Monday, November 3, 2008

TV Peek At NASCAR's Future Is Eye-Opening

The TV series on SPEED called NASCAR Confidential would have gotten the attention of the NASCAR fans this season if the network had ordered more than six episodes.

Tucked quietly away on Monday night, the fifth show in the series offered a profile of several young drivers with NASCAR aspirations. To say the least, it was an eye-opening confirmation that family money is the driving force behind this new breed.

In much the same way that parents awkwardly place children in adult-style beauty pageants, NASCAR Confidential was open in offering footage that sometimes showed the racing parents in unflattering situations.

Veteran journalist Mike Mulhern set the table for how the transition from established veterans to eager youngsters occurred when Jeff Gordon entered the sport. This program profiled five youngsters who were operating in very different environments while trying to make their way to the Sprint Cup Series.

Fans are certainly familiar with Joey Logano. ESPN reported on their E:60 program this summer that Logano's father had spent over a million dollars on his son's racing career. NASCAR Confidential documented the ups and downs this season as Logano tried to get a toehold in a Cup Series car.

14 year-old Logan Ruffin from Nashville was a new face on the racing scene for TV viewers. Ruffin's mother dropped her son off in her Range Rover because he is too young to drive on public roads. He has strength and conditioning coaches and has already made his way through several local and regional racing series.

Alex Yontz is 22 and is almost over the hill. In NASCAR terms, the "window" for him to be discovered and advance is essentially closing. Every TV show needs contrast and Yontz working on his own car in Ed Berrier's Late Model shop worked very well after seeing the resources surrounding both Logano and Ruffin.

Richard Childress is a NASCAR legend and has paid his dues in the sport during his career as a driver and an owner. To showcase a youngster from a racing family, NASCAR Confidential chose RC's favorite grandson Austin Dillon. This was a youngster that fans could relate to, as so many others currently in the sport are directly from racing families. Dillon is 18 years-old and races in the Camping World East Series.

Many fans know Marc Davis because of his recent TV interviews and exposure as a success of the driver diversity program. This 18 year-old African-American driver has been a success story and continues to climb through the ranks. Signed by Gibbs Racing to a development deal, it looks like Davis will see the big time in just a couple of seasons.

This show worked to weave the stories of the five youngsters together and show the wide variety of experiences in racing. Snapshots included the Logano struggle in the #96 Cup car and the success of Dillion as the Camping World Rookie of the Year. Most telling perhaps was the anger of Logan Ruffin's father being offset by the cool demeanor of his young son after a racing accident.

It is Ken Squier who opens and closes the shows in this TV series. As he ended this episode of NASCAR Confidential, it was clear he had chosen his words carefully.

"Today, the ability behind the wheel might not even be the number one criteria," said Squier. "The window for opportunity is shrinking, while the crop of drivers grows larger and younger. But, one thing is certain. The next generation will still be driven, first and foremost, because they love to race."

This episode of NASCAR Confidential re-airs at 1AM and 9AM Eastern Time on Tuesday for those who missed the original airing.

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Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

I ran across this show by accident, and almost flipped it off before I realized it wasn't another repeat.

I thought they did a terrific job of telling stories of names that most race fans are familiar with - Davis, Dillon, Logano - with those we've yet to meet (Yontz, Ruffin). I also couldn't help but note that the one driver profiled who looks as though the odds are stacked the tallest against him (Yontz)is the one who seemed to have the least amount of funding associated with him.

Squier hit it directly on the head when he said, "Today the ability behind the wheel might not even be the number one criteria..."

AMS fan said...

I hope they do more next year. This would be the perfect show for Humpy Wheeler to do some shows. Ken Squire could do some shows. This way we new fans can see some of the icons in the sport and not over work them, since them may be semi-retired.
I enjoyed every show.

Anonymous said...

I watched just because it was on right after TWIN, and it didn't involve politics. It was fascinating to see how much cash parents put out to advance the kids "careers", this is worse than tennis parents were.

Its a sad thing when a 22 y.o. is almost over-the-hill for a step up in racing. Silly.

Squier was right the drivers ability may not be the most important thing.

Sad. I hope our sport survives, I just kept thinking do any of you remember, I think his name was Atwood? Pushing these kids too fast is silly. Let them spend time growing up & maturing.

I hope next year we get more shows like NC & less junklifesytle shows. NC has had good solid shows the few we get to see.

alex said...

Casey Atwood? Yep, I still have his #27 Castrol GTX diecast, because he was my favorite Busch series driver at the time.

I agree with the others, it was a good show and once again Ken Squier was an excellent host. Sad to see that 22 yrs is almost "over the hill" for a racer. It was good of them to have Mark Martin's perspective, where it often took 10 years to get good equipment like the rookies have these days.

Alex said...

This episode will also be re-aired Thursday, November 13 at 5:00 p.m.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Gordon's step father, John Bickford. Is the one who groomed him very carefully. To get him where he is now. We all know how that turned out.
For some reason, they seemed to part ways.
John next guided the career of Boston Reid. Another talented Midget, & Sprint driver. Where is he now?
My point is that these Pit Dads, are facing extremely long odds.
If your KID wants to race let him. If he's successful, let him move up. If he gets tired of it. Let him quit. Too many Pit Dads, like other sports crazy dads. Are trying to live out THEIR dreams, through their kids.
I skipped my senior prom, to work on my race car. Didn't buy a class ring, because I was buying piston rings. So I know what I'm talking about.
For every Denny Hamlin, whose parents mortgage their house, as well as their financial future.
There are dozens of families, who are broke, & disillusioned.


