The NASCAR national series are heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for a full slate of action-packed racing, yet it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
This weekend marks the first time the tour is heading to Las Vegas since it was announced the Diamond in the Desert is getting a second race in all three series, and that all of the races at the track will be shoved into two companion weekends. All three series have had one race at the track annually since 1998. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and XFINITY Series would typically have a companion weekend in early March, and the Camping World Truck Series would normally race at Las Vegas in September.
In return, NASCAR took a race away from New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the Cup and Truck Series, meaning Cup and NXS only have one race there and the Trucks won’t race at the Magic Mile at all in 2018.
I’m not mad about New Hampshire losing races; that place has had terrible fan turnouts in recent years and even worse racing. It is an awesome track — the modified cars put on excellent shows there — but NASCAR’s current package provides a couple hours of single-file boredom at the track. New Hampshire should continue to have a spot on the Cup schedule, as it is a unique track, but it deserved to lose a race.
What pissed me off is that, for over a decade, fans of the sport (and some drivers) have been complaining about the amount of intermediate tracks on the schedule and begging for more short tracks. NASCAR showed how much it cared about its fans by doing the exact opposite. You want less intermediate track races? We’ll add a race to the 1.5-mile Las Vegas. You want more short track racing? How about we take a date away from one of the smaller courses on the circuit?
The move was an extremely disappointing one, and attached to the story was the fact that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority would pay NASCAR $2.5 million a year to have the second race weekend at the track.
So to an outsider, it would appear that NASCAR chose guaranteed money over what its fans wanted. In reality, taking that deal was the best move NASCAR could make, because the governing body has tied its hands so tight that they are starting to lose circulation.
A little while back, NASCAR signed long-term deals with the owners of all of the tracks on which it currently races. It should’ve never made that agreement. There are so many great tracks around the country that should be rotating in and out of the schedule on a yearly basis. Instead, the schedule is the stalest part of the sport, and we are stuck with less-than-stellar intermediate track races.
NHMS is owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., run by Bruton and Marcus Smith. It owns eight of the tracks on which the tour races. Since NASCAR decided to take a race from New Hampshire, it had to give a race to another SMI track.
Of the other seven tracks that SMI owns, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Sonoma Raceway are the only ones with only one weekend on the Cup calendar. Las Vegas probably deserved a second date more than the other three, and that $2.5 million annually certainly helped that decision.
But SMI did not have to move the date to one of its current tracks. The Smiths are rumored to be trying to purchase the Carolina Panthers; they could easily put together the funds to buy any non-NASCAR short track around the country and host a race at it.
Most local short tracks have better racing than NASCAR on intermediates. A move like that from SMI would have excited the fan base and brought life to whatever town in which the chosen track was located.
Or the Smiths could have revived a track of NASCAR lore — North Wilkesboro Speedway. Bruton Smith was part of the investor group that purchased North Wilkesboro back in 1995, and closed it down one year later in favor of his flashy new Texas Motor Speedway and a second race at New Hampshire. It would’ve been so ironic for the historic track to come back and replace New Hampshire more than 20 years later.
Many have tried to buy and resurrect the track through the years, but to my knowledge, SMI still owns the track. If races can still be held at Martinsville Speedway and Darlington Raceway, they can still happen at North Wilkesboro.
Late model races were held at the track as recent as 2011, so it would not have been an impossible task. SMI would’ve had to dish out some cash to update the facilities, but it already owns the place, so why not keep it going?
Imagine how fired up the fanbase would’ve been had we been going to North Wilkesboro this season. It would’ve been a breath of fresh air and a shakeup in the current intermediate mayhem.
Instead, we go to Las Vegas this weekend, where we will go again in just six months and watch as clean air wreaks havoc on entertainment value.
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