You Need A Reason To Move

Way down here you need a reason to move
Feel a fool running your stateside games
Lose your load, leave your mind behind, Baby James
Oh, Mexico, it sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun's so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I'll have to go now……

-James Taylor-

If Brian France has signaled nothing else, he’s indicated that he’s willing to make radical changes to the once tradition bound sport of NASCAR stock car racing. With some of the rumors that are currently flying about in the garage area, in print and around the Internet a lot of fans are also wondering if NASCAR’s new president has lost his mind.

As part of a proposed settlement with Mr. Ferko down there in Texas and his SMI compatriots, Darlington and Rockingham once again find themselves on deathwatch. The most likely scenario involves the ISC (read the France family) selling Bruton Smith (read SMI) those two storied tracks in the Carolinas. Rumor has it Smith would then take two of the current three dates away from those two tracks and move one to Texas and one to Las Vegas. As a sop to the fans in Carolinas who have supported the sport for generations one date would be left in the area and it would alternate back and forth between Darlington and the Rock on an annual basis. Gee, thanks. Long time fans are outraged by the proposal as Darlington and the Rock have traditionally put on some of the best shows in the sport every year. This week’s bore-fest at Texas did nothing to make most of us clamor for a second Texas date, though I’m sure the local fans will support a second race. It’s not like they’ve got a lot of other options. And Vegas may be one of the two worst oval tracks left on the circuit. Smith says he’ll fix Vegas if he gets a second race date there. That leaves me unimpressed. Both Texas and New Hampshire have been “improved” countless times and they still feature largely substandard racing.

The beauty of this plan for the ISC and the France family is it makes Smith into the bad guy who sacks the dates from the Rock and Darlington. Doubtless he’ll receive hate mail by the bushel full for months after the plan is announced. But sometimes you have to look behind the smoke and mirrors. A lot of fans may not realize the tracks do not own their race dates. Those dates are doled out annually by NASCAR at their pleasure. Technically back when Smith and Bob Bahre raped North Wilkesboro NASCAR was not obligated to move a race date to Texas or New Hampshire. And behind that locked green door lurks the real Wicked Witch of this whole mess, the TV network execs charged with finding a way to turn their 2.8 billion dollar investment from a sea of red ink to a profitable investment, fans be damned. If you think the top brass at FOX gives a damn about fans you obviously haven’t sat through one of their insufferable pre-race shows. I wuz just fixin’ to say we got us an ext-ree three minutes this week to air the latest episode of As the Wheel Turns this week featuring Joe Nim-a-chek and Mike Mac-Laughlin.

And just when fans are trying to digest the above, new rumors started circulating. One says that Pocono is under pressure to cut their two races back to 400 miles to make the TV folks happy. That violates one of my cardinal rules of automobile racing: a race should last longer than it takes you to get onto the nearest free-flowing interstate after the event. Truth be told about the only thing that’s going to save both dates at Pocono is to have the Drs. Mattioli sell their track to the ISC. As of right now Pocono is just saving a couple spots on the schedule until the ISC finds somewhere to build their New York City track.

But perhaps the most bizarre rumor involves taking the race date from Watkins Glen and moving it to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City, Mexico. Sorry, I’m not sure who Hermanos Rodriguez is or was but they built an auto’dromo in his honor which is a 2.786 mile road course that snakes it’s way through a massive stadium at one point. Unfortunately for whoever laid out the pesos for the joint, the permanent road course was constructed to accommodate fans of the racing series formerly known as CART which will very likely be belly-up before the planned season finale race date at the track in early November.

Americano with the sleepy eyes,
Clicks off the TV,
With a new track to despise…..

-Based Loosely on James Taylor-

If there has been a clamoring groundswell for a NASCAR race date in Mexico, somehow I never got the memo. Race dates currently on the schedule in Texas, Phoenix and Fontana are within reasonable driving distance of populated part of Mexico and yet I haven’t noted a sizeable Hispanic contingent, either US born or Mexican at any of those tracks. That’s not to say there aren’t Mexican or Hispanic race fans. Certainly there are. But whether the Mexican market is ripe for picking or we’ll be faced with another international debacle like the unlamented Japanese exhibition races is a valid question. NASCAR flew their best and bravest as well as their fastest and loudest halfway around the globe to Japan only to met with a collective indifferent yawn, and a bunch of appreciative US Service personal stationed over there lounging in the sparsely populated grandstands.

