The Frontstretch: Please NASCAR, Not Martinsville Too by Kurt Smith -- Friday October 17, 2008

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Please NASCAR, Not Martinsville Too

Kurt Smith · Friday October 17, 2008

 

Martinsville Speedway isn’t for candy-ass drivers or spectators. And that’s the best thing about the joint.

Like Fenway Park, one doesn’t go to Martinsville Speedway expecting the comforts and “amenities” of modern-day event facilities. Racing fans in southwest Virginia don’t go to races to sip lattes and possibly meet celebrities. No one goes to the paper clip to play roulette and maybe catch a few laps of a NASCAR event.

The town of Martinsville isn’t built to host an event that may, and usually does, draw as many as 65,000 people. Parking is difficult to find and hotels are not abundant enough. There aren’t any major U.S. routes or interstates going through town. And you aren’t going to roll out of your hotel bed at 9AM if you want to beat Martinsville race traffic.

None of that matters. Martinsville Speedway need not offer individual seats, crab cakes, or slot machines. It doesn’t even really need the hot dogs. Martinsville offers the only thing NASCAR’s best and most dedicated fans ask for—hard-nosed, close quarters, blood-on-the-floor and busted fenders automobile racing.

Put a hot rookie in decent equipment and he can often contend for a win on an intermediate or restrictor plate track. If he comes from an open wheel series, he may even grab a win at a road course. Put a rookie in the best car in the field at Martinsville and watch him get shoved to the back in 20 laps before he spins out a couple of times. Forget uniformity with the car design. Few elements of NASCAR put success in the driver’s hands like Martinsville Speedway does.

You won’t sip on lattes or rub elbows with celebrities at Martinsville Speedway, but for hard-nosed, close quarters racing, it is the place to be.

Recently NASCAR made it abundantly clear that Kansas Speedway is going to get another race date. It’s the casino, you see. Nothing makes a fan more likely to show up for a race than the prospect of losing his shirt at a blackjack table while partaking of a buffet. I think that’s why Dover is popular, right?

With this news, you know, you just know, that one of the most entertaining and historic tracks left on the circuit is in NASCAR’s sights for swiping that second date. You need only to look at recent history to see that. For performing poorly attendance-wise, Atlanta and Fontana are given better dates—their dates were switched to give them a coveted Labor Day and a Chase date, respectively—after North Wilkesboro and Rockingham were shoved out of the door the moment they could be, their relevance to the history of the sport disregarded. Even Charlotte, the home of NASCAR—and a town that has just forked over another $32 million of taxpayer money for “enhancements” to the coming NASCAR Hall of Fame—is now rumored to be in danger of losing a race to Las Vegas. There must be something about casinos—maybe it’s the ubiquitous prostitutes—but NASCAR has also done everything it can to get the hell out of the Carolinas, and Martinsville is close enough to the border.

But just in case recent history doesn’t convince you, read a couple quotes from racing journalists:

“The day all the bureaucratic hassles are overcome in Denver or New York or wherever and a bulldozer breaks ground, the clock begins ticking on Martinsville. Right now, it’s a racetrack being saved by red tape.” – David Caraviello

“Martinsville is like the classic antique car that you keep protected in a safe place, the one you take for a spin only a couple of times a year before you put it back under wraps. But sometimes you have to trade in that old antique for something sleek and modern, and NASCAR may already be window shopping.” – Mark Aumann

Both of those writers work for NASCAR’s website. I’m not insinuating anything at all by saying that, and, in fairness, there have been some articles defending Martinsville on NASCAR’s web home. It’s just that there isn’t anyone at NASCAR.com suggesting that it’s time for Fontana to lose a race.

After losing The Rock, North Wilkesboro and a race at Darlington in a very short period of time, NASCAR should not even think about taking a race date away from yet another iconic southeastern track. They might still have Atlanta, Richmond, and Charlotte, but Martinsville, Bristol, and Talladega truly represent the small-town, rural, blue collar crowd for whom NASCAR isn’t just a sport.

