A Review of NASCAR in the Heartland
As a NASCAR fan and resident of the Kansas City metro area, two of the weekends I look forward to the most are when our beloved sport visits my backyard. Just like in May, this past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a race at the gleaming mile and a half in the heartland known as Kansas Speedway. Like any race experience, there are positives and negatives, and I will attempt to recap both here. On thing this won’t be is a recap of the races themselves, because quite frankly, there are enough of those on the Internet already. So sit back and enjoy as I attempt to give you a review of NASCAR in the heartland.
First of all, Kansas Speedway is truly a first class facility. It is very well kept, and unlike the Chiefs and the Royals (which the local media is obsessed with and I’ll get to later), the parking is free. The track also features a fan walk in the so fans can get up close to the garages. The track even conducts the drivers’ meeting next to the fan walk, so fans can view that as well. Immediately adjacent to the track is the Legends shopping center with plenty of restaurants and stores, so the area is truly a destination unto itself. To top it off, the track is located at the intersection of I-70 and I-435, so traffic flows in and out rather nicely as well.
However, one large gripe I have with this past weekend is the overall lack of promotion from the local media and the resulting lack of buzz in the surrounding area. I subscribe to the Kansas City Star, and there was no real buildup to either this race or the one in May. By comparison, before the Chiefs and Royals open their season, the Star provides about a month of buildup complete with special sections. The week before the race, coverage picked up slightly, but most of it was still buried in the middle of the sports section. In Sunday’s sports section, the only NASCAR coverage on the front page was a sidebar story about Jeff Gordon’s retirement gift from the track with the rest of the coverage buried on page ten. On the other hand, the Royals have been on the front page of the paper every day and gotten their own section every day including yesterday, which was an off day.
I follow some of the other local media outlets on Twitter, and the coverage has been just as bad. The collective euphoria over the Royals is understandable, since they are on the verge of their second straight appearance in the World Series after nearly three decades in last place. The Chiefs, on the other hand, are 1-5, but the media still promotes them like they’re undefeated.
The end result of all this is a complete lack of buzz in the surrounding area. Thursday night, I went to dinner with a friend who works for NASCAR. He was staying at the Argosy Casino in the northern part of the metro area, and we ate in Parkville, which is a few miles north of the that. Even though the fountains were turned blue of the Royals and there was plenty of Chiefs gear, there were no signs or anything else to indicate NASCAR was in town.
By comparison, I have gone to several races at Texas Motor Speedway over the last few years. Even though the fall race usually goes up against the Cowboys, the entire DFW Metroplex seems very aware the NASCAR is in town. Nearly every hotel, restaurant, and gas station has signs that say “Welcome Race Fans”, and the local media seems genuinely interested in promoting the race as well. The end result is a buzz that was generally lacking in the Kansas City area this past weekend.
All in all, I would give the experience this past weekend a solid B-. Truthfully, the only reason the grade is this low is because of what felt like near apathy from the local media. Judging from the people I talked to at the track, I am far from the only person who feels this way. When something only occurs twice a year and attracts as many out-of-towners as NASCAR does, it is important that the local media promotes it well and gives it the hype it deserves. This helps the whole area buzz with excitement over the race and also makes the people who visit feel more welcome as well.