CONCORD, N.C. — Who’s up for a good rivalry?
Rivalry is what has shaped a generation or four of race fans, be they regional, national or world-wide.
For too many years, in my humble opinion, we’ve been without a black hat-white hat sort of general disagreement, and it’s what this world needs.
When I was growing up — yes, that long ago — there were some rivalries of note. Larry Dickson and Gary Bettenhausen had one that raged from coast to coast, but mostly in the Midwest.
Mike Eddy and pretty much anyone who ran in the ASA comes to mind, because Mike asked no quarter and gave none. Dick Trickle had some enemies, for lack of a better word, as he was winning every other night for about 30 years.
Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell had a doozy of a rivalry in the World of Outlaws and that was fun to watch.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick was entertaining on multiple levels, primarily because you never knew what would happen from race to race. Whatever it was, it was going to be spectacular.
Today’s rivalries? Pfft.
I shouldn’t say that, but that’s what it feels like. Today, it’s about winning races, pleasing sponsors and getting Instagram follows. Yesterday, it was about who won, who didn’t and why.
There are a couple of rivalries that are budding of late that bear watching. The most fascinating is that between William Byron and Joey Logano in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Anyone who watched the Goodyear 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway knows why: It was a bit of an argument over who did unto whom at the end of that race. According to Logano, Byron did unto him, and he waited a bit to do unto Byron … and went on to win the race.
Old-school fans would call that all in a day’s work. Today’s fans … well, it’s hard to say. Logano fans yelled “heck yeah!” and Byron fans used another series of words, none of them complimentary.
It was still going on a few weeks later and shows no signs of cooling off. That’s interesting on a couple of different levels, because we’re about a third of the way through the season at the time of this writing.
That could have an impact on the championship, and you have to admit that is a massive understatement.
Rivalries are good for the sport, by and large, because they amp up fan bases. There’s nothing worse than having 40 drivers who all get along. There has to be some friction in the garage area or it becomes boring.
Attention spans being what they are of late, that could be very, very bad for the sport.
The fun part about rivalries is, there is literally one or more at every race track in the country during the season. Driver A has a lot of money and buys the best stuff and wins all the races. All the other drivers don’t like getting their fannies waxed week in and week out and stuff starts to boil up.
Suddenly, Driver A has to fix his car every week after all the others take a shot, and pretty soon you’ve got battle lines drawn and it’s on like Donkey Kong.
That’s the stuff that makes racing so great.
It’s the big guy vs. the little guy, or more likely the richer guy against the guy of modest means. That’s when the gloves come off. Just to be clear: I’m not advocating for any extra-curricular activity. That would be a slippery slope.
But there’s not one thing wrong with a couple of drivers going at each other hammer and tong for money and the trophy — and a bigger share of the fan base. If there’s some bad blood there, it will get resolved on the track every Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Every fan needs someone to cheer for and every fan needs someone to cheer against.
Let the games begin and we’ll see how it all turns out in November, or whenever the season ends.