LINCOLNTON, N.C. — Blog by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images photo — Wait, two blogs from the managing editor in four days?
What? Somebody stop the presses!
Okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it feels good to be back and able to write on a regular basis! I’m enjoying this after the craziness of the summer. Of course, that also means I’m getting ready to go back to school, but…we won’t go there yet.
Anyways, I know we’re about two weeks removed now from one of the spectacles of the year in the NASCAR world, the Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway, but I just went to another dirt track this weekend and saw some pretty exciting racing and I feel like it’s time for the debate that a lot of people want to have, but no one actually is yet.
If I had a pen and paper to write a letter right now (what a concept, right?) and send it to Mike Helton and Brian France, it would go something like this.
We want more dirt races.
I know it’s simple, but it’s very, very telling of my opinion of last Wednesday’s Eldora race, and why I think there should be more of them.
Let’s start with the basics of why there should be at least one more dirt race.
First, who (besides apparently our Editor-in-Chief, who I STILL claim lucked into it) would have thought Bubba Wallace was going to win that event with as stacked as the field was? Not moi, that’s for sure. But he held off the master of dirt in Kyle Larson and scored Toyota’s 12th victory in a row (a streak that was only snapped this past weekend at Pocono by Austin Dillon). Surprises are good for the sport, and this one was certainly a much-needed jolt to get some fresh fans involved who might not have been before Darrell Wallace Jr. hit the headlines again.
Second, a dirt track race is the ONLY race in NASCAR when you can not just hit the wall, but attempt to knock the wall down 187 trillion times and STILL almost win the trophy! Kyle Larson did everything (and I mean everything, have you SEEN the replays?) wrong but yet was closing on Bubba before one of his brakes exploded and he had to pull a truck that was legitimately broken to pieces to the garage area. That kind of “bring me back the trophy or the steering wheel” mentality is not only something you’ll rarely see on pavement, but it livens up the sport and Larson said it in his post-race comments; we need more of that kind of excitement and drama in the sport (because it’s good drama, not the crazy kind like we’ve seen playing out at Greenville-Pickens Speedway recently).
Third, the fans are packing Eldora because they want to see real racing. The Truck Series has gotten away from the kind of racing it was built on in the mid-1990s when they were running the short tracks and road courses; the race tracks that allowed for beating and banging and all-out true racing, where you had to rub a little if you wanted to make something work.
The lack of fans in the grandstands is in part, I think, to the fact that fans are tired of the cookie-cutter mile-and-a-half race tracks where the vehicles are too good for the race track and no one can make it exciting because it’s too difficult to pass since everyone at the top is so good in clean air. We need to bring fans back and based on the Eldora crowds the last two seasons, it’s clear that the lack of butts in the seats isn’t because people don’t like seeing the Truck Series race. They just want to see the Trucks put on a real show and not drive in meaningless circles for 250 miles unable to do very much.
So, there’s a trifecta right there of what NASCAR needs in general, but especially in their lower two national-level series: surprises in the front, unheard-of heroics that you can’t get on pavement and real racing back on the race tracks. As we’ve seen, the two dirt races at Eldora so far have produced just that and more. It’s a no-brainer that the way we get more of that is to add another dirt race (or several!)
But where do we put these added dirt spectaculars? I’ve got three tracks in mind that would make for killer shows, and I’ve even got plans for how to insert them into the current schedule as well.
1. Knoxville Raceway
GASP. What? A Truck race at Knoxville? Dirt fanatics would call that sacrilege!
But is it really? Think about it for a minute. Dirt racing fans come out to Knoxville every week and see much more than just sprint car racing. Yes, the 410, 360 and 305 sprint car classes are the main events on the card most weeks through the end of August, but interspersed on the card throughout the season are the AMA Flat Track motorcycles, dirt karts, dirt modifieds and sport mods, Monster Jam and the Lucas Oil dirt late models, which actually close the Knoxville racing season as opposed to sprint car racing.
Why not add a Truck Series race?
It’s not as if Knoxville can’t handle the exposure. The track is in the process of finishing a sizable expansion project, and they could easily add removable seating for a NASCAR event. The media would have top-shelf access, due in part to the already-massive media areas available due to the Knoxville Championship Cup (weekly sprint car events) airing on MAVTV and of course, the media space necessary when the “Grandaddy of Them All”, the Knoxville Nationals, comes to town. The logistics would not be an issue.
And if NASCAR is worried about the fan turnout? You’re in the middle of dirt racing heaven at Knoxville. They don’t call it the “Sprint Car Capital of the World” for nothing, and at this point, with the late model and motorcycle Knoxville Nationals being held at the track as well, they may as well consider changing that tagline to the “Dirt Racing Capital of the World”. A Truck race would only serve to add to that moniker. The fans are loyal and they’ll show up for any exciting race that goes on at their race track. If Eldora was any indication, the Trucks at Knoxville would be an equally slam-banging show worthy of a huge crowd.
