It’s no secret that what some NASCAR fans think the best type of schedule is one that differs greatly from what is currently offered by NASCAR. However, the biggest obstacle is how far apart the two are.
Want more short tracks and road courses? Well, it’s nice to want, but let’s face the facts.
There are probably less than 10 short tracks in the country that have both the infrastructure nearby to support a Cup Series race and the seats needed to be able to recoup the sanctioning fee.
Look, the way a race weekend happens is the track puts up a large sum of money up front to NASCAR. That money is for NASCAR to bring all of its people and equipment to the venue. It then becomes the responsibility of the speedway and its leadership to promote the event to sell enough tickets to recoup their investment and cover the costs associated with putting on the show.
Example: say a track holds 40,000 spectators. If this track were to pay a (hypothetical amount) $2 million fee, it would need to sell every single seat (unlikely) at a minimum of $50 simply to break even on the fee. Not to mention they need to pay workers, prep the facility and more. This requires even more money and means ticket prices go up, which lowers the likelihood of selling every seat. It’s a never-ending catch-22 of futility.
Another hurdle is the near-stranglehold that track conglomerates International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) have on the schedule, which leaves little room for any new hands to reach into the cookie jar.
And who can blame them for not wanting to give up a date? Most tracks have somewhere around a dozen major events per year between racing events across various series, car shows, concerts, holiday events and other assorted activities. Now we expect them to fork over a date that generates over 10 percent of their annual revenue because it’s in the best interest of the sport?
Not going to happen. After all, would you be thrilled to take a 10 percent pay cut at your job, only to see that money given to a new employee? But it’s going to make the company stronger overall, you’re told.
Chances are, you probably won’t be in favor of such a move. Track ownership organizations are businesses, not charities. Their primary obligations are to increase the profitability of the tracks they operate. So sending their crowd somewhere else for the weekend is as backward of an idea as one can fathom.
We must look for more realistic options. There are three boxes that need to be checked off when it comes to making schedule changes and making them sooner rather than later.
First, no track conglomerate loses a date. Whether you like that idea or not, understand that NASCAR taking a date from either SMI or ISC and awarding it to an outside ownership group is very unlikely. Second, it can’t require a lot of work. Don’t anticipate anyone taking a bulldozer to Kentucky Speedway just because you think it’s boring. Lastly, it had better not cost much. It’s hard enough to turn a profit in racing. Make it harder and no one is going to be receptive to your ideas.
However, in the event that a proposed change meets those criterion, it could be considered as a short-term option for improvement.
For example, if you’re on the more-road-courses-and-short-tracks side, you should be applauding everyone at Charlotte Motor Speedway and SMI. They didn’t have to do anything to Charlotte’s fall race. But in an effort to appease the vocal group of fans, they will re-purpose CMS and run the race utilizing the infield road course. No, it wasn’t designed with stock cars in mind, but neither was Watkins Glen International, and yet that doesn’t seem to be an issue there. The important thing is that they recognized the demand and responded to it without having to give up a date, take a lot of time or spend much money.
Hopefully, this will illuminate a few of the dark areas of how the schedule comes together. Some things to consider the next time someone starts referring to ways that NASCAR can improve its on-track product.
It’s better than blurting out, “More short tracks!” at every opportunity.
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