The White Zone: All-Star weekend embodied everything wrong with NASCAR

BRISTOL, Tenn. — One term I’ve heard used by those attending the Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend has been “Corporate NASCAR,” meaning NASCAR’s desires to grow the sport has made it lose touch with the interests and desires of its core fans. After watching yet another lackluster All-Star Race that was overhyped by both NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway, I believe there’s truth to that “Corporate NASCAR” label.

I’ve spent the entire weekend at Thunder Valley milling about the garage “tents” of the late model and street stock classes as they prepared to race on the high banks of the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” The differences between the atmosphere of these lower level short track racing series and a typical NASCAR weekend are astronomical, even on a typical Bristol weekend.

Race action during a Super Late Model feature race for the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo: Tucker White/SpeedwayMedia.com

The atmosphere at Bristol this weekend has been far more relaxed and fan-friendly, allowing fans to be up close and mingle with drivers who actually were inside the track more often than not. On a typical NASCAR weekend, you’re lucky if your driver spends more than a few minutes outside of his/her motor coach prior to a practice/qualifying session or race. All the late model and street stock teams worked out of a tent where fans could walk by and chat with team members as they please. In the NASCAR world, I see teams rope off their war wagons, telling the public to piss off. Fans were able to stand near the wall inside the track, provided they didn’t do anything reckless. On a NASCAR weekend, you need to be a photographer or hard-carded to be near the walls when cars are on track.

Finally, the drivers meeting this weekend at the Short Track Nationals was actually a meeting where they went over race procedure and emphasized the different layout for Bristol (the turns were on the opposite sides of a NASCAR race and the front and backstretch were flipped). It was also open to anyone who purchased a pit pass for the day or weekend and was held out in the open.

The drivers meeting’s in NASCAR are a joke. It’s an overblown spectacle, and I’m using that term incredibly loosely, held in a secluded location that’s not open to the public, usually inside the track where a hot pass at minimum is needed to even get near, much less attend. And even a hot pass won’t always get you into the meeting, even if you’re media. What goes on when the meeting actually starts? It’s about eight to 10 minutes of naming off dignitaries and then two to three minutes at most dedicated to actually talking about race procedure.

That 24-word sentence that ended the previous paragraph is every drivers meeting ever. Once in a while, you’ll get a driver or crew chief to actually raise their hands when a series director asks everyone if there are any questions, but that’s usually a result of a fustercluck XFINITY/Truck Series race the day prior and/or NASCAR making a bizarre penalty call in a race the day prior.

But I’m not here to dwell on the atmosphere of the Short Track Nationals. I presented it to show the dichotomy between local level short track racing and NASCAR.

Now let’s discuss last night’s snoozer of a race that was the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

First off, take a look at the “over the top” infield logo for this year’s race. It’s so bland and generic for a race that’s emphasizes “no points, just old fashioned, run for the money,” high energy racing. This looks like a freaking teaser logo that’s used to keep people in the dark about what’s really coming.

But if you think the race logo is phoned in, feast your eyes on the infield logo, via this Tweet from Jim Utter of Motorsport.com.

 

Charlotte Motor Speedway couldn’t even take the time to paint that generic race logo on the grass? They just painted Monster Energy on the grass.

I know I’m nitpicking here, but I must if this is not to be repeated.

CONCORD, N.C. – MAY 20: Monster Energy performers entertain the crowd prior to the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, 2017 in Concord, North Carolina. Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Let’s now turn to the new sponsor of the Cup Series, Monster Energy.

Their idea of brining people to the track is MMA fights and motorcycle shows in a giant steel hamster ball that I’ve seen done with more at stake at a state carnival.

Now I understand perfectly that entertainment is not experienced in a vacuum and everyone has different tastes. But how is anything Monster Energy is doing leading to attracting a new crowd? Attendance at most tracks is still shaky and ratings are still plummeting, so it’s not working right now.

To make a long story short, everything Monster Energy is doing is all flash with no substance.

And now we come to the race itself.

It was yet another snooze-fest of a mile and a half race that had nothing of substance to it. Kyle Larson led from start to finish in the first two segments and Jimmie Johnson led all but two laps in the third segment before winning it.

On the final restart, Kyle Busch dove under Brad Keselowski only a few hundred yards past the start/finish line to take the lead and drove on to victory.

Clean air was key to victory.

We’ve seen this year after year where the driver who gets out front in the final segment is the driver who wins the race more often than not, last year being the exception where Joey Logano passed Larson in the closing laps of the final stage.

Yet for whatever reason, NASCAR continues to run this race at Charlotte, rather than moving it to a short track where aerodynamics aren’t so critical.

Year after year, the aero push effect has gotten worse at the intermediate tracks, especially at Charlotte, but NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports Inc. aren’t moving away from these types of tracks. Instead, they’ve gone to more of them. Hell, next season, we’re taking a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and moving it to the intermediate track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

To put it simply, the biggest problem with NASCAR today is the disconnect between those in charge of the sport and those who sit in the seats, and it was on display at Charlotte more than any race this season. The disconnect encompasses everything I’ve mentioned in this piece and explains why people who take part in local level racing have such a negative opinion of NASCAR today.

Now I understand that a sport the size of NASCAR has many masters to serve. They have to please the drivers, teams, tracks, media and fans at the same time, and the interests of one entity listed isn’t always shared with another. In that respect, I understand NASCAR can’t please everybody. The best they can do is do what pleases the largest number of people and apologize to those it shafts in doing so.

But the most important entity of the bunch is the fans. If people aren’t buying tickets and/or watching the race on TV, the sport grinds to a halt.

Bottom line, take care of your customers and they’ll take care of you. And last night’s All-Star Race shows NASCAR still has work to do.

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My name is Tucker White. I'm currently majoring in journalism at the University of Tennessee. I started getting into NASCAR around 1998 and started following the sport full-time in 2001. I live and breathe everything related to NASCAR. I also have a burning passion for all things auto racing. I've been following Formula 1 since 2011 and am slowing getting into IndyCar. I do my best to keep up with the World Endurance Championship. But at the end of the day, NASCAR is my primary beat. Being both a native of Knoxville, Tennessee and a student at UT, I'm naturally a die-hard Tennessee Volunteers fan. Especially when it comes to Tennessee Volunteers football. While I'll never stop being one, it can be the most heart-wrenching thing ever. Since 2005, this team has delivered more than its fair share of heartbreaking moments and inhuman frustration. I've stuck with the Vols from the best of times - 1998 National Champions - to the worst of times - 2005 to present - because I know that it'll make it all so worth it when the mighty Vols finally return to the top of the college football landscape. In the last few years, I started to really get into baseball. This past season, I decided to pledge my sporting allegiance to the Atlanta Braves. It didn't turn out too well as they finished 67-95 and finished fourth in the NL East. I do see great potential with the young roster and they might be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

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