Don’t you hate when that happens? There’s two events you’re eager to participate in and they invariably end up scheduled for the same date and time. For years I’ve dealt with that issue with one of my sister’s birthday parties falling on or around the same day as the Daytona 500. My saving grace is for many years, many years ago, Jeanne and her husband were both stock car racing fans as well. Things got awkward sometimes (imagine four other sisters and my parents bored to tears as they were forced to wait for commercial breaks during the 500 to communicate with us). It was often the same for Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends.
Next year there were will be an awkward coincidence on a far grander scale for some race fans. The NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas/Fort Worth is slated for the weekend of November 1-3. When next year’s Formula One schedule was released it turns out the Grand Prix of America will be held that same weekend in Austin, Texas at the Circuit of the Americas–about 250 miles from Dallas. While 250 miles is a teeth-gnashing full afternoon ride most days in New Jersey, in Texas terms it’s a hop, skip and a jump. When it comes to Texas there’s a whole lot of nowhere out there.
Naturally, TMS head honcho Eddie Gossage is less than pleased with this development. He himself admits he enjoys the Grand Prix race and would like to attend both events, though doubtless he’ll be tied up in Dallas that weekend hosting the NASCAR circuit and its fans. Gossage cites the schedule conflict as further evidence the Grand Prix powers that be don’t much care for the desires and wishes of their fans. Hmm. I’ve heard a lot of people say the same about NASCAR.
A couple years back, a US-based media company, Liberty Media, bought the Grand Prix circuit. Oh, it’s a pretty complicated deal where more debt that cash traded hands, but the deal was done and one presumes that the American based media giant would, in fact, like to make F1 racing a bit more palatable to American consumers. Make no mistake about it, worldwide there are many times more F1 fans than NASCAR fans. That’s all well and good, but when you look at TV ownership and expendable income to purchase goods advertised the US is still in a dominant position, a crown jewel for any sports enterprise. There are a lot more Chinese citizens than Americans, but my guess is there’s more TVs in Baltimore than in all of China. (Forgetting of course most of those TVs in the Queen City were made in China.)
In general, the F1 honchos are rather dismissive of American race fans and stock car racing. We’re their hillbilly cousins racing taxi-cabs rather than proper racing cars. They can’t seem to grasp how stock car racers get away with all those shunts, that beating and banging and bumper pool without anyone being parked or at least penalized for “avoidable contact.” There’s one sure way for a race car driver to avoid contact as I see it. He can sleep in late the day of race and attend vespers during the event. Former long-time F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone once famously said he felt that too much passing wasn’t good for an auto-racing circuit. The constant shakeup in the running order, he felt, was confusing to fans. Yep, better to have some driver start on the pole and lead every lap so that fans didn’t have to pay rapt attention to the event.
Few of you know this, but prior starting to write about NASCAR racing 20-plus years ago, I did a weekly Formula One column for a website based in Canada. I think the compliment/complaint I got on most of those columns is I was a barbarian. Yep. And proud of it. But it was rather odd to live in a two-traffic-light town and get emails from readers in place like Belgium, Portugal and places I’d never even heard of.
I still watch a lot of F1 races, at least when A) they don’t run on TV at early morning hours suited only to people who have chickens to milk B) they’re on some cable network I don’t have to pay extra for and C) they don’t conflict with the Cup races.
While there used to be a good deal of overlap between open-wheel fans and NASCAR fans, I sense that number has radically decreased. Nor has there been too much overlap between the drivers who participate in the two disciplines. The most notable exception was Tony Stewart, who won an IRL title and three Cup Series championships. The incomparable Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and an F1 title. AJ Foyt won the Indy 500 four times and the Daytona 500 once. Foyt also went on to win the 24 Hours of Lemans.
Perhaps the most versatile driver ever was the late Dan Gurney. He won events in NASCAR, Indy Car, F1 (in a car of his own design), Can Am, Trans Am and the 24 Hours of Lemans. (And finished 2nd in the 1968 and 1969 Indy 500s.) Heck, Gurney won one running of the Cannonball Baker cross-country outlaw highway race with a chain smoking Brock Yates from Car and Driver riding shotgun to detail the accomplishment.
