Frank Burhman’s recent article
Euro NASCAR Takes To The Ice In 2023; Can U.S. NASCAR Use That As A Start? was pure genius as he laid out several alternatives to interject some fun back Cup racing.
His article brought a grin and got the old gears to turning thinking about the possibilities to spice up the sport up a bit. I’ve bounced ideas off of Frank to increase NASCAR’s relevance such as adding an Uber/Lyft stock series. And I still contend the addition of a Sippi hole (if you aren’t from the post-Wide World of Sports or TNN era you may need to search swamp buggy races) to several tracks would definitely liven things up.
In this day and time where the line between spitballing to see what sticks and true visionary direction and leadership seems to be narrowing while blurring, those may not be off the table. However there are several, less controversial, more realistic changes that are available now with little to no cost to the Sanctioning Body and the Teams that could add some refreshing twists to the the top three Series.
Shifting the Truck Season Start before Daytona to Create a “Winter Heat”-Let’s face it, the current off-season can be pretty long and pretty boring. The current Snowball Derby-Chili Bowl-Rolex 24 Hours filler Is alright but could be better. And though it’s said absence makes the heart grow fonder, the off-season makes some fans miserable.
So to liven things up, what about borrowing from “back in the day” when the 1963 season actually started in 1962 and apply it to the Craftsman Truck Series to re-create a “Winter Heat” portion of the schedule? “Winter Heat”was a popular series that proved that Trucks was a viable racing series was a precursor to what would become the then and now Craftsman Truck Series. TNN and later ESPN covered the series that not only filled the off-season void but introduced fans to drivers who would eventually become big name drivers in Cup like Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards, gave a Racing outlet to NFL Atlanta Falcon’s head coach, Jerry Glanville and made drivers like Ron Hornaday Jr. and others household names.
Starting the new Truck season in the dead of winter when it would be the main show in Motorsports would not only fill the winter void but would focus attention on a Series that often times gets lost in the shuffle. That 1963 Cup season opened with three races in 1962 and a fourth before Daytona. And the Truck Series was birthed by a similar move. Races on some southern tracks leading up to Daytona would make the Craftsmen Truck Series distinct and unique and go a long way to end the winter doldrums.
Add Laguna Seca to the NASCAR Schedule (especially Trucks)-with fans clamoring for more Road Course races isn’t it about time to add Laguna Seca to the schedule? INDYCAR, IMSA, TransAm, MotoAmerica Superbikes, along with a ton of reunion events all currently compete on the historic 2.238 mile-11 turn course at Monterey CA. They even host a Corkscrew Hill Climb where competitors run counter-course, climbing up the most famous downhill portion of track in the US.
How cool is that?
Currently, NASCAR is the only major US series missing and it’s time for that to change. Surely a companion race with at least the Trucks is within the realm of possibility, especially since Jim France’s IMSA Series already has their footprint there.
Selfishly, I want to see the Trucks go through the Corkscrew once before watching racing on tracks paved with gold.
Isn’t it about time?
Make North Wilkesboro the Truck Series Crown Jewel-When Eldora was added to the the Truck Series Schedule, it immediately became the Series Centerpiece, the Crown Jewel race for that Series. Since it’s removal, nothing has filled that void.
Knoxville… nope and now gone.
Bristol Dirt… not yet.
With the resurrection, renovation and revival of the beloved 0.625 mile oval located in the heartland of NASCAR origins, the Trucks will return on May 20, 2023 immediately preceding Cup’s return the next day for that Series’ Open and All-Star races. Hopefully, this will just be the start of many great things at the Wilkes County track and the Trucks will be a part of it’s future and Marcus Smith, Craftsman and company can grow this old/new (or is it new/old) track into the most sought after ticket in the Craftsman Truck Series.
The Series and NWIS both need it.
Vary Stage Lengths on Tracks with two dates-One tool the Sanctioning Body has taken little advantage of to add interest and keep things fresh is to vary the Stage lengths in races held at same track.
Daytona, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Richmond, Darlington, Martinsville and Bristol each have two races. Daytona, Darlington and now Martinsville have differed their races by changing the race lengths and the time of day they run. Atlanta has changed their race lengths. Bristol changes the track surfaces-dirt in the Spring and concrete in the Fall. Richmond used to differentiate their two races by running a day and night race. Now both have gone to the day.
Las Vegas, Phoenix have one race in the Playoffs which makes some difference, but now Richmond can’t claim that as both their races are now Regular Season races. How can these tracks create distinction?
Simple. Change the Stage Lengths.
The Stage Lengths set the race strategies which make the race. Differ the Stage Lengths between a track’s first and second race, you change the strategies and create different races.
Different races keep things new, fresh and interesting.
And all it takes is changing some numbers on the Entry Blank.
Varying Stage Lengths could also be applied to tracks season to season as well. What if the 2024 Daytona 500 altered the Stage Lengths from what it ran previously?
It would be a new and different race.
And that would add to the interest and freshness of the Series… at no extra costs.
No Stage Break Caution Flags; Start at the Southern 500-The smoke this week was NASCAR was considering eliminating the Caution Flags during Stage Breaks at Road Courses. As we have seen previously, where there is smoke from Daytona, there is fire, so it’s coming. They rarely float anything that’s not coming to pass and seem to do so to get the buzz and clicks coming.
