Labor Pains

It's here again. The weekend NASCAR traditionalists have been fearing all year. The weekend when instead of running the Southern 500, NASCAR returns to spend another Labor Day holiday weekend in Southern California.

It's still hard to believe. The oldest race on the NASCAR schedule is really gone and the Labor Day weekend institution at the Darlington Raceway has been picked-up and transplanted to the Golden State.

I'm sure there will be fans holding vigil in Darlington this weekend again this year, lamenting the loss of one of the sport's greatest events.

And even though I understand all about the business of racing, the need to broaden the sport across the country, television's insistance on more prime time events and the necessary function of adding larger markets to the schedule, I don't get it. Simply stated, all of the above criteria could have been met without uprooting the Southern 500.

Wouldn't it have made absolute sense to keep the Labor Day date at Darlington and run the race at night, under the brand spanking new lighting system that has turned out to be such a hit with the new spring race run on Mother's Day weekend? NBC wants a prime time holiday race to generate larger ratings and voila - it gets one of NASCAR's crown jewels under the lights with a packed grandstand and all the charachter and charisma the sport has to offer.

Instead this weekend's date goes to Los Angeles and Darlington sits idle. It doesn't seem right.

California should have a second race to give the sport presence in an important market. Attendance hasn't been a sell-out yet for the second Fontana race, but has still been in excess of 90,000. That's about 30,000 more fans than Darlington can cram into its tiny venue.

But why not give California fans a real reason to come out for NASCAR's second appearance and move the race to November? I hear it gets warm out in California at that time of the year.

And what better way to generate the excitement of the penultimate race for the championship in the country's second largest market than by holding a race there!

We didn't get any major changes to the schedule for 2007 when it was announced a few days ago. But maybe by the time 2008 rolls around, ABC/ESPN will have some clout and be able to bring back one of the sport's historic events.

ESPN brought the Southern 500 to NASCAR fans for many years during the network's first run televising races. What a great gift it would be if they could help bring it back.

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NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2006

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