Remember REAL Holiday Racing?
Now that all the hoopla has died down about the last “Boogity-Boogity,” I’ll bet the NASCAR and TV gods don’t pay as much attention to a more significant “last” this weekend – the last July 4 weekend race at Daytona.
Ol’ DW was around a long time, granted, but we’ve had NASCAR at the beach at mid-summer for 60 YEARS, which I would argue deserves more attention. That’s a tradition.
Absolutely love this picture from the first Firecracker 250, run on a Saturday only because that’s when July 4 fell in 1959. That’s Jack Smith in a Bud Moore #47, Joe Weatherly in the leftover convertible #12, Tiger Tom Pistone in #59 and Eduardo Dibos (from Peru!) in #37. All four cars finished in the Top 10.
Next year Daytona’s other race moves to the last slot before the playoffs, and Indianapolis becomes our home for the Sunday closest to Independence Day. I think the International Speedway Corp. folks probably are happy with their chances of promoting their new slot into a success, while at Indy, anything is worth trying, given the dismal attendance of recent years.
The question becomes whether Indy will become a new tradition as successful as Daytona or whether it will follow Raleigh Speedway, which raced on July 4 for the last three years before Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959. A star-crossed enterprise for a lot of reasons, Raleigh is no longer with us.
Here’s hoping Indianapolis enjoys more longevity and success on July 4 weekend than Raleigh Speedway did 60+ years ago.
Indy isn’t going out of business as long as “THE 500” carries on, but stock car racing might disappear if something doesn’t start bringing out the fans, and I guess July 4 weekend is as good a hook as anything. (Ironically, Raleigh also tried Memorial Day weekend racing while seeking sustained success.)
From 1959 through 1987, Daytona’s Firecracker race (250 for the first four years, then 400 miles) actually ran ON the Fourth of July, regardless of what day of the week the holiday fell on. That’s almost half the race’s existence.
For much of that time – 1950-83, to be exact – we also had the Southern 500 (pre-Bojangles) running on Labor Day Monday. That’s nearly half the life of that revered classic; in fact, after you remove the 13 races run on dates other that Labor Day weekend (when NASCAR was pretty unabashedly trying to kill off the old track), it’s still more than half of the 500s.
When the Southern 500 was held on Monday, it gave the track more time to create spectacle around the event, such as the parade and beauty pageant. It even brought in celebrities like Donna Douglas, “Elly May” from the “Beverly Hillbillies.”
This – holiday racing – used to be a proud part of our motorsports tradition, and it extended well beyond Daytona and Darlington. When we first moved to North Carolina 40+ years ago, Trico Speedway (now Orange County) ran probably its biggest race of the year on Easter Monday, which was a state holiday in the Bible Belt Tar Heel State back then (the holiday was moved to Good Friday in 1987 for the convenience of religious shoppers, no doubt).
Here's an ad for one of Trico’s Easter Monday races.
I’ve written before about the year Ray Hendrick blew an engine going into the first turn and collected Tommy Houston and South Carolina’s Jerry Rector, with all three clearing the battered first-turn guard rail. Rector landed upside-down in the little pond that dated to the track’s dirt days; fortunately, everybody escaped, and my photo of the incident made it onto the front page of a small racing newspaper.
Our world has changed since then. Most businesses closed on major holidays in those days, and most workers got the day off – so they could spend time with family, go to the races, or take family to the races. Most holidays today are largely excuses for the “Biggest Sale Event of the Season!”
How can racing compete with that?
Maybe we shouldn’t try. Instead, maybe we should re-purpose one of those deserted shopping malls, building a track over the parking lot and having big sales in all those stories in the infield. With plenty of TV monitors inside to keep track of the racing (and air conditioned comfort, no less), we might even draw more fans than we do today.
The future of racing? Put a 1-mile track over this empty parking lot, and give fans the opportunity to add to their wardrobes, shop for sporting goods or just have a meal and/or drink in air-conditioned comfort, all while watching the race on big-screen TVs – with the ability to go outside and see things up-close whenever you want.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
Haven’t heard much positive buzz about Sonoma, and it’s no surprise in this corner, since the “We need more road courses” crowd was one I never joined. During some of NASCAR disastrous rules packages of recent years, road courses simply looked a little less awful than ovals, especially the 1-1/2 mile ones.
The same contrarian opinion applies to the claim that we need fewer races on the Cup schedule.
I’ll repeat my sentiment from those days: don’t change the tracks (or the number of races); rather, change the cars and the rules package to make the racing better, wherever you’re running. It can be done.
Here’s another repeat from this crazy old writer: Start now by creating a new SUV series that eventually will replace Xfinity (which no longer serves any useful purpose for racing overall), but for the vehicles, develop rules that make the cost a fraction of what it is now in Cup, which more and more is becoming full-fendered Indy/Grand Prix racing. We still call this stock car racing for a reason.
When stock car racing began – and until recently – the vehicles in competition were the dealers’ biggest sellers. Which of the models above do you think Chevy sells most these days?
Then, if there are still car models out there to race, migrate the new package and its lower costs to Cup and watch it grow.
Note: Haven’t done much giving credit from my online research sources lately, so I definitely should express thanks here for the existence of RacingReference.info and both TMC Chase’s various writing enterprises and Dave Fulton’s contributions to Racers Reunion; info in this article came from the former and photos from the latter (via Google Images).