I applaud NASCAR’s consideration to pay Stage Points while letting the race continue without a break, but disagree where it should be used first.
Caution-free Stage Breaks should be used first at Darlington at the Southern 500, not the road courses.
On Road Courses, restarts provide the major opportunities for action and lead changes. Eliminate two restarts in those races adversely impacts opportunities for on track action. Plus, it reverts road course races into short-pit vs long-run fuel mileage affairs where lead changes come from green flag pit sequence strategies, not racing.
I’m not sure the Series needs that many more fuel mileage strategy races. I can appreciate strategy as much as the next fan, but that many is hardly a step in the right direction. I tune in to watch racing, especially racing for the lead.
If I want to watch that much strategy I’ll tune in and watch Professional Chess Association. Oh, that’s not on TV? Maybe that says something.
Besides, the most offensive and the road course that triggered the discussions for Caution Flag delays is Road America-a track that is no longer on the 2023 Cup Schedule. So hasn’t that problem taken care of itself? Are we trying to fix a road course problem that no longer exists?
No, go to Caution-Free Stages at Darlington for the Southern 500. The Spring race there is the Throwback race (that should at the Southern 500 also but that’s a later discussion) but removing Stage Break Caution Flags would be the ultimate throwback. In the sports 75th season, returning racing to what it once was at its first speedway would be most fitting.
No race procedure gimmicks, no contrivances to artificially bunch the field, to give additional Lucky Dogs and Wave Arounds that inflate the number of cars on the lead lap.
A return to a near totally organic race-a race run like what the sport grew from.
Plus, gone is the strategy call no one wants to talk about-play defense until the Stage Break and try to pass in the pits and on the Restart. Then play defense again.
That may be racing, but it can be better.
Not throwing the Caution Flag at predetermined intervals ends that and restores the premium to racing to get and keep position for Stage Points.
Racing as it was once was, racing that grew the sport… with the additional incentive valuable Stage and Playoff Points… but without the gimmicks.
Like them or not. Stage Breaks, next to the Playoffs has been one of the most divisive issues in the sport. Fan after fan post on social media that they like Stages and the incentive to race it provides, they don’t like the Stage Breaks. Pay the points, just don’t stop the race is their call.
Dropping the Stage Break Cautions at Darlington removes two cautions from a race that often doesn’t need additional cautions shortens a long race while still providing TV with enough time for commercials. It gives Legacy fans a taste of their racing with the added incentive New fans enjoy-racing for Stage Points. This hybrid race format could provide a start to restoring some much needed unity.
Would that be so bad?
Ball is in Daytona’s Court-Well, that’s this fan’s take on things. Thanks Frank for the inspiration, as reserved as mine might appear in comparison.
.I thought Frank’s suggestions might be a bit bold even for those wild and crazy guys and gals at the Beach who just in the last year introduced a new playing-field-leveling racing platform, taken racing into a football stadium (which is about 90K short of the last football game played at a racing track, but I digress), added a shrunken Super Speedway to the schedule, moved races from larger capacity tracks to smaller capacity venues, “right-sized” (read shortened) another race without prior notice and is now trading one road course for a smaller street course.
Now they are floating trial balloons to not throw cautions for Stage breaks on road courses, expanding the schedule to include even more races, take their product International-out of the good ol’ US of A and what’s that hum I hear… electrification?
With all these changes, I wouldn’t be surprised that the Beach wasn’t behind Euro NASCAR’s decision to take racing to the ice – which I must admit I find more intriguing than street racing in Chicago (but then again I am also a big curling fan).
If they can do all of this, a few tweaks mentioned here or even Frank’s is child’s play.
Time to take a chance.
Thunder On… and Stay Safe
Photo Credit(cover): Trophee Andros – Ice Racing Series
As always, Mr. Nance, well thought out and stated. Thank you.
Of course, I’d much rather not have stages during a race at all, but if NASCAR’s committed to that nonsense, let’s do something to create a little interest in them. I’d go one step farther with varying the length of the states: how about deciding when the stages will end by rolling a roulette wheel with lap numbers on it. If you did it just before the race, you could let fans bet on the outcome, too.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the inspiration Frank and kind words.
I had to throttle it back. I can’t run with the true Big Dogs but try on occasion.
Love the Stage Roulette and another betting stream would be a real winner. Right now Im checking to see the over/under on how many times we will hear how NEXT GEN has leveled the playing field between now and the 500. Last check it was at 483. I may take the over.
Take care and thanks again!
Good article. I have been looking at viewership a lot recently. Formula 1 is averaging 1.2 M in the US (up 28%) to Nascar’s 4% increase to 3.04 M. But in at least the two races where I saw age groups broken out, F1 is actually beating Nascar in the 18 to 49 year old demographic. With a global audience averaging over 70 M, maybe everyone is interested in pure racing and realizes that lead changes don’t always happen. Nascar talks to people like they have a 6th grade education and dwell on what happened instead of what is about to happen, like F1 does. Technology is interesting to many people in the working world…they have accepted it. Nascar talks in the simplest terminology to fans, assuming their ignorance. F1 presumes a higher level of knowledge from its fan base. How they tinker with the racing is of value, but to capture the future they need to get more youthful people engaged in the marketing process.
