Let’s Think Speed Bumps, Mixed Surfaces, and (Gasp!) Intentional Contact
(This is being written before Sunday, when the Charlotte Roval race was scheduled to run, with the assumptions that it WAS run and that it didn’t forever end discussion of the need for variety in NASCAR tracks.)
Somehow, I always come back to Curtis Turner’s half-century-old suggestion to put a speed bump on the backstretch at Charlotte to make the races more interesting. God bless Pops.
With Curtis in mind, and with the 2019 Roval race in the rear-view mirror, take a look at this:
Now let’s talk about how many Cup races this season (or in recent years) weren’t as much fun to watch as that clip. I could start a fan club for the Batmobile car. So if Charlotte could create the Roval, why can’t other current Cup tracks – mainly the less-than-highly-anticipated mile-and-a-halfs – make some changes to both race format and track to create more variety and possibly build back interest in Cup/Xfinity/Gander racing?
If you watched the Perris video, you know that the Batmobile didn’t look much like this by the end of the race.
Obviously, we need a couple of dirt tracks, and maybe even one with a mixed surface, which is common in European racing and used to be seen at least occasionally here. You could have paved straights and clay turns, which would be wild. “Democross” (or “Demo Cross”), as the Perris race on the YouTube video was called, is a term that covers all kinds of mixed action racing, even mixed surfaces. Our example is one part demo derby, one part enduro, and one part obstacle course. There’s another example on video that has jumps.
This isn’t much more than one of Curtis Turner’s speed bumps, but a little elevation change livens up a race, dontcha think?
“Aaahhh,” you say, “but you’re tearing up those cars, and Cup racing already is too expensive.”
True, but if the cars were MUCH cheaper, you could tear them up and still spend much less. (You wouldn’t even have to worry about eliminating pit stops, which is the latest really stupid idea some executive genius is floating. Let’s get one thing straight: the excess in NASCAR today is the cost of the race car and engine, and until that terrible problem is addressed, nothing else matters.)
“Aaahhh,” you say, “but back in your ‘good old days,’ most races were on half-mile dirt tracks, and nobody complained then about same-ness in NASCAR venues.
True, but that was BEFORE TV brought the whole schedule to every fan. In those days, few fans saw more than a handful of races – those closest to home – so it didn’t really matter what the others looked like.
West Capital Speedway in California was packed on this day 64 years ago, in part because fans couldn’t watch these races on TV every weekend
Speaking of TV, did you notice how poorly TV did at covering the Perris race – even though that broadcast followed the leader much less than networks and NASCAR. That’s because there were things going on all over the track at the same time, which makes a race much more fun to watch in person than when all the effort goes into creating constant battles for the lead to watch on TV. I will repeat myself and say that the effort to ensure battles for the lead has actually made racing LESS INTERESTING to watch in person, because there are only a couple of focal points on the track at a given time – an arrangement that makes for better TV. That wasn’t the case decades ago.
“Aaahhh,” you say, “but in your ‘good old days,’ the crowds were smaller; racing wasn’t as popular then as it is now.”
True, but many of those fans from the NASCAR’s-the-new-big-thing days are gone forever, pursuing whatever next-big-things have come since, and the sport has yet to find its stable fan base, which might turn out to be closer to the “good old days” than 2005. Sad but true.
So let’s cut to the chase. Here’s a quickly devised suggestion of a 36-race schedule that would provide diversity AND show which drivers can do it all:
TWO races on 2-1/2 - mile superspeedways (that’s right – just two)
TWO races on a 2 - mile superspeedway
FIVE races on 1-1/2 - mile superspeedways (under rules making them more interesting than at present)
ONE race at Darlington
FOUR races on 1 - mile speedways
TWO races on ¾ - mile speedways (because Richmond can be awesome under different rules)
SIX races on ½ mile or 5/8 - mile speedways
THREE races on paved road courses
ONE ROVAL race
ONE race on a dirt road course
FIVE races on ½ to ¾ mile dirt tracks
TWO biathlon or triathlon races (a portion or a 1-mile or larger track; a portion on a short track, asphalt or dirt, and maybe a portion on a road course)
TWO novelty races (mixed surface, obstacle course, and/or “full contact”)
Now you can have all the fun you want asking, “But what about Indianapolis/Talladega/Kansas/etc.,” but note that more than one-third of the events above are on venues that don’t currently exist on the circuit, so some of those dates could go to existing tracks that create new facilities to host the events.
Oh, and the cars are MUCH cheaper with ONE set of rules for all tracks (possibly with the exception of adding rock screens for dirt).
Here’s one last bonus: If you make the cars really cheap – and here I’m talking today’s safety features on cars from more than half a century back – not only can you build and potentially wreck more of them for less than the current exorbitant cost, but you can be more serious about the rules.
My scenario in that perfect world: Eric Jones’ car fails post-race inspection and is disqualified. A large car crusher is rolled out from the infield to the start-finish line, and the #20 is dropped in. Can you hear the cheering?
Maybe next time you guys will pay more attention to the rules
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
In the discussion of possibly eliminating pit stops in Xfinity and Gander races, Adam Stern mentioned that teams were looking at cutting costs as a way to improve their business models. I have this feeling that the number of local, grassroots racing teams that have ever mentioned the words “business model” in conjunction with their operations or the sport in general is pretty tiny.
I also have a feeling that the entire “eliminating pit stops” discussion is an example of the charter system moving NASCAR closer and closer to the “business model” we remember as CART, and we all remember how well that turned out.
Here’s my idea of the right “business model” for this sport. In IMCA/RaceSaver sprint car racing, there’s a guy named Larry McVay from Bordentown, N.J. This year he seems headed for a fourth-place finish in points with the Mid-Atlantic Sprint Series, which races in Jersey, Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania, but he also finished tenth in points with the Central Pennsylvania-based PA Sprint Series. Some of the PASS races are more than three hours from his home.
On Labor Day weekend, he splurged and traveled to a Laurel Highlands Sprint Series race at the Bedford Fairgrounds Speedway, farther west in Pennsylvania (nearly four hours from home), and he won. The quickest way for him to reach all of these tracks is via the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which will cost you a tire and a couple of cans of fuel in tolls.
Larry McVay in victory lane at Bedford Fairgrounds Speedway
He does all this driving a pickup truck and hauling his car on an open trailer. He has a second car in which his daughter Marie has started her racing career this year.
I don’t think his team is planning an IPO anytime soon, but he’d likely accept some sponsorships.
He owns his own car, and I admire him every bit as much as any car owner in the NASCAR/Cup world.