Bring Cup Racers Back to the Bullrings
I was looking at Racing-Reference.info for information about tracks in Florida that have held Grand National/Cup races in the past, and I came across a race many, many years back – 1953 – at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, best known these days as home of the Snowball Derby, one of the country’s biggest (and increasingly rare) major races for weekly asphalt late model cars.
A lot of tracks have held
single GN/Cup events, especially back in the ‘50s, but Five Flags is a big-deal
short track, and it’s still going strong, which a lot of ‘50s NASCAR venues
aren’t. Besides, it’s also held races in other NASCAR series (K&N East, the
old Southeast Series) as well as ARCA, ASA and the X-1R (formerly Hooters) Pro
Cup, so it’s comfortable with bigger things than this week’s 50-lapper.
Why not another Cup race there now, I thought.
For that matter, why not return to some of venues that were regular GN/Cup stops in decades past? Why not Hickory, South Boston, Greenville-Pickens, Nashville? How about Bowman Gray Stadium, the flat quarter mile around a football field? Why not Oxford Plains in Maine, which held races on the old Northern Tour? Why not the dirt at Lincoln Speedway in New Oxford, Pa., where seven Grand National races were held in the ‘50s and ‘60s?
Richard Petty leads Larry Thomas in Grand National
action at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Reality check: most of these tracks seat fewer than 10,000 fans, and as bad as attendance has dropped at Cup tracks, it’s not that bad. You couldn’t pay a multi-million-dollar purse (assuming the amount – now a deep dark secret – still adds up to about what it did the last time NASCAR let us in on that confidential info), so it would be hard to ask Joe Gibbs or Rick Hendrick to put four modern-day machines out for some good-ol’ beatin’ & bangin’ for ten grand to win.
It could work, though.
Here’s one scenario, which might not be the best, but might be close enough to spur more exploration, assuming somebody else out there wants NASCAR racing to remain a few notches above the pro bowlers tour on the television radar.
You could have a 10- to 12-event, made-for-TV “Cup Classics” series that would run on Wednesday nights before regular race weekends. The races would be 100-lappers (generally) with true qualifying heats for 24-car starting fields – and NO provisionals. Less expensive cars, like those in the K&N Series, could be used. Sponsorships and TV money could provide enough incentive for participation, and maybe you could even have the races count a little toward the overall Cup championship. If you needed more tracks, you could use good weekly speedways near the old stops, like the new Concord, N.C., track instead of the old one; Dominion Raceway instead of Old Dominion Speedway, its predecessor; nearby dirt tracks instead of Trenton, Langhorne or the Sacramento, Calif., Fairgrounds. Five Flags would be just one of several speedways – think Wall Stadium in New Jersey for another – that have run one or two GN/Cup events in the past but would be capable of hosting a “Cup Classics” show today.
South Boston Speedway from the air.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to South Boston Speedway, where tonight the stars and cars of NASCAR’s Fill-in-the-Blank Cup Series will compete in qualifying events and a 100-lap feature race. Before qualifying begins, please fill out your ‘Pick-the-Winner’ form, because we’ll select five fans from the entries who picked the winning driver, and those fans will join the winner in our Victory Lane celebration. We’ll also be drawing for five winners of tickets (or upgrades, if you already have tickets) to Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville. We hope you enjoy tonight’s race, and we’ll see you at the other “Cup Classics” events coming up.”
It might bring back fans who remember when Petty & Pearson, Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, Joe Weatherly and others raced at the bullrings, and it might attract some new fans who never knew NASCAR could be so “up close and personal.” It might bring fun back into an increasingly sterile form of motorsports.
OK, maybe it’s a screwy idea, but somebody needs to try something, and this – or colleague David Nance’s “20-20” proposal – stand as good a chance of success as the caution clock or “Dash 4 Cash” heat races (and nobody seems to be bidding up ticket prices because of those). People like the writers at this site make these suggestions because we want NASCAR to succeed. Maybe one day somebody will figure that out.
Here’s a quick take on a prospective “Cup Classics” first season for 2017
2/15 (before Daytona “Clash” weekend) – Five Flags Speedway, Pensacola, Fla. (New Smyrna and East Bay are closer, but Five Flags has the heritage.)
3/21 (before Auto Club) – Irwindale Speedway (because none of the classic locales remain)
3/29 (before Martinsville) – South Boston Speedway (This is too close to the California weekend, but you need to get a South Boston race on the schedule.)
4/27 (before Richmond) – Dominion Raceway, Thornburg, Va. (replaced Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, a many-time GN venue, and is a first-class track.)
5/17 (before Charlotte All-Star weekend) – Hickory Speedway (We’ll get Concord next year.)
Ralph Earnhardt made his first NASCAR Grand National start at
Hickory Speedway in 1956 and finished second. How would
his grandson do against the other Cup stars 61 years later?
6/7 (before Pocono) – Lincoln Speedway, New Oxford, Pa. (Dirt tracks need to be part of this.)
7/5 (before Chicagoland) – Eldora Speedway (because it’s awesome; next year, we’ll do Knoxville, Iowa)
7/20 (before Indianapolis) – Indy Raceway Park (which should never have been taken off the “before Indy” schedule to begin with)
8/30 (before Darlington) – Greenville-Pickens Speedway (might run at Myrtle Beach later)
9/20 (before Loudon) – Oxford Plains Speedway, Maine (Stafford Springs or Thompson might get a shot later.)
10/4 (before Charlotte) – Bowman Gray Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C. (You could name your price for tickets to this one.)
10/11 – (before Talladega) – Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.