Good points John. Your observations on the desired demographics is something that folks don’t want to talk about. Definitely need to attract younger fans but I think the real challenge is keeping them going forward. Ignoring technology and dumbing things down won’t get it. It’s embarrassing the lack of cell coverage/internet services at the tracks in this day and time. Is it really an event young fans want to go to if you don’t have easy access?
Sorry, didn’t want to get going.
Check out Race Services and the impact they have made on F1. NASCAR needs to take a serious look.
Take care and thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Hi Frank, love the article, and some interesting suggestions too. The first time the trucks took to a race track was at Tucson Raceway Park. It is wasn’t the first truck race officially, as it was called an Exhibition race. If memory serves me, the first official truck race was at Mesa Marin Speedway in Bakersfield, CA. Houses now cover that property. But that group built an incredible speedway across town called Kern County. It’s shaped like Daytona, but it’s a 1/2 mile.
I attended every Winter Heat race that was run at TRP. The last race my dad ever attended before passing away was a Sept truck race held at TRP, toward the end of their first full season. As Brian France (Nascar) was the lease holder of TRP, we locals would get a lot of info about the series. Lee Baumgarden, the general manager, would pump out a lot about the trucks, hoping that some of the local racers would build/buy one. There were about 4 trucks from locals that ran some of the west coast truck races the first couple of seasons. One of the things that both France & Lee would empathize was that NASCAR was going to keep the trucks on the smaller tracks, and not have live pit stops, to keep the costs down for teams. Too bad they didn’t keep their word on that. It broke my heart when they started running the bigger tracks with live pit stops, and then started dropping the short tracks. It drove off most of the small teams, and look how it is today. If they are not affiliated with a Cup team, they’re mid pack or worse.
I would love to see the trucks at Laguna Seca once, just so I could say I saw it. I’m not one of those fans that is loving all the road course races. My brother and I went to NASCAR’s first race weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in 2021. That is beyond any doubt a first class track. It’s a natural terrain track built for Formula 1. When opened it was said that it cost nearly $500 million dollars. The place is incredible. It’s just 35 miles from my home, and I doubt that I’ll go back. Cup racing doesn’t need to be road racing 7-10 races a year. That crap that they did at the LA Coll. sucked. A few years ago there was a 10 week show about the modifieds racing at Bowman Gray Stadium. A track where the only way to pass is to dump the driver ahead of you isn’t racing to me. Shockingly (LOL), that’s exactly what the LA race looked like too. If NASCAR wants to race at different venues, I’m all for it. But for the love of God, please race at a real race track! What they constructed there was no track, and it was done for only 1 reason. NASCAR is terrified at not having an event in the LA area. Fontana is already a failure, and they’re going to dump millions there to turn it into a half mile track. Yes, they had a sellout crowd for the LA race, but the new fans they attracted won’t continue to go. Southern CA fans have told NASCAR many times that nothing they do will keep their attention enough to be a regular attendee. I bet the race teams would truly love to have all the money that was spent to build the racing surface, pit areas. Oh let’s throw in all the money that was spent for relocating all the drug & homeless from the area. And if that weren’t enough, all the wages spent for the army of law enforcement needed to protect everyone.
But hey, Daytona Beach is going to top themselves in 2023. Let’s have a street race in downtown Chicago! Most people think that this will be a first for a street race. Unfortunately I can’t remember the date, (I think it was in the late 80s), but the Winston West or a Southwest Tour ran a street race in either LA or Vegas. Very few cars finished, and man did they tear up a lot of cars!! I think a small number of spectators were hurt when a couple of cars hit a Jersey barricade, and slung parts/concrete chunks at them. Several of the teams made comment afterwards that they wouldn’t do it again. I sure hope nobody dies from a drive by shooting in Chicago.
I know that the powers that be in Daytona are trying to figure out how to save NASCAR, but somebody needs to stop listening to Ben Kennedy. He seems to be the one wanting to experiment endlessly. Change can be good, but constant change isn’t.
Ron, Thanks for reading and taking the time to share so much history, your experiences and insights. As one who was a supporter of the Trucks since its inception (although I did jokingly suggest that bringing Bass Pro on as series sponsor and have them each tow a boat would liven things up) I really enjoyed you taking us on thr trip down memory lane with all the backstories along the way.
I, like you was disappointed that the Trucks eventually moved from its unique race procedures that helped keep costs down and its short track roots to become just another Cup-lite Series. When they made that move they started down the loss of identity/uniqueness slope they have been battling to overcome ever since.
I love its blend of up and coming drivers with the not quite dones with a smidge of actives thrown in. To me the Series nicely filled a niche, just like it’s Winter Heat.
Like you, I’m no fan of the growing shift to Road Courses. I think we have crossed the tipping point on that. But , if Ben Kennedy and company insist on adding them to the schedule, then Laguna Seca should be in the mix.
Don’t get me started on Street Courses. After taking the July 4th date from Daytona and shoving Road America down fans throats (what could be more patriotic than a race there on July 4th-it has America in its name), then to have to good fans come out and wildly support the event, only to have it taken away for a street race just rubs me the wrong way. So much for if you attend it we will stay. And to move from a venue that reportedly had over 120k in weekend attendance to a new one that they hope to have 100k just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Similarly, on the LA Coliseum effort. That’s been touted as a stunning success with the stands full of first time fans. I think the number touted is 70% first time ticket buyers. Sounds impressive until you look at the appeal to experienced fans who made up the remaining 30% of the estimated 70K crowd. When on 20-21K experienced fans in your largest and most sought after market want to invest their time and money in this next hot new event, I wonder just how successful it is.
