Kevin Harvick Is Right ~ Grass Roots Racing Does Matter
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a cordial “Hey y’all” to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR on this fine day. As has become the norm for writing a Friday column, everyone has already said most of that needs to be said and run the topic dead into the ground. You all know that Kevin Harvick has now won three in a row, thereby proving it’s not good to make Kevin mad. He can and will get even.
Next up on Kevin’s schedule is not the race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana; it is a K&N race at Kern County Speedway, where he plans to race Thursday night at the half-mile track near his hometown of Bakersfield. After winning at ISM on Sunday, Kevin had strong words for that track for cancelling both the K&N West Series and the well-renowned “Copper Classic” which brought together stock cars, sprints and midgets in a multi-day “World Series” of short track racing.
“I've been mad at Sperber here for a couple years now because he won't have the K&N cars come race here because it doesn't help his budget,” Harvick said. “In the end, without those grassroots fans, those grassroots people, coming and being able to race here, whether it fits your budget or not, 10 years from now you better hope you [have] some people that will sit in the stands up here wanting to watch these races at your short tracks because those are your hardcore fans.”
“One of the best things that happened for racing… was when we had the Copper Classic here. We had midgets, sprint cars… didn't matter how many people sat in the grandstands. As competitors, this was their Daytona. On the West Coast, this is what we thought our Daytona 500 was. This is where everybody wanted to race.”
“It’s kicking those guys low on the K&N West Series that they don’t get to race at this particular race track. Because of the fact that there’s a little bit of a pissing contest between a budget and what is right and what is wrong from a sanctioning fee side on trucks and Xfinity. So, they cut the K&N guys out.”
“Cutting the grassroots side of things out is not the right way to do things. Those guys, they just want to race. This is a crown jewel race for those guys. The thought process for me, is broken. When I look at our hardcore fans, they’re all sitting at those short tracks and they’re mad.”
Not to be outdone, his car owner, Tony Stewart had this to say of Bryan Sperber’s assertion that those races “aren’t in the budget.”
“We can afford to spend $170 million to move the frontstretch from there over to there,” Stewart said, referring to the project, already underway, to shift the start/finish line from the current front straightaway to the dogleg. "I still have no idea what the reason for that is.”
Not to be outdone in a seeming war of words, Sperber was quoted as saying, “You could always do more in anything. I would welcome the support of Tony and Kevin if they wanted to get involved and roll up their sleeves and work on building some events that could attract and support more grassroots racing. That would be a fantastic opportunity that I would jump at.”
“If they are serious about that they know how to get a hold of me. They have an open invitation to work with us to put the thing together. The good news is, in November, I’ll have a facility that will be a showcase for all sorts of events and attractive to growing new drivers and fans.”
Oh well, I guess boys will always be boys, but those lads make a good point. Allow your scribe to spin you a tale about a sponsor from long, long ago. That sponsor was R.J. Reynolds and their Winston brand. As a sponsor, they were fantastic; they knew perhaps better than anyone, exactly how to best "market the product" and what to promote to further both their own goals and those of NASCAR, both of which of course, involved the bottom line aka profits.
The folks from Reynolds, men such as Ralph Seagraves and T. Wayne Robertson, knew the business side of racing and understood from the outset that in order to maintain a healthy sport, one must maintain a healthy base, which in the case of racing, was and is the small local tracks found throughout the country. You don't need to be very old at all to remember the tracks within proximity to your neighborhood, and almost all of them proudly proclaiming their affiliation with "NASCAR WINSTON RACING SERIES."
Or with "NASCAR Weekly Racing Series."
If straight-line racing was your thing, Winston was right there with the NHRA.
You get the idea. Winston was everywhere that NASCAR and NHRA were found, and they sunk a fortune into backing and advertising those little local tracks that ran everywhere several times a week. Why? Because RJR employees knew that those tracks provided the training ground from whence would come the next generations of racers in their primary series, Winston Cup Racing. When our Federal Government (We just want to HELP you) beat down the tobacco industry, R.J. Reynolds could no longer provide the funding for even the top series, let alone all the rest. Essentially, they took their business across the ocean, but they were with us for over 30 years before they had to leave, and in those years, NASCAR racing enjoyed an unprecedented growth period of exponential size and scope. The little sport from the Southeast became the #2 sport in North America. If anyone thinks that R.J. Reynolds hasn’t been missed, please think again.
Unfortunately, their departure came to pass at the same time that illness forced Billy France to turn over the helm of the good ship NASCAR to son Brian. One of his first acts was to take on Nextel, the walkie-talkie cell-phone company as the new sponsor. They didn’t spend the money or have the marketing skills that Reynolds had, and were soon picked up by Sprint, who hung on for a few years, then dumped us for soccer.
Through all of that, those short tracks and smaller series Kevin is talking about… racing’s grass roots level… have either dried up or suffer greatly from lack of operating funds. I find him exactly right, that racing with the young ones, or bringing the young ones to a larger track, exposes them to fans that would never otherwise know them.
I know some of us watched with great interest when they used to broadcast the Legends Series from Charlotte Motor Speedway. We knew and cheered later on for kids we’d watched since they were in their early teens. I don’t even know if the Legends Series is still around. Neither of the reigning Networks have time to bother with things like that. I did see that NBCSN will be bringing us the K&N races and the Whelen Modifieds this year… as week-old races! We are not offered week-old football or basketball games! Think back to all the stuff we got from TNN. THAT is the channel I miss the most. Remember the Swamp Buggies? No, that one was never a feeder series for the Cup Series, but I loved watching those crazy things!
It’s sad to think we’ll never be able to return to those good days with the Winston Brand, and the current regime, with change after change after change piled on gimmick after gimmick, has run what we had clear into the ground. I don’t want to be a “Negative Nellie”, but it’s hard to see an upside right now. Our current sponsor, Monster Energy Drink, which it is understood is paying less for the entire Cup Series than some primary sponsors were paying just a short time ago to put their name on a single team, is on its second (at least) time extension to make a decision as to whether they will even return in 2019. If NASCAR isn’t out there shopping that deal already, there might not BE a 2019. It’s pretty much a certainty that funding would never come from Brian Z. France.
Yes it is… that’s a Monster guitar, and it means that it’s probably past time for our Classic Country Closeout this week. I had “intended” to bring the follow-up to the one from last week… Country Music Through the Years – the 1940s… with the 1950s edition from the same YouTube subscriber. It was there last week, but it’s gone this week… or maybe YouTube’s search engine is on spring break. At any rate, here is the 1960s edition, and I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling.
It looks so good on you!