If NASCAR Is Moving More Toward Virtual, Is It Time for a Ghost Track Series?

So it seems that we may have racing at Rockingham this year, and Marcus Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports has already rescued the historic Nashville Fairgrounds, is dropping hints that North Wilkesboro might have a future.

This isn’t just for geezers, because we’re only going to be around for so many future races (and we can’t climb up to the expensive seats, anyway). Do these developments honestly mean that today’s racing movers and shakers think that old race tracks might offer something for new fans?

Wouldn’t it be cool if that were so?

The other day, that wonderful history storyteller TMC Chase was writing about a race at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. That one’s not coming back, because a high school was built on the site – you can still see the outline of the first and second turns marking the outfield fences of a couple of ballfields, and the current running track covers the oil, tire dust and small parts pounded into the dirt by stockers of decades past.

Asheville-Weaverville in the mid-1950s. What I’ve always loved about this photo is the guy and kid on the walkway at the top of the embankment on the track side!
One false move . . .

One of the stories of the more rip-roarin’ past – the kind the Daytona suits don’t like to acknowledge – relates the time an angry crowd barricaded race teams in the infield after a race was called early when the track started breaking up. Find a couple accounts of that afternoon and read ‘em.

I started thinking about this on a day when I’d been dealing with a couple of heavy duty issues and needed an escape valve bad. (Yes, I know that should be “badly,” but in the context of this piece, correct grammar just doesn’t fit as well.) Here’s what I came up with.

They just ran the Darlington eRace (or iRace, or sorta-race, or whatever you want to call it), so we’re already moving away from our traditional concept of reality. We just witnessed the unveiling of the NextGen car, which is supposed to take NASCAR back to the good ol’ stock car days, even though car isn’t even made by the manufacturers – they just put a skin on it, and that skin’s not even made of metal – find me some of that in a neighborhood junk yard, Rufus

This is a STOCK car.
You know who made it, what it’s made of, and you can work on it under a tree in the side yard. I can’t, but you can

In the music world, there have actually been concerts – people have paid for this – which featured dead singers. Their holograms performed (the actual music was recorded and lip-sync-ed, if you can lip-sync with virtual lips) on stage, and it was close enough to the real things (and a lot more mobile) that it might be a growing trend.

These are not Michael Jackson nor Rob Orbison. Rather, they are holograms of them performing. Jackson’s “real thing” didn’t look too real, either, so maybe you can really fool ‘em with eMichael.

Do you see where I’m going? We’ve already had an iRace at North Wilkesboro, so why not one of these places that were such a great part of NASCAR’s formative years?

Asheville-Weaverville would be an obvious choice, but so would Hillsborough (Oconeechee), Langhorne, Islip, Spartenburg, Lakewood, Trenton, the Daytona Beach-Road Course, and if you want to get obscure, Hanford (California) or Le-Hi (Arkansas). The fake shows there certainly could rival some of the real ones we’re served on TV today.

Taking it one step farther, instead of having something as commonplace as human beings at controllers doing the virtual racing, we can have holograms of the original drivers. You could either keep it clean – put Lee Petty, Herb Thomas and Tim Flock up front in one race, then have Richard, David Pearson and either Bobby Allison or Cale Yarborough in the second – or you could liven it up with scenes like Curtis Turner pulling a pistol on a rival who was coming after him with a tire iron.

Maybe you could even mix fantasy and reality: “You pull that crazy move again, big boy, and I’m pulling the plug on your projector. We’ll see how your butt sails through the turns then.”

If you think a cardboard stand-up is cool, a hologram Denny could even deliver you a fake package.

Yes, it’s all unreal, but how real is it to call this sport “stock car racing” anymore, anyway. “Hey, Smoky Yunick, wanna build and run a race car with this rule book?” So maybe the question is whether you prefer fake stock car racing in the real world or real stock car racing in the fake world. Might actually be a tough choice.

By Frank Buhrman

8 comments

    1. I guess it would be fun to hold races of several of Trenton’s different configurations. Sam Nunis, who promoted the track for a long time, also had been promoter of the “big car” (Indy) and later sprint car races at the Richmond fairgrounds from 1946-62, and probably because of his familiarity with the market, he advertised some of his Trenton races in the Richmond papers. Dave Fulton says Paul Sawyer could tell some stories about Sam.

  1. Point of clarity, Marcus Smith hasn’t rescued Nashville yet. He’s trying, and I’m with him and SMI all the way. But still plenty of local obstacles and resistance to his efforts. Fingers crossed though!

    1. True. I’m giving him too much credit, but like you, I’m hopeful. That’s a track everybody who likes racing should support staying open.

  2. Great reading. You still amaze me, Frank, with your writing. Every article is a learning and thinking adventure. Thank you

  3. I am quite fond of PTR, however, I found myself confused about this article. I understand the virtual aspect of the world we live in (I play a game called Second Life) however, I must disagree with two statements: the first and the last. SMI has NOT saved Nashville Fairgrounds, yet, because the community cannot agree on allowing NASCAR to return. The last statement about “stock car racing” being fake: progression is the way of the world, we don’t see 1971 Challengers or 56′ Fords on the streets. WE see Camrys, Mustangs and Camaros and Chargers (c’mon Dodge, get back in the sport!). So with the progression of automotive technology, stock cars have to evolve to remain relevant. As a fan since 1988, I understand the desire for more “stockier” cars–personally, I like sheet metal and hate vinyl wraps because to my eyes (and I might just be getting old, too) the cars don’t sparkle like they used too. I also miss watching the start of a night race and thousands of flashbulbs going off–now people just have “god in their palms” and can take a picture with a 3 camera 1,000 dollar phone. I miss the feel of a real picture. I miss the chicken bones being thrown from the top seats at Myrtle Beach and I miss corporate America investing in mobile advertising (because of the young generation staring at a phone) instead of NASCAR. I miss practice and qualifying, my $100 ticket should get more than a race on Sunday and maybe Xfinity on Saturday. Finally, I miss the lack of a yellow line rule at Daytona and Talledaga–as Jr. says…cut that taper out, unrestrict the motors and let em’ race! I miss 1st and 2nd round qualifying and I miss lapped cars and no DVP. But progress is NOT perfection and NASCAR has to move on to cater to a new generation, or be lost. I love the idea of a “ghost” series with stars of the past, but I think that it could be simulated on IRacing vs using projectors at a track. Still a good read.

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