This year will be telling on so many fronts.
Thanks again for your comments. The trip down memory lane provided some much needed Winter Heat to get us through the off-season.
Agree on the constant change. You can’t have improvement without change but folks seem to forget that not all change is improvement.
Take care and thanks again!
David, only NASCAR could do to themselves what has happened to it. Yes, losing Dale Sr really hurt all of the NASCAR family (fans, ownership, the tracks & the marketing partners), but Brian France made must of the self inflicted wounds. As I have said before, I will always have a love/hate thing about him. I saw what he did at Tucson Raceway Park, and was amazed! Then we have all witnessed what he did in Daytona. I think Jim France has helped the situation, after what Brian did. But let’s face it, Jim is not long for this planet. I’m sure not trying to rush him, because he’s not that much older than me. So what happens when he’s gone, or simply needs to step down, for what ever reason? I truly fear that Ben Kennedy is going to be Brian France all over again, or worse.
I have a Masters degree in marketing, so I understand the need to want to capture the 18-49 age group. So how has that worked out so far for NASCAR? The 18-49 crowd has come and gone in waves, which has been a very consistent occurrence for that group, no matter what the product being marketed to them. In return for NASCAR’s attempts to get that group, they have run off 60-65% of their loyal fanbase. Yes, I have allowed for the passing of some of that fanbase in those numbers. That’s not good. One thing I know about anything that somebody likes, they will influence people to come enjoy what they like. That could be older, younger, or people of the same age. That’s 3 more groups of influencers that can pass along that passion for something. In going after that 1 age group, NASCAR also openly sought to alienate their core market. That’s way beyond not good. That’s like injecting yourself with something that you know is going to kill you, but it will take some time, and also promises to be a painful death. That’s been NASCAR’s approach for nearly 20 years now. Will the patient survive???
What NASCAR did to Road America, and those fans is reprehensible. Having 120k fans show up to any Cup race these days is just short of a miracle. After the coming disaster in Chicago (and it will be a disaster, not that NASCAR will ever admit it), somebody in Daytona Beach is going to have a brilliant idea. Hey, let’s replace this mess with a race at Road America! I wonder how many fans will be fooled by that? Not many I bet.
There are some dates/tracks in NASCAR that should be off limits. Yes the July 4th race should be in Daytona, and on the tri-oval. Yes, the Southern 500 should be on Labor ay weekend (but at night only please). The Busch Clash (or whatever they call it from year to year), should also be held on the tri-oval, and be a race that takes less than an hour, like how it started out. At most tracks, 2 race dates a season seems a waste, as usually one date or the other seems to draw the biggest crowds. If a spring date draws the best, ship the fall date somewhere else. Have a 1 day show at a smaller facility mid week. But these ideas will land with a giant thud in Daytona Beach & Charlotte (home of SMI). It will be received with the same exuberance as Tort Reform will received by our politicians in Washington, The ACLU & injury lawyers everywhere. None will ever openly do something to intentionally impede their ability to get more money.
As much as I like the Laguna Seca track, I still don’t think I’d like to see NASCAR race it more than once. Sonoma has about the right amount of technicality to it for drivers that aren’t full time road racers. Laguna Seca is much more a technical, and even though the new Cup car is basically an Australian Touring Supercar, most Cup drivers are going to be in over their heads at LS, at least for a few years. Plus, given all of the drivers’ complete lack of respect for each other these days, at LS there might be a fairly high chance of getting someone killed there, especially in the corkscrew. I have absolutely no trouble seeing a couple of cars going off it together. As long as NASCAR has the mindset of “Boys have at it” and “Rubbing is racing”, Laguna Seca may not be the best place for them to race. And I have the utmost respect for the skills of most Cup drivers.
I love racing!! I truly want it to survive even after I’m gone someday. I can’t say that I truly love the next gen car, but I’m getting there. If NASCAR doesn’t change their business model so that it attracts new teams & manufacturers, I don’t see how it survives long term.
As amazing as this seems to others not living in TX, There is only 1 asphalt track in TX not named Texas Motor Speedway. Oh, and they don’t run super late models either. When NBC Sports Gold ended after the 2021 season, I really thought I was screwed for being able to watch Saturday night style asphalt racing. I knew about FloRacing, as it is based here out of Austin, TX. But it has made its living showing dirt racing. I like dirt racing ok, but I love asphalt racing. NASCAR has been the driver in helping FloRacing expand to asphalt tracks too. FloRacing costs $149 a calendar year, which about double what NBC charged. The difference is that FloRacing about 4 times the amount of asphalt racing over NBC’s coverage. I’m not here advertising for people to join FloRacing, but hey, more subscribers means that maybe Flo will continue/expand their asphalt race coverage. But what I want to say is this. I am grateful the Daytona Beach has done this. Just like my feelings for Brian France, are my feelings for NASCAR as a company. It’s a love/hate thing. I truly hope that NASCAR survives. They have given me 6 decades of enjoyment, with some deep cutting hurts at times too. But they absolutely have to stop running off their fan base.
