NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Major U.S. Markets Without a NASCAR Cup Race

Did You Notice? … How many major markets don’t have a NASCAR Cup Series race within reasonable driving distance? The recent focus on a potential exhibition race at the L.A. Coliseum has people buzzing about potential changes to the 2022 schedule and beyond.

The sport has been more flexible than ever to adjust both locations and track types in recent years. A road course like Circuit of the Americas is a great example of that. It puts NASCAR in the growing market of Austin, Texas, with a different track type (road course) that’s gained traction within the fan base in recent years. Most importantly, it’s not owned by the two companies that own a supermajority of tracks: International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports (although Speedway Motorsports did lease it).

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At least, in the case of Los Angeles, there’s been Cup racing close by for a few decades now with Auto Club Speedway located an hour east. What about for these other major markets still seeking a Cup date, quenching the thirst of their fan base while opening up an opportunity to grow the sport?

New York City (#1 of 210 Nielsen Designated Media Markets in the United States). Once upon a time, at the height of NASCAR’s popularity, Brian France had plans to build a racetrack in Staten Island. ISC bought 450 acres of property for $100 million and sought permits to construct a 4/5-mile, 80,000-seat facility near the Goethals Bridge.

But the two-year effort to build it self-destructed in the wake of local politicians opposing the deal. A sea of angry residents could never be won over, worried about traffic and filled with misunderstandings about the sport.

The best hope now, it feels like, would be for NASCAR to build over in the Meadowlands area of New Jersey, right by MetLife Stadium where the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets play. Could they pull off an exhibition race similar to what they’re trying elsewhere? It’s a great way to walk before you can run.

Yes, NYC has never been one of the sport’s hotbed markets. The yearly NASCAR awards banquet at the old Waldorf Astoria hotel left more people in Manhattan angry over closed roads around Times Square than curious about the sport that invaded their city.

But every. Major. Sport. Has a NYC presence. From the four major stick-and-ball ones (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) to soccer (MLS, two franchises) to tennis (U.S. Open) to women’s sports (NWSL, WNBA), NASCAR’s absence sticks out like a sore thumb.

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You know who else has home bases in New York? The vast majority of Fortune 500 companies. For a sport driven largely by sponsorship, it’s been a missed opportunity for decades.

Pocono Raceway is nice, a summer getaway 100 miles west. But that doesn’t compare to the real thing.

Chicago (#3 DMA). The likely closure of Chicagoland Speedway leaves this market devoid of NASCAR once again. It was always a bit of an optical illusion, anyway, as Joliet sits a good 45 miles southwest of the city.

NASCAR has toyed with a Chicago street race idea here similar to what the NTT IndyCar Series just pulled off in Nashville. They put up a fantasy course on iRacing, holding a virtual race, and NASCAR vice president Ben Kennedy indicated “everything is on the table.”

It seems like, out of all places on this list, Chicago will earn a spot on the schedule within the next 2-3 years.

Seattle-Tacoma (#12 DMA). It’s surprising NASCAR hasn’t tried to expand into the Pacific Northwest. One of the most popular drivers in the sport the past 20 years, Kasey Kahne, came from Washington state, and there’s an appealing road course option in Oregon: Portland International Raceway. (The IndyCar Series will run there this weekend.)

Oval track options are limited, but there’s plenty of open space in these two states along with fast-growing Idaho. It’s whether the sport will be willing to make a long-term investment as, like NYC, you really need to build here from the ground up.

Minneapolis-St. Paul (#14 DMA). The closest track right now is Road America, a little over five hours east. That distance could be cut to less than four hours (not ideal, but better) if NASCAR brought oval racing back to Iowa Speedway. Cutting the 7/8-mile track out of the schedule this year remains one of the sport’s more perplexing moves.

There’s no similar track type like it, and the undercard races sent there (Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series, ARCA) are well attended for those series’ standards. The location also brings Des Moines (DMA #68) into play along with another track in driving distance of Chicago.

Denver (#16 DMA). Remember when the NASCAR then-Busch Series competed at Pikes Peak International Raceway? It was still a good 90 minutes from Denver, but the one-mile paved oval in Fountain, Colo., filled up with 46,000 fans for its last two races (2004-05).

