The race this past weekend was a showcase of what racing should be all about. A short track with cars in close quarters running side-by-side, multiple racing grooves, different pit strategies coming into play, all with only nine caution flags. For a fan of racing, it was all a person could ask for. Unfortunately, at least in an unscientific survey of a handful of casual fans, it appears as though it is not what they wanted to see.
Prior to the advent of the new car design and the resurfacing of Bristol Motor Speedway, races at Thunder Valley were high speed parades with passing only taking place when cars were forced out of the way or a driver made a mistake. The bump and run could be exciting if executed properly, but when performed incorrectly, it resulted in crashes and upset drivers. For years fans complained that there wasn’t any passing and that faster cars were unable to get to the front because of the single groove. Now that the situation has been corrected, the same fans are complaining that there isn’t enough “action.”
Trying to come up with a definition of action is rather difficult when dealing with fans that were unable to see it this past weekend. There were instances during the race where cars were three-wide in the corners and RACING. It wasn’t that someone had been moved up and the other cars were going underneath, or someone made a mistake that resulted in them slipping out of the groove and being freight trained by the field. Cars were in three different grooves on the racetrack because they wanted to be. In fact, at least for part of the race, the second groove was faster for getting around the track than the bottom groove. Based on the survey of some random casual fans, that was not considered action.
As with any race at a short track, caution flags are inevitable, it’s just a matter of how many. Once the first caution flag flew, pit strategy came into play. Various times during the race, cars stayed out while others came in, and the end result was passing. Passing took place on the track. It took place for the lead and back in the pack for a myriad of positions. It occurred on the outside and the inside, on the straights and in the turns. There was overtaking happening all over the track throughout most of the race. But as with the multi-groove racing, that seems to have been too little action for the casual fans.
It seems as though what these casual fans found so desperately lacking during the race was crashes. They didn’t see anyone being unceremoniously dumped for position. No one was being driven into the outside wall and then circling the track trying to extract their pound of flesh from the perpetrator who had ruined their afternoon. Aside from Jamie McMurray being spun out a couple of times and one three-car accident, the other six cautions were for single-car spins or debris. Based on what the Brian France fans had to say, that was simply a boring race. To quote my boss “I’d have rather watched paint dry.”
Speaking with some of the other writers from Frontstretch and other friends who are true racing fans, fans that enjoy the art and pageantry of good, hard, side-by-side racing, they thought that the race this weekend was excellent. That is excluding the handful of ABKB (Anyone but Kyle Busch) fans, who would have loved it had he not won, but even they acknowledged that the racing was very good.
There is no doubt that this isn’t your daddy’s Bristol. The bump-and-run will be refined over the next few years because of the way the bumpers line up and the car is harder to spin. There are multiple grooves of racing that afford drivers a chance to make passes high or low or somewhere in between. There aren’t 20-30 cars being taken home on rollbacks after the race, but the number of passes and the excitement level for true race fans is as good or better. The end result may not be as many fans at Bristol as there used to be, but the fans that are there will have a greater appreciation for good, quality racing.