Well, I just read an article on Jayski.com that I find very interesting, in relating to the last paragraph above. That being the survival of NASCAR. Race Team Alliance, the group that is made up of team owners/drivers in Cup. They have asked Wasserman Sports Marketing to look into the possibility of these teams affiliated with Race Team Alliance (which consists of virtually all of the field in any given Cup race), to put exhibition races, most likely during the off season. Now if Bill France SR or JR were around, I wouldn’t give it much thought, because you know it wouldn’t happen. These days??? If this were to happen, it won’t take long before NASCAR & SMI will have a full blown crisis on their hands. It wasn’t that many years ago that Bruton Smith was contemplating his own racing league. And hey, he could have as SMI owns nearly half the Cup race tracks. He also knew that he could lease facilities for a short term to fill out a schedule. Hell, SMI is doing it already. When NASCAR wanted to add more road races, he knew COTA here in Austin was 1 of the tracks NASCAR was looking at. SMI saw the writing was on the wall for losing a date at Texas Motor Speedway, so they worked out a deal to lease COTA for the NASCAR weekends.
I wonder how the NASCAR brass are feeling today, knowing that their own race teams/drivers are openly subverting them???
Saw that. Even if a negotiation ploy by RTA the fact that it’s being considered and being discussed publicly is concerning.
SMI is positioned to make a move. They now have their superspeedway and is in a position for a second which could save Texas, but will never happen until a breakaway.
SMI has a pretty good footprint when you look at what they currently run on, have available and second dates that they used to run but don’t any longer.
And like you say they know how to lease facilities.
Wonder if Tony Stewart is licking his chops. A winter SRX Cup series covered by CBS seems like a logical doable alternative.
I also have to think the recent move into Brazil is going to factor into the resolution somehow someway.
Going to be interesting times for sure.
But concerning it’s being discussed publicly and the timing is exquisite coinciding with awards.
I believe that the next 18 months will either be a great big nothing burger, or the NASCAR we are familiar with will continue to exist, but continue down this crooked path that seems to be being created by Ben Kennedy. At first I was amazed that the RTA would even put out such a statement publicly. In that statement they openly say that the teams are looking for more revenue streams. Which on the surface makes a lot of sense. About an hour after I posted my comments about the RTA statement, I realized something. NASCAR has just started their new TV contracts with broadcasters. The RTA is positioning themselves to try and force a bigger slice of that contract pie. They are going to demand more, or they are going to start running some other shows not connected to NASCAR. Heck, they may do both if they think they have enough leverage (and money). If they are able to gain the leverage to do both, NASCAR will fade away. Also, I will not be shocked at all if SMI is involved here. Bruton Smith & the France family learned to get along after some fairly rough years. I have no idea if Marcus Smith feels the same way toward the France family. What a way to cement the Marcus Smith SMI legacy, by putting NASCAR out of business.
I’m not a golfer, and I don’t follow it either. I was stunned when it was announced that several of the big named golfers were quitting the PGA, to play for the new LIV series. Why would the golfers do that? So I did a little (very little), digging. Apparently a lot of pro golfers didn’t like the some of the rules, and the restrictions placed on them by the PGA. Also, the prize money was really good, but only if you placed really high up in the finish of each tournament. Does that have a bit of a NASCAR ring to it?
So if the RTA & SMI (I don’t see how this is even possible with out SMI), do put together a winter series, or a completely separate racing series (or both) from NASCAR, who would go to the new series? It will truly come down to 1 thing. Who’s got the most MONEY to back them. Although the PGA has been around forever, they do not have the kind of cash that the Saudi Royal family has. They could burn a billion dollars and wouldn’t even miss it. NASCAR isn’t short on cash, and neither is SMI. However the majority of NASCAR’s income comes from the TV contracts & owning race tracks that have CUP dates, and selling the “Official whatever of NASCAR”. SMI sells a lot of cars and owns tracks that have Cup dates. Even if NASCAR simply disappeared tomorrow, SMI is still going to be selling cars. How many of the “Official __________ of NASCAR” companies would stay with NASCAR if say 50% of the drivers/teams go.
Some of this has already been decided, but not by NASCAR, SMI or RTA. Even though the cost of sponsoring a Cup team for an entire year has gone down from say 15 years ago (inflation adjusted), how many teams have one company as their sole majority sponsor anymore? After M&M stepped away after Phoenix, I can’t think of a single team. And a lot of that is because of NASCAR themself. All of the “Official ___________ of NASCAR” sponsors, could have been sponsoring teams. But NASCAR did it to line their pockets instead. Also, look at the fact that NASCAR couldn’t sign a single series title company. What is it, like 4 or 5 companies that don’t really get any naming rights, just banners on the side of the TV screen. NASCAR is no longer a sure fire place for companies to spend their marketing budgets anymore. And that’s because NASCAR no longer has a stable fanbase. Remember, NASCAR ran them off! So most likely, the buy-in cost for a company to be involved with an SMI-RTA operation will be lower than it is with NASCAR. Real race fans will come back for no other reason then it isn’t NASCAR running the show, and th hope of good racing. I’m sure that Stewart & Evernham had great hopes for the SRX series, but I’m betting that it exceeded their expectations by just a little.
