This shouldn’t be a unique concept. Isn’t any type of all-star event, by its very definition, designed to showcase the best of the best in any given sport, athletes who have proven their mettle on the track, floor, or field of valor?
You’d think so, but the way things have evolved, that is no longer necessarily the case. At some point, preference trumped performance, leaving fans watching more glitter than grit. Are they contests? Certainly they are. Popularity contests.
Major League Baseball’s all-star game, for example, also known as the “Midsummer Classic,” fields a team from each league with rosters including players who are selected by a combination of fans, players, coaches and manager. In the National Football League’s Pro Bowl, players are voted in by the coaches, the players themselves, and the fans.
Over in the National Basketball Association, all-star game participants are currently decided in two ways. The reserves are chosen by a vote among the head coaches of each squad’s particular conference. The starters are selected by – you guessed it – a fan ballot.
Does anyone else see a trend here?
NASCAR, ever the rowdy cowboy in the corral, takes a truly unorthodox approach to its all-star race. The event is open to – gasp! — race winners from the previous and the current season, plus the past 10 event winners and the past decade’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions.
Drivers are also eligible if they are one of the top two finishers in the Sprint Showdown qualifying race, or remain on the lead lap in the Sprint Showdown and get the most votes. There is a fan vote, but only one guy gets to take advantage of that, rather than the majority of the field.
This seems so elementary and simple that it’s almost silly to even be discussing it. I mean, you work hard, race hard, achieve success and get rewarded for it, right? In theory, at least, that just seems rational.
The formula followed by other sports really couldn’t ever work for NASCAR, anyway. If we relied on a fan vote to determine the field for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, who in the world would Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have to race against? Maybe two other guys? Where’s the fun in that?
Oh wait, I get it. Maybe that’s the idea. He would be the odds-on favorite and the dark horse all rolled into one. Talk about a win-win situation.
Now, of course, I’m kidding … sort of. But I do think that if fans were given free rein to decide who NASCAR’s all-stars are, some of the sport’s most talented drivers could find themselves watching the event on TV rather than through the windshield of a stock car.
I understand the position that fans should have some input regarding the makeup of their various all-star teams. They are the ones who support these sports with their energy, enthusiasm and money, after all. Naturally, they want to see Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant or Peyton Manning compete. These athletes are the faces of their sports.
But invariably, some player gets voted in just because people like the guy, and that’s not fair. What if we embraced this concept in the real world? The head cheerleader would be named Calculus Queen, the star quarterback would be elected student body president, and the guy who dances around with a lampshade on his head at the company Christmas party would be appointed CEO. Funny? Oh, yes. But fun? Not so much.
Other sports really should consider fielding teams composed of performers rather than personalities in their all-star contests.
In NASCAR’s all-star race, the best man will definitely have a chance to win … because he will definitely get the chance to try.
•Cathy Elliott is NASCAR’s official columnist. She is also the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, which will be in bookstores in February 2010. Contact her at email@example.com.