One of the most reported stories in NASCAR Nation, over the past month surrounds a threat by SMI President O. Bruton Smith to move one of the Charlotte races to Las Vegas for 2014. The 500-mile Fall event is reportedly the one on the chopping block, due to be shipped out West for a mid-October date or perhaps even the season finale before the banquet next November.
It’s a plan that has a lot of people up in arms. But there’s no valid reason for Smith, who likes to stir up trouble to move the Fall race at Charlotte to Las Vegas. Sure, he owns the track and has every right to make such decisions, but he also needs to think above-and-beyond the bottom line. Las Vegas may provide an exciting location for automobile racing, but it’s unrealistic for Smith to think that everyone would be okay with making such a significant change.
For starters, most of NASCAR Nation resides in the greater Charlotte region. This is why so many drivers, car owners, and crew members speak rhapsodically about the month of May: racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway means being able to stay at home. No hotels and no suitcases mean no added travel hassles to clutter up an already-hectic schedule.
There’s something comforting about being able to spend evenings with your family – to enjoy home-cooked meals and quality time with the people who add stability to a racer’s life. Being able to sleep in your own bed is an all-too-rare luxury for those who live and breathe NASCAR. Given the excessive time-and-energy demands (nearly eleven months out of every year) of working in Brian France’s Traveling Circus, yet another cross-country trip to Nevada seems like overkill.
Not to mention that NASCAR already makes a post-season journey to Vegas for the annual Sprint Cup awards banquet. After the final race at Homestead, anyone-who’s-anyone in the top-tier division heads west to “Sin City” for a week of media events, accolades, and overall debauchery; adding an additional jaunt during the month of October would be more than some already-strained team budgets (and nerves) could handle.
The current Sprint Cup schedule features a four-race stretch of events at Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, and Martinsville in October. These races already have the added distinction of being part of the Chase for the Championship; trying to get cars and crews to those locations is not automatically simple, but it’s not out of the logistical question.
Swap Charlotte for Las Vegas, however, and suddenly you’ve got a high-mileage burden for teams heading into crunch time as the season begins to wind down. Team transporters (and the driving crews that operate them) will be required to spend more days on the road at a time when energy is beginning to fade – and just so Bruton Smith can unlock the gates and try to draw an all-too-ignored West Coast audience?
The real question is: is a hopeful attempt at what’s traditionally been a poorly-attended race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway worth such a long distance gamble?
Seeing it from the perspective of a Sprint Cup driver, crew member, or journalist, I’d say the answer is no. Not when you compare such a gamble to the benefits of keeping the October race date at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Teams will have the aforementioned advantage of spending one more late-season week at home. NASCAR will also be better able to capitalize on its regional fan base – a fan base that, despite slumping numbers in recent years, is still capable of larger crowds than we see at Las Vegas.
It’s not as though the city needs yet another Sprint Cup Series weekend to boost its tourism statistics. Rarely has there been a shortage of conventions, conferences, expositions, and non-NASCAR sporting events in Las Vegas, in addition to the dearth of weekend get-away bachelor/bachelorette parties the city sees on a regular basis. Las Vegas attracts visitors quickly and easily. Wedding chapels and cheap buffets aside, another Sprint Cup date in October will do little to bolster the area’s bottom line.
Bruton Smith, on the other hand, sees an October race date in Las Vegas as a quick way to boost his own account balances. Smith is a businessman, and that’s what businessmen try to do. Unfortunately, his idea of moving the Charlotte event will wind up being more harmful than good.
As the old adage states: Home is where the heart is.
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