Anonymous said...

Ken's last senentace was "But, one thing is certain. The next generation will still be driven, first and foremost, because they love to race." I like that.

History is full of stories of different kinds of parents. Some want their kids to follow in their footsteps. So that could be racers, dentists, teachers, ect.

Then you have parents who want to live vicariously through their kids. They never got the chance to do so and so, so they want to force their kids into those activities.

Then you have parents who want to support their kids in whatever their child wants to do--even if the kid is not good at it. I was one of those. My daughter loved dancing and wanted lessons. So we paid for them for 6 very long years. SHE WAS AWFUL. But she loved it. We did not try to encourage her, but we were supportive and gave her lots of love. We made a big thing at her recitals and invited friends and family.

At one time I asked her if she wanted to try something else. She said no. Another time I told her the cost for the lessons and all those costumes was a bit pricy and how would she feel if she had to quit. She said she'd rather skip birthday and Christmas presents. Thank goodness one day, out of nowhere she said she wanted to quit.

I think it might be good for parents to let kids know that there are a lot of supporting roles that can be very meaningful. While many kids want to be the next Kobe, remember, there are 14 other players on the team. You child might want to be the next Tom Brady, remind them that there are over 50 other players om each team and 32 other teams and besides that there is also Canada, Europe, and Arena Football.

As far as Casey. It's only a shame if he decides that the only thing in life he can do is drive a Cup car. Ray Everham was with Jeff Gordon when Jeff was a teen. Ray recognized talent. The fact that Ray let Casey go tells me a lot.

If I'm an owner and looking for a driver, age will not be the determining factor, talent will be. All things being equal, I might go with youth so I can build a team around that driver.

Good luck to all the drivers who try.

Anonymous said...


John Bickford is VP and General Manager of Jeff Gordon, Inc. (For almost 5 years). He has an office on the HMS complex above the the #24. John leads a staff of 18 people. Nothing that involves Jeff in a non-racing activity goes thru without John's approval first. All this was on ESPN. They showed a tour of HMS campus and the offices for John B.

Jeff's own web site has a lot of pictures of John. I think that John was a very controlling person and Jeff decided at one point to get a new manager. I think they both changed and now are very close and working together again. It's nice to see.

Anonymous said...

"Ray Everham was with Jeff Gordon when Jeff was a teen. Ray recognized talent. The fact that Ray let Casey go tells me a lot."

November 4, 2008 12:52 PM

From what I've read, it wasn't so much Casey Atwood's performance that sunk him (though he was unfairly pushed up to Cup too early in Ray's desire to find a Jeff Gordon for Dodge). It was apparently his unwillingness to do the things drivers nowadays have to do with sponsors and such which made Ray part ways with him so quickly. Casey reportedly disliked making appearances and mixing with sponsors, and didn't seem inclined to improve in that area even after Ray talked to him about it.

Probably stemmed more from shyness (and youth - I think he was the youngest Cup driver then) than having a bad attitude, but it doesn't matter. You have to have those people skills on some level to succeed in NASCAR. Which may be one reason he's never landed anywhere steadily since then.

Unfortunately he may have the driving skills, but since he didn't have the people skills, he didn't stay around long enough for people to find out. NASCAR has to find a balance because I hate to see talented drivers left behind because they can't wine and dine sponsors, or they don't fit the mold of handsome corporate spokesman. But the drivers also have to realize the environment they're in (sponsors pay the bills), and know they can't hide in their car and shop 24 hours a day.

Anonymous said...


A bit off topic, but about NASCAR kids. Crissy Wallace will be on the Bonnie Hunt Show-NBC tomorrow afternoon.

Tracy said...

Wasn't Casey Atwood on one of the pre-race shows not long ago? Maybe last year - he had a one-shot Busch ride, as I recall. He seemed perfectly at ease with Hammond, et al, and very nice. You could tell that everyone on the stage ached for him and wanted him to have a really good race. I remember Hammond in particular really encouraged him.

This is off topic, but I just read Jenna Fryer's article about Sam Ard, and Kyle Busch donating a hundred grand to help him. Talk about a young driver who can do the right thing, seemingly out of the blue. I know the Harvicks have worked for several years to help Ard out as well. Do you think any of the parents pushing those young drivers ever think about what will happen if there's a devastating accident and subsequent life-long disability?

Anonymous said...

Crissy Wallace will be on the Bonnie Hunt Show-NBC

The Bonnie Hunt Show is syndicated, meaning it can be on any (or none) of your local stations, FYI.

Anonymous said...

I think that the safety advances on race car on all series is so advanced, kids are probably safer in a race car than on a regular car on the freeway/highway.

Anonymous said...

I love Logan Ruffin. Did you know that if Mike Wallace comes near him, he'll put him in the wall? :) :)