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Random Lugnuts: The Shootout, The Stig, and Jiminy Johnson

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Budweiser Shootout, The Stig, Jimmie Johnson
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: The Shootout, The Stig, and Jiminy Johnson

Bill Crittenden
February 9, 2009

Opening Lap

Not that NASCAR is like most other sports, but in most other sports, special events (like All-Star Games) are an honor just to be invited to.  In NASCAR, caught up with its fears of leaving a popular driver out has not only created the "Top 35" rule to prevent that, but had gone and tweaked the Budweiser Shootout admissions.

While it makes good economic sense in the short term, making sure some of the most popular drivers in the sport get into a major event (namely Tony Stewart in Chevrolet's "wild card" spot), it cheapened what had always been a special race.  It's no longer exclusive, no longer a special event.  It still has to be earned, but the bar has been dramatically lowered for anybody not driving a Chevrolet.  That can't be good for the Budweiser Shootout in the long term.  Being a NASCAR Sprint Cup event will always ensure viewers, being the first racing after the winter break ensures more, being a preview to the Daytona 500 and seeing the new year's new paint schemes ensures still more people will tune in.  After all, I did.

Now, since it's assured that all the biggest stars are on the track, the race itself is about as important as a preseason game in any other sport.  I even heard during the prerace portion of the broadcast that the 48 team was even going to test something for the Daytona 500.  Yes, at least one prominent team is treating the race just like a preseason game.

Driver Introductions

"Some say that he knows two facts about ducks, and both of them are wrong, and that sixty-one years ago he accidentally introduced Her Majesty The Queen to a Greek racialist.  All we know is, he's called The Stig."

In my opinion, there are simply no better driver introductions than those for The Stig, an anonymous test driver for the British television phenomenon that is Top Gear.  He is introduced, usually by Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, by stating two different outrageously ridiculous things that people are said to know about the driver each week, and always before The Stig tests a car in some way.  These things are often racing related (the outline of his left nipple is the same shape as the Nürburgring) or not (his scrotum has its own small gravity field).  With an estimated worldwide viewership of 350 million, I'm willing to bet that around the world the Nürburgring-nippled Stig is more widely known than any NASCAR driver.

However, he may not be as anonymous as previously believed.  If allegations are true it may just end up connecting The Stig, known worldwide for his tests of the world's best supercars including Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Koenigseggs, to the world of stock car racing.

There has been speculation for some time that the current white-suited version of The Stig is actually racer Ben Collins from Bristol (no, not that Bristol), England.  On January 19 The Daily Telegraph "outed" Collins, stating, "identity of the white-suited Stig ... has been an open secret within the motoring world for some years."

Ben Collins has a long resumé that includes the typical European mix of open-wheel Formula cars and sports car racing.  Outside of his racing career, such as it is, he did test driving for Ascari, he holds a distance record for driving a car on two wheels and did some of the stunt driving for the film Quantum of Solace.  Among all those other tidbits of information you get when you bring up his name on Wikipedia is something quite unexpected, a picture of a good ol' American stock car.  Apparently what he's also known for is his 2003 championship in the ASCAR Days of Thunder series, a European stock car racing series.  Which, I suppose, is about the equivalent of the MLS here in the States.  He's also a commentator for Sky Sports' coverage of NASCAR, which puts him as the UK's equivalent of Allen Bestwick.

Ben Collins driving the #83 car during the 2003 ASCAR 'Days of Thunder' championship
Photo by Steve Gregory
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.
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Assuming the report is true (Top Gear's own James May denies it but Collins has been rumored to be the man for years and the debate continues), and even allowing the story that the character of The Stig is really played by as many as four drivers, there is something deeply satisfying knowing that one of the world's biggest icons of high performance driving could in reality be a stock car racer, something of a lower form of life to Formula One obsessed European motorsport fans.

Between that and watching Juan Pablo Montoya struggle to find his way around courses with only four turns, maybe stock car racing will finally get some respect in Europe.

I'm not betting on it, though.

Commercial Break

It's good to see a McDonald's car in the field again.  I have a fondness for McDonald's cars that started way back when Hut Stricklin drove the car (I was young enough to think a McDonald's car was really cool), and it's the reason I paid attention to Bill Elliott's career (and I'm still a fan).  My favorite was the 1997 paint scheme, until seeing a McDonald's car with the legendary 43 on the side.  I have mixed emotions about the lack of Petty Blue, while its a tradition that will be missed I don't think it would add to the overall appearance of the car.

However, with Reed Sorenson behind the wheel and Dodge on the bumper, I still doubt that McDonald's will break its dry spell that stretches all the way back to the #27 car driven by Jimmy Spencer in 1994 and break the 43's near decade long winless streak.  I've been wrong before though, and would be more than happy to be wrong about this one. Caution Flag

Why am I not surprised that the first yellow flag in the Budweiser Shootout, the first caution of the year, involved Robby Gordon?

Victory Lane

The Yahoo! Group Stockcar Racing Online recently ran a poll asking whose three-in-a-row championship run was more impressive:  Cale Yarborough's or Jimmie Johnson's.  I replied that, based on so many NASCAR "experts" claiming today's sport to be more competitive than in years past, I'd have to go with Johnson.

My actual reply is as follows:

Why do I get the feeling that this one's going to come down to a popularity contest between a legend of the sport and a guy that has accumulated more detractors than fans over his career?

So let's take those particular drivers out of it.

I wasn't around when Yarborough won his championships, but I do hear all the time about just how much more competitive NASCAR is these days and about how much harder it is to win races and championships. Heck, good teams have trouble just getting in the field sometimes.

There is also great manufacturer parity in the modern Cup series, something that didn't exist as much back in the days before common template cars, and back then having the wrong car could put a big enough disadvantage on a driver so as to effectively take a good driver out of championship contention before the season even started, resulting in less competition for the eventual winner, if said winner was driving the "right car."

There is also a lot more money in the sport, making a large number of teams more competitive than in the past. Roush alone has 4 teams that have shown an ability to compete for a championship, Hendrick has 2 strong competitors to Johnson in his own garage, even Toyota fielded a contender this year...

Therefore, based on the level of competition, taking the drivers themselves out of the equation, I believe it's more impressive to score a three-peat championship run in modern times than it was back in the late '70s.

The fans responded, and here are some of the comments:

A fan with the e-mail name of Kaboom wrote:  "cale could fight. jiminy would borrow jeff's purse and hit them."

Um, okay.  I'm guessing this is one of those "detractors" I mentioned Jimmie accumulating.

Janice wrote:  "I believe that it was tougher back then. Cale was the first one to do it. He did not have the advantages back then that Jimmie Johnson has today. He didn't have the money to spend on technology, crew, etc. I'm voting for Cale."

Now that's better, a reasoned argument for Cale.  Thank you.

Barb writes:  "Too many variables to try to compare then to now. Cale was a terrific champion under the tracks and track conditions, rules, equipment and competitors of his years of racing. JJ is the best with todays tracks, cars, rules and competition. Why people insist on trying to compare two totally different racing eras is just ridiculous. They were both champions and great drivers for their time period on the track and it should be left at that. They both made history only at a different time, in a different environment."

I fully agree, but there wasn't too much else going on in the offseason to comment on.  Sometimes writers have to make stuff up just to have something to write about.  Or wait until someone else makes it up and respond to it.  Either way, I'm sorry...I'll find better topics during the season.

And on that bombshell, it's time to end.  Goodnight!



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