NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: NASCAR Gets 1 Right – No Mas in Ciudad de Mexico

NASCAR announced last week that they will not be running Nationwide Series races at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course in Mexico City next year. Finally, a change in the schedule we can applaud. Granted, it’s only the Nationwide Series, but we’ll take whatever victories we can get.

It would probably be an understatement to suggest that the initial novelty of Nationwide Series racing has worn a bit thin on our southern neighbors. After the first race, where 100,000 curious Mexicans showed up to watch Martin Truex Jr. take the victory, this year’s Kyle Busch show drew just 57,000. At this rate, let’s see – carry the one – it would take just four more races to make the population in the garage bigger than that of the grandstands.

Of course, to listen to NASCAR, it has been an unqualified success. Robin Pemberton described it thus: “We went down there to help establish a new series, the Mexico Corona Series, and that series has taken off nicely. They’ve built some new facilities, remodeled some, car counts have been great, and their series has really gotten a good boost from the Nationwide cars being down there in Mexico City.”

Interesting that that didn’t seem to be the goal before the Nationwide Series picked up its tent and left town in the wake of a rapidly shrinking audience. Now that’s good PR – NEWS FLASH: the purpose of dragging all of the teams across the border to a city where they were told not to venture far from their hotels or drink the water was not, as some may think, to make the Nationwide Series international. In fact, the goal was to draw attention to the Corona Series in Mexico! Please correct all of our press statements from 2005.

I follow NASCAR on a daily basis. It’s part of the job. Until reading about this story, I had never even heard of the NASCAR Corona Series. I’m not saying that’s not my fault. I’m just saying I’d never heard of it. I doubt you have either.

At least there’s finally a major sponsor in NASCAR that makes a decent beer.

And Brian France of course doesn’t have a problem with reaching out to Mexican sports fans, who once chanted “Osama-Osama-Osama” at a U.S.-Mexico soccer game. Presumably, as long as they don’t fly Confederate flags it’s cool.

But whatever. NASCAR is removing Mexico City from the Nationwide schedule and that is a good thing. This opens a date for a track that needs one – our own Bryan Davis Keith made cases for both Iowa and Rockingham – and it also saves teams from the nightmares of international long-distance travel. And having considered the matter carefully, I’ve decided on several venues that would be host to better racing than Mexico City, among them “Times Square,” “my backyard” or “an only slightly littered beach” (I’m on the fence with Indianapolis).

The reason for the attendance at Autodromo so rapidly dwindling is the same reason attendance is dwindling in many venues in the States… the show isn’t worth the cost right now. Poor economy or not, the quality of the racing is going to be a factor in attendance. However, the blame for this particular event’s lack of luster beyond the initial novelty doesn’t really fall on NASCAR, other than for their decision to hold a race there. With all due respect to Ricardo Rodriguez and his family, Mexico City is simply a substandard venue.

Consider the last event there. Busch won a race with seven yellow and two red flags. The yellow-flag periods were longer than most are accustomed to, with inferior cleanup crews taking longer to get debris and other remnants of wrecks off of the track. Nearly a quarter of the race was run under caution – by comparison, about a third of the infamous Indy race was under caution, not much more. And yellow-flag laps are very slow on a road course – there is a lot more time for commercials. One can only imagine what it must have been like sitting through that in the stands. Even in April it can get pretty hot in Mexico City.

The red flags happened once to fix a wall and once to clean fluids off the track. Two red flags in a race that has already had too many yellow-flag laps doesn’t happen very often, and it certainly doesn’t make for a great event. By the time Busch crossed the finish line, most were probably eager for it to be over. Surely native Mexican racing fans can think of better ways to spend their entertainment peso.

What the fans in attendance didn’t see that day, but didn’t help matters, was ESPN losing the broadcast feed for a considerable period of time. This was on a bright and sunny day, so it’s doubtful that there were any electrical storms in the area.

A venue that featured a race of this level of quality in America had better be located near Los Angeles to keep its events.

This isn’t considering the strain on teams either. Smaller teams especially complained about the cost of having to transport all of their equipment an extra 1,000 miles further than any other venue, gasoline being a not insignificant factor in this case (not that it ever is). And crossing the border was probably no picnic, entering into a country that rivals New Jersey in political corruption. NASCAR implements plenty of questionable rule changes to try to save smaller teams money; not going to Mexico City was always an easy option.

Now, if NASCAR’s intention really was to eventually promote a separate series in Mexico, that’s perfectly fine with this columnist, even though NASCAR expands internationally at its own risk. (Remember what the “N” in NASCAR stands for.) But it would probably have been a mistake for NASCAR to keep running races and possibly consider a Cup date (which they had to have been doing after the popularity of the first race) at a third-rate venue. Yellow-flag road-course racing isn’t captivating, the audience was nearly half the original audience in just three short years, and it was a nightmare for teams and broadcast crews to make it possible to hold a race there. It would be one thing if the track officials beefed up the track cleanup crew and reinforced the walls to keep them stable, but as far as I know, that isn’t happening.

So NASCAR was right to remove Mexico City from the Nationwide schedule. Hopefully, no one from a smaller team drank the water and ruined an expensive firesuit.

Kurt’s Shorts at The Glen

  • Did you know that Jeff Gordon, great as he is on the road courses, has not won a race at the Glen since his championship 2001 season… and in fact has only finished in the top 10 once, with a ninth-place finish last season?
  • Watkins Glen of course brings back memories of Tony Stewart’s 2005 win… while suffering from stomach cramps bad enough that Boris Said almost took over the car. No details needed on how Stewart solved the pain problem, but let’s just say Boris was probably glad he didn’t have to take over.
  • Why aren’t road course ringers ever asked to race on ovals? Why aren’t there “short-track ringers” or “plate-race ringers” or “Darlington ringers?”
  • With the troubled season Chip Ganassi is having, including having to close the doors of the No. 40 team that challenged for a title just six years ago, it would be a boost for Juan Pablo Montoya to capture a win this weekend. If nothing else, he can do it for Juicy Fruit.

As you are reading this, I am probably at Richmond International Raceway cashing in my 40th birthday gift, eight qualifying laps at the Andretti-Gordon Racing School. You can read all about the experience of a columnist’s first time in the cockpit in Happy Hour next week. See you then…

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