By admin | February 18, 2010
By Richard Allen
Every time the Sprint Cup Series visits the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California the question arises as to whether or not this track should even be hosting NASCAR events.
Well, I am going to raise that question once again due to a recent happening that might have gone unnoticed in the sea of publicity surrounding Daytona, Danica and a pothole. On February 12, the owner of the Kansas Speedway, International Speedway Corporation, was given final approval to place a casino on the grounds of that facility. ISC plans to ask NASCAR to give the track a second Sprint Cup date. That request is almost certainly going to be granted since NASCAR is controlled by the same France family that controls ISC.
It is not probable that the current Cup schedule will be expanded to 37 points paying races so the new Kansas Speedway date will have to be taken from another track. And, most likely that date will come from one of the other ISC tracks already hosting an event.
So, what are the possibilities?
Michigan Speedway currently hosts two Sprint Cup races. That part of the country has been devastated by the disasters to have hit the auto industry of late. The track, in turn, has struggled to fill its seats.
Team owner Felix Sabates made off season headlines when he questioned whether NASCAR should even be going to Michigan at all. To take a date away from Michigan at this time would not be a very good public relations move for NASCAR. To do so would make it appear as though a team owner was making decisions for them. Also, it would appear as though they were turning their backs on a state and industry that has supported their cause for decades.
The Chicagoland Speedway only hosts one event so it is unlikely that track would lose its date. That is likely the case for the Homestead-Miami Speedway as well. The same can probably be said for Watkins Glen, especially since it is one of only two road courses on the circuit.
Darlington Raceway has already been forced to give up one date. Hopefully, the historic racing venue will not lose another. Phoenix Raceway hosts two events which typically sell out so that facility will most likely keep its races.
The ISC tracks in Daytona, Talladega and Richmond are untouchable mainstays on the schedule.
With all of the other ISC tracks being eliminated, that leaves two likely options as to where the new Kansas date will come from, Martinsville and California.
NASCAR has recently made some good PR decisions. This is an opportunity for them to make another. Pure economics probably favors taking a date from Martinsville rather than the Auto Club Speedway. The California track has a greater seating capacity and can have more fans while looking empty than Martinsville does when full. And, having two dates in the Los Angeles market offers extra exposure in the nationâ€™s second largest urban area as opposed to the rural Virginia setting of Martinsville.
With all that said, Auto Club Speedway seems the obvious choice to keep its date. However, there are several things that make Martinsville the better choice from a public relations standpoint.
Martinsville is old time NASCAR. This track has been on the circuit since before most of todayâ€™s drivers were born. It is one of only three remaining tracks left on the schedule that fit the definition of a short track where once short tracks made up the backbone of the sport. It is one of the few places in which drivers still have to push and shove their way around other cars rather than have better aerodynamics.
To take a date away from a short track in order to give it to another â€˜cookie cutterâ€™ would seem almost criminal to many old school fans.
Also, Martinsville is in the heart of what once was â€˜NASCAR countryâ€™. The fans who have followed the sport since the days before massive television contracts are in Virginia, not California.
It seems as though NASCAR has finally come to realize they made a mistake by ignoring their core fan base for so long. It recent months they have appeared to be trying to remedy that. Taking a date away from one of the venerable old facilities to give to one that has a shiny new casino attached to it would be a critical error that could forever detach many of those core fans.
If the Kansas Speedway is to get a second date, NASCAR would do well to take that date from California rather than Martinsville.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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