Toni Montgomery · Thursday June 30, 2005
Hello, I am the opening act. My job as such is to get you warmed up and thinking trucks so that you are all ready to be a great audience for our wandering Nikki Krone. Nikki is with us live this weekend at Kansas Speedway with the Craftsman Truck Series. Those of you who are regular readers and are paying attention are probably noting that we are doing trucks two weeks in a row. Never fear, the Busch Series will be back next week.
It’s kind of ironic because not only am I playing "Second Fiddle" to Nikki this week, but the trucks are in Kansas as the opening act too. It appears for this week I have a lot in common with one of my favorite racing series. When I say opening act, I mean that the trucks are running as the support event for the IRL’s IndyCar Series this week.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s not a little odd. This is the second companion event with the IndyCar Series for the trucks this year. The trucks will also be running in concert with the Champ Cars in Las Vegas later this year. They did the same last year. It is no secret both open wheel series have been struggling with attendance and TV ratings at times. Meanwhile, the Craftsman Truck Series has been on the upswing in both departments. Going back to my concert analogy, it’s not the general practice to have an opening act that may outdraw the featured performer.
Traditionally the opener performs first and warms up the crowd for the star. The opener is usually someone who doesn’t quite have the fame to maybe support their own show but uses the audience drawn by the star attraction to get some attention and publicity for themselves.
Three years ago the Craftsman Truck Series may have fit this role but things have changed. As big name Cup drivers retire to the Craftsman Truck Series I’d be willing to bet they change even more. I think in the case of the trucks, the opener or supporting series role has become less subordinate and more of an equal partnership with the open wheel cars. The trucks have proven at their own stand alone events where they are the main attraction that they are capable of drawing their own crowd without having a bigger name series on the bill.
But what do you do with a support series if it starts to draw a bigger crowd than the main event? In the case of the open wheel series, perhaps you send a thank you card to NASCAR for helping to put butts in the seats. But seriously it is a delicate balance. NASCAR can’t send the Cup Series to take on this role because the Cup Series doesn’t run support to anyone. Since neither the Champ Cars or the IndyCars want to take on a supporting role either, it wouldn’t work. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
In spite of some problems, the Busch Series does still draw bigger crowds than the trucks. For now at least. While the trucks might outdraw the IndyCars, they will do it by a smaller number of spectators than the Busch Series would. Since the Busch Series would draw too big of a crowd to truly be considered a support race, they’re not a good fit either. Besides, they are busy playing support to Cup.
That makes the trucks the best option NASCAR has to send as support for either open wheel series. Which makes the trucks NASCAR ambassadors of a sort. Although if you ask me, I still find the whole set up odd because the truck audience may be the one NASCAR audience that is farthest away from the typical IndyCar or Champ Car audience. I’d happily attend both races but then I’ll watch anything with wheels go in circles. I tend to think I am in the minority that way. Many NASCAR fans I know have no interest in open wheel cars and many of the open wheel fans I’ve run across have only a passing interest in NASCAR. Of course, if you’re Kansas Speedway, you’ve sold your tickets as a season package. One thing both kinds of fans have in common is if they’ve spent the money and they’re in town, they may as well use the ticket. It’s still at least a race.
Still, there is a chance that this is a good fit. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is the best racing in NASCAR most of the time these days. It’s fans have become accustomed to close finishes and great side by side action. The IndyCar Series is legendary for close finishes and side by side racing in its own right. If that’s what the fans of both series really came to see, it might be a great partnership even if the trucks aren’t exactly playing the traditional support role.
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