Sometimes traditions need to be upheld as they bring connection to the past. Having Thanksgiving dinner together as a family is a perfect example.
Sometimes traditions need to be scrapped, as they are deadweight that offers no positive. Grandma’s Jell-O salad that nobody ever ate but Grandma fits the bill.
And sometimes traditions need to be mixed to create new ones. When couples marry they often make arrangements that satisfy both sides of their respective family traditions. Not traveling to two or more houses every Thanksgiving, and instead hosting the big dinner, is one.
There are many fans of NASCAR who believe traditions should be held sacred in our sport. The Memorial Day race from Charlotte should always be the World 600 and the Labor Day Race should have always been the Southern 500 at Darlington.
NASCAR, however, had different ideas.
There is no doubt that the evolution of the sport – and its desire to make major big money – included sponsors throwing their name up on the different race venue marquees.
The World 600 morphed with Coca Cola until the World was entirely dismissed.
If the change with the Southern 500 were just a case of semantics then perhaps we wouldn’t be discussing it. But the change was far more bizarre, intense and, for some, diabolical.
Instead of keeping the Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend at Darlington, it was moved to Fontana in California in 2004.
The Southern 500 first ran at Darlington on September 4, 1950. It was a popular mainstay on the NASCAR circuit, one that commanded huge crowds and deep southern roots. For the next 53 years NASCAR fans were treated to their Labor Day tradition of racing at Darlington.
The change to Fontana was nothing short of disastrous. Older fans could never embrace the traditional race being run somewhere across the country. NASCAR fans in California clearly had “other plans” that did not include attending the races over Labor Day.
Eventually NASCAR understood the error – to a point – and brought the race back to the South. But instead of replacing the date at Darlington, Atlanta won it in 2009.
So the old tradition of the Southern 500 at Darlington is gone. It’s sad, frustrating, irritating, and just plain wrong, but it’s true and has been for nearly a decade.
The new tradition of holding the Labor Day race at Fontana died a relatively quick death.
And now we are left with a mix of traditions in Atlanta.
Being a Southern venue, it’s great to have the race at Atlanta. The weather is typically far better than its past dates used to provide.
And, being that Atlanta is the penultimate race before the Chase offers a lot of intrigue, strategy, and excitement.
It’s never going to be the Southern 500 from Darlington, but this new tradition at Atlanta has worked out well in recent years.
Past winners at the Labor Day race from Atlanta include Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin. Stewart is, of course, out of contention this season with a broken leg, but the other drivers all have a shot.
Kahne is looking to add more bonus points to his Chase race and Gordon is still seeking entrance into the big show. A win here at this late date could resurrect his bid.
The entire field of 43 drivers is looking for a win so I’ll be tuning in to see the action unfold at Atlanta this weekend.
Traditions are sometimes thrust upon us like Atlanta was for us NASCAR fans. I’m learning to live with it and even enjoy it.