NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Jonahtan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Are NASCAR’s Cookie Cutters Beginning to Crumble?

NASCAR will hit the track at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, marking the final 1.5-mile race of the season. The final two races will be contested on the short track at Martinsville and the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway.

Based on what we saw last week, that’s probably a good thing.

There’s some hope on the horizon: the seventh-generation NASCAR Cup Series car is due to be on track for the 2022 season, so perhaps it will address the aerodynamic dependence that’s caused so many issues with the racing in recent years.

But are we already starting to see the beginning of the end for the so called cookie-cutter racetracks—those 1.5-to-2-mile beasts that seem to race just about the same despite differences in layout, banking and pavement? Maybe we are.

There was a purpose to building all those tracks. Big enough to surround with a lot of seats—which were filled during NASCAR’s boom—and able to be raced by a variety of cars, both stock cars and lighter open-wheel machines, these tracks made some sense at the time. Charlotte Motor Speedway came first, and for many years, it produced races everyone wanted to watch.

But everyone thought the Astrodome was great, too, at first. Until they didn’t.

The 1970s saw a trend in many cities toward dual-purpose stadia—ugly, characterless affairs that could host both Major League Baseball and NFL games. They worked OK for football; every field is the same size anyway.

But in baseball, they were a disappointment. Gone were ballparks with unique quirks, a nook here, a cranny there. A few lingered, reminders of the past, but this was progress! Or so “they” (whoever they were) said.

It’s the same deal for racetracks. It turns out tracks that produce exciting open-wheel races (Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I’m looking at you), didn’t always produce great stock car races. Tracks where the stockers ran more or less safely proved deadly for open-wheel drivers.

But by then NASCAR was basically stuck with these tracks because of the markets they were in and the sport’s growing popularity. They signified westward expansion, NASCAR’s version of the gold rush, and even a foray onto hallowed ground in Indy.

But like the gold rush, the gold ran out.

And maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. NASCAR let one cookie-cutter race go three years ago when Charlotte moved the fall race to its ROVAL. And in 2021, we’ll see five fewer points races on these tracks. Atlanta Motor Speedway gains a second date, but Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway will fall silent. Michigan International Speedway will lose one race. Texas loses a points race, replacing it with the All-Star Race there. Indianapolis will move to its infield road course.

In 2022, Auto Club Speedway will be a newly reconfigured short track, removing yet another cookie cutter from the schedule.

The 2021 schedule includes three new road-course races, an additional date at Darlington Raceway and a race at the 1.3-mile Nashville Superspeedway.

A reconfigured Atlanta down the road could see the track go back to its original true-oval layout, similar to Homestead-Miami Speedway, which races quite differently from other tracks of similar length.

We could certainly see more unique tracks in the future, especially if NASCAR is willing to work with short tracks to help them with the expense of adding SAFER barriers (and this should never be compromised) as well as solutions for pit road and garage areas to accommodate 40 Cup teams.

If that happens, will we see more of the cookie cutters go dark? Will some choose to reconfigure to survive, like Auto Club and Atlanta?

Those dual-purpose cookie-cutter stadiums that dotted the baseball landscape once?  They’re all gone now, replaced by new ballparks that resemble those of yesteryear, with unique features like a nook here, a cranny there.

Are the cookie-cutter tracks far behind?

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

16 comments

  1. Avatar

    The stale, crumbling cookie cutters are not far behind. But most will be destined for the graveyard to make way for housing and Amazon warehouses. RIP Chicagoland Speedway.

  2. Avatar

    I truly believe that for NASCAR to survive, it must recognize the grave errors made during the Brian France mismanagement debacle and commit to some serious course correction. We’ll see.

    • Avatar

      NEVER!!!

      New Coke forever!!!!

      • Avatar

        New Coke was only good for washing down those Watermelon Oreos. Yeah, that was a real thing. Google it.

        • Avatar

          LOL… I believe you. Oreo puts out goofy flavors every year but it’s done as a gimmick to get publicity, not as a change in direction for the overall business. I have tried a few through the years but only the original (well maybe with double icing in the center) is a keeper.

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      Stage racing ,big team concept and dragging politics in to what used to be fun sport but no more.

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        Nascar screwed up when they got into politics they should have left things alone nascar to me has gone And told people how things were going to be that didn’t like to be told They wanted to go relax watch nascar not politics

  3. Avatar

    LOL,,, I’d call Indy a terrible track on which to run a stock car race but there is nothing cookie cutter about it. The fact that you included it as one of the cookie cutters we are losing makes me wonder if you know the definition of cookie cutter (or if I do). Or, were you just trying to embellish your story by forcing another track onto the list?

  4. Avatar

    They may loose this die hard of16 years if so. Fans are going to be saying road courses are boring and we have too many short tracks come15 years from now. Mile and a halfs are why I feel in love with NASCAR in the first place. Stupid decisions being made. Auto Club is a gem why bother with that as well. NASCAR setting themselves up for short term gain and long term failure as thats what people think they want but once its over saturated with short tracks and road courses its going to become a niche sport come 20 years from now. MARK MY WORDS there will be a day we say boy we sure miss male and a halfs…

    • Avatar

      I see what you did there, Brian…

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        I am so disappointed and disgusted that they took our races from The Kentucky Speedway. It was one of the better attended races. Loved going to all of the races there. Leave road courses to Indy cars and Formula one. NASCAR is losing me. Stop all of the changes. Stage racing sucks. Two unneeded cautions..

  5. Avatar

    I’m still pissed about them outlawing big blocks! Seriously though, I still remember awesome Bill and Dale tearing up Riverside. It used to be about innovation, the cookie cutter cars now remind me of IROC racing. Penalizing drivers for what happened in there private lives, the Chase was the last straw for me. The only way the “new brand Coke” was to snag a championship,

  6. Avatar

    20 yes. You’ll be lucky if nascar lasts that long one more like this will do them in lol the management sucks no one to steer the ship just trying to change to much to quick gets you in big trouble not enough talent anymore no real men in the sport just a bunch of rich babies that are worn out if they lose a power steering belt or if they dont have air conditioning put real. Talent back in the sport or watch it crumble like it has the last 20 years. Wake up nascar you cant please everybody and changing every thing is not goin to fix it!!

    • Avatar

      I have a brown ’83 chevy 3/4 ton 4×4.
      I took the steering pump belts off in the middle of a hot sunny windless day and tried to parallel park the darn thing.
      I’m relatively strong and decent shape.
      No joy Jerry. I twisted the shaft off the steering box after I wrapped rags around the steering wheel to give me better traction from my sweaty hands.
      I enjoy watching guys taking all their rides will give and trying to take just a little bit more trying to beat the other guy.

  7. Avatar

    I think a couple of 1.5 milers should be kept, but limited to one race a year. I would rather see a resurrection of North Wilkesboro and Rockingham.