By admin | April 4, 2010
By Richard Allen
I have tried to be more supportive of the NASCAR organization throughout much of this season. They have tired to improve their on-track product at the Sprint Cup level over the past several months by instituting double file restarts, replacing the wing on the Car of Tomorrow with a spoiler, and allowing multiple green/white/checkered finishes. Also, the ‘have at it’ policy has made for some good discussion topics. There is plenty more that needs to be done but the sanctioning body has at least shown it can be responsive.
However, for what NASCAR has done to improve the Sprint Cup Series, they have had the opposite effect on the Camping World Truck Series.
In 1995, NASCAR started the truck series for the intent of providing a grass roots form of racing that would compete on tracks of one mile in length or less. Many of the races would be run apart from the Sprint Cup Series in places such as Bakersfield, Tucson, Topeka, Milwaukee and North Wilkesboro.
Then little known drivers such as Ron Hornaday, Mike Skinner, Mike Bliss and Jack Sprague competed in the earliest seasons of the series. Also, up and coming drivers like Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards got their starts in the ranks of truck racing. The races were entertaining and the grandstands at the smaller venues were often full.
Somewhere along the way NASCAR made the decision to take the truck series away from its roots and move it to more ‘big time’ locales(sound familiar). Apparently the lure of potential sponsorship dollars, television revenue and larger crowds were too much for the Daytona Beach leadership of the sport to ignore.
Initially, taking the trucks to places like Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and other major speedways seemed to work well. Large companies did offer up sponsorship money during the economic boom times of the late 1990s and the early 2000s. And, Sprint Cup drivers, who had owned teams and dabbled as drivers, suddenly took more of an interest in becoming near full time participants.
However, as the economy has turned sour in recent years, those sponsors have become less inclined to provide funding for a major touring series.
Friday’s race in Nashville serves to indicate just how much this series has declined. NASCAR declared that a crowd of 12,000 fans were on hand to watch the race. In reality, there have been estimates by those who were there that as few as 5,000 were actually in attendance.
I have been to high school football games that drew bigger crowds.
The argument has been made that running the series on bigger tracks and bringing in more recognizable drivers would assure its survival. Well, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were in the race on Friday. That certainly did little to bring in the fans.
In my opinion, the truck series often has some of the best racing in NASCAR. However, the series once offered something fresh and unique. Now, it is just another variation of Sprint Cup racing, just like the Nationwide Series has become.
I often refer to the Nationwide Series as ‘Sprint Cup Lite’. Now, the truck series has become ‘Sprint Cup Ultra Lite’. And apparently for many people it is no longer worth their attention. The scores of empty seats in Nashville offer evidence of that.
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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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