I love stock car racing, and I’m going to watch whoever puts a good product out there. I realize that racing is entertainment, but NASCAR forgot that the racing is still the show! Nobody needs to have a 2 hour pre-race show, followed up by a 3+ hour race, and then a 30 minute post race show. Stack on top of that, a 30 minute to 1 hour daily recap show. WOW, can anyone say oversaturated!! If you see or hear about something daily, you are killing the fan’s desire for the actual attraction, the RACE! When Cup ran a 28-32 race schedule, the stands were either full or nearly full for the Cup events barring weather. You didn’t have nearly all of the Cup dates as companion dates with the Xfinity & truck series’. The number 1 reason those Cup races were near capacity was because of who was in the stands. Everyday working people. Between food, hotel costs, fuel and NASCAR packaging tickets for all three, for not much more than the single Cup race, slowly but surely the working fan got priced out. Most people don’t know, but the concession stands are where tracks make the most money, that’s why they do packages for multiple races. So instead of them going to 3-5 races a season, they now go to 1, and that’s usually a race that’s close to home, or near a relative that can house them for a night or two. Here’s what NASCAR can’t seem to understand. People that have money can spend it for different experiences. They tend to not build the type of loyalty that someone that has less. Those of us with less disposable income, tie their money to the activity they love best (or the best that they can afford to love). Yes, COVID has played a part in reshaping how people do things nowadays, but when lockdowns ended, what did a great portion of the population do? They went out!! Food, movies, restaurants, race tracks, they went out to them. But a couple of other things also happened. During lockdown companies had to figure out how to get their products/services to the consumers, quicker & better, and they did. The second was this. Consumers realized that they no longer had to leave home, or travel far to get what they were after. And that is a cultural shift, and that shift will forever change the consumer mindset and corporate mindset.
So whatever happens with NASCAR, RTA, SMI, and racing in general, a huge cultural shift has taken place in the corporate & consumer marketplaces (and yes those are 2 separate things even though they are intertwined). As I have said in previous articles here on PRT, racing is in decline. People that were born over the last 30 years, don’t seem to have that insatiable love of the automobile that some of us older folks have. That’s not a good or bad thing, it just is a fact. To most, they view a car as just transportation, and nothing more (and that includes folks of my generation). If you are not in love with cars, you are much less likely to want to race or watch a race. If you don’t like sports, you are probably not watching or going to football games either. That’s just the way it is. Many a car/racing fan is worried about the onslaught of the electric car. Who wants to see an electric car race? I love the sound a a good running V8! A 6 or 4 cylinder won’t cut it. I currently have a Mustang GT Track Pack car sitting in my garage that will do 165mph. I love performance. But I’ve also seen Ford’s Electric CobraJet Mustang go down a drag strip. WOW that thing is stupid fast!! So if I say I love performance, how do I ignore that? Racing has evolved, and the only time it ever stops evolving is when it dies. Will racing sound the same, no. But if cars are fast, look cool, and are running door to door, that’s still racing, just without the smell of burning fuel.
I’m just hopeful that I will be able to see good racing for the rest of my life, however long that may be. I turn 66 right after Christmas, and I never thought I’d make it this far. Between all the things I did for the government, and the materials that I had to handle, I’m surprised to still be alive. Couple that with all the carcinogens that were involved with that and with maintaining my modified. I’ve had 25 surgeries in the last 15 years, 18 of which were orthopedic, and none have involved any cancers. I should be dead. Amazingly I’m not, and I thank God for that.
This has been an awesome discussion. The RTA announcement clearly portends something, and while we don’t know exactly what, yet, we know the possibilities are beyond anything we’ve seen for a long time. My thought is that this might be RTA’s trial balloon to see if big-economics stock car-ish racing can survive without NASCAR. After all, if what they try is as successful as SRX (but on a larger scale), what exactly do they need Daytona for?
My problem with all that is that I don’t trust RTA. Not sure anybody there has shown appreciation of the need to put on the most awesome show to get the most awesome financial return. To me, they’ve shown that they’re out for #1 but not much else. I hope I’m wrong.
I hate that our interest is drawn to the politics and not the on-track action, but I also remember the NASCAR of my childhood: in 1963 (and ’64, to some extent), it was all about getting Chevrolet and Pontiac back into the competitive mix; in ’65, it was the Chrysler boycott, and in ’66, it was Ford that picked up its marbles and walked away. A couple of years later, there was the Professional Drivers Association and Talladega. Maybe I’ve just forgotten how much of a role that played in keeping me engaged. Maybe it still works that way.
I completely agree with you Frank about the RTA. After all, they are a group businesses that are trying to make the most bang, with the least amount of outlay. That is the nature of any business. Yes customer service and a good product matter, but no business survives without profit. Breaking even won’t let you survive, no matter how good your product is, or how great you treat the customer. I get you being upset that this may be a purely political discussion that the RTA has started now. But I would rather their intentions be found out during the offseason. Just think about how you feel when NASCAR has a really good race on Sunday, and the next 6 days the discussion is only about how someone dumped some else, or the officials made a questionable call on someone. That just destroys the vibe from a good race. This is the only perfect time (not that there is really any perfect time). You don’t want these type of things happening just at the start of the season, or during it. So if it’s nothing more than a pie slicing move by the RTA, NASCAR too will want that sorted before the season starts. If it’s a for real start to splitting off teams & drivers, it will give all parties (NASCAR, Teams, RTA, Fans & Sponsors), time to evaluate where to go from here.
