By admin | July 22, 2012
By Richard Allen
It has long been my opinion that the Nationwide Series is being misused by NASCAR. Iâ€™ve often said the â€˜second seriesâ€™ needs more opportunities to stand alone rather than serve as a weekend filler for the Sprint Cup Series. However, Sundayâ€™s race at the Chicagoland Speedway is not what I have in mind.
The â€˜crowdâ€™ that was on hand for the STP 300 in Joliet, Illinois on Sunday was embarrassing to the series and the sport. Even with the close up shots of the racing action offered by television, it could be plainly seen that there were very few people on hand. And by very few, I mean VERY few.
In 2011, NASCAR forced drivers to choose one series in which they intend to compete for a championship. While Sprint Cup regulars do still race in the Nationwide Series, their numbers have reduced a bit in the lower divisions over the past couple of seasons. That was one positive step toward a separation of the two forms of NASCAR racing.
Having races run at separate venues from the Sprint Cup Series is another step in the right direction for allowing the support class operate as a true training ground for young drivers or a place for veteran drivers who have fallen from the top series to rebuild their careers.
However, running on an off weekend on a track that already hosts a Sprint Cup event is a bad idea and that showed on Sunday. The Nationwide Series needs to run at separate venues such as Iowa, as they already do in front of filled and energetic grandstands. Rockingham or any number of other locations in which the lower division race would be the biggest event to take place at that facility would be ideal sites for this series.
I once asked a friend of mine who was a promoter at a local dirt track why he did not have some touring super late model series races on occasion at his track. He told me that once those big series race there, his local weekly drivers would cease to be the big stars there and would lose their appeal for the fans in the area. When a track hosts a Sprint Cup race, it is not a good site for a stand alone lower division race for that same reason.
Some may immediately toss out the failed Nationwide races Nashville Superspeedway as an example of the series not being able stand on its own. But that is a poor example. In Nashville, there was already a much loved track in the town. And that was a short track with a deep history in the sport. It was replaced by a track with no real attachment to the city and no real character.
In other words, Nashville had traded a unique piece of racing history for essentially the same track that could be seen in any number of other locations. There was nothing to cause the people of the area to attach to it and there was no reason for fans from other areas to come to a track very much like so many others.
I appreciate NASCARâ€™s efforts to take away the image of â€˜Sprint Cup Liteâ€™ from the Nationwide Series. But running a stand alone race in a place that has little historic connection to the sport on a â€˜cookie cutterâ€™ track with huge grandstands built to host the Sprint Cup Series was not the best option.
Even if the attendance numbers are greater at a place like Chicagoland with very obvious empty spaces in the grandstands than they would be at Rockingham with full grandstands, the effect of so many empty seats sends a bad message. Thereâ€™s a reason restaurants have small waiting areas and parking lots. They want to give the impression of a full and excited locale.
NASCAR needs to find places that will offer that same feel, not places that look embarrassingly empty.
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