NASCAR Race Weekend Central
Ty Gibbs, driver of the #18 Monster Energy-Terrible Herbst-ORCA Toyota wins the Shore Lunch 150 for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards at Iowa Speedway on Saturday, July 18, 2020. (Barry Cantrell/ARCA Racing)

Losing Iowa Would Expose Truth That NASCAR Ignores Short Track Racing

Another week, another rumor about a short track closing. It’s gotten all too common, unfortunately. This time it’s Iowa Speedway, and though nothing official has been announced about the track’s future, the rumors are the speedway could be sold or closed in the near future. Obviously, it has put NASCAR’s future at the facility in doubt.

The 2020 season has seen NASCAR ignore Iowa Speedway completely, even though IndyCar has figured out a way to run a race there and put on a good show. While many mock Iowa Speedway on the fact that it’s not a traditional short track, it’s one of the few remaining short tracks in NASCAR.

This season has been fun in certain ways because we are seeing some things we have never seen before, however there is something glaring that needs to be addressed. The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series has run 10 races so far. Zero of them have been at a track less than a mile in length.

That fact won’t change anytime soon. The most updated schedule for the Truck Series goes until August 30 and there are still no short tracks. If you are keeping score at home, the first 14 races on the truck series schedule this season won’t feature a short track. That is hard for me to comprehend.

When the Truck Series started in 1995 there were 20 races on the schedule. Do you know how many of them were short tracks? 15. That’s 75% of the schedule.

That’s what we’ve come to in 25 years. We’ve gone from the Truck Series having 75% of its races on short tracks to barely having any on the schedule. It’s a sad realization that NASCAR fans need to come to. If you like short track racing, there are other places to go in the country where you can scratch your itch. NASCAR is not it anymore.

NASCAR at one time was a showcase for some of the best short track racing in the country and it was where all local short track drivers strived to be. It is no longer that. They’ve ignored short tracks so much that Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham are trying to capitalize on the opportunity and create a premier short track racing organization called The Superstar Racing Experience (SRX). They plan a six-race, short track series that will air on CBS on select Saturday nights during the summer of 2021. They’ve listed several legendary short tracks such as Five Flags Speedway, New Smyrna Speedway and Stafford Motor Speedway as potential venues.

Can you imagine? A series trying to take on NASCAR by running just short tracks and thinking it would work? 15 years ago this idea was laughable. Today, it’s the best idea to come to racing in a decade.

My initial thought was that I hope it helps some of these tracks financially and I hope it wakes up NASCAR to the fact that fans are craving short tracks and the action-packed racing they provide.

Aside from Iowa Speedway, there are three short tracks that host all the short track races in NASCAR. Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway. That’s it. In all three major divisions.

Yet NASCAR has mentioned that it wants to get back to its roots and bring back some of the old school fans. Wouldn’t adding short tracks to do that? The one consistent thing that NASCAR fans can agree on is that they want to see more short-track racing. Yet, not one short track has been added to the Truck, Xfinity or Cup series schedule and most likely won’t be for 2021. In fact, over the last 20 years, there have been eight short tracks that have hosted a NASCAR race that no longer do so. They are: Mesa Marin Raceway, Memphis Motorsports Park, Evergreen Speedway, Indianapolis Raceway Park, South Boston Speedway, Mansfield Motorsports Speedway, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Eight short tracks that have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. Instead of replacing them with other short tracks, NASCAR has replaced them with cookie cutter and road course tracks. If we go back even five years earlier, that number significantly rises.

There is one thing that the tracks that fell off the schedule have in common. They were not owned or operated by International Speedway Corporation (ISC) or Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI). Those two organizations may be the biggest reasons why so many short tracks have fallen off the NASCAR schedule.

These two corporations have the ability to outspend their competition. Think about it. A local short track doesn’t have the wherewithal to compete with multi-billion-dollar corporations like ISC & SMI. NASCAR can raise the sanctioning fees on their races because the tracks that they own and care about can afford them. The ones who can’t, fall off the schedule.

Those two corporations (one which is owned by NASCAR itself) now not only get 65% of the multi-billion-dollar television deal for their cup races but they also get the television money for the races in the Xfinity and Truck series. It just lengthens the gap between the local short tracks and the big-time corporations a little further. In the end, who ultimately pays the price? The race fan, particularly the short track race fan.

The closing and potential loss of Iowa creates another problem. One of the trivia questions I love to ask race fans is when was the last time NASCAR added a short track to the Cup Series schedule? I usually get blank stares because no one remembers them adding any in recent memory. It’s a great question because when you think about the short tracks on the Cup schedule, they’ve been on the schedule almost since the beginning. Martinsville has been on the Cup Schedule since 1949, Richmond was added in 1953 and Bristol was added in 1960.

