No Place To Go

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CONCORD, N.C. - The current trend to bring in top stars from open wheel racing has had an adverse effect on one segment of the motorsports world.

Short track racers.

While NEXTEL Cup seats are being handed out like Halloween candy to the likes of Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier, the days of a short track star working his way up to NASCAR's premiere series seems to be over.

You can't blame team owners, who want to put the highest-profile driver possible in any open seat. The Cup Series has morphed into a win now, at all costs circuit and if you can bring in some international flavor, i.e. marketing dollars, all the better.

Franchitti, Montoya and the rest are world class drivers who have been given an on the job training opportunity to learn the ropes of driving a stock car. They are instantly-recognizable names to a worldwide audience.

But they haven't "paid their dues" in many fans' and long-time supporters' eyes and have taken away the dreams once shared by nearly every short track driver who signed into his local bullring.

"I have a better chance at winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning," a late model short track driver who asked not to be identified told me. "NASCAR used to have a system in place that when you started on the weekly tracks, you could follow the ladder up to regional circuits and then truck, Busch and Cup if you were good enough. Now it's money guys who take the seats leaving the rest of us to have really no chance at all."

The chance to progress hasn't totally disappeared, but the driver's points are well taken.

Just as open wheel lost its identity when the road to the Indy 500 - which started in midgets and sprints and short tracks - went away, so now has NASCAR's ladder system.

NASCAR has to hope this influx of world talent won't turn off the grassroots support, which took its toll on Indy Car racing.

In its quest to go global, NASCAR is losing its small town - and track - charm.


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