NASCAR announced Thursday (April 20) that the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be moved from its original position as a night race Oct. 7 to the afternoon of Oct. 8.
The move looks to help spruce up competition by making it a day race at a track traditionally super sensitive to temperature changes — it also gets pretty slick once it gets hot. It also has the added benefit of being a more family-friendly event, as it ends at a decent hour in the warmth of the early autumn sun.
As critical as many of us have been of NASCAR in recent years, the changes it’s making this year seem to be consistently on point and with competition in mind, and this one is another step in the right direction.
Looking back on past memorable October night races at Charlotte, you’d be hard pressed to single one out that really moved the needle or was somehow special because it was ran at night. You’d have to go back a decade to find one that lived up to the hype of racing under the lights.
Which, while we’re on that topic, is another issue that needs to be revisited: racing at night.
Prior to the 1992 edition of The Winston, there were only two night races on the schedule: Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. If you didn’t like it, tough cookies. That first night race at Charlotte in 1992 was special for many reasons, the least of which was that it was always said that it couldn’t be done.
Even the lighting used at Bristol and Richmond at that time wasn’t the same lighting systems to which we have become accustomed today. There were lights much in the same way there are lights on the highway approaching a metropolitan area. There was a sense of danger about racing at night back then because it was, well, very dangerous. The lighting systems used by today’s tracks is so good that it has almost become passé and expected that it would be little different than racing during the afternoon.
The novelty has worn off as well, simply because of the number of tracks that do have lights and finish under the lights now. Daytona, Bristol, Richmond, Charlotte, Texas, Kansas, Kentucky, Darlington, Homestead-Miami. Phoenix , Las Vegas, Atlanta and Auto Club have lights too but contest their races during the day now. Martinsville is even getting in the action now, though being a half-mile short track, that one makes perfect sense.
The biggest advantage lights provide now is that it allows races to be completed the same day of there is a weather issue that prevents it from starting on time at many of these tracks – and yes, there was a rain-shortened race at Las Vegas before, back in 2000.
Beyond the novelty, perhaps NASCAR feels it no longer needs something like a night race to provide something unique for what has become lap-logging affairs at many of the 1.5-mile tracks with the new aero package this year and the stage racing that has come into play. The last race at Texas Motor Speedway was about as good of a contest I’ve seen at 1.5-mile track in years, even with a repave job and no pre-race tire testing. Racing at a superspeedway at night was next-level thinking back in 1992; recently it’s almost been used as a panacea to tap into some semblance of a primetime audience that simply has failed to materialize.
This announcement of the fall race becoming a day race again comes on the heels the past two weeks of discussions that have popped up on a number of talk shows and columns suggesting it may be time to rotate the All-Star Race from Charlotte to another venue.
This is a move I am against, as tradition still has a place in our sport – hence why Darlington is ran on Labor Day weekend again and has become a rousing success with the throwback angle applied to it. Moving it to Martinsville or Bristol might sound like a good idea because it’s full contact racing at a non-points format, but not only does it run the risk of being silly, it would also be a tacit admission that racing on 1.5-mile tracks is a lost cause too hard to figure out for 50 laps.
The new soft-tire compound option that is being tested next month in the All-Star Race may set the stage for inclusion into every race next season and might bring back the magic of the 1.5-mile tri-ovals that spurred their renaissance in the mid-1990s. The All-Star Race belongs in Charlotte, the hub of the sport and home to all of the family and friends of virtually every team except three for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Certain things in racing need to be kept special. Night racing for the sake of racing at every track makes it appear more of a gimmick than something unique. It also creates traffic nightmares and makes for a long day of waiting around on a Saturday.
Let’s keep the lights around in case it rains and for short tracks, and leave the All-Star Race in Charlotte.