For years, Indycar and Formula 1, and now Formula E, have featured street courses on their schedules, where they block off streets in the host city and form a racetrack. With numerous spectators crying for more and more road courses, the question this week is: Should NASCAR consider adding a street course to the schedule as well?
Taking it to the streets
The clamoring from the masses for more short tracks and road courses has grown substantially louder and more persistent over recent years. Some of this can be attributed to the notably higher level of excitement and unpredictability of these races.
Ultimately, it seems people are just looking for a little variety. Speedway Motorsports Inc. heeded the call first, converting the fall event at Charlotte Motor Speedway to a pseudo-road course race. Now, as the series comes off a rather entertaining short track weekend for the NASCAR XFINITY and the Camping World Trucks Series, we head out west for the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race featuring right turns as well as the commonplace lefts.
What if there were a way to give fans both styles of racing in one event?
Well, there is, and it lies in a form of racing that has been part of dozens of professional racing series across the world for decades. Simply put: NASCAR should go street course racing.
NASCAR should follow the lead of IndyCar, Formula 1, sports cars and others. Street courses are advantageous in a few different ways.
First, there would be a multitude of options in terms of locations. There are dozens of street circuits already in use across the United States that cut out any need for layout planning. Additionally, the host cities would already know what logistics adjustments would need to be implemented.
A street course would be new. It would be exciting. There is always concern that the luster wouldn’t last but that could be said about anything. Many voiced similar concerns about the Truck race at Eldora Speedway, but it still draws massive crowds five years in. If it ends up being a good show, the staying power will come naturally.
There’s more than just a novelty factor involved when trying to attract fans. Some street race courses, like Long Beach or St Petersburg, are among the most scenic anywhere, and the surrounding areas make them top vacation prospects for fans looking to make a week of it. It certainly has more to offer in terms of extracurricular activities than somewhere like Newton, Iowa.
Let us not forget there is a precedent here for such a race. In 1999, the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour ran a 125-mile race on the streets of Los Angeles. It was a bit of an attrition fest, with 11 caution flags.
But it was well received and driver participation was high. Then-Cup drivers Ken Schrader and Kenny Irwin Jr ran in the event. Other notable participants included past and eventual Truck champions Ron Hornaday Jr and Matt Crafton, as well future Cup champs Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Who better to weigh in from a driver’s standpoint than two of the sport’s best who have actually done it already?
If NASCAR is interested in trying new and buzzworthy things to drum up excitement, why not give this a shot as well? The worst that could happen is that it doesn’t provide the quality of competition they’re looking for and the idea is scrapped.
It’s still better than doing nothing at all. -Frank Velat
Streets are for Getting to the Race, Not Racing
I think that adding a street race to any form of stock car racing, whether it be the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series or late models, is a terrible idea.
I’m tired of the whole road course craze in general. When I first started watching NASCAR in the early 2000s, the road course races were some of the most boring on the circuit. Now, the racing has gotten so much worse on intermediate tracks, that it has made the road races look better.
Having two or three road courses on the schedule is the perfect number because it shakes things up and no one gets tired of it. If there were road races every few weeks then people would realize that not a whole lot of passing occurs on them.
If NASCAR were to go to a street course, then even less passing would happen. If you’ve watched an Indycar or F1 race on a street course, then you know that passing is at a minimum — the way that the cars get off the grid is similar to the way they will finish, baring pit strategy, mistakes or mechanical failures.
If those tiny open-wheel cars can’t pass on a street course, then what makes you think that a much bigger and heavier stock car is going to pass anything?
One allure of street courses in the other series is how technical a driver has to be to win on them. A driver must hit their marks to perfection, and it is kind of fun to watch open-wheel cars zip around the track at speeds that most would be scared to hit.
Put a stock car on a track like that and that aspect fades away. The cars would be going so much slower so that it would feel like a snail’s pace.
A major factor in the high speeds of NASCAR is the banking in each track’s corners. The tracks we consider to be flat still have some degree of banking. Even Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International have some banking in their corners. On a street course, there is no designed banking — you’re lucky to get a few hills and spots where the landscape leans slightly.
As a result of heavy cars creeping around a truly flat course, anyone watching for the first time would think it looked no more difficult than cruising down a country road. The goal should instead be to make NASCAR look as hard as possible so that each driver’s talent is on full display.
Yes, NASCAR’s early days are synonymous with the street race on Daytona Beach, but that track was mainly for speed records — I don’t know that the races held there would be all that entertaining by today’s standards.
The only way I would ever want to see a street race in NASCAR is if it were like the Daytona Beach course where half of the lap was on the sandy beach front, but that is probably not possible now due to the cars being so low to the ground. Without the beach, that track is just two-mile straightaways with banking-less corners; not exactly the makeup of a thrilling show.
So instead of stretching stock car racing out to tracks where the racing probably won’t be great, let’s instead focus on getting the racing better at the tracks that we currently race on. -Michael Massie