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.