Except for the youngest and most naïve among them, fans of pro wrestling understand that the outcomes of the matches they watch are predetermined. They’ve also grown accustomed to people referencing this fact in a somewhat snide, derogatory fashion if it helps prove a point.
With this in mind, there was no surprise or outrage from the wrestling world last week when Tony Stewart, one of NASCAR’s top drivers, made some angry comments suggesting officials in his sport might be borrowing some ideas from sports entertainment. Specifically, he accused the powers that be of throwing phantom caution flags for debris in order to bunch the field back together, essentially “scripting” the ends of the races.
“I guess NASCAR thinks, ‘Hey, wrestling worked, and it was for the most part staged, so I guess it’s going to work in racing too,'” Stewart said on a radio show last week. “I don’t know that they’ve run a fair race all year.”
After Stewart received the racing equivalent of getting called to the principal’s office, he backed off his conspiracy theory a few days ago. Yet the man nicknamed “Smoke” might be on to something. No, not NASCAR trying to fix the outcomes of races, but how amusing it would be if the whole sport was run like a wrestling promotion.
Fortunately, we don’t have to speculate about things like that. All we have to do is blow the dust off the SLAM! Wrestling crystal ball (patents still pending), fire it up and ask it, “What would NASCAR be like if Vince McMahon called the shots?”
Jan. 8, 2008: Receiving surprising financial backing from on-camera rival Donald Trump, Vince McMahon announces that he has purchased a controlling interest in NASCAR from the France family. Stephanie McMahon is named president, and Triple H is named director of competition. Vince briefly considers changing the name of stock car racing’s governing body to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and Entertainment,” but changes his mind when focus groups declare that NASCARE is “too wussy.”
Jan. 30, 2008: Right before the beginning of Speedweeks, Jeff Gordon embraces his inner heel by signing with Toyota, making him more hated than ever before among NASCAR’s traditional fan base. His feud with former teammate Jimmie Johnson is highly anticipated.
Feb. 17, 2008: The NASCAR season gets underway with the Daytona 500 presented by WWEShopzone.com. Long-time fans are irritated that the event is shown only on pay-per-view, while internet racing writers complain about the Diva Pit Crew Challenge held before the race.
March 23, 2008: Despite being unfairly forced to start at the end of the field and having Stephanie and Triple H throw a phantom debris caution with a few laps to go, Stewart wins the spring race at Bristol. He’s become a popular anti-hero due to his willingness to stand up to authority, and his new catchphrase, “Stewart 3:16 means I just wrecked your ass,” is selling lots of orange t-shirts.
April 12, 2008: McMahon announces that he has signed the world’s largest stock car driver, a 7-foot-6, 600-pound man from Australia. He’s anxious to get his new giant out on the track, but even using the Car of Tomorrow, engineers can’t figure out a way to get the guy to fit into a vehicle.
May 17, 2008: Dale Earnhardt Jr. sends shockwaves through the racing world with a heel turn right before the Nextel All-Star Challenge, when he joins Gordon’s Toyota team and names Armando Alejandro Estrada his new crew chief. NASCAR plans to have him feud with Kasey Kahne, who has been pushed as a face but is receiving mixed reactions from the fans at most tracks. One leading theory is that his cheers are coming from the female fans, while the boos are coming from male fans who don’t like him playing off his good looks.
June 22, 2008: Taking some time out from his movie schedule, The Rock is named “special enforcer” for the race at Sonoma, California. His special black-and-white striped car manages to block Gordon in the last lap and send Kahne to Victory Lane. Male fans still boo him.
July 27, 2008: With the deck stacked against him more than ever, Stewart still manages to come out on top at the Brickyard, a race that’s near and dear to his heart. An angry Triple H announces that he’ll be racing one on one in a special co-main event race at Bristol in August – inside a steel cage! Racing writers praise NASCAR for taking the extra step to protect the fans.
Sep. 6, 2008: The field for the newly named Extreme Chase for the Championship is set following the second race at Richmond. Surprisingly, the final two spots in the Chase go to Shane McMahon and veteran Dale Jarrett, who ran much better in a souped-up UPS truck than he did in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
Oct. 5, 2008: NASCAR subtitles the fall race at Talladega the “Racing Rumble” since it has the highest possibility of a 30-car wreck. Mimicking a long-standing wrestling tradition, the winner of the Racing Rumble automatically starts from the pole at next year’s Daytona 500.
Nov. 16, 2008: Even though he has to pull guys out of the stands to change tires on his Dodge after Umaga decimates his pit crew in the early going, Kahne gets help from Earnhardt Jr. – who pulls off his Toyota fire suit before the race to reveal a black GM Goodwrench suit – in passing Gordon on the final turn and winning at Homestead. He wins the series championship by a single point in what many are calling the most exciting NASCAR season ever, but the writers are still perplexed that some fans continue to boo him.
Now that sounds like a recipe for racing excitement to me. Maybe the folks at NASCAR should embrace their inner wrestling bookers after all. Remember, the crystal ball never lies.