NASCAR President, Steve Phelps: “I think we chased a new fan at the expense of an existing fan. We’ll never do that again.”
Steve Phelps went to his first race with his dad at the age of 5. The Vermont short track racing scene gave him the bug.
He signed with NASCAR in their New York sponsorship department. He’s since been promoted several times. Now, he works out of NASCAR Headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida and serves as the President of the sport.
He takes a seat as NASCAR President during a pivotal moment in the sport. NASCAR has long been in a decline. However, what’s new is NASCAR’s understanding and acknowledgment of what went wrong.
More importantly, they are looking to fix it. This comes in a variety of ways.
Steve Phelps on the NASCAR schedule changes
“Fans have said they want to see more short tracks, more road courses and fewer intermediate tracks. I get that. We totally understand that,” Steve Phelps said via the Dale Jr Download.
“We tried to mix up the schedule as much as we could with the limitations that we had. He have 5 year agreements. 2020 is the last year of that agreement.”
“You had to go to all the same race tracks. But, the way we kind of configured them kinda puts emphasis on short tracks and road courses.”
Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Motor Speedway and The Roval are the cutoff tracks inside the 2020 NASCAR playoffs.
Outside of short tracks, the regular season now ends at Daytona International Speedway. That moves the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Which is an interesting change.
“I know we been accused of manufacturing drama. I’m ok, as long as there’s drama.”
“If I’m a race team or a driver. The likelihood of me winning Indy if I’m outside of the Playoffs, is pretty slim. The likelihood of me winning at Daytona at the final regular season event, at least I got something there.”
For 2021, the sport could look very different. NASCAR is open to making changes to please their fans. Come 2021, they will be able to do so.
2020 is the final year of the track agreements. Previously, NASCAR signed lengthy track contracts. Those contracts only allow NASCAR to move a race date around by two weeks from it’s original date.
Those track agreements also require NASCAR to continue going to those tracks. The five year agreements will expire in 2021.
Dale Jr: Will we see a new race track on the schedule for 2021? Preferably short tracks.
“I don’t know the answer to that. The changes in 2020, I think people were surprised with the degree that we changed things. Even though they’re the same tracks.”
“It’s absolutely on the table. We don’t know.”
Dale Jr: Are you guys going to look at these agreements differently? Where you aren’t boxed in like you’ve been in the past?
“That’s the plan.”
Different tracks for 2021?
“Could we see different tracks? Yeah, we absolutely could. There’s a ton of speculation about what would be a good race track for us to go to. We’ve heard, ‘Hey, don’t run two races at a mile and a half.’ “
“We have to do some things differently. Fans want us to do things differently. I think we need to do it as quickly as we can, within reason.”
NASCAR used to be run primarily on short tracks in the South. In the mid-90’s, a bulk of those short tracks were abandoned for newer 1.5-mile tracks spread across populated areas in the United States.
“We’ve made some mistakes. Listen, we’re not the only business that’s made a mistake. I think we chased a new fan at the expense of an existing fan. We’ll never do that again.”
“It doesn’t mean that we can’t have new fans in the sport. But, we want our new fans and our existing fans and our avid loyal fans to help grow the new fans.”
“When I came into this sport, the two tracks that rated at the bottom, every single time were Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Now, they’re top 5.”
“This lumping in of intermediate tracks, ‘we just have too many.’ Ok. Is there an opportunity to go elsewhere and shorten the number of intermediate tracks? Yeah, that’s something we can look at and we’re going to.”
Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville
The Nashville short track is the first to the surface when it comes to discussions of adding a short track to the NASCAR mix. Speedway Motorsports, Inc. has been hard at work to try and bring the track to the NASCAR schedule.
First, SMI tried to acquire a 30-year lease of the facility, they were rejected by the city of Nashville. Since, the company has formed an agreement with the current promoter to work in tandem.
Recently, NASCAR announced the move of it’s awards banquet to Nashville. In previous years, it was hosted in Las Vegas.
“Nashville’s a great town for us. We have two different tracks. The Fairgrounds and the one outside of town. Would we like to run at Nashville again? We would,” Steve Phelps explained.
“Having our banquet there… There was a time, a think at NASCAR, ‘Hey, don’t embrace country music. Well, that’s a mistake. We want to embrace country music.”
“Going to Nashville, I think is a great idea. In 2021, are we going to be racing in Nashville? I don’t know.”
Marcus Smith and SMI have been working hard to make it happen.
“Right now, he has no sanction agreement for 2021. So, he can’t bring anything there. If he wants to bring something there, obviously NASCAR has to have involvement.”