CONCORD, N.C. – I’ve been around a lot of years and I have seen my share of NASCAR “gimmicks.”
By “gimmick” I mean, among other things too many to mention, the creation of “special” awards, programs or even races designed to break from the ordinary and offer competitors and fans alike something new, exciting and – let’s face it – beneficial for NASCAR and its sponsors.
Established rules do not necessarily apply.
In 1985, the “all star” race, The Winston, was introduced. It was a 70-lap event held at Charlotte Motor Speedway and open only to the 12 race winners of 1984.
Fans would be treated to a race featuring only the best of the best. NASCAR would receive additional national exposure and, needless to say, so would R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co.
The Winston, now known as the Sprint Cup All Star Race, is a gimmick that has worked handsomely. Over the years the “gimmickry” has run rampant.
The race length has been altered. The race has been chopped into segments with a “dash” shootout at the end. A mandatory pit stop has been added.
Once, there were inverted restarts between segments. Fans voted on this and they vote today to allow one driver not otherwise eligible to participate.
There’s much more, of course, but the point is that what began as a gimmick in 1985 has become one of NASCAR’s most popular and most anticipated events.
I think it’s been beneficial across the board – to competitors, fans, CMS and NASCAR.
A gimmick that preceded The Winston came along in 1979. It was the Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway, a 20-lap dash open only to 1978 pole winners.
It was designed to reward a season’s top qualifiers with the chance to win a unique Daytona race and earn some big bucks – and to give fans another Speedweeks event.
It was also designed to promote Anheuser Busch, the sponsor of qualifying at every race.
Like The Winston, the Busch Clash evolved. Among other things, race length changed and entry rules were altered. While it remained the first event of Speedweeks, it was shifted to a Saturday night under the lights – prime time.
It became known as The Budweiser Shootout and it, too, became a very popular event.
However, the Budweiser Shootout is no more. It has been replaced by another gimmick.
By using the word “gimmick,” I’m not being condescending. It just seems to be a very applicable term.
This new gimmick may be the most ambitious ever undertaken in NASCAR. And, in one man’s opinion, it has the potential to be a stroke of marketing genius.
Behold the Sprint Unlimited, a special non-points event that will kick off the 2013 season at Daytona on Saturday night, Feb. 16.
It’s length and format? We don’t know yet. Will there be a mandatory pit stop? Hey, we don’t know yet. Will cars be eliminated because of poor performance? Yeah, that, too, is yet to be determined.
And which fire suit will Miss Sprint Cup wear in victory lane? We don’t know yet. I’m not sure we care, but, hey, I’m being serious here.
The reason so much about this race is unknown is that its entire format and conduct will be determined by a vote of the fans. They will make the call.
In other words, the fans are literally going to create the race.
They are going to vote for the length of each of the three segments in the 75-lap affair. The options are 40 laps, 20 laps, 15 laps; 35 laps, 30 laps, 10 laps; 30 laps, 25 laps, 20 laps.
Format voting ends at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 13.
The options for a pit stop after the first segment for which fans will vote: No pit stop, a two-tire change and a four-tire change. Pit stop voting ends at the green flag of the first segment.
Want to eliminate drivers? Here are the fan voting options: No cars eliminated, two cars eliminated, four cars eliminated or six cars eliminated at the end of segment No. 2. Voting concludes at the green flag of the third segment.
Oh, and fans can vote for one of three fire suit designs Miss Sprint Cup will wear in victory lane. Hey, again, I’m being serious here.
Let’s see … that ain’t all. Fans in attendance will be eligible to receive upgraded race experiences including roles as Grand Marshal, Honorary Starter and trophy presenter.
This new event is the first to be created completely by the fans that will sculpt the type of race they want to see – and not determined by NASCAR and sponsor officials sitting in a boardroom.
That’s never happened before.
And I freely admit I’m fascinated by the concept.
It has the potential to be hugely beneficial to NASCAR and, let’s admit it, Sprint. But at the same time, fans have, for the first time ever, the chance to play the principal role in the creation and conduct of a race.
I think that has tremendous, wide-ranging appeal. I think fans will find it hard to pass on the chance to fashion the kind of race they, and they alone, would like to see.
Sure, eventual response might not be what NASCAR and Sprint hoped, but I tend to doubt that will happen. Fans have proven many times in the past they are notoriously cooperative when asked what they want. They answer firmly. They don’t back off.
Votes can now be cast on NASCAR’s new mobile app – NASCAR Mobile 13 – or at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited. Votes made on NASCAR Mobile 13 will count twice.
Oh, and fans, you can vote as many times as you wish. Have at it
If we go by the outpouring of votes fans have routinely cast for the Most Popular Driver, there’s going to be a landslide for the Sprint Unlimited.
Sure, Sprint is going to benefit – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But I might add that everyone is going to benefit. I’ll use just a simple example: Say voting numbers in the millions, which would mean a tremendous amount of fans participated.
Doesn’t it stand to reason that the majority of them would watch the race on TV? I would think they would want to learn if their votes made a difference.
I can honestly say that if I voted, I would be very, very interested. I would tune in.
That has a great potential to provide NASCAR with higher TV ratings for its first Speedweeks event. Wow! Higher TV ratings – what a concept.
There’s more. It will be the first race for the “Gen 6” car. Teams will not have tested the vehicle in competition.
What’s more, they won’t even know what the race will be – format, pit stop, elimination – until it starts.
Drivers have said that, hey, this is for the fans. We will do what they want. Strategy? We’ll just have to drive our hearts out – can’t afford to do any less.
To me, the potential for high drama will be significant. And I don’t see how fans can ignore that.
OK, it must be said that the Sprint Unlimited could conceivably become something that is no more than a busted gimmick.
However, that’s not likely; not at all.
I think that will be proven at Daytona on Feb. 16.