It’s been almost 50 years since we’ve seen a new short track added to the Cup schedule. In 1971 NASCAR added Meyer Speedway in Houston, Texas to the schedule. It fell off the schedule in 1972 at the request of Winston when they took every race 300 miles or less and dropped it off the schedule. The fact is that NASCAR has not added a short track to the Cup schedule in the Bill France Jr, Brian France and now the Jim France era. That’s unacceptable.

Remember NASCAR is an organization that prides itself on being a diverse racing series that features all forms of racing. Yet, the last time they added a short track to the Cup Series was when Richard Nixon was president and the Watergate break-in hadn’t even occurred yet.

Here’s the more remarkable part of it though. If Iowa won’t host a NASCAR Cup race, what short track will? For years, NASCAR fans have touted Iowa as the next short track added to the Cup schedule because it has everything that is needed. Now that possibility seems very much in doubt.

I know some people will blame Iowa’s attendance for putting its future in question. However, for years I’ve watched Xfinity and Truck series races with horrible attendance at places like Kansas, Indianapolis and Kentucky, yet they stay on the schedule because of who they are owned by. North Wilkesboro and Indianapolis Raceway Park had no problem with attendance, so why were races pulled from them?

What short track is next to be added to the Cup schedule? Just last year there was some hope that the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway would be added, but that has fizzled out and appears to be a pipe dream. I know the Fairgrounds track causes a lot of political headaches around the area and it may need some upgrading, but with just a little financial support there’s no reason it can’t host a Truck race. That would be the start of progress.

How about Memphis Motorsports Park? It has SAFER barriers in place and the track is in great shape.

Unfortunately, the fans of short track racing have been completely ignored. There are ways to fix this, though. I’ve always been a believer that if you add tracks to the Truck and Xfinity series schedules that they may gain enough support to eventually attract a Cup race. However, this is virtually impossible without the help of NASCAR, ISC or SMI.

They need to help these smaller tracks, lower the sanctioning fees and quit being greedy and sucking up all the television money with the tracks they own. Sometimes what is in the best interest of NASCAR doesn’t necessarily mean it helps the wallet right away. However, for long term success and for the future of NASCAR it’s time they start to value short track racing again.

Losing Iowa would be a huge loss because it would show the fans of short track racing just how ignored they’ve been by NASCAR. With the lack of short tracks in the lower divisions, it makes you wonder if NASCAR is even trying at this point. It’s time to start trying. Saving Iowa would be a good start.

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About Clayton Caldwell

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Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.

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21 comments

  1. Avatar

    Nobody goes to Iowa Speedway when NASCAR is in town anyway. Why would NASCAR care. If the fans dont show interest why care. Lets be generous say Iowa is on the schedule there was no COVID in 2020, would it have sold out sure. Just as it did in 2011 for XFINITY. 2025 that place is empty no matter what SERIES. If we get the GEN 7 right we won’t need to go back to short tracks. What’s with everyone’s obsession with going back. Should we take MLB games back to corn fields? Just me thoughts say bye to Iowa

    • Avatar

      Bring back North Wilksboro and Rockingham. The fans here in NC loved them and the local economies kind of depended on them. Ain’t holding my breath

  2. Avatar

    Nascar would rather protect their profits by strewing sticky stuff on their less than exciting tracks than race on short tracks that don’t put money directly in their pockets. that’s how concerned they are with the good of the sport and pleasing the fans.

  3. Avatar

    I hope NASCAR goes bankrupt at some point. That’s the only thing that will set them straight, being forced to do what is prudent because they have no other choice. Until then they will continue to let greed dictate the direction of the sport. Only when the money is gone will they have any incentive to do what is best for the sport.

    • Avatar

      Bill, you are absolutely right. And, right now na$car is too busy with their social engineering to be bothered by real race fans. I have gladly walked away from na$car, been having a great time going to short track races, asphalt and dirt. I just check in on sites like this for the chuckles to see what they are screwing up next.

    • Avatar

      Wow, I agree with Bill . Reality might set in when it’s time to negotiate a new TV contract. No way Nascar gets that kind of money again.

  4. Avatar

    NOOSECAR could care less about Iowa and the other short tracks they left behind. In the boom years they encouraged the building of as many 1 1/2 mile tracks as they could and get as many butts in the seats as possible. That has failed in a big way. The racing on most of these tracks suck and they have to put “traction compound” on them to generate even the hope of passing. Clean air on these tracks is everything.

    They left their southern roots and tossed the historic tracks away like so much scrap paper and now that can’t find new fans no matter how WOKE they try to become. Bye NOOSECAR, it was nice to know you. I give you 5 years before the series collapses and dies completely or simply becomes a regional sport again. Can’t wait for Stewart and Everingham’s new league to start. Should be a good one. Those two know a thing or two about racing.

