warrior" style, the car was able to get back onto the lead lap. However Labonte would prevail and pick up his second series championship. The race was more memorable because Bobby Labonte, Terry's younger brother, won the thing. Both took a victory lap side by side to celebrate. I wish more people would remember this race when bringing up the best AMS events over the years.

Probably my favorite was the 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 and that is for one reason and one reason only: Earnhardt won it. But it was a really cool finish and he didn't even wreck anybody to do it. The 3 car was able to hold off a charging Bobby Labonte for the win by just a few inches. What a great day that was - I remember it well. The first half of the race was cut off in South Carolina due to a Clemson basketball game being on and, apparently, the game took precedence over the race. Bummer. That was the next to last win for Dale Earnhardt Sr. as he was killed 10 months later on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.

Which sets up my final AMS moment for this post.

The tragedy of the passing of Dale Earnhardt in February 2001 was one that I didn't think NASCAR would be able to get over and if it did it would be a while. Enter Kevin Harvick. In the car that Earnhardt would have driven at AMS that spring, the rookie held off Jeff Gordon in almost the exact same manner that Earnhardt held off Labonte a year earlier. I think the sport began to heal a little bit that March afternoon in 2001.

So Atlanta Motor Speedway has seen some great moments. Maybe we'll see another this weekend. Enjoy the show folks.