The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Another Failed Opportunity To Right A Wrong With Darlington by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday August 28, 2008

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Fanning the Flames: Another Failed Opportunity To Right A Wrong With Darlington

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday August 28, 2008


With apologies to the Bristol Night Race, this week was all about Darlington on the Fanning the Flames circuit. NASCAR’s announcement last week that a three-race date swap involving Atlanta, California, and Talladega left the Flame Faithful scratching their heads as to why the sport didn’t cut its losses with the ill-fated California / Labor Day weekend experiment, returning said date to its rightful spot in Darlington as the Southern 500.

As a lifelong fan first and foremost, I was saddened and left a bit jaded when Darlington was stripped of its Southern 500 date. No other venue could fill the void, and although Atlanta Motor Speedway is much more rooted in NASCAR lore and a much more entertaining track than Auto Club Speedway, it will still come up just short. But as a member of the media that observes, comments and makes his livelihood covering the sport I love, I’m further saddened to say I was not surprised in the least that NASCAR — a sport and an organization that claims to have been built on the strength of its loyal fan base — chose to totally ignore the wishes of those who keep it in business.

Were there very real issues, concerns, and hurdles that would have had to have been addressed in moving the Southern 500 back to Darlington? Of course. But my hunch is those issues were just as easily conquered as the ones the Atlanta / California / Talladega swap presented. Having the Southern 500 in Darlington is feasible from a financial and logistics standpoint, as 50 years of history has proved. What is not is NASCAR’s willingness to cater to the one body that keeps the sport alive — its fans.

By not bringing the Southern 500 back to Darlington on Labor Day weekend, NASCAR has alienated many — turning off both the casual fan and diehards alike.

And you think those fans aren’t keenly aware of this? Read on:

Typical. NASCAR had their chance to bring back the Southern 500 (in September, not May) and refused to again. Have they completely lost touch with the fans? Don’t they know that is what we all want? I’ll never hear Mike Helton or Brian France or any driver ever say “it’s all about the fans” again and believe them.
— Neil Board

As a 25-year fan, I never thought I would see a day when the Southern 500 was not run at Darlington on Labor Day weekend. That is, of course, until NASCAR chased what they thought were the big bucks and moved the show out to California. Now that NASCAR realized the move was a mistake, I really thought I’d see them move the date back to where it belongs and where it should have never left. But as usual, they go in the opposite direction they should.

Nothing against Atlanta — I love that track too. But how is it that what seems so obvious to the rest of us is lost on the one group that could make things right again?
— Former Fan

Another date change, another blown call. Thanks, but no thanks, NASCAR. I’ll be on my boat next Labor Day weekend (again) instead of tuning in.
— M. Goodman

Matt, thanks for writing what many of us were thinking last week. If NASCAR is going to move the Labor Day race from California, why not return it to its rightful place in Darlington? Moving it to Atlanta gives me the feel that NASCAR could have done the right thing, but did not. If they are going to move the date, why not move it back to where it should be? Have they made a conscious decision to forget their history?
— Terri G.

NASCAR knows what the masses want; bringing the Labor Day weekend date back to Darlington is the one constant we’ve heard from fans since it was taken — the only constant, actually, as other hot-button issues come and go. Why the sport does not recognize and honor those wishes is beyond me — particularly when the obvious failure of the Fontana Labor Day date remains a black eye for them.

This sport has had to fight to keep fans since its “Realignment 2004 and Beyond” initiative produced such a backlash from the faithful. Those casual “fans” the sanctioning body so desired have long since moved on (or back to the sport they came from), leaving the series in a state of declining ratings and mounting discontent from several different groups. NASCAR’s brass would have been wise to use this golden opportunity to right one of those wrongs, healing a still-open wound many fans feel from that mistake. Instead, this whole process has only succeeded in once again proving the sport is no longer about the fans — not from their point of view, anyway.

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08/28/2008 07:27 AM

California Track Rewarded
Not only can they not decide what to name the track, in lieu of the local grocer “GIVING AWAY” thousands of tickets to make the track appear to have sold “some” seats, it is indeed all smoke and mirrors. We have seen the numerous empty grandstands covered with tarps and we have been advised the tv cameras have been told NOT to pan the grandstands so as not to show the thousands of empty seats on tv. We have been told the fans weren’t there because they were at the OSCARs. We have been told the fans WERE there but were underneath buying souvenirs. We have been told the weather is tool hot and they need a better race date which just happens to be during the chase. We were told Rockingham lost race dates because they could not sell/fill seats — deservedly. Even though they raced in mid-February the week after Daytona. We were told Darlington lost a race because they could not sell/fill seats and were penalized with Mother’s Day weekend. Now, we reward Fontana with a better weather date as well as a CHASE date. Somehow the “FAVORED” child status of Fontana does not lend itself to an equal playing field. Remember, when Kansas City gets their second Cup date, there is NO doubt from whre it should be taken….deservedly.

And…how can anyone, other than the lame management of Fontana even consider starting a Nationwide race AFTER 10:00 PM EDT so that in addition to no one in the stands, there will be virtually no one on the east coast watching. But, alas, the next morning, after the Nationwide & Cup races, we will re-live the highlights on ESPN SportsCenter…how nice.

Bill B
08/28/2008 08:58 AM

Why didn’t the race get moved back to Darlington? Because there is no way Brian France (or George Bush for that matter) will ever admit they made a mistake. It is more important for France to appear right than to admit that he could ever be wrong, about anything.

08/28/2008 09:23 AM

Matt, I couldn’t agree more with your opinion on the absurd decision by Nascar regarding the Southern 500. How in the world could NASCAR be so oblivious? This race race was the Daytona 500 before Daytona, it was one of three races that comprised the triple crown, was part of the no bull 5 and was revered by the fans and the drivers alike. The racing at Darlington is like no other venue on the circuit and the Southern 500 was a badge of honor among drivers. Before it was pulled from the schedule, it was ranked as one of the top three, if not the number one race every driver wanted to win. The attendance issues for the last few S. 500’s were a result of neglect. ISC (NASCAR)as owners of the track, made no effort to upgrade the facility or promote the race. If they had to take a race from Darlington, why in the world didn’t they take the spring race and simply upgrade the facilty, promote the race and move the starting time to take advantage of the cooler temps and the excitment of night racing like they’ve done for the current spring race?!! Naming the spring race the Southern 500 means nothing – it needs to be run on Labor Day weekend to be the real thing.

C in VA
08/28/2008 12:21 PM

Bill B

That is the lamest cheap shot ever. I’m no W fan but the haters take every opportunity to bash him.

08/28/2008 04:07 PM

I’m voting for Obama after receiving a personal vision that he will use his awesome god-like powers to return the southern 500 to darlington.


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Contact Matt Taliaferro

Recent articles from Matt Taliaferro:

Fanning the Flames: Of Daytona, Danica, Dale, and Duels
2009 Season Review: Tony Stewart
2009 Season Review: Ryan Newman
Fanning the Flames: Closing the Inbox on the 2009 Season
Fanning the Flames: The Crew Chief Carousel and Other Assorted Oddities