In the days when there was a second Truck race at nearby Iowa Speedway, I would have said to take the second Iowa date and convert it into a date at Knoxville. With the schedule realignment last year that Iowa date was eliminated, but in this particular case, I say NASCAR has to consider expanding the Truck schedule back to 23 or 24 races and put this show on the first weekend in September to build into the traditional season-ending Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals at the historic track.
2. Williams Grove Speedway
Oh, look, more sacrilege to traditional dirt racing fans! Except here again, it’s going to make sense.
Here’s a track where you already have multiple divisions racing on a regular basis in addition to myriads of sprint car organizations; Super Sportsman cars, 358 Late Models, street stocks, SpeedSTR open wheel dirt cars, the list goes on but the precedent is set where you don’t just have sprint cars racing at these tracks which tag themselves as the “sprint car meccas” of their areas.
Does the seating need some expansion? Yes, the Grove seats close to 10,000 people at the moment in the grandstands and seating capacity at Eldora Speedway was expanded to just over 30,000 for the Mudsummer Classic. However, the track has such a long history and support behind it that it’s not out of the question the modifications can be made. A little bit of work might also need to be made on the media side of the coin, but again — this is a track that if they put the right wheels in motion could get the job done.
In addition, the track races every Friday and almost every Saturday night with the inclusion of multiple special events over the course of the season; it’s not hard to think that a special event for the Trucks would be an easy Friday night show to put on for the fans, and the track doesn’t even need to change their normal schedule to do it; they would just have to start earlier in the day and maybe add a Thursday night practice to accommodate the teams.
What you do here is simple: scrap the boring Saturday afternoon Pocono race for the Truck Series and move that to a Friday night prime-time spectacular at Williams Grove. Not only do you stay in the vicinity, you spice up what has been a pretty boring race weekend in the past several years (with the exception of Tyler Reddick exacting his revenge on German Quiroga in the race over the weekend; now that was interesting and unexpected!)
3. The Dirt Track at Charlotte
Now here’s a track that’s already set to shine in the spotlight.
The Dirt Track at Charlotte is Bruton Smith’s crown jewel in non-asphalt competition. It has a massive grandstand, state-of-the-art media areas and fan facilities, it’s in the heart of NASCAR country, and you better believe it would put on one wail of a show if the Truck Series came to town.
Oh, wait — they already do come to town, just not to the track they should be racing at.
I’m not a fan of the Truck race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on All-Star weekend. I’m just not. It’s never been a particularly exciting race (though that could be attributed partially to Kyle Busch’s utter dominance there); the most interesting moment that’s happened there recently was when Justin Lofton used a fuel mileage miracle to win in 2012. Otherwise it’s been non-exciting…yawn.
A Truck race at the Dirt Track on All-Star weekend would be utter brilliance. We’d have excitement, we’d have one heck of a build-up to the following night’s Sprint All Star race at the big track, and you’d have fans that would come out to see beating and banging that they haven’t seen at all at Charlotte in the Truck Series, ever! (At least not that I can remember.)
Plus, it clears the track for the Sprint Cup boys to have free rein on Friday to get ready for the All-Star Race Saturday, and you don’t have to invent a new date for the Trucks because they’re already there. What’s not to like?
If NASCAR really wants the Trucks on the big track at Charlotte, they should tag them onto Coke 600 weekend on that Friday night, and leave the Friday before the All-Star Race for the stars of the Trucks to beat and bang on the dirt.
So, there’s three tracks right there that I feel are in prime fan position, prime geographical position and all-around historical and racy enough to put on some incredible dirt track racing for the Trucks, or even down the road potentially the Nationwide Series (that’s a discussion for another blog). They have the action, they have the motorsports background and they have the potential.
It’s just time for NASCAR to give them a chance.
And of course, for those of you who are wondering, the Eldora race stands exactly as it is. It’s worked twice already; I’m not daring touch that to change it. Norm Benning might hit me over the head if I did that!
Do I think four dirt races in a season is too many? Not if you space them like I’ve laid it out. You get a May race in Charlotte, you get a July race in Eldora, you go to the Grove in August and hit Knoxville as the dirt finale in September (as it should be). All dirt roads lead to Knoxville, after all.
Keep in mind, if you want to make this really fun, you take the four dirt races, and while you do credit them all to the overall Truck Series championship, you also set them up with their own mini-series points race — you crown a dirt champion within the scope of the overall points championship. That gives credence to having several dirt races on the schedule.
I know a lot of people are worried about the excitement and the novelty of dirt racing in NASCAR wearing off if too many of them are put on the schedule, but let’s be realistic here. If all of the dirt track races are as exciting as the two Eldora Truck races have been, would the excitement and the fun really wear off? I surely would keep coming back as a race fan.
So there’s a lot of interesting points that I’ve thrown out there in a short amount of time. Do I seriously think any of them will come to pass? Probably not. But it’s fun to think about isn’t it? Kind of like thinking about when Kyle Larson will finally win a Truck race on the dirt instead of seeing it slip away!
If only I was king of NASCAR for a day… though I’m not sure I could pull off the France family name if I tried!
Keep it off the wall (or in this case the cushion) until we meet again, guys.