Sunday, October 10, 2010

Raiders of the Lost Earnhardt

I was a NASCAR fan when I was young, but I have not followed auto racing regularly since I was a teenager. I only recently noticed that back in July, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Subway JalapeƱo 250 at Daytona International Speedway. This was Dale Jr.'s first win in a points-earning NASCAR race since 2008. The Chevrolet that Junior happened to be driving carried a Wrangle sponsorship and the number 3. That particular combination was made famous by his father.

The race won by Junior was part of the Nationwide Series. Relative to the top-level Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series are analogous to minor leagues in baseball. There is one important difference however between baseball and NASCAR in this regard. Baseball players from the major leagues occasionally make appearances in the minor leagues, primarily on rehab stints while recovering from an injury. A veteran player who no longer has a contract with a major-league team may also play in the minors in an effort to work his back to the majors. On the other hand, NASCAR drivers frequently participate in races at various different levels. It is not rare to see Sprint Cup drivers racing and winning Nationwide and truck races.

When I read about Junior's win, it occurred to me that Dale Jr. has sort of become NASCAR's version of the NFL's Oakland Raiders. Fans of both remember an earlier generation when the the objects of their adoration were known for being mean, nasty and overly aggressive. Both were also known for sporting black, but more importantly they were consistent winners. They would do whatever it took to achieve victory.

When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was racing, the major-league NASCAR series was known as the Winston Cup Series. Senior won seven series championships which is tied for most with Richard Petty. Both he and Petty were inaugural inductees of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Dale, Sr. won 76 races out of the 677 Winston Cup races that he started in during his career. That means he won 11.2% of the time. On the other hand, Junior has won 18 out of 384 Sprint Cup races. Considering that NASCAR races generally have 43 drivers in the field, winning 4.7% of the time is not shabby. However, it pales in comparison to his father's achievements.

The history of the Raiders includes three Super Bowl victories and thirteen Hall of Fame players. Their last Super Bowl victory was Super Bowl XVIII in 1984. More recently, they lost Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the seven seasons since that Super Bowl loss, the team has only won 29 games while losing 83 for a woeful winning percentage of 25.9. Both Oakland and Junior continue to carry the names Raiders and Dale Earnhardt, but both current versions are mere shadows of the previous incarnations.

While discussing the subject of this post with El, she suggested including Johnny Cash in the mix. He was also known for wearing black and could be a bit mean. He is also dead which does not allow him to match up with his previous greatness. His first daughter Rosanne Cash has been somewhat successful in the music business. His only son, John Carter Cash, has been less successful. I suppose the analogy could fit Johnny Cash, however, I think it would be a bit of a stretch.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Carolina Hockey

This will be my second straight post discussing the Carolinas, but this post will be about sports, specifically ice hockey, and not beer. This year, two minor league hockey franchises have relocated to the Carolinas. Back in February, I posted about Charlotte getting a new AHL franchise. There is also a new ECHL franchise in Greenville, South Carolina.

Charlotte's new franchise kept the name of the city's previous ECHL team, the Checkers. The new team is the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes. Back in June, the Checkers unvieled new logos and jersey designs. The team's new primary logo is a duplicate of the previous logo, but with the colors changed from powered blue and navy blue to black and silver to match the colors of the parent club. To further tie the new team to the Hurricanes, the new alternate logo features the team's polar bear mascot carrying a hockey stick with a tropical storm flag. The new sweaters are just replicas of the three that the Hurricanes wear only with the Checkers logos on the chest.

Taken altogether, I do not particularly care for these changes. While I understand that the overall goal is to promote the parent club throughout the Carolinas, I do not think that making the Checkers clones of the Hurricanes is the best way of achieving that goal. The main problem is that the themes of two teams do not match. Why does a team with a polar bear as its mascot have jerseys with tropical warning flags trimming the bottom? In my opinion, the Checkers should have maintained the colors and jerseys of the previous franchise. The team should only have a single Hurricanes-clone jersey which would only be worn for certain games. That jersey would be red but with the team's alternate logo which I like. The games when those sweaters are worn could be specifically geared towards promoting the Canes. Perhaps, some of the Hurricanes players and Stormy, the Hurricanes' mascot, could make the trip down for those games.

The previous incarnation of the Checkers was affiliated with the New York Rangers. Replacing the Checkers as the ECHL affiliate of the Rangers is the Greenville Road Warriors. The Road Warriors were previously the Johnstown Chiefs before moving to South Carolina. The team will play in the BI-LO Center which is located in downtown Greenville. The name for the team was chosen via a fan-submission contest and is a homage to the area's link to the automotive industry. I like the team's colors and logo. However, I would drop "Road" from the team name and just go with the "Warriors" for the name.

Speaking of road warriors, that term could definitely be applied to the major league team in Raleigh. The Hurricanes are experiencing big changes this year. At the top, longtime captain Rod Brind'Amour has retired, and Eric Staal begins his first full year serving as captain. There are also several new young players. The Canes have gone from the second-oldest team last year with the average age of their players being 29.3 years to the 26th oldest this year with an average age of 27.2. Those players will be a bit older before the team's first true home game this season. The team's first home game will be the second of two games against the Minnesota Wild to be played in Helsinki, Finland. After returning to this country, the next five games for the team are on the road. This is primarily thanks to the North Carolina State Fair which runs from October 14-24. The RBC Center, the team's home, shares parking space with the fairgrounds and also Carter–Finley Stadium, home to the N. C. State's football team. The Wolfpack have an away game and a bye week while the fair is in town. The first game at the RBC Center for the Hurricanes is October 27 versus the Capitals.