I don’t recall the early 60s Chevy/Pontiac deal, but I was starting to notice when Ford pulled out, as I had turned 10 and was starting to become enamored with stock car racing. I absolutely remember the 69 Talladega race. You gotta give France Sr credit, for having the stones to go on with the race. Granted, it wasn’t a great race, but the fans had nothing to compare it to at that time. Can you imagine though if a Grand Am car would have won? Bill Sr would have needed to have a jack hammer to get the egg off his face, and the PDA would still be around. Also, an old Hollywood saying comes to mind. “Even bad publicity is better than no publicity”. We’re in a 3 month “dead” window for NASCAR & the race teams. So at the very least, the RTA announcement is keeping the racing on at least page 3, if not page 2.
Do I think big league racing can survive without NASCAR?? Absolutely, if it’s done the right way. Does anyone remember the CART/Indycar split? That’s a great roadmap on how to do it wrong. Indy car racing still hasn’t gotten back to where it was before the split. NASCAR was able to beat out the USAC stocks in the 80s. They were able to prevail for a few reasons. First they all but forbade Cup drivers from competing in USAC Stocks races during NASCAR’s season. It worked pretty good too, because NASCAR’s season was so long. Not that many tracks are open in the midwest Nov-Feb. USAC didn’t prevent its drivers from competing in NASCAR. Hence the Daytona 500 usually having 4-8 drivers every year, trying to make the show (you remember when you actually had to”make” the show I bet). I still remember AJ Foyt showing up in either a Wood Brothers Mercury or a Jack Bowsher Ford. His later attempts in his own cars weren’t all that. NASCAR had better tracks to race on, compared to the midwest. The one thing that USAC had going in their favor though, was at any given Stock race, half the field probably started in the Indy 500 that year. And the fans would show up.
Frank, I’m like you, I don’t trust the RTA. I hope that this is just a pie slicing stance (financial reasons), because I don’t want to see a repeat of the INDyCar breakup. I love what Roger Penske has done in racing and business. I think he will end up being the savior for the Indy 500 & that track. I think he will be very instrumental in making that happen. But I also know that he was one of several that was the the force that caused the Indycar breakup (again that was for financial reasons). He is also one of the head team owners in the RTA. If they truly intend to split from NASCAR, this will take at least 18 months to make it happen. Too soon, and they won’t have all the funding in place to survive. Corporations tend to set their budgets (operationally & marketing) in the Sept timeframe. Right now we are at that the start of that 18 month window, for a possible 2024 RTA race season. But, we will get a second hand glimpse of what might be happening, at the start on the 2023 season. If several big name teams/drivers can’t seem to find sponsors, the RTA will be lining them up for the 2024 season. If a big sponsor or driver (especially the driver), will only commit to a 1 year deal, something’s going on behind the scenes. Disregard Harvick’s name though I think. He had already stated that 2023 could be his last. But Harvick & his wife are really smart business people. He might already know what’s going to happen, and has made his plans. One of his mentors is Tony Stewart, and he’s shown to be a pretty smart business guy too. Throw in the fact that Tony’s pretty pissed at NASCAR right now, might be enough to push that whole group into the RTA.
If Jim France were to have to step down in Daytona Beach, for any reason, This RTA thing could grow wings very rapidly. Whether the RTA is going to pull the trigger, or this is a pure leverage move, it’s going to be a very interesting 18 months.
Great analysis, Ron. You are very much right about the next 18 months.
NASCAR’s reaction, should RTA go forward with its own, non-NASCAR, off-season racing, will be the key. Bill France is remembered as a dictator, but early on, he knew when to bend when he didn’t want to risk being broken. Not many people know that the first Southern 500 was originally to be sanctioned by the rival CSRA, and NASCAR was taken on as a second sanctioning body totally to prevent France from keeping his drivers away. The race program clearely indicates that CSRA is the greater of the two equals. France gave in there so he could continue the fight later. (Then, when CSRA’s most effective “man-on-the-ground” in the South – Bruton Smith – was drafted into the Army, he pounced, and CSRA was gone within a year.) I’m not smart enough to know which approach would work in a battle between NASCAR and RTA, but somebody in Daytona has to get that right.
I just want to see racing that grabs my attention, but I’m afraid the combination of the current approach to rules and the philosophy for developing new drivers won’t be addressed by either side, and that pushes me back to the simpler, more genuine world of weekly short-track racing. The kid in me who watched his first NASCAR Grand National race 60 years ago this April is sad about that.
Ron, Frank-can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this discussion. So educational and thought provoking.
Add me to the “don’t trust the RTA” camp. They have been absent on so many fronts that you would think an owners organization would take positions on (cars, personnel, costs, schedule, safety, etc) but their silence has been defining. I’m still confused how RTA’s Chairman Rob Kauffman is no longer in ownership (or is he?) but still heads the thing up.
Remember, he was a driving force behind Charters and was the first beneficiary under the system, with his defunct Michael Waltrip Racing getting two Charters which he unloaded to JGR and SHR.
