Ever since the turn of the current millennium, NASCAR has taken steady steps of change as the sport has evolved.
Whether it’s driver safety, track modifications, schedule overhauls or pushes for diversity, some changes have left behind positive impressions and impacts, while others have blatantly left behind negative ones (need I remind you of the caution clock?).
Unfortunately, in this never-ending pursuit of progress, several longtime traditions have been left by the wayside, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths those who stood by them and understood the roles they served in the sport. Achieving progress is one thing, but abandoning longtime traditions on a whim for the sole sake of change isn’t always the most sufficient way to do it.
We’ve all heard the adage, “If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Here are five examples of things that NASCAR should’ve left unbroken.
1. All-Star Race at Charlotte
We’ll begin with the All-Star Race, most recently held on Sunday (June 13) at Texas Motor Speedway. Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports continued their hot streak in the NASCAR Cup Series by winning their third straight race and a sweet $1 million prize. It was the third time in the race’s history that it wasn’t held at its longtime venue of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Because of North Carolina’s COVID-19 restrictions, the All-Star Race was forced to relocate to Bristol Motor Speedway in 2020. The venue swap continued into 2021 with the race being held in the Lone Star State. While it’s cool that fans from different areas get to have the chance to attend, the one major problem with this is how costly it can be for many teams to show up and compete.
With the Charlotte area being the primary shop location for many NASCAR teams, logistically it makes the most sense for Charlotte to continue hosting the All-Star Race. Since the race is only for bragging rights and not points, lower-budgeted teams have less of a financial risk when they enter, considering they won’t have to drive both ways to Texas or Bristol to race.
With an undetermined location for the All-Star Race in 2022, NASCAR shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring the event back to its roots in Charlotte and keep it there. Team owners would approve of it. All the fans in NASCAR’s backyard would too.
2. The Revitalization of North Wilkesboro & Rockingham
Speaking of racing in NASCAR’s backyard, close by lie the abandoned facilities of North Wilkesboro Speedway and Rockingham Speedway: two tracks which have their own distinct places in the history books of NASCAR, but have been left behind for otherwise petty reasons.
North Wilkesboro was a part of the original Cup schedule in 1949 and remained that way every year until 1996, when the track lost its date to Texas and New Hampshire Motor Speedway the following year. There have been races of any sorts at the speedway for close to a decade. But thanks to Dale Earnhardt Jr., the speedway underwent a cleanup effort to be scanned for iRacing and the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series raced there virtually (Denny Hamlin won).
Rockingham is another place that has a storied history of its own. The speedway had at least one NASCAR event on the calendar from 1965-2004, losing its date on the calendar to, you guessed it, Texas. Former NASCAR/ARCA Menards Series standout Andy Hillenburg went so far as to purchase the speedway to keep it alive as much as possible. ARCA held four races there from 2008-10, while the Camping World Truck Series raced there twice from 2012-13.
Thankfully, the racing community is hopeful for the roar of engines to return to these places sooner rather than later. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis pledged $1 million to revitalize North Wilkesboro. And with Rockingham already having SAFER barriers around the track, not much would need to be done there other than a little landscaping. Not to mention that both tracks recently received $10 million each from the state government. Plus, the towns and counties of these speedways would get a big financial boost from a NASCAR event taking place there.
The Cup Series schedule may be full, but the Truck, Xfinity or ARCA series can absolutely find room to squeeze in a race at these longtime tracks. Can’t hurt to try.
3. Independence Day Weekend at Daytona
Another broken tradition that left many fans scratching their heads was the rescheduling of Daytona International Speedway’s summer race, normally held on Independence Day weekend. From the track’s opening season in 1959 to 2019, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (formerly the Firecracker 400) has been the marquee event for NASCAR racing on the weekend of one of America’s most celebrated holidays.
Then, when 2020 came around, NASCAR took the bold and divisive step of rescheduling the race towards the end of August as the regular season finale. The Brickyard 400 replaced Daytona’s former July date on the calendar, but just didn’t have the same “fireworks” feeling that Daytona normally brought. The 1998 edition was the only other time that the Coke Zero Sugar 400 did not run on its traditional July 4 weekend date, as it was postponed to October that year due to a wildfire crisis plaguing Florida at the time.
Some will argue about how rainy the Daytona Beach area can be during the summer months. But that argument hardly holds any weight considering the race was forced to end early only three times because of rain: in 1996, 2014 and 2019. Every other race in its history was completed in full.
NASCAR was able to give Darlington Raceway back its historic date, reconnecting the Southern 500 with Labor Day weekend. Rescheduling the Coke Zero Sugar 400 back to Independence Day weekend would revive the same old-time firecracker spirit that fans have been looking to retrieve for the past two years. End the regular season with another race instead.
4. Door Number Placement
Numbers. You know them, you love them. The all-time greats of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott and others all had numbers that became iconic because of them. And the biggest thing they all had in common? They were all placed square center on the door.
Even though there has been no word on whether this will go away or not, this is something that must be addressed before it meets an unfortunate demise. Rumors are beginning to boil that the centered placement may come to an end with the Next Gen car in 2022, with the main alleged reason being more exposure for sponsors on the car. This was first put to the test in the 2020 All-Star Race at Bristol. While there were some paint schemes that stood out and looked good, many other designs fell short of expectations.
Aesthetically, the move would be pointless, as teams can already adjust the amount of sponsor exposure on the car as much as they want to without changing the number placement. Plus, drivers can utilize their firesuits and do TV ads to expand their sponsors’ presence without morphing anything on the car to do so.
Numbers have stayed on the same spot on the car for decades. It’s one of the best ways for fans to establish a connection with their favorite drivers. Leave them be.
5. A Classic, Non-Playoff Points System
Yes, folks, the can of worms has been opened up again on this one. We’ve learned to deal with the playoff system for the last 17 years, but it’s easy to see how it might be tiresome for the more traditional fans.
Remember Brian France, the man who was essentially the mastermind behind the entire concept of the playoffs and implementing it soon after becoming NASCAR’s CEO? Well, he hasn’t been around the sport since his poorly-timed DUI arrest in August 2018. When France had to leave, the playoffs should’ve left along with him. Makes sense, right? NASCAR had the opportunity to discard it all after 2018 with France no longer in the picture. But as we all know, it’s still being kept alive to this day, albeit on life support.
The odd thing is, in the classic system, drivers could still earn valuable championship points during races without any playoff pressure. Lead a lap? Lead the most laps? Qualify on the pole? Set the race’s fastest lap? Then you’ve got areas where drivers can score bonus points in, points that can add up along the way. Several well-known championship battles in NASCAR’s history have come down to a slim margin of points. Bring back the emphasis on the above objectives, and it will give drivers and teams a willingness to do their best and excel in every race throughout the whole season.
This is the most genuine and gratifying way to crown a champion in racing. Not a full-count, bottom-of-the-ninth, game 7 situation in one race. That stuff is meant for other sports leagues. Not in racing. As the late Ernest Hemingway once said, “There are only three sports: bull fighting, motor racing, and mountaineering. All the rest are merely games.”