I just don’t see a substantial number of Mexican citizens embracing NASCAR racing. Like most everywhere else in the world except the United States, Formula One racing is huge in Mexico. And they embraced the CART series, which had become largely a stepping-up feeder series to F1 anyway, because so many drivers of Hispanic origin competed in the series including local favorites like Adrian Fernandez. As noted, the course where the proposed race date would be held is a road circuit. Racing Cup cars on a road course is like an autocross competition for garbage trucks. You can do either, but it doesn’t make much sense and it’s not much fun to watch. Traditionally the two road courses already on the schedule have been ratings dogs. Yes, indeed, a road race a NASCAR road race in Mexico sounds like the ultimate answer to a question nobody has asked. My guess is the sheer novelty of the idea would sell some seats and get some folks to watch on TV the first year, but after that interest would fade rapidly.

Baby’s hungry, and the money’s all gone,
Folks down in Daytona,
Don’t want to talk on the phone,
They get a long letter, send back a post card,
Times are hard….
-James Taylor-Kinda Sorta-

The worst part of this whole insane notion is even while teams are struggling to find sponsors and the costs of racing are already out of control, the notion of a race in Mexico is just another financial burden for the teams.

A quick search of MSN Maps indicates the distance from Mooresville, North Carolina to Mexico City, Mexico is 2,014 miles, and the estimated time to make the drive is 35 hours and 47 minutes. That seems a little optimistic to me for an 18 wheeler team hauler as it indicates an average speed for the trip of over 57 MPH. I’m not sure how much time that estimate includes for a border check, weigh stations or fuel stops. My guess is its going to take a team of two or three drivers to make the trip and they’d probably need to schedule two and a half days to make the run. A lot of the infrastructure in Mexico really isn’t set up for something the size of a Cup hauler and traffic in and around Mexico City is the stuff of legends told by wide-eyed tourists who survived the drive. Driving into Mexico requires proof of special insurance and it doesn’t come cheap. After the race it’s going to take the drivers another two and half days to get home. My guess is if you took an anonymous poll of the Cup rig drivers they’d be overwhelmingly against the idea of heading to Mexico.

Likewise the road crews of the teams already spend way too much time on the road and too little at home. A Mexican race can only add to their burden. And I’m not sure how many of the sport’s sponsors would be in favor of the venture. Despite the long shared border between the two countries, Mexico is a very different market than the US. Mexicans even have a different flavored Coca-Cola than we drink here in the states and having sampled one at the local bodega a half cup of that crap could put a rhino in sugar shock.

On Pit Bull this week one of the panelists made the radical suggestion that the Busch series be dumped. As much as I opposed the two division Cup series when it was first proposed, maybe there’s an opportunity here. Take the current Busch Series and Winston West series and combine them. Have them run races strictly west of the Mississippi and down in Mexico. Those teams can build shops in Las Vegas, Dallas, or LA. Have the rest of the Cup teams compete at the traditional tracks that have been on the schedule for years which are closer to their North Carolina home-base as a means of cutting the cost of racing. Have the Western Division’s Daytona 500 run at TMS. Build a Richmond clone outside of Seattle. Build a one mile high-banked clay track outside of Tijuana. Build a Bristol clone outside of Salt Like City to annoy the Mormons. Start the East Coast races an hour earlier, and have the Western races on later in the day (Eastern Time) as the second part of a double-header. That way we could have fifty to sixty races a year without any one team having to run more than 30 events. Schedule the occasional “Sweepstakes” race with teams from both divisions running together to decide the best of the best. And for goodness sakes, move the Southern 500 back to where it belongs, Darlington, and run it under the hot afternoon sun during the Labor Day weekend.

Scheduling a race in Mexico just so NASCAR brass can trumpet themselves as an “international sport” doesn’t make sense financially or logistically. There’s too many markets here in the States with a proven NASCAR fan base and a fixed number of weekends in a year. What seems ironic is that NASCAR seems determined to follow the same game plan as CART did a decade ago, taking the sport to bigger markets, dumping traditional race dates that didn’t sell out (the Michigan 500 comes to mind) and adding a more international flavor with dates in foreign countries. It didn’t work for the once mighty CART series and it’s the wrong road for NASCAR to take now.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2004

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