Saturday, September 01, 2007

Hollywood? Nope, and certainly not Darlington

It has been a while since I’ve engaged in much idle speculation about changes to the NASCAR Cup schedule that aren’t going to happen, but being in California on Labor Day weekend always sort of puts me in that mood.

There’s just no good reason for us to be here this weekend. Everybody knows that, and I think that even includes the people all the way to the top in NASCAR. This is the fourth time the Cup series has raced here on this weekend, and the experiment has just completely failed.

Yeah, it’s laughably hot here this weekend. Actually, it’s probably not that funny since there’s a very real hazard that fans who brave the 105-degree (or more) heat to come to the track are going to have to be careful about things like heat stroke as they wait for the green flags. Almost nobody came to the track for qualifying on Friday, but it’s hard to find fault with fans for that. It was just too hot to enjoy anything about being here.

It’s usually hot in Darlington, S.C., on this weekend, too, and every once in a while a hurricane might be menacing that area around the first of September. That’s where I think we still ought to be going on this weekend every year, but it’s actually kind of unfair to advocate that solely on the basis of weather.

The Southern 500 began on Labor Day weekend in 1950 and for 50 years that’s what race fans did on this weekend. The people in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina embraced the event and made it part of their summer-ending holiday traditions, too.

It took a while for the race to take root, and maybe California Speedway hasn’t had enough time to create the same situation here. But there’s absolutely no sign it ever will.

Friday night after qualifying, the “fan zone” outside the track was a ghost town, locked up and shut down. One reason is that the track doesn’t allow people to camp outside the track. The only overnight guests allowed must be in the track’s infield, and that’s a very different approach from the one other tracks take.

There’s also a real dunderheadedness about how this track markets itself. Wednesday night, it brought in some drivers and some celebrities and held a $2,500 per ticket fund-raising “Hollywood party” about 50 miles away at a Los Angeles club.

Aside from the charity angle, who was that for?

People