Saturday, August 16, 2008

Could NASCAR please balance the variety of tracks?

Aside from the official announcements that Ryan Newman will be joining Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing next year and that JTG-Daugherty Racing will be stepping up to the Cup level, along with their driver Marcos Ambrose, the big news this week has been about track promotors and owners. First, Darlington's promotor announced that the name of next year's Mother's Day weekend race at that speedway will be "The Southern 500."

The Southern 500 was, historically, NASCAR's original annual event at a superspeedway. Darlington was, after all, NASCAR's first superspeedway, and the Southern 500 became a Labor Day weekend tradition. The reinstatement of the name is in recognition of that tradition, and in honor of the fan base that feels it is responsible for NASCAR's success. It can also be seen as an excuse to raise ticket prices.

The traditional fan base, however, will not easily accept the name change, which is meaningless to them. The Southern 500 is not the Southern 500 unless it is held on Labor Day weekend. That date is currently held by Auto Club Speedway, formerly the California Speedway. Perhaps ISC could change the name of that race to "The Firecracker 400" to sell more tickets. They do need to figure out how to sell more tickets to that race, because it has always had a poor showing in the grandstands. Which brings us to our next rant.

If the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at Kansas Speedway, Kansas is approved by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, ISC will ask NASCAR for a second date for Kansas Speedway. That part is easy, as, basically the same people who run ISC run NASCAR. The date, which won't be on the schedule until at least 2011, after the casino is built, is expected to come from Martinsville. That puts those of us who prefer our NASCAR at short tracks out of luck.

Granted, the intermediate tracks with which NASCAR and ISC are seemingly obsessed provide the race goer with a genuine sense of speed. Watching cars go fast is part of the attraction of racing, after all, and the shape and size of the track ensure that there is not a bad seat at the track. However, with either the conventional car or the new Sprint Cup car, these tracks often offer little side by side racing, which makes them hard to watch on television. The television viewer often misses what is going on back in the pack, where the traffic is often heavy while racers battle for position. Instead we see a single file line of cars try to catch the leader, who is often fifteen seconds or more ahead of the rest of the field. .

These races are often won in the pits, rather than on the track, as the typically long green flag runs force green flag pit stops.

There is nothing wrong with the type of racing at the intermediate tracks.To be sure, each track offers a different challenge to each and every driver. It's just that too much of anything is too much. All I am saying here is that there need to be fewer of these types of races in order to keep the fans interested in watching week after week.

ISC and NASCAR seem intent on keeping two races at California, and two at Michigan, the only two 2-mile intermediate tracks on the circuit. Michigan is understandable, as that is the headquarters of three of the manufacturers involved in NASCAR--the parent companies of Daiwoo, Saab, and Mitsubishi--aka GM, Ford, and Chrysler Corp. The fans in Michigan are usually pretty good at filling the stands, and the multi groove track lends much to good racing. The problem lies with California. The first race of the season is during the rainy part of the year in Southern California, and the Labor Day weekend race is on a day that is just too darn hot to bring the Californians to the track. Honestly, does NASCAR really need four of these races in one season, especially where they can't sell all of the tickets?

Bringing this dialog to a full circle, we must remember that the reason that the Southern 500 is no longer held at Darlington during Labor Day weekend is because the weather proved too hot and humid for most people, and the promoters had trouble selling tickets to that event.

The bottom line is that NASCAR needs to be more careful with their scheduling. They need to realize that there is more to a successful season than a saturation of intermediate tracks at "destination locations." If they are on the right track, so to speak, then why are the only races that are certain to sell out are at Bristol and Loudon? There should be more to racing than 1.5 or 2 mile "D" shaped ovals. There are plenty of other venues featuring other types of tracks to give the schedule a little more balance. Please.

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