He was a co-owner in CGR but due to lack of details in the transaction we knew Chip was out and Trackhouse got a lot of their assets, including two Charters (has anyone transacted more Charters than RK?), but there was no discussion on RK and his status in the deal. Was he out as well or is he somehow still a silent partner in THR?
It was quite a surprise to many when THR finally admitted that they did not get the CGR building in the deal. Shortly after, that property was purchased by a Hendrick subsidiary who now leases the facility to THR.
The only name that showed up on the purchase was RK.
So is he an owner or not and if he’s not why is he heading up RTA?
This may be business but it sure makes it difficult to be trusting.
As far as the next 18 months, it will be interesting to see how it develops. I think depending on what SMI does with Texas and if Nashville Fairgrounds comes to fruition there could be a setup for a split. If Texas is reconfigured like Atlanta, hold on.
The biggest thing I see that would prevent a split are the Charters. If teams left they are giving up a big chunk of value that they are sitting on. I can’t see any teams walking away from that.
But the Charters are set to expire in 2024 aren’t they? This may be a ploy to get that to continue after 2024. No Charters, nothing to keep us here.
Lot of moving parts to look at if you start a separate series. What kind of platform are you going to run? Not NEXT GEN. Who is going to supply fuel, tires, etc. Unless you go very short track you are looking at upgrades for SAFER barriers, etc. Then a broadcast partner. Where are your officials going to come from? Tons of moving parts and they all have costs associated with it.
Going to be interesting for sure. Wished I had more confidence in the suits at Daytona to successfully navigate through this.
Yes, the next 18 months could be huge. One of the things that I really used to love about Cup racing, was that nobody bought a ride. I’m sure that there have been exceptions to that, but not many. No Talent, no ride. No driver just got offered a frontline ride, without driving back marker cars first. Now you’ve got barely teenage drivers going through, and leaving local tracks at 14, and into either a development team or regional operation, soon to be in a development program. No following to bring alone to the higher levels, and they usually only go as far as their parent’s cash can take them. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some incredible young drivers to come along, but most “burn out, when the family’s money burns out too. I’d be willing to bet that the starting lineup on a Sunday Cup race would look really different if drivers still had to get there on talent alone. As I said earlier, I really hope that we aren’t going to see a repeat of the Indycar fiasco. That will be a big dose of Not Good for stock car racing all levels!
From what I’ve read, seen or heard over the years, France & Bruton had their share of conflicts. It was nice to see that either they truly worked things out between them, or figured that it wasn’t good for business, having these conflicts in public. Either way they found a way to co-exist, and that was good for business. There are very few Cup races that I make sure I can watch live. The Daytona 500 is the most important one to me. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s been 3 months since the last race, or just because it’s because it’s the Daytona 500. Probably both.
But my first choice is a good late model race from a good local track. With the closest asphalt track 350+ miles roundtrip in Houston, I am grateful for FloRacing. Plus Houston Motorsports Park has had some off/on management issues. You’re never quite sure if there’s going to be racing. At least with FloRacing I can usually get to see races from many tracks across the country. Some that I’ve been to in the past, and some I always wanted to see races from. I’ve been to New Asheville several times when I was young, but never got to go to Hickory. In all honestly, with all the hype that I have heard or read about Hickory over the years, and its history, it was a huge disappointment. I don’t think I missed but a couple of race nights from there. Almost always, all the divisions had poor car counts. Florence SC was about the same. The only times they both had full fields were for special events (The Bobby Issac Memorial & the SC 400, that’s only 200 laps since it moved from Myrtle Beach to Florence). Disappointing because they are both in the heart of stock car racing. I wish I could have seen a race from Metrolina when it was paved. I think that Ned Jarret was the promotor at that time.
The racing at Berlin, MI, Langley, VA & LaCrosse, WI was consistently good, and almost always had full fields. But with out a doubt’t, the best weekly shows I’ve seen are from Stafford Speedway, in Stafford Springs, CT. Their main division is SK modifieds, and then the SK mod Lights. I watched the first time because when I raced, I ran a modified. These SK mods are nearly identical to the Whelen Touring modifieds. And there’s not much difference between the SKs and the SK Lights other than a restrictor plate. Every week they would have over 30 of each, and boy do they put on a great show! Not only was the racing great, but sometimes stuff got torn up. Because these mods tend to break off suspension parts, most wrecks require 2 tow trucks (less damage than dragging them onto a rollback because they sit so low). So much so that the track’s tavern is called The Double Hook Lounge. They can remove the cars and get the track back to racing really quickly. They run 4-5 divisions a night, and their program is usually done in about 3.5 hours. They race on Fridays, so they have to keep their shows compact & fast moving. I think every promoter in the country should watch how they do things. Their stands are full, the racing is great, and you’re not going to be there until daybreak.
There is good racing out there, and I would love to support them in person. I really miss the smell of burnt rubber, and the smell of burning race fuel. My favorite is still alcohol. There are only a small number of dirt tracks near where I live (within 150 mile radius), and I’m not nearly as likely to go see. Plus I do follow the results on a TX racing site, and the magic number of cars in any division seems to by 7. I don’t want to watch 7 cars run 30-50 lap main event. Even the low cost entry divisions can’t field 12-14 cars. So I’ve been stuck with having to watch racing online. Absolutely not my first choice, but FloRacing has made it good at least.