NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Another Failed Opportunity to Right a Wrong with Darlington

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 fanbase – 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.

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.

HENDERSON: A MIX OF CHEERS AND BOOS FOR NASCAR’S 2009 SCHEDULES

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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