May 12, 2003 | 12:28 A.M. EST
For the rest of you who are now clueless (Welcome to the club. The keg is the corner.) here’s what I’m talking about. NASCAR would like to give additional race dates to tracks in some key TV markets. The track owners (by and large ISC which is NASCAR wearing a different hat and SMS, Bruton’s Billion Dollar Baby) would like to host races at their lavish new tracks in important TV markets. But no track owner who currently holds a date wants to give up a race weekend. And fans of the tracks in jeopardy of losing dates don’t want to see those tracks lose a date either. Finally we have a problem in that it is unlikely there will ever be any more than 52 weeks in a year which limits just how many races can be run in any one season.
So what to do? What I proposed (and what Mr. Waltrip is now proposing) is a program that spreads the race dates around a little. Tracks within a general geographic area would be grouped together. For sake of example the Northeast group might be composed of Pocono, Dover and New Hampshire while the Southeast region might be made up of Rockingham, Darlington and Charlotte. In both examples the three tracks mentioned currently have two race dates apiece. But we’re going to cut them down to five races per region to free up some weekends. So which tracks lose a date and which tracks keep two races a year? They all do and none of them do. The “lost race” would alternate between the three tracks within a region. For example in 2004, Darlington and Charlotte might have two races while Rockingham only had one. Then in 2005 Charlotte and Rockingham would have two races, while Darlington would have one. Then to complete the cycle in 2006 Darlington and Rockingham would each have two races while Charlotte would only host one. Put more simply each year two tracks in the region host two races, while the third track gets just one race date on a rotating basis.
My thinking here is for a fan that lives in the area (in the above examples, in or around Charlotte or Philadelphia for instance) still has five races within a reasonable driving distance to choose from. The fact there are five races in the area rather than six might even help spur ticket sales to the five races that remain. No track owner is going to want to give up a date and doubtless they will make valid arguments as to why they should be spared, but off the record anyone of them will admit they’d rather have two races twice every three years than have one race every year.
Since I came up with the idea I’ve refined it somewhat. (This is where you need to start taking notes, Waltrip.) Let’s look at some of the tracks that are being discussed as possible sites for two races a year; Texas, Fontana, Las Vegas and Kansas City. Which tracks get a second date? All of them and none of them. Fontana and Las Vegas would join Phoenix as part of the Southwest racing region. In the Southwest racing region each year two tracks would get one date and the third track would get two. So every third year Vegas, Fontana and Phoenix would host two races rather than one. (In this particular example, almost certainly the ISC would prefer to host two Los Angeles dates the year Phoenix was in line for a second event which I would reluctantly agree to even though Phoenix is every bit as good a race track as Sonoma. Talk about damning a place with faint praise.) Texas, Atlanta, and Talladega would make up the South Central division. Currently these three tracks host five races a year and they would continue to do so. The change would be that in two out of every three years Texas would have two races. And yes, I can hear the uproar from the ISC saying Talladega is one of their premiere tracks and should be exempt. Talladega is in a small TV market and didn’t even sell out this spring. Deal with it. What’s good for the goose is better than two gooses in the bush as the old saying goes.
“What about Kentucky?” someone asked me in a recent email. Well admittedly I’m stretching “reasonable driving distance” a little here, but Kentucky gets tossed in the Midwest racing region along with Michigan and Kansas City. Yes, either Indianapolis of Chicago (Land) would make more sense as part of this division than KC but
a) no one but Kevin Harvick seems of the mind to add a second race date to Joliet
b) Indianapolis, bless their souls, doesn’t want a second date.
We’ve got three races to spread around the Midwest region so Kentucky and KC would have a race date two out of three years and Michigan would still host two races once every three years. (Though Michigan needs two race dates a year like a Ford Excursion needs wheelie bars.)
As far as I’m concerned the three short tracks (Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond) would be exempt from date sharing because six short track races a year are already too few. Daytona would keep two race dates because to propose otherwise would cause the powers that be at NASCAR’s headquarters to stamp their cloven hooves and reject this plan out of hand. Homestead would keep it’s one date as long as they promise to do something to improve the quality of the racing there like adding more banking to the corners, putting a jump in the middle of the back straight, tearing it up and turning it into a dirt track or something.
The changes proposed above would actually result in 35 points races a year. (The Southeast and Northeast regions each lost a date while the Southwest region picks up one) That would allow for the proposed New York track to hold a race before eventually being absorbed into the Northeast region so the Big Apple track would have two races in three of every four years. But meanwhile I’d use that weekend to add a much needed weekend off during the current brutal twenty week long stretch of races leading up to the season finale.
Ideally even after New York was added to the schedule I’d like to see the schedule shrink a bit to a maximum of 34 points races a season. To achieve that goal I still haven’t given up on dumping the two road races run every year, an idea most fans favor though those fans who disagree are vehement in their distaste for the proposal. (So, to go off on a tangent for a moment Watkins Glen and Sonoma each get two dates on a new experimental ten event NASCAR sanctioned road racing series featuring cars similar to the current Cup cars in one last ditch attempt to see if there can be a viable road course racing series in the United States. The series would compete during Winston Cup off weekends, and as part of a double-header on some Sundays when the Cup boys raced out west and the road series ran in the east or vice-versa.)
In addition I’d schedule the Bud Shootout as a companion race to the Busch series event one day before the Daytona 500 and Daytona 500 qualifying to the Wednesday prior to the big race. Therefore, we’ve actually freed up some weekends for the drivers and their overworked crews while expanding into new markets and showing some degree of loyalty to the tracks that were part of the circuit back when stock car racing was a regional curiosity. I’m just being practical and hopefully diplomatic. Given my choice there’d be three races a year run at Darlington but that’s never going to happen. I’d rather have two Darlington races twice every three years than one Darlington race every year. And yes, the proposal above could use a little tweaking. Ball’s back in your court, Mikey. The heavy lifting is done.