Freezing Fans at the Track No Longer Works ~
I’ve watched with concerned interest the last few years as Richmond Raceway’s spring NASCAR/Monster Cup date has edged earlier, hoping that NASCAR wasn’t pushing my home track back toward one of those dates that seem almost to indicate an effort to kill off the race and eliminate it from the schedule.
A quick historical review: From 1999 until 2010, the spring race at what was then Richmond International Raceway was in early to mid-May, a great time for a night race in Richmond. Variations were generally caused by NASCAR’s schedule dance around Easter (and Mother’s Day in years past).
Then the creep began, first into late April – basically a full week and sometimes two weeks earlier than in the glory days. The track’s brief, disastrous experiment with going back to Sunday racing seemingly justified another week’s creep, but the return to Saturday night didn’t move the date back accordingly. Granted, the 2017 race was on April 30, but last year it moved up to April 21, the earliest the track had run its spring event since 1997, when it was on March 2. This year’s date is April 13.
NASCAR doesn’t need to race in February at any track where this might happen
I know that part of this still involves avoiding Easter weekend, but I worry that the much smaller spring crowds at Richmond are hurting its ability to get a more advantageous race date. You see, I worked at the track most of those years when the spring race was in early March or even February, and I know that the Richmond weather in late winter can be far from accommodating to motorsports. Somewhere I have photos of the dedicated grounds crew pushing three or four inches of snow off the grandstand seats.
I was thinking about this because of poor Atlanta being stuck with a February date again, and I wonder how much that’s a passive-aggressive move to kill off that track from the Cup schedule. I remember when Rockingham struggled against awful race dates that perversely justified its demise because “nobody goes to the races there.” Darlington got the same treatment but proved the “track too tough to kill,” as well as tame.
But somebody – besides Phoenix and Las Vegas – has to race right after Daytona, so who gets sentenced to that February date?
Well… I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have suggestions, some more fanciful than others, but all at least theoretically possible.
International Road Courses – I floated the idea once before of having a race in the Caribbean and trying to get some fans there by combining it with themed cruises. If NASCAR’s going to think outside the box, that’s a start.
The most promising venue might be the Bushy Park road course in Barbados.
Bushy Park raceway in Barbados
I get the impression that Bushy Park isn’t as big an operation as Sonoma or Watkins Glen, but it hosts an event in the Caribbean Motor Racing Championship series, and it’s been around for a good while, so there are possibilities here – and aside from the issue of cost, who wouldn’t want to go to Barbados to see a race in February?
Moving away from the Caribbean, there would be no problem with the facilities at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City – it’s a Formula 1 track. I know some Americans are skittish about Mexico, but I don’t recall seeing any bad news surrounding other major motorsports events there, and the place is IN Mexico City, so facilities would be ample for any size crowd.
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City
Road Courses in Warm U.S. Locations – This gets tricky, because of proximity to other NASCAR facilities. An obvious choice would be the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, but if I suggested that, I’d have to watch the mail for suspicious packages from Eddie Gossage at TMS.
Unfortunately, the same problem exists elsewhere. Most road courses in the West are too close to Auto Club or Phoenix, and Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama is only a few stones throws from Talladega. Florida? Forget it! What we need is a major upgrade at NOLA Motorsports Park, a karting road course where you and I can also drive our cars (for a price). That location – near New Orleans – would be perfect, except that you’d have to duck Fat Tuesday week on the years Easter is early.
Short Tracks in Warm U.S. Locations – Same problem here as with the road courses in that most promising locales would be too close to the tracks already holding early season NASCAR weekend dates. It might be possible to put together a three-race series in the Deep South – all running single-day events during one week – with one race each in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, call the whole thing a festival and have it as a single date/event on the schedule. Weird, but again, if you need to think outside the box…
And then there’s… Hawaii!
Kalaeloa Raceway Park the island of Oahu – Sadly, it’s not there, anymore
Running a NASCAR race in Hawaii would be great for lots of reasons, if only there was a track available. Sadly, while there seem to be a couple of thriving drag strips in “Paradise,” the only oval seems to be Paradise Speedway on Maui Island, and it’s a dirt track that runs once a month featuring 4-cylinders, street stocks and the like. Upgrading to Cup standards might be a problem.
The former Kalaeloa Raceway Park on Oahu seemed promising at one point, but it got caught in the middle of squabbles with government and was closed… guess things in Hawaii are like they are in lots of other states with government entities falling all over football and baseball teams but spitting on motorsports.
Speaking of which…
Indoor Racing – Thanks to the NFL allowing the Rams to spit on St. Louis and move back to the West Coast after Missourians had committed millions to build the team a new stadium, there’s a great stadium in St. Louis begging for activity, and some of that activity has featured full-sized stock cars.
The Gateway Nationals at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Who needs football?
For a couple of years now, the Gateway Nationals super late model races have taken place at the Edward Jones Dome (The Dome at America’s Center) in December, when it was too cold to race outdoors in most of the country. The one-fifth-mile dirt track has worked out quite nicely for this event, so why not Cup? Great location, great facility (67,000 seats), great opportunity for something different.
If it works, there are other “domes” around that might want in on the action.
So there you go. If only one or two of those possibilities would work out, it would take care of the coldest weekends on NASCAR’s current schedule and keep tracks like Atlanta (and Richmond) from having to subject their fans to frostbite. In an era when tracks need to do everything right to get the fans who used to be willing to suffer to see a race… but don’t feel that way, anymore, these might be ideas worth trying.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
In 1995, Richmond’s spring weekend was the first one in March, and while the races were run as scheduled, it wasn’t without extra work… and a personal story worth retelling.
On Friday the weather was bitter cold, but NASCAR pressed forward with its schedule, and the first practice got underway for what we now call Xfinity cars at around 9 a.m. One car ventured out on the track, and just as it got up to speed, the snow started. The suddenly wet surface got the best of the first-time driver in turn two, and the car wrecked. Practice was red-flagged, and the day’s activities turned out to be over, as more snow moved in.
My job at the time was pit reporter (before the manufacturers’ reps took over that task), and I headed for the garage spot where the wrecked car had been towed. With no team PR person around, I went into the trailer and began asking questions of the young driver, who was dealing with having wrecked his car badly in his first attempted start on NASCAR’s traveling circuits.
He was frustrated, but he didn’t take it out on the questioner, giving an honest and open interview and taking responsibility for the wreck, even thought it could easily have been blamed on the weather. I was impressed. I thought this guy named Jerry Nadeau might amount to something.
Jerry Nadeau holding his trophy from Atlanta (l) an at speed (r)
Of course, Jerry made it to the Cup series, won a race there, and earned a place among NASCAR’s top racers before a horrible wreck – ironically, again at Richmond – ended his career.
Pit reporters – at least those not around the circuit every week - used to get yelled at by a lot of drivers, and I had my share of experiences that were memorable for the wrong reasons, so I always remembered Jerry Nadeau’s honesty and willingness to be interviewed when needed. I wish him well today.