Imagine taking Pocono’s two traditional 500 mile races and turning them into a pair of two two hundred mile races run on the same day. Is it time given the realities of stock car racing today?
I proposed this idea last year in the Pocono race recap I wrote. Some people immediately accused me of hypocrisy because I have long defended the epic 500 mile length of the Pocono events. I can’t tell you if I’ve been to more races at Dover or Pocono, but growing up in these parts they were the two closest tracks and I’ve been to a ton of events at both tracks, and had a ball I might add. 500 miles at Pocono never bothered me back in the days the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Harry Gant, Tim Richmond and Davey Allison were out there racing each other like every lap was the last lap.
But lets face reality. The lukewarm, white-bread, points hungry, millionaire drivers of today seldom get up on the wheel until the final 20 laps. Thus race fans tend to see an interesting start to a race and an interesting end to a race, but a middle section, the majority of the race, is less than interesting to be polite. It’s like a horse manure sandwich, tasty toasted wheat bread on either end but nothing but crap in the middle.
Interestingly this past weekend’s Indy Car race at Texas was split into two 275 mile segments with an hour intermission between the two races. (An hour intermission is way too long by the way. I’d shoot for less than thirty minutes to keep the fans engaged. Sounds to me like someone is more interested in concession sales than the fans’ race day experience.)
So how would a Twin 200 mile race be run at Pocono? It wouldn’t be that hard. A pair of 100 lap races with the aforementioned half-hour break in between. The field would qualify as normal on Friday for the first 200 mile race. The race would be run as normal for the first segment and the finishers would be awarded half the points of a regular race (Sorry, can’t have Pocono awarding four races worth of points to the victor. Darlington maybe, but not Pocono.) After the first 200 miles the starting field for the second race would be set by inverting all the drivers who finished on the lead lap at the front of the field (a fairly common practice at the local tracks) with those who finished one lap or more back lined up behind them.
Any driver or team who wrecked a car or had terminal mechanical issues would be allowed to start the second race in their backup car but they’d start tail end on the field. During the break teams would be able to make any adjustments or changes they can accomplish in the allotted time period. But we’re not waiting on ya’ll. If your car is still torn apart at the end of the thirty minutes, you join the race a number of laps down. Other than that they’d just go out there and run another hundred laps.
Here’s why I think the idea would work. I’m a race fan. I go to races and watch races hoping to see good racing. I genuinely don’t care who wins. But I realize there’s a lot of folks who are “driver” fans, not race fans. If Junior or Gordon wrecks out or blows up early in the race they pack up their stuff and head for the exits, thoroughly disgusted with their decision to attend the race and lay out all that cash. Now the “driver” fans will have two chances to see their boy win the race or at least score a good finish. There are more laps of competitive racing rather than cruising which ought to help keep the fans of every driver on their feet and cheering. If I recall back in the day when I was an ardent Bill Elliott fan I knew Bill had a good race because I’d wake up the next day with sunburn in my armpits because I’d had my fists pumping over my head all day cheering him on while my ivory white Irish skin baked in the midday sun.
Two sets of sponsors get to celebrate a win for their poster boy in their clown suits. Sponsors like winning races. It helps keep the money pump ratcheting. The TV networks will probably see increased ratings and that sort like that. They can work in more of their commercial load during the break leaving fans watching on TV more green flag laps of racing live. (Yeah, I know, wishful thinking.) During the half hour breaks fans at home would have time to grille up some burgers and have a beer. As best I can tell, burgers, bread and beer are the last three items we aren’t importing from China so we’d actually be helping the American economy. (Yes, I am being somewhat facetious but I really do like burgers and beer….as my physique attests to). Maybe Pocono could up the ante by awarding a $100,000 bonus to any driver who could win both races on a single weekend and a one million dollar bonus to any driver who could win all four races in a single season.
Twice the fun for the price of one ticket? No more watching one driver lead the last 156 laps? Yeah, sign me up Dano! In this economy and with American’s current lack of attention span it’s all about giving the fans more than they expect for the hard earned dollars they lay out to attend a race, a not inconsiderable sum. A bold experiment? Perhaps. But if the Pocono track management agrees I’ll show up and anyone who doesn’t like the experiment can throw rocks at me after the race on pit road. I’ve been stoned before.
Interestingly enough such an experiment would not be unprecedented in NASCAR racing. I know a lot about the history of the sport after forty years of studying that history. But here’s something I didn’t know until recently. The spring race at Darlington started as the “Rebel 300”. But in 1963 they split the race into two 150 mile segments. The overall winner of the event was decided by whichever driver garnered the most points in both events. No, really. There’s an article in the July issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines written by Jim Donnelly that documents the event and offers tons of photographic evidence. Joe Weatherly won the first segment and Richard Petty the second, with Weatherly getting the nod over the King for a better overall finishing average. Two sets of fans, arguably the two most popular drivers in the sport in that era, went home happy.
This really isn’t that novel an idea. They’ve been running motocross motorcycle races under the “twin race” format back since the day when my knees and lower back allowed to race and occasionally win in MX racing.
Give this idea a try. If it doesn’t work, scrap it.
On the plains of hesitation lie the bleached bones who when within the grasp of victory sat and waited and waiting died. -Winston Churchill
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