In a time long ago, that many modern fans do not remember, ESPN was the primary broadcast partner for NASCAR.
As the sport continued to boom and the decisions were being made to determine what was best for the fan base, the broadcast partner actually took a poll of the people who were watching the races. They wanted to find out what time of the day that fans would like to see the races start. In a move that would shock almost no one with a lick of sense, the fans wanted to see East Coast races start at 1 p.m. and West Coast races start at 3:30 p.m. ET
Night races were an exception, although there were only a handful of night events at the time.
Sadly, as the times have changed and the broadcast partners have been switched, the opinion and desires of the fans don’t amount to a hill of beans for the broadcast partners. The sanctioning body has abdicated all sense of intelligence and control, letting the people who look solely at ratings numbers make every decision about when the green flag will fly for the races.
The NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL do allow the broadcast partners to request events and starting times, but they also dictate a majority of their schedule to make sure that it makes sense and doesn’t put teams or fans in an unacceptable timeframe. It shouldn’t be that hard for a person who has watched NASCAR races for more than a couple years to realize that there are some pretty common occurrences which can be avoided by some very simple scheduling decisions.
For fans who think that night racing should be reserved for local short tracks and two special races during the season (All-Star race and Bristol Motor Speedway Night race), the choice for the remaining start times was already presented to the sanctioning body. While people might think it is driven by the desires of the fans on the East Coast, in reality it is dictated primarily by good ol’ fashioned common sense.
There are some very obvious events that have led to the intelligent request by the fans to have races start at 1 p.m. ET. For anyone who has spent any appreciable time outdoors in the spring and summer, one thing takes place on a quite regular basis.
That is afternoon rain showers.
Especially in Florida and the lower south, almost every afternoon has a rain storm. Way back when, they used to start the summer Daytona International Speedway NASCAR Cup Series race at 11 a.m. While some would say it was to try and avoid the highest temperatures of the day in the heat of the afternoon, it was simply to avoid the afternoon rain storms. If you have ever been in Florida in the summer, it rains every single day at roughly 3 p.m. If you start the race at 11 a.m. in Daytona, you are done by the time that daily shower unleashes its moisture on the track. Adding lights to Daytona was one of the dumbest moves in the history of racing.
Some folks may have noticed that recent addition of lights to Martinsville Speedway.
When that initially happened, the powers that be in southern Virginia assured everyone that it was purely a safety precaution against a possible weather event and they would NEVER start a race after dark at the paperclip.
Not one week after the announcement they put out a press release that the famous Late Model Stock Car race that is a crown jewel of local racing, would start at night. The talking heads from the track said they only meant that National Touring events would not start after dark. Fast forward to the not so recent past and they are now running the Cup race at night.
This just in: it is freaking COLD in Martinsville in April. It is simply rude that the sanctioning body, the broadcast partners and the race track expect the fans to sit outside and watch a race when they KNOW it is going to be frigidly cold. Odd weather occurrences are one thing. It is always cold in Martinsville in April at night.
To this point, the discussion has only been tracks that actually have lights. This past weekend, and numerous times in 2021, races were started at 3:30 p.m., on the East Coast, at tracks that do not have lights.
The simple fact is, any weather event that results in the facility losing the race track, is going to result in the race either being shortened, or postponed. People who like to look at statistics will say that it generally doesn’t happen and that starting the races that late will ensure the best rating numbers.
Unfortunately, when it does happen once, twice, or even three or more times during a season, it is a truly rough situation for the fans who spent their time and money to make it to the race. Many of them do not get to watch the postponed races on Monday, so they simply have thrown away their hard earned money and missed the race. The irony is that, when they run it on Monday, they start at NOON! The exact time of day that they should have started the race on Sunday to get it all in.
Ratings numbers are the almighty goal in the television broadcasting world. The bigger the numbers that can be achieved for an event, the higher the premiums that can be charged for advertising. For the broadcast partners who were dumb enough to be talked into paying the $8.2 billion for the NASCAR package in 2014, that is the only way they can come remotely close to getting their money back.
Unfortunately, it is a foolish exercise to try and start races so late in the afternoon, tempting mother nature. While it doesn’t happen every time, the two or three times a year it does happen are a huge inconvenience to the loyal fans who attend the races in person.
The time has come for NASCAR to regain control of the process.
They need to work with the TV partners and manage the schedule for race weekends so that the optimum start times get the partners quality ratings while affording the fans at the race the best opportunity to see a full race on the scheduled race day. ESPN may make some poor decisions from time-to-time, but the poll of the fans way back when was genius.
The current partners need to use some simple, common sense, and listen to the fans. Do the right thing and start the races earlier in the day so that the odds of the race running to completion on the scheduled day are as high as possible.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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