  5. Avatar

    It all began when NASCAR became an “entertainment corp.” instead of a sanctioning body. Everything changes and money is usually the reason. Other than safety changes, I really don’t see anything that has made the racing better. While nicer amenities at the track are great, it hasn’t done anything to increase the crowds. Folks come for racing, not gimmicks!

  6. Avatar

    MYRTLE BEACH SPEEDWAY HAS JUST BEEN REZONED AND THE PROPERTY IS GOING TO BE DEVELOPED FOR COMMERCIAL AND RESIDENTIAL USE !!

  7. Avatar

    I thought the short track problem was solved when 1 mile tracks like Phoenix and New Hampshire were suddenly referred to as short tracks. They double the number of short tracks in the Cup series and people still aren’t happy.

    • Avatar

      LOL… Good one!!!!

    • Avatar

      First thing I thought of when reading this article. Them trying to call NHMS and Phoenix short tracks is all the writing on the wall I need to tell me they could care less about short tracks. Guess they would rather race at huge cathedrals with huge swaths of empty seats that even banners can’t hide.

      Truth of the matter is, if they don’t own them, they don’t care, the future of the sport be damned.

      This monopoly on the tracks is going to be another reason for the downfall of this series. I hope Tony and Ray’s series is a huge success and gives Nascar a wake up call. Nascar needs some competition badly.

  8. Avatar

    While I think we all wish that there were a couple more short track races I don’t see it happening. Certainly they wont be adding tracks at the expense of tracks they own.
    As for them going bankrupt thats beyond even a pipe dream. While I haven’t seen the financial statements since the merger, prior to that they were making millions every quarter. And that will take a long time to turn around.
    That said it is fun to talk doom and gloom but its not realistic in anything in our lifetimes.

  9. Avatar

    Night racing + short tracks = Success. Iowa is not as much the problem as

    1. The quality of racing
    2. Sitting in 90 degree heat to watch a boring race

    There are many, many healthy short tracks in Iowa (maybe you’ve heard of Knoxville)…frankly it’s the quality of racing which has become a low priority for NASCAR as well…

    This crazy low horsepower high downforce, plus PJ1, etc, etc is nothing short of sad. Bring low downforce and high horsepower back and eliminate term Aero Push from the vocabulary and put he racing back into racing and you will have product Midwesterners will flock to in person…and TV audiences will love.

    How we got here is a mystery someone had better figure out…cause the product called Cup Series inspires for “NASCAR Naps” than anything else. Never thought I could see anyone screw up Bristol racing, but they’ve even done that.

  10. Avatar

    No areo. No sideskirts. No air dam. No spoiler. Let’s see who can drive.

  11. Avatar

    short tracks were so much fun..fans liked it drivers liked it. I only watch Nascar now because I know someone racing, nothing more boring then to watch the cars go around and around a mile and half track. Same top ten drivers or I should say same top teams 99 percent of the time leading, racing has always been about who had the most money, but the short tracks made it a little more even…I agree with some folks who say they have to have gimmicks to make it more interesting to watch..I will be gone when my friend quits racing..

  12. Avatar

    Bring back the copper classic and manazata . That was better than Indy or Tony. Stuart . Get ride of the houses!

    • Avatar

      Wow, remember going to PIR on Friday and watch the activities then going to Manzy to watch the WOO run on one of the best dirt tracks in the country. And then doing it all over again on Saturday. Watching, USAC, and all the NASCAR series run in the Copper World Classic was like a racing Christmas. Wish it was still happening. Brought back a lot of memories. Cheap beer and backed up restrooms at Manzy and the heat in the stands at PIR. Loved it all.

    • Avatar

      I found this video of a late model race at the copper world classic. It is vintage Jr. Hanley.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY4k04ffsww

  13. Avatar

    It’s hard to believe that there is only three short tracks on the schedule. You guys are right, NASCAR is on the verge of going under, Thursday nights Cup race was the lowest rated race in 19 and a half years. The only time there’s passing or any kind of excitement is on the Restarts at the Cookie Cutter Tracks (which are actually Restricter Plate Races).I wish they would add a few short tracks anyway on the new schedule for next year.Clean these tracks up, put Soft-Walls up all the way around, and let’s go Racing, Real Racing. How about Kern County instead of Autoclub, Iowa instead of Chicago, IRP Instead of the Brickyard. We can Race at these Tracks Now!!! Let’s do it!!!

  14. Avatar

    Personally not a fan of short tracks for Cup, but agree the current package and PJ1 nonsense is no fun. Trucks though belong on the shorts!