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Rockford Speedway
Photo: Rockford Speedway

Opinion: Short Track Summer

We’re in the middle of summer and it’s time for my annual plea. Save our short tracks.

Last year the spotlight was bright on grassroots racing thanks to a couple of NASCAR stars speaking out. Kyle Larson was the first when he shared some passionate comments about the state of short track racing during a media availability.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver not only cut his teeth on the short tracks of the country, he regularly competes in both sprint car and midget car racing around his busy NASCAR schedule.

“But I feel like everybody needs to encourage me and others to go race at your local short track and all that because I feel like we’ve lost touch with our grassroots race fans,” Larson said. “And, I really think with me going back and doing that stuff and Kyle Busch running Late Model races throughout the year, it really kind of gets the local fans back excited about NASCAR.

“I feel like the last decade or so they’ve kind of lost touch with it. Yeah, I feel like everybody should instead of making (team owners) Chip (Ganassi) and Felix (Sabates) feel like they have to shut me down, should encourage them because it helps our fan base out.”

Then there was Kevin Harvick, who made some pointed comments about the state of short track racing and where NASCAR fits in during his time with the media at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

“I think that needs to be a part of our initiative,” Harvick said of getting more established Cup stars back out to short tracks. “A guy like Chase Elliott would love to go run Late Model races at any track in the country, instead of going to do an appearance. That’s what pushes his buttons.”

Regular readers of this column know where I stand on the situation. The support of short tracks is a necessary component to the overall health of not just NASCAR but auto racing in general. Anyone currently inside the upper echelon of the sport – drivers, crew chiefs, crewmembers, track and NASCAR officials and even media members – started their careers at the short track level.

But that feeder system is slowly fading away. While there are certainly a number of tracks doing well, that is not a blanket statement about the entire short track world including weekly facilities as well as touring series. It wasn’t always that way.

During the R.J. Reynolds years of funding NASCAR racing, that sponsorship included a healthy investment in grass roots racing through the Winston Weekly Racing Series.

Hundreds of tracks competed under that banner buoyed by a significant point and prize money structure as well as a substantial marketing initiative.

While the NASCAR Home Track program and Whelen All-American Series provide the structure and support to today’s short track racers there needs to be more support.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West have evolved into competitive and popular series with schedules that take both divisions to a solid variety of tracks. But with the NASCAR acquisition of ARCA and planned merger between the series, this year has seen a sharp decline in entries as many teams play a wait and see approach. The good news is the Whelen Modified Tour has enjoyed a resurgence and NASCAR’s Pinty’s Series in Canada is also experiencing a successful run.

Weekly racing under the NASCAR banner also includes some of the most iconic short tracks in the country such as Stafford Motor Speedway, Rockford Speedway, Bowman-Gray Stadium, Berlin Raceway, Hickory Motor Speedway and Madison International Speedway. That got a major boost with the announcement of NBC’s short track initiative in conjunction with NASCAR that kicked off last week.

The “My Track, My Roots” program will shine a light on the hundreds of weekly speedways around the country and provide some much-needed national exposure. NBC Sports will showcase more than 500 tracks across America as part of #MyTrackMyRoots over the next four months, featuring photos, highlights and interviews throughout race coverage on NBC and NBCSN, on its daily studio show, NASCAR America, and on its NASCAR on NBC social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

NASCAR’s FansChoiceTV.com is also an excellent option for fans to live streak races from around the country on a weekly basis. Of course MRN’s weekly “NASCAR Coast to Coast” show is another perfect vehicle to shine the spotlight on grassroots racing around the country.

Any sport is only as strong as its roots. Auto racing is no different. Do your part, take in a weekly racing program sometime this summer and while you’re at it, bring as many people – especially kids – as you can fit in your car. You won’t be sorry.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.