NASCAR’s two top series just finished a weekend of racing at Watkins Glen International. Twice a year (we’re including Infineon Raceway here), the sport’s top drivers are asked to get out of their comfort zone (if there is such a thing) and do what most of them never do but twice a year. In the meantime, the teams have to build special cars (sometimes two special cars) for these races and even hire “ringers” on occasion. For a group that is continually telling us that they are seeking to cut costs for the race teams, it seems kind of strange that these two events stay on the schedule.
In the half-century plus that NASCAR has existed, they’ve always ran road courses. My first memories are of Riverside, California and the first race of the season in January. As is the case today, some teams hired what I call “ringers,”—drivers from other racing series that had experience on road courses. The Wood Brothers had Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, and A.J. Foyt in their cars there, especially when they weren’t running a full schedule. And guess what? Those guys won regularly. In recent years, though, the regulars have won these races because their equipment is so good. The “ringers” usually end up in second-tier cars and give the regulars fits. Is that fair to the regulars who are running for a championship? You tell me.
I have always maintained that 3,700 pound stock cars have no place on a road course. These cars are too big, too heavy, and don’t handle well enough for the narrow courses at Infineon and Watkins Glen. Couple that with what is usually a non-competitive race and you have to scratch your head. I’m sure the 90,000 folks at the Glen today would dispute this, but you have to remember that most folks watch on television. On the tube, the race looked like a runaway. Sure, it was exciting back in the pack, but Juan Pablo Montoya had them covered with only a little competition from Marcos Ambrose. It was no surprise that both of them have navigated road courses for most of their careers.
With several race tracks wanting a date on the Sprint Cup schedule or even wanting a second date, it would make sense to me to eliminate these two tracks and move the races to these other tracks. This plan would save a race in the place where the circuit began and even up the competition a bit. I am sure that many of the Sprint Cup drivers would give out a sigh of relief.
Word came down this week from Atlanta that they would only have one race next year. Apparently the racing will be done 477 miles north in Sparta, KY. Rumors came out this week that California’s Auto Club Speedway will lose one of its races also, presumably to add a race at Kansas Speedway. A 50-year tradition is gone at AMS and a big experiment has failed at ACS. Will Kentucky Speedway be more successful than Atlanta Motor Speedway? Will Kansas Speedway be able to support two races or will it be the next California Speedway? Time will tell, but I know a lot of fans who are not happy, especially those in the southeast, which lost another track and another tradition.
See, if we got rid of the road courses, races could have been awarded to Kentucky and Kansas without raising the dander of the folks in the south. No one would complain about taking a race from California, especially if they added one at Darlington. That would be a tremendous peace offering to the core fans. But that’s not going to happen. We will continue to have road races and we will lose a great race at Atlanta, but the next time an announcement is made saying they are trying to save the race teams money, I’m going to laugh. To the powers that be, it’s money that matters. Their money. That’s why they call it a business.