More recently, Juan Pablo Montoya won a total of two Cup races, seven F1 events (most notably the Grand Prix of Monaco], 5 IndyCar races (most notably a pair of Indy 500s) and ten CART events.
Jim Clark won the Indy 500 and two F1 titles. Few will recall that Clark also took a single abortive step towards NASCAR racing. In 1967, Clark entered the fall Rockingham Cup race in a Holman-Moody-prepared factory Ford but qualified 24th and finished 30th. Jackie Stewart, a three time F1 champion, tried to qualify a Cotton Owens Dodge in the fall 1967 Charlotte Cup event but failed to make the field. Other notable drivers to attempt to make the jump from open wheel racing to NASCAR include Dario Franchitti and Jacques Villeneuve, but they found the full-fender cars a tough row to hoe. (Lest I be accused of purposeful omission other drivers who tried to make the jump from Indy car racing to NASCAR include; Danica Patrick, Tim Richmond, Bobby and Donnie Allison, Sam Hornish, Kurt Busch, John Andretti, Robby Gordon, and AJ Allmendinger.)
So, yes, it would have been nice for our F1 friends to pick a date for the US Grand Prix that didn’t coincide with the TMS race. Truth be told I’m not sure how much it will effect ticket sales for either events. I read a rather troubling statistic last week that stated over 60 percent of Americans have so little savings that an unexpected 500 dollar expense would wipe them out. I’m blessed to not be in that category though the surprise expense would sting a bit. But growing up riding dirt bikes and working on old cars unexpected $500 costs were frequent. If you don’t have health insurance you can pretty much count on a simple sprained wrist to cost you more than that after a trip to the ER.
And trust me, attending the Cup race, or most especially the F1 event in Austin, is going to run way more than $500 even if you leave the kids with your sister (just make sure it’s not her birthday weekend) and you take just your significant other to the race. Thus, it really wouldn’t matter if the two events were a week or even a month apart. For most race fans, plans to attend a big event have to be worked into the annual budget months if not a year in advance with enough down time between any two events to allow the credit card to stop glowing a nuclear red. If you’re of sufficient means that you can attend one or both events on a whim, God bless you. (He most certainly has. Remember to say ‘thank you’ occasionally.)
I do find it unintendedly ironic Gossage takes such umbrage to F1 trespassing on what he feels is his track’s “race date.” For decades the Halloween weekend or the first weekend in November meant the stock car circus was heading to Rockingham NC (sometimes for the final race of the season) and for fans in that area the loss of their coveted and cherished late fall race weekend to another mile and a half cookie cutter race still stings. It was “their” date long before they broke ground at Texas (and promptly hit an unstable water table.)
Last week the Rockingham track was sold. Doubtless there will be some pipe-dreaming aloud that maybe that means NASCAR will once again race at the Rock. Sadly I doubt very strongly that’s ever going to happen. While the new owners are being coy as to their plans for the property I’d wager it will soon be overrun with old folks in blue and yellow vests welcoming you to Wal-Mart or another Amazon distribution center to finish putting local merchants out of business. Or maybe that’s just me. Recall, optimism makes for a cheerful countenance but pessimists are rarely disappointed.
“That’s the way it’s been in town
Ever since they tore the jukebox down
Two bit piece, don’t buy no more
Not so much as it done before
Broken heart, don’t feel so bad
You ain’t got half of what you thought you had…”-Jerry Garcia
Update: Apparently awkward scheduling issues aren’t unique to the F1 folks after all. During Sunday afternoon’s penultimate IndyCar race it was hinted that the Indy circuit will add an event at the Circuit of Americas road course next year. They guessed aloud that the new race would take place in either late March of early April. Confound it, next year’s first Cup event at TMS is scheduled for March 31st.
Indycar will also run an oval course race at TMS on June 8th. TMS and Indycar signed a four year deal this year to continue holding open wheel races at the track. As part of that agreement Indycar agreed not to schedule another event anywhere in Texas during the 45 days prior to or the 45 days after the TMS event. That leaves a rather narrow time-frame to hold the COTA event. Factor in deer and elk hunting seasons during which the track has traditionally not wanted to hold events and the gap grows even narrower.