Trickle Down Theory

My apologies for anyone who thought this column might be about Dick Trickle based on the headline. Also my deepest sympathies to any of you that sat through last Friday's debacle in New York.

Now with that business out of the way, lets move on to the matter at hand. As well all know, the Winston Cup Series is enjoying its most successful era in history. The record television ratings, attendance and overall popularity has been well documented. NASCAR has turned its top tier into a virtual pot of gold with no end in sight to this financial juggernaut.

But like an onion, NASCAR has many layers (and yes, it does smell quite often and sometimes makes your eyes water). Below the surface of the Winston Cup skin is in many ways the backbone of NASCAR racing - the regional touring circuits.

Counting the Busch Series and the Craftsman Trucks, NASCAR operates eleven other series aside from Winston Cup - Raybestos Northwest Tour, Featherlite Southwest Tour, Winston West, Hills Brothers All-Pro, Goody's Dash, Re/Max Challenge, Featherlite Modifieds, Busch Grand National North and the Weekly Racing Series. All of these regional circuits are supposed to be the stepping stone into Winston Cup racing.

The theory goes that a young aspiring driver starts out at his local track, running every Saturday night as part of the Weekly Racing Series, an umbrella program which includes nearly 100 tracks around the country. After a little experience and a taste of success, our young Jeff Gordon wannabe hits the road on one of the regional tours. And then, if he has what it takes and maybe more importantly finds alot of money and a great deal of luck, he gets tabbed for a shot in the Busch Series or the trucks - NASCAR's Triple A. Finally in this fairytale, the happy ending comes with a shot in the promised land of Winston Cup.

It's a great premise but one that isn't as easy as it's made out to be. Just as about one percent of those playing major college basketball make it to the NBA, the odds are stacked against the rise from local racing to Winston Cup. The competition is just too intense for the limited number of rides that are available. And with the costs astronomical, the days of building your own Cup car to run with the big boys are a faint memory.

So the reality of competing on one of NASCAR's touring circuits is it could be as good as it gets. Winning the national Weekly Racing Series title is certainly an honor, and a financial windfall for a short track warrior, but is as much a guarantee of making it to Winston Cup as a Heisman Trophy is a ticket to the NFL.

So NASCAR would be wise to strengthen these tours and make them a better place to drivers to find a happy home. Last year's television deal with SPEED Channel gave some much needed exposure to these regional circuits. National TV time, albeit on a month delay, has to help generate sponsorship dollars which are needed on this level of racing as well. Maybe a little live exposure can be thrown into the mix.

A bump in purses would also be a welcomed addition. One driver in the Midwest-based RE/Max Challenge Series told me last summer he needed to win the race just to break even!

I've stated before that I love short track racing. It's a sad fact however that this type of racing is experiencing hard times. NASCAR would be best served to send some of the funding coming in through the Winston Cup cash cow down to the lower ranks.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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