Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle – Unintended primetime test could open up the schedule

The NASCAR Cup schedule has been at 36 points-paying races since 2001 and the sanctioning body has maintained that there is no room to add race weekends. While there may not be any room to add weekends, the unintended move of the Daytona 500 to Monday night in prime time just might have been the impetus to explore the possibility of adding more mid-week races to the schedule. Prior to the influx of R.J. Reynolds’ money in 1972, the schedule routinely had around 50 races, with a maximum of 62 events in 1964. While no one is suggesting running weeknight races every week of the season, it would certainly be possible to mix in some one-day shows in the middle of the week, a move that would increase the visibility of the sport while hopefully returning it to its short track roots.

A Cup weekend is a very busy event with a massive amount of equipment being moved around the country to enable the television and radio broadcasts to occur along with the NASCAR officials and their technical inspection equipment. Part of that volume of equipment is due to the size of the venues that host the Cup races. Smaller tracks require fewer cameras and fewer people because they are in a more condensed area. The number of people is certainly not proportionate to the venue, but having the races take place at smaller tracks would certainly cut down on some of the amount of paraphernalia that would have to be moved

Another advantage to having the mid-week races at short tracks would be that, many of the people who come to Cup races travel great distances to attend the events. It would not be practical for nearly as many people to travel like that to mid-week shows, so much of the at-track audience would be from people within a short driving distance of the race track. Since that would be a smaller number of people, the seating demands at the track would be less than the bigger venues. Again, that would make it more enticing to have the mid-week shows occur at local short tracks with seating for 20,000-30,000 people. On the plus side, night time races at short tracks would be very popular with the fans as we constantly hear that they would like to see more short tracks on the schedule.

There are some 900 short tracks across the United States, so finding plenty of venue options to host races that are near the weekend tracks should not be that difficult. Obviously there are a plethora of tracks in the Southeast that hosted races when the Cup Series was in its infancy, but there are many more across the land that could be utilized as the teams travel back from race weekends to their shops. One benefit to scheduling the mid-week races in such a fashion is that the NASCAR technical inspectors could actually tech the cars before they left the weekend Cup venue en route to the short track for the a day show. Officials could travel with the cars to ensure they weren’t tampered with or they could use some kind of seal on the hauler doors to ensure the cars weren’t touched between venues.

The race schedule for a mid-week show would mirror the schedules that are used for typical races held at race tracks across the country every weekend. The haulers would come in and park in the morning. The teams would have a practice or two. Then the teams would qualify to determine the starting positions before the cars would be lined up and the race would be run. Plus, they would be back on the road in less than 24 hours, local fans would see a Cup race and television fans would get to see more short track racing.

NASCAR would have to change a rule that is currently in place, which states that no races can be held on tracks that are less than a half-mile in length. While there are some local tracks that are a half-mile long, the vast majority of them are in the 3/8ths to 4/10ths of a mile range. The races could still be 500 laps, but the distances would be shorter than the typical Cup event.

Fortunately for race teams, the new car design is more flexible than the prior race cars, so running a car at a bigger venue and then running it at a local short track would not be as daunting a task as it previously would have been. Some teams would obviously bring different cars to the track but teams that didn’t have the resources could run the same vehicles without being at a large disadvantage.

Then that brings us to prize money, which would obviously be smaller than the bigger tracks simply because the stands cannot hold nearly as many people. While the money might be less for the teams, since they’re already in the area and won’t have to spend as much money ferrying equipment back and forth, they would be able to run the events for less money. One other advantage would hopefully be that NASCAR could increase their television revenue because they’d be putting on races during prime time, so their broadcast partners could charge more for advertising.

Just a few examples of how the schedule might work:

If NASCAR would swap the Martinsville and Fontana races the series could run a Wednesday night at Newport or Kingsport in Tennessee.

After Richmond the series would be able to run at South Boston, Virginia before they head to Talladega.

Between Dover and Pocono the teams might be able to race at Wall Stadium in New Jersey.

Once the teams rolled out of Indianapolis they could stop at Toledo Speedway before they went back to Pocono.

That is just a handful of possible races that could be staged that would not require an extensive change of direction for the hauler drivers between races. Another option that could be raised with the mid-week idea would be getting Cup cars back onto dirt tracks. ARCA has been running stock cars on dirt for years and fans have been clamoring for a long time to see the Cup cars back on dirt tracks. With the success of the Prelude to the Dream, NASCAR has to be looking at the potential audience they could bring to the series if they went back to dirt, even if only for an exhibition race.

Cup racing is a hugely complicated endeavor when it comes to putting on a race program. Part of that complication has arisen from all of the hoopla and commitments for sponsors around race weekends. Putting on mid-week shows would allow the teams and drivers to get back to their racing roots and allow fans who do not have the means to make it to a full-blown weekend event the opportunity to see their heroes run at their local tracks. After Monday night’s Daytona 500 was so well received, excluding the towering inferno in turn three, NASCAR has to be thinking about bringing back prime time racing and this is just an option that would bring many of the fans who’ve left the sport in the recent past back into the fold.

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