So… here we are. The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Banquet has come and gone. It was a week of championship-caliber excitement complete with racing stars, racing cars, celebrities, and hangers-on galore. It all came to you via radio, television, and a variety of social media, as it has been annually since 2009 from beautiful downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.
Can you tell Brian France used to run NASCAR’s Entertainment Division out in Los Angeles?
It’s no surprise that NASCAR’s overall popularity has waned during the past decade. A lack of competitive racing coupled with the financial effects of the Great Recession prompted one-time racing fans to look elsewhere for sporting diversions. While both the National Football League and Major League Baseball have sustained their familiar, secure popularity with fans NASCAR watched its spectator attendance and television ratings drop at a steady pace.
Did I mention Brian France also dabbled with an entertainment licensing business in Los Angeles? Did you know he once managed the licensing rights to Britney Spears; that’s right, the same Britney Spears who wandered the garage at Daytona back in 2001 wearing a leather jumpsuit and Elvis-style, gold-rimmed sunglasses?
Viva Las Vegas.
As you can see, I am not a fan of NASCAR capping its Sprint Cup seasons with these annual trips to Sin City. I am not a prude, nor am I against holding Champion’s Week events at a popular tourist destination; race fans continue to be a vocal and enthusiastic part of the celebrations in Las Vegas. What I’m against is the notion that NASCAR has to lower the aesthetic denominator and render the final week of the 2015 season to something worthy of coverage by Entertainment Tonight.
Don’t forget: NBC also owns E!, so the show will most certainly go on.
If I read last week’s schedule of events correctly, there was at least two separate “red carpet” parades done by drivers, crew chiefs, and their significant others. That’s in addition to the parade last Thursday afternoon of the 16 cars that qualified for the Chase. The cars then demonstrated their appreciation of NASCAR Nation by doing burnouts along “the Miracle Mile”.
Did I mention that merchandise for all sixteen of the Chase contenders were also available for purchase at the NASCAR Superstore near the LINQ Promenade? Don’t worry about missing the bargains; Champion’s Week merchandise will be sold for the foreseeable future.
Or maybe NASCAR should simply take its Sprint Cup awards banquet back to New York City?
Granted, not all traditions are worth maintaining (as in “Black Friday” that now begins on Thanksgiving Thursday) but there was something dignified about taking NASCAR to the Big Apple. The smaller size and higher cost of The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel venue might have limited the number of team members who made the trip but that added to the banquet’s allure. Being part of such a select group made winning the championship even more of an exclusive experience.
Given the amount of lodging available in Las Vegas it makes sense that the more in attendance, the merrier. Not that teams didn’t party hard in New York but Vegas is the natural location for such revelry.
Still, moving the Sprint Cup banquet to “Sin City” seemed to cheapen the event.
I’m not saying NASCAR and New York City meshed perfectly either. Our sport was still a bit rough around the edges back in 1981, the first year when then-Winston Cup cars rolled into Manhattan. Legend has it that when the maître d’ at the famous “21” required Junior Johnson to wear a necktie if he was dining at the respected eatery, Johnson responded by walking out the door and simply buying a hot dog from a street vendor.
Maybe it was the “old money” feel from R.J. Reynolds’s sponsorship way back when. Maybe it was that a sport born and bred in the rural South could celebrate its annual achievements by occupying the most recognized hotel in America’s largest city. Maybe it was the way NASCAR proved to Madison Avenue that the gamble it took on stock car racing in the wake of the 1979 Daytona 500 paid off.
It all gave NASCAR a little extra legitimacy. Until 2009, of course when NASCAR “went west” in search of a new-and-improved audience. Too bad other improvements, by that time, were slow in paying their own dividends. The Car of Tomorrow was a perpetual work-in-progress, drivers were criticized as too vanilla, and the late Bob Latford’s point system had been swapped for an early version of the Chase format.
As I grow older, I recognize that today’s NASCAR is a far cry from the NASCAR of my youth (and even of my days working directly within the sport). Times change, and so should NASCAR Nation, but it still – after seven years – it seems discourteous to take the Sprint Cup banquet away from New York City.
Don’t get me wrong. Las Vegas is a great city. I caught my first tires on a crew there, had many friends there, and enjoy the energy of the place. What a homecoming it was for Kyle Busch as he accepted his championship trophy.
It’s just that, for me, at this time of year, I’ll always be in a New York state-of-mind….