Connecting NASCAR to the hardcore grassroots racing fan

Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Burton make passionate requests for more short track racing in NASCAR

About a week ago, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart kicked off a debate on short track racing in NASCAR. They pointed out the obvious disconnect between NASCAR and the short track racing crowd.

We all see this. “Support your local dirt track,” they say.

Closing the door on NASCAR isn’t the answer. NASCAR still has eyes of the non-racing fan. NASCAR can still be repaired and racing as a whole can grow as a result, from both sides.

Watch the video below as the request for more short tracks has been made, once more.

“Everything wasn’t perfect in the past. But, what we did have in the past, we had the Busch Grand National Series — They’d run Daytona, they’d run Charlotte, they’d run Darlington, they’d run South Boston, they’d run Hickory,” Jeff Burton explains on NASCAR America.

“You had full grown men, that people knew. They’d race at South Boston Speedway. And then, you’d see them on TV racing at Charlotte. That brought a connection. We don’t have that National Series running on short tracks that draw people to the race track and also draw them to TV on Saturdays and Sundays.

Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville owners
Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville

In August 2017, Bristol Motor Speedway placed a bid to run Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. That bid had me very excited about the future of NASCAR. However, the City of Nashville turned down that bid.

Bristol Motor Speedway, owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. wanted a 30-year lease of the Nashville Fairgrounds. In addition, they wanted the city to fully fund capital renovations. In other words, SMI would only promote the speedway and likely bring some NASCAR dates to the facility. But, it would not fund the upgrades to the facility in order to bring NASCAR back.

Related: City of Nashville turns down Bristol Motor Speedway’s big for Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville

“My heart was broken,” Dale Earnhardt Jr explains his feelings of that news. “I thought we had a real opportunity to finally be able to bring one of the touring series, either the Trucks or Xfinity, back to the Fairgrounds.”

“That’s where we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys or the guys that are running on these local short tracks don’t have that connection to the Truck Series or the Xfinity Series. They need to take those series back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

“We would race the Xfinity race at Nashville. Well, drivers would go in the week before and run the late model race. Just to get some track time. That’s what we’re missin’ ”

“I also think that’s where our fanbase is. We get that connection back to that fanbase, those folks are going to go Sunday races.”

Knoxville Late Mode Nationals Fuel Stop 5552
Knoxville Late Mode Nationals

Related: 2017 NASCAR attendance down; Race track revenue numbers

Related: 2018 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series payouts will net record-breaking season

Those two links above will give you confirmation of where the fanbase has gone.

“If you remember, when North Wilkesboro was part of the cup schedule. What race they had there on Saturday? They had a late model race. I remember being there with my late model with my brother and sister and our was over in the Cup garage. I got introduced to Jeff Gordon on the pit road of North Wilkesboro by my father standing in front of my late model car.”

“That is what we need to bring back together. That means the Truck, Xfinity and ever the Cup Series going to more short tracks.”

Absolutely! Currently, NASCAR has a catalog of 30 tracks for the top 3 divisions of the sanction. Of those, only 1 of them is a .5-mile or under. That track is the dirt track of Eldora Speedway.

Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond at .526, .533 and .75-miles aren’t short tracks. But, for us NASCAR/short track racing fans it’s the closest thing we’ve got. So, we cling to them as if they’re a real short track. But, I’ll cave and give those to them as well, just to say NASCAR has 4 short tracks. 4 of 30 is only 13% of the schedule! Of course the grassroots fans left, off to the dirt track they go.

“Racing divisions, have turned into tribes. ‘I’m a dirt late model guy. I don’t watch NASCAR.’ I watch everything that’s on TV. I don’t understand why we’ve grouped ourselves, as racers, into all these different sections.”

Because NASCAR alienated themselves into their own section. Not to argue with Jeff Burton, I do agree with him but I also think it could be looked at from a different angle. NASCAR purposefully separated themselves from the grassroots Southern fan. The fans pushed back and cut NASCAR from their list. Just to add a quick explanation from the grassroots side of the argument.

Las Vegas Bullring - NASCAR All-Star Race
Las Vegas Bullring

How does NASCAR add more short tracks?

So, most of us agree on the same solution. Why not just make the change to fix it? Because it’s not that simple.

On the subject of NASCAR adding more short tracks, that is absolutely the answer for fixing NASCAR. It’s 100% the solution for connecting the sport back to the hardcore race fans who have found the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.

Adding more NASCAR short tracks would grow the fanbase on both sides of the fence. NASCAR is great for short track racing. When NASCAR does well, so does other forms of oval racing. Not that short track racing needs NASCAR, but it doesn’t hurt.

NASCAR knows they have a problem. The introduction of stage racing and Eldora Speedway tells you their trying to reconnect with short track fans. However, at the moment, they can’t do anything about it. A bulk of these track contracts were singed on a multi-year basis. That means, spots on the schedule don’t open up until 2022.

NASCAR may want to add more short tracks. That doesn’t mean they can. Meanwhile, SMI and ISC do have the power to bring NASCAR back to the short tracks, right now. And they are the only one’s who can do so, until 2020. It’s not NASCAR that needs to be pressured into more short track dates. Fans need to put pressure on these two companies to bring short tracks back to NASCAR.

In order for a short track to return to the schedule, one of those companies would need to take a date away from one of their 1.5 mile tracks and replace it with a short track. Under contract, they are allowed to do that. These two companies have more control of the NASCAR schedule, than the sanctioning body itself.

It would absolutely be in their best interest to do so. And at the same time, it shouldn’t hurt them because they already have short tracks of their own ready to go.

Las Vegas for example now has two NASCAR dates. Well, why not take one of those dates and more it to the 3/8-mile. Maybe you can’t fit 40 cars on that track. I think you can. But, let’s assume you can’t. Cut the field to 35.

‘The Bullring @ Las Vegas doesn’t have enough seats.’ I hear you saying that. NASCAR attendance continues to decline, at this point those grandstands might work fine. If not, add some new seats?

ISC is in the middle of spending $178 million to move the start finish line. SMI just spent millions to add luxury seating to LVMS. 4 of 8 SMI properties are in the middle of major upgrades. I don’t want to tell them how to spend their money but I think SMI can afford to add some ‘normal’ seats to the Bullring, if need be.

Las Vegas is also considering options to add their dirt track to the NASCAR schedule. Yes, please.

The short track fans would return in droves. We’re waiting.

Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Burton make request for more NASCAR short tracks


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