These folks are still the most hardcore, dedicated fans. They have been insulted enough in the name of higher revenues. A business decision is what it is and I understand that, but giving back some of the loyalty that your most devoted customers have shown is an element of good business too, intangible though it may be. Goodwill, businessmen sometimes call it. If Brian France guaranteed that Martinsville would keep both races for at least 10 more years, it would be a fine gesture to small town fans that have spent the last five years wondering where NASCAR went. Happy Hour would be the first to praise such an announcement.

Besides, the size of the down home base is quantifiable in one glaring way.

Brian France himself cited Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s failure to make the Chase in 2007 as a reason for sagging ratings for their beloved Chase; he may be more right about that than even he knows. It isn’t absurd to suggest that as goes Junior, so goes NASCAR—and all of its related websites, incidentally. NASCAR is fully aware of that. Part of the reason the Chase was implemented was to enable more popular drivers—Dale, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart—to be in the title hunt at the end. When all three of their biggest names failed to make the 10-driver cut in the first three years, the Chase was expanded to 12 drivers. One suspects that when Junior didn’t make the 12-car playoff field last season, more “tweaks” were considered. One could also question why NASCAR made an effort to slow down Toyota this year but not to slow down Chevrolet or Hendrick Motorsports during their domination last year—was it because they knew their biggest star would be driving a Chevrolet for Hendrick in 2008?

Of course NASCAR wants Junior to be in it at the end. It would be great for business. But instead of baldly trying to improve the chances of that happening, NASCAR could look at the reason for Junior’s popularity. Have they forgotten?

When Dale Earnhardt passed, suddenly there wasn’t much of a contingent of good ol’ boys in NASCAR anymore. The sport was now guys from Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin. Even the rookie that took over for the Intimidator was from California. Five months later NASCAR came back to the scene of its darkest hour, and the son of the fallen star who inherited his name won an emotional victory, sending a message to and from the beer drinkers and the hell raisers: we ain’t dead yet. And a star was born at Daytona.

He may have some fans outside of the Carolinas, but Junior represents the South and he is by far NASCAR’s biggest star. So do the math. That, to a great extent, tells you where a big chunk of NASCAR’s base is: in Alabama, the Carolinas, Tennessee—and southern Virginia. They will travel a long way and tolerate parking insanity to attend a NASCAR event. They’ll happily sit on benches and not wonder if they’ll have a place to gamble afterward. As fans, they’re keepers.

We’ve lost Dale Earnhardt and Benny Parsons. Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip have long been retired, relegated to being ambassadors for the sport. North Wilkesboro and Rockingham and half of Darlington’s races are now gone. And soon Martinsville and even Charlotte may be on the chopping block to lose race dates. When southern Virginia and North Carolina fans don’t have a place to see a NASCAR event, will they watch the Kansas race on TV?

Try to find another way, Brian. Goodwill, fans sometimes call it.

And Now For Something Completely Different – A Look Inside Kurt’s Shorts

  • As I stated in “Mirror Driving”, I really didn’t care a whit about seeing the photos of the spat between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards in the garage. But I am noticing that Carl Edwards’s behavior is becoming more erratic. This is two Chases in a row that he’s gone after someone without caring who is watching. If the incidents mount, will Jack Roush let Carl become Roger Penske’s problem too?
  • It seems as though whoever wins the race on a Chase weekend usually becomes a “legitimate title threat”. Unless Jimmie Johnson crashes or blows an engine, Jeff Burton isn’t going to catch him. Burton’s had two wins, seven Top 5s and 17 Top 10s this year – while Johnson has five wins, 12 Top 5s and 19 Top 10s. One race doesn’t change that Johnson’s been better overall all year.
  • It seems like every race at Martinsville has its “dart without feathers” rookie, and it’s going to be really interesting with Scott Speed in the Martinsville field in the No. 84. It could be fun to watch a guy as cocky as Speed—he makes Kyle Busch look humble—get a baptism of fire at a short track. But he did finish 10th in his only Martinsville start in the Truck Series, so he may shut me up this weekend.
  • This weekend may be Jeff Gordon’s best chance to end his winless streak. It might seem surprising that a driver who once won 13 races in a season would have a winless streak last this long, but that does suggest that the competition has improved since 1998, my rants notwithstanding. Not all bad.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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Mark
10/17/2008 06:57 AM
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NA$CAR….it really stands for:

Now
All we
Seriously
Care
About is
Revnue

If there is a way for NA$CAR to bank $10.00 more by moving a race out of the Paper Clip… well, then kiss one goodbye.

