Let It Be

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**SHAMELESS PLUG - I'LL BE PINCH HITTING FOR "THE GODFATHER" DAVE MOODY ON "SIRIUS SPEEDWAY" THIS FRIDAY FROM 5-7 P.M. ET ON SIRIUS NASCAR RADIO CHANNEL 128.

Past years have found this column space dedicated to my ranting about how lame the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Banquet is and how NASCAR should move the show out of New York.

But not this year.

For the 28th time, NASCAR has brought the year-end championship celebration to the Big Apple and Friday night, Jimmie Johnson will be honored for his third straight Sprint Cup championship.

It was a novel idea back in 1971 when NASCAR took the show to Manhattan in hopes to showcasing the sport of stock car racing to corporate America and the many potential companies on Madison Avenue who were discovering the sport as a solid marketing tool.

Since then NASCAR has grown by leaps and bounds and despite the economic downturn we're all in, remains a healthy commodity.

The show itself has always been pretty lame, the sight of uncomfortable drivers in rented tuxedos walking on stage to collect big checks is never going to generate huge television ratings.

And in the last few years, NASCAR has tried to spice things up with the inclusion of musical guests and entertainment emcees, experiments that quite frankly have made the proceedings all the more painful.

Lately there has been more and more discussion of moving the banquet and changing the format to include fans and other interactive activities.

Picking up the show and transporting it to Las Vegas or Charlotte or Nashville or even Daytona Beach would certainly provide more opportunities to connect with real race fans than trying to find a few of those in Manhattan.

It's hard to get noticed in the Big Apple and I think this year the sport has been almost completely ignored by the NYC media, who would rather cover the story of an NFL player shooting himself in the leg or the Giants or Jets or Knicks or Rangers or anything else that doesn't involved stock car racing.

Several people in New York this week - and it is a shrinking number of media members who actually make this trip - have told me Johnson literally has walked down the street and into restaurants without being bothered or recognized.

But NASCAR feels it needs a presence of some kind in the country's largest city and media mecca so I say let the banquet keep coming to New York. It can be an exclusive gathering for teams and crew members deserving of recognition for their stellar season. And the corporate people and whatever interested national and local media have their chance to rub elbows with the sport's personalities and management.

So let's start a new event to kick off the year and create something the fans can attend and get excited about. The annual NASCAR "Fan festival" would be the perfect way to generate interest in the season ahead with a weekend full of activities, interactive exhibits, autograph sessions, displays of new cars and paint schemes and a grand finale show featuring awards voted on by fans.

It's be one part CMA Awards, two parts MTV Movie Awards and a dash of the old Cup Preview held in Winston-Salem back in the day rolled into one.

And the perfect venue would be in Charlotte, the hub of the sport and the future home of the new NASCAR Hall of Fame.

So let the annual trek to the city so nice you have to say it twice take place every December. I'll wait for the real celebration and hope someone out there with the foresight and gumption to put such a shindig together hits a grand slam when it finally comes to fruition.

I hope to see you there.

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