Like you, I’m watching the slow unspooling of NASCAR, and I don’t like it. The first three races have been competitive, I think partially due to the testing ban, but all of us know the shadow in the room—the possibility that the automakers might pull out of racing. Inasmuch as we could imagine if we dared about what would happen if that sea-change happened—a return to “home-built cars” (admittedly impossible now)? Sponsorships from taverns rather than conglomerates?—let’s hope the economy’s close to the bottom.
We’re here, whether we like it or not. We’ve enjoyed golden decades and now, race fans, we hold our breath. Vegas had a fairly good weekend gate, so now we wait for Atlanta—and again hold our breath. There will be short fields at some point this season; we’ll have lots to kvetch about. So instead, I’d like to submit a couple of ideas that could help the Cup series.
1) More short tracks; fewer shows at France/Smith tracks; and why NOT run on dirt? Yeah. I know. RIGHT. AS IF. All true. The neo-monopoly that NASCAR’s become has helped bring about a present in which we’re faced with tracks apparently designed by focus groups. Personally, I’d like to see several existing tracks torn down and replaced by state-of-the-art speedways under a mile in length, tracks designed by individuals who understands the best tracks possess individual character. We have to place our interest in the on-track product; with Martinsville and Bristol as the only true short tracks on the schedule, for all that their potential impact on the points race, etc., they also represent the last vestige of a vital part of Cup history when some of the world’s best drivers would tow to, say, your home track. Those were fun days. Ask anybody who saw Petty and Lorenzen duel at Ona Speedway in West Virginia in the sixties; imagine if that was possible today, even in a greatly reduced way. And there is no reason why the CoT could not be converted so it could perform on the dirt. Fans come out in droves to Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway to see Cup stars in dirt late models; how many people would show up to see an actual Cup race? (Note: Yes, I understand the logistics would be appalling; I’m just thinking in terms of risk versus reward, folks, and the truth is the reward would be worth the risk, in terms of breathing new life into the series by returning it to its roots or a semblence thereof, thereby also bring new fans aboard. Let’s hope.)
But let’s face a simple fact: the Frances and Bruton Smith are primarily interested in retaining what they already have with their own facilities and not necessarily in aspects of history that don’t involve them from a financial standpoint.
2) Ticket prices; fan access; start times: NASCAR has identified itself for years as the “major league” of stock-car racing. Fair enough. Of course, they’ve also been charging major-league ticket prices and then, until this year, treating the fans like potential hostage-takers. OK, granted, there are some people (I hesitate to call them “fans,” because truly they aren’t; they’re simply maladroit) who actively scare the snot out of me at races, whose sense of boundary and balance dissipates with the first beer of the weekend, which was drunk on Thursday morning and enough strong drink thereafter to drown a wildebeest. Long-ago SCR editor Richard Benyo wrote a piece once in which he suggested such people should be locked up in cages in the infield and the rest of us could visit and be entertained by them; sometimes I think, “Not a bad idea.”
But that aside, those of us who can at least comport ourselves at eleven a.m. of qualifying day ought to be allowed to move about in the pits much like we could if we were at our local track and bought a pit pass. I don’t need to stand over Greg Zipadelli’s shoulder, mind, to get the most from a weekend’s race, but at NASCAR shows I miss the feeling of the weekly track—camaraderie, general openness, all of which, well, sells the product better than Diggers or catch-phrases ever could.
As to start times, lots of bloggers have already written about this but my feeling is that NASCAR’s cutting the throats of short-track operators by running so many shows on Saturday night. I miss the old Sunday afternoon ritual, the Cup race starting in early afternoon and ending in time for dinner; in the event of rain, the summer days are long. Now, of course, we have Musco lighting at many tracks making Sunday nights a possibility. NASCAR will simply have to address the start-time/day issue for the ’10 season, without doubt.
But my feeling is, they won’t.
3) NASCAR should pull back on its national plan; it isn’t working, and BTW there are tracks with two dates that….: We all know that as a result of the economic catastrophe we’re all enduring, some people who went to California Speedway had their own sections. The France family had dreams of a true coast-to-coast future for the Cup series, but all those empty seats brought reality down on all of us. Apparently, Californians had other things on their minds that days, like whether/when their state might go bankrupt….OK, fair enough. Still, two dates for Fontana, two for Pocono six weeks apart (!?!?!?), while Darlington loses its signature race and other tracks disappear from the schedule, tracks in NASCAR’s fiscal breadbasket? No, folks, I don’t get it either.
4) We can still support the short tracks: If you haven’t been to your local raceway in a while, don’t forget it’s still affordable and need I remind you, there’s where the next Stewarts and Gordons are learning their craft. So, to paraphrase Rick Eshelman, let’s get our collective backsides trackside, support the local tracks and cheer like hell.
Maybe then, NASCAR will listen.