Truckin Into The Future

It burst onto the racing scene with excitement and enthusiasm in 1995. And although the new series had its share of skeptics, it quickly won them over with competitive racing and a refreshing mix of drivers. The Craftsman Truck Series became NASCAR’s number three division nearly overnight and captured the imagination of race fans around the country that were hungry for its brand of side-by-side racing.

The circuit was almost a throwback to the “old days” of NASCAR when drivers were a bit more accessible, bumping and rubbing were encouraged and not penalized and the tracks weren’t all sanitary cookie cutters built more to satisfy corporate patrons than real race fans. Facilities that had long ago been abandoned by the burgeoning popularity of the Winston Cup and Busch Series were all too happy to welcome the trucks through their gates. Places like Flemington Speedway, Evergreen Speedway, Louisville Motor Speedway and Nashville Speedway USA dotted the truck slate in the early days and provided the stage for some of the most exciting races in recent memory.

But as the trucks prepare for their eighth season in 2002, it is very much a series at a crossroads. Although series sponsor Craftsman has signed on to provide title support through 2005, the circuit is not completely healthy. Interest has dropped off significantly on the three levels vital to the success of any racing series – fans, teams and sponsors. And with the new season scheduled to take the green flag in only 63 days, there are more questions than answers facing the series.

Perhaps the biggest question is where will the trucks race next season? NASCAR has yet to officially release the 2002 schedule, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the series. Most every major motorsports circuit in the country has announced its slate for the New Year, from the Winston Cup Series to the Midwest Dwarf Car Association. But for whatever reason, the Craftsman Truck schedule is still top secret.

A few dates are already known such as the Daytona season-opener on February 15th, return visits to Milwaukee, Kansas, Chicago, Nashville, Texas, Gateway, Richmond, Fontana, Phoenix, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Martinsville, Dover, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and the new finale at Homestead. It remains to be seen if Darlington or the birthplace of the trucks Mesa Marin Speedway, make it onto the schedule.

In all, it appears the schedule will include 22 races, which is two less than last season. Many of those dates will be in conjunction with Winston Cup Series weekends as NASCAR tries to expose more fans to the circuit. The trucks have not done particularly well on stand-alone dates the past couple of seasons and the dwindling attendance prompted the sanctioning body to pair the series with the Cup tour as much as possible.

It’s a positive move and one that definitely helps generate additional exposure and eliminates the series racing in front of half-empty grandstands. Unfortunately NASCAR can’t as easily fix the declining television ratings. ESPN is again committed to televise the whole truck series schedule, which again puts the network in the strange position of being a NASCAR partner, but still denied access to either the Winston Cup garage or race highlights. That’s like Major League Baseball giving ABC the rights to only televise Florida Marlins games nationally but none of the other 29 big league teams.

ESPN can’t be too pleased with the anemic television ratings the series generated last season, the first year of the network’s exclusive contract. The trucks averaged about a 1.0 rating in 2001, an audience CART would kill for but disappointingly low for a product boasting the NASCAR name brand. Hopefully next year’s viewership will grow.

Another hurdle the trucks face in 2002 is the lack of marquee names on its driver roster. Mike Skinner, Ron Hornaday, Jack Sprague, Joe Ruttman, Greg Biffle and Butch Miller gave the series an identity in its early years. The current crop of drivers, although a qualified group, is missing the personality and recognition of the previous regime.

Here’s hoping Ruttman, who was knocked out of his ride at Bobby Hamilton Racing in favor of former Cup driver Robert Pressley earlier this month, finds a home in the series for next year. Although powerful car owners such as Rick Hendrick, who will take Sprague and son Ricky Hendrick to the Busch Series next season, have abandoned the series, others such as Jack Roush, Jim Smith and Joe Gibbs have stayed on board.

The trio may be joined by Robert Yates next season, who is said to be contemplating a team with Ruttman as his driver. The truck series desperately needs these heavy hitters to stay involved as the spiraling costs of the circuit and economic downturn have driven several teams away.

I personally like the truck series. The style of racing, the easy-going nature of the garage area, the personal approach taken by the drivers, team members and public relations people is a welcome change from the environment of Winston Cup, Busch, CART or the IRL. Hopefully more fans will show they feel the same way next season before the Craftsman Trucks join the Convertible circuit as an asterisk in the NASCAR record book.

Race Center

Kroger 250

@ Martinsville Speedway
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Radio Start:
MRN, 2 p.m. (ET)
TV Start:
FOX Sports 1

Photos

  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Crafton Cruises to Atlanta Win
  • Reddick Breaks Through
  • Reddick Breaks Through
  • Reddick Breaks Through
  • Reddick Breaks Through
  • Reddick Breaks Through
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Nationwide and Truck Banquet
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200
  • Ford EcoBoost 200

Advertisement

  • © 2015 MRN. All Rights Reserved

    FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

    ISC Track Sites