But that’s when NASCAR bought the speedway, closing it down for two years before selling to new ownership that prohibited professional series racing on the track without millions’ worth of safety upgrades. But PPIR is not only operational, it’s healthy despite those restrictions over a decade later. Considering there’s no other oval in the area capable of being renovated quickly to hold Cup-level crowds, would the sport ever consider working with them?

 Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…

  • What in the world is NASCAR doing with ARCA? At 9 p.m. ET on Sunday night (Sept. 5), they ran an ARCA Menards Series race at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in the middle of the Cup Series’ Southern 500. Could you imagine the uproar if NASCAR tried to run an Xfinity Series or Camping World Truck Series race in the middle of Cup?
  • Building on that … what is ARCA supposed to be now? I thought it was the sport’s equivalent of single-A baseball, but DuQuoin’s schedule sends a message the series is its own entity, almost in competition with NASCAR. Whatever the reasoning, the lack of direction here is showing. The last four races have averaged 19 cars in the field, a handful of whom start and park, while only two drivers (two!) have competed in all 17 events.
  • Maybe Spire Motorsports, if they keep a second full-time Cup team next year, isn’t such a bad landing spot after all for someone? Corey LaJoie now has three straight top-16 finishes (including a 15th at Darlington Raceway) for the first time in his Cup career. His success caught the attention of NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin. And, as we discussed last week in this space, there are some big names in the free agent market without a ride. For years, we’ve heard how this team was waiting for the Next Gen car to truly ramp up operations. Are we seeing that play out in real time?

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Wayne

New York: “Pocono Raceway is nice, a summer getaway 100 miles west. But that doesn’t compare to the real thing.”
Chicago: “It was always a bit of an optical illusion, anyway, as Joliet sits a good 45 miles southwest of the city.”

Michigan International Speedway is in the middle of nowhere, 75 miles from Detroit. How does that count?

John Dawg Chapman

You touched on an important point. Road racing is an excellent way to expand to new areas. No need for grandstand capacity, just bring a blanket or lawn chairs & pick your spot. I’d love to see a Cup race at Hallett, close to Tulsa, Enid, & Ok City. That area, as well as North Tx. has been a hotbed of racing activity for many years. I’ve been in favor of more road courses. We have enough now. But they have a chance to change out one for a new one every year to add variety, & new exposure.

Jake

How many of these markets WANT and would actually support a race?

Bill B

I was going to say the same thing. Most likely there would be lots of interest for 2-3 years and then…..

Marshall

The logic is always, “just go where the most people are to bring in the most fans.” That works great for sports like baseball or football where there’s mainstream support throughout the population. It’s hard to say whether that really translates for a niche sport like NASCAR. On the one hand the bulk of their popularity is in the southeast and leaving those markets seems to have had a negative effect on attendance at the race track. On the other hand it’s not like NASCAR is actually holding races in Chicago or LA, so it’s hard to say if they’re wrong about focusing on larger population centers. They almost certainly misjudged how far a fan is willing to travel to see a race “near” their hometown. I think this next wave of schedule changes will look more into what markets already have a suitable place to race rather than trying to build a track that’s “nearby.” I saw a good argument on YouTube that NASCAR should look into returning to the Greenville market. In the absence of a suitable track they could do a road race at the airport.

Marc

While the media oversimplified concerns as being only about raceday traffic to and from the proposed Staten Island track, local residents were at least as concerned about the daily traffic to the accompanying 620,000 square-foot mall, the real economic driver of the project. if the project had just been the track with some community benefits or it was combined with a light rail line on abandoned tracks on the west and north shores, it might have been happened. The prospect of thousands of cars a day on congested local streets with few public transit options meant the proposal was DOA.

RCFX1

I don’t hear of people demanding a race in those locations. As much as they hate it, NASCAR is a southern sport. Indy Cars are more northern.

DoninAjax

They’d better include a casino because that’s where the money is.

Al Torney

NASCAR tried to get something going in the Washington-Oregon area years ago. Created very little interest. With tv money driving the sport these days the location of the track is not as important as it once was. NASCAR never has been nor will it ever be an urban sport.

John

With the new car being an Australian Supercar, I still think its foolish to put them into a street race, but I also feel that way about Indy Car. Why watch a bad race in a large market.

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