Brian France Sucks
10/17/2008 10:21 AM
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Gotta blame France and the NA$CAR yes men for this deal. All they care about is building venues in large markets that seat well over 100,000, so they can line their greedy pockets. do you really think that safety was their # 1 concern for the CoT? Nope, it was to create a monopoly on needed parts for the CoT such as the rear “wing” to pocket more cash. Who do you think sells those to the teams? The quality of racing is irrelevant; the knuckleheads that run this show figure they can counter that with catchy advertising campaigns and pumping up salacious garbage such as the non-fight last week. In 10-15 years NA$CAR will be in the tank if idiots like Brian France are still running the show. He!!, I can get season tickets to Marshall University football games for 2/3 of the cost of 1 sh!tty Indianapolis ticket. If anyone is interested in seeing some real racing, come on down to southern Ohio and watch the DTWC this weekend. and if you’re just a NA$CAR fan, Tony Stewart ran in this race two years ago, but he couldn’t make the feature.

midasmicah
10/17/2008 12:19 PM
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I’m going to say this very loud and very clear. Take away races from Martinsville and putting them at cookie cutter tracks like Kansas will be the one more move that pushes me further and further away from na$car. Notice the $. Thats all that na$car stands for now days. First they took away North Wilkesboro. Than came “The Rock” One race was taken away from Darlington. The “Southern 500” was no more. If na$car is dead set on Alienating what remains of their fan base eliminating races from Martinsville, whick is the heart, soul, and guts of what na$car once was. Go ahead na$car. Keep pushing me further and further away. Thanks for listening.

Keith
10/17/2008 12:45 PM
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If Na$car takes a race from Martinsville and moves it to Kansas it will be 1 more race I don’t watch. If you notice the Na$car minions like you named trot out the company line or agenda. Have you noticed that all the attendance and TV ratings are down except Kansas and you know no matter what Martinsville does this weekend Kansas did better they will spin it that way. By the way if you look at the real facts Kansas had less viewers than most of the other races but you won’t read that anywhere.

Keith
10/17/2008 12:52 PM
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http://www.jayski.com/pages/tvratings2008.htm Go to this web site and look at the facts the only races with lower TV ratings than kansas are the ones on cable during football games and they aren’t far behind.

dawg
10/17/2008 01:44 PM
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When it comes to defending NA$CAR. There are few people less likely than me, to do it. Let me take a short break from my NA$CAR bashing. To state a fact.
NA$CAR didn’t take anything away from North Wilksbourogh. The owners sold out to Bruton, & Baher (knowing full well what fate awaited the track.) Who divided up the carcass. Sending one date to Where Vegas? & New Hampshire. The same thing should happer to Pocono!

Duane
10/17/2008 02:27 PM
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Something I noticed at Martinsville the other weekend, big Late Model Stock race, was that I didn’t see any evidence of new stands going in on the backstretch. Prior to ISC purchasing the track the owners reached an agreement with Norfolk and Western Railroad to move the track back so that they could install more bleachers on the backstretch. N&W did what they agreed to after ISC bought the track but where are the seats?

Mike
10/18/2008 08:30 AM
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I hate Matinsville. Been there 3 times. Can’t pass on that track unless you knock the guy in front of you out of the way. Traffic is worse there then anywhere else. And those hot dogs are frigging gross.

The parking on wet grassy hills sucks.

If ASSCAR is gonna take a date from there give it to Darlington or Kentucky.

RJ
10/20/2008 09:04 PM
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You would almost think they would realize that if they continue to drive off “hard-core” fans that all they will have left is the good time friends and when something new comes along there will be a lot of empty seats. Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond are some of the best races and yet they continue to want to add snoozer tracks.

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