It strikes me as odd that more road courses didn’t work their way into the minds of NASCAR fans in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. They were wild and rapidly changing times. However, to an American audience, for which NASCAR had built itself, the idea of being up close as the cars ran an oval was more appealing.
Times have changed. Dramatically.
The first live broadcast of a NASCAR race was the infamous 1979 Daytona 500 starring Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers whose crazy leg flailing and wild air punches ushered in the television era of NASCAR.
Road racing was part of NASCAR long before most of the present day fans were born, but not a big part. California was the main player as the west coast demographic seemed to take to the big thundering cars turning right and left.
Big Bill France had often said that in order to have a healthy NASCAR that they needed road racing to be healthy as well. Road racing is where NASCAR actually started. Let’s face it, Junior Johnson didn’t just turn left on his way to deliver his spiritual goods.
Road racing is reviled by many NASCAR fans as not being pure enough and too hard to watch, at track. Television changed that as now one could watch the action from anywhere on the course, not just the grandstands.
Part and parcel to the allure of road racing is just that. You can’t see the whole track so you have to walk around the facility to take in the whole experience. That’s what road racing is, a complete experience where people, not just fans, are in constant motion.
According to Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR EVP, “It is something that is being considered maybe more so for a longer term basis. Obviously, the schedule is full at this point but we’ve really evolved and when you look at the road course action, it’s almost on par with short tracks.
These cars at the end of a race really look like they’ve been beat up and guys are getting out there and really getting after it to where I think we’re putting on the best road racing in the world. It used to be where you used to bring in three to four ringers and they would finish in the top 10. Now our guys are consistently finishing up front and have proven to be the best in the world. So we really like the progress that’s been made. It’s certainly exciting. We share in the fans’ excitement, for sure. But the teams also like the ability to have those two opportunities to win a race and achieve that spot in the Chase.”
Whatever the history, whatever the reason, the modern NASCAR road races are as brutal and as fender banging as was Bristol. Pre-fix-it Bristol.
When you tune into a NASCAR road race, you expect to see the fender rubs, the ‘bump and run’ or ‘chrome horn’ as it’s sometimes called, being applied with joy by any driver close enough to the driver in front of him/her to execute said ‘chrome horn’.
It still seems to be somewhat of a novelty to the rank and file NASCAR fan, but it is gaining in popularity as a direct result of just how physical these drivers are with cars that won’t turn, won’t brake and slide around with 700 HP pushing them.
That sounds pretty cool to me rather than watching cars go around in a circle for 500 miles.
I’ve had several drivers, who are primarily road racers, tell me just how hard oval track racing really is. I believe them. Merely watching the backend of these cars slide around at 190 MPH is an art form.
On the other hand, if you are going to tell the world that NASCAR drivers are the best in the world, as O’Donnell claims, you have to show them and not having a road race in the Chase playoff is not the way to do it.
Arguably the Chase should represent the most watched races of the season. The global economy, alternate leisure activities and life compressing in on you be damned. This should be when most people are excited to see what’s going to happen from race to race.
2015 has been a strange year in many ways across the globe, so no one really knows what the Chase will look like from a fan perspective. However, this should be the year that a new road course is brought onto the 2016 schedule. It probably won’t be, despite every road race, so far, has been a cliffhanger, particularly with the green/white checker in play.
I hope that road racing will find it’s way into the NASCAR mindset soon as the world simply keeps changing and with great speed.
NASCAR needs something as the viewing and leisure time habits of consumers across the world are changing even faster than your 401K balance.
Perhaps two more road courses and at least one in the Chase may bring viewers that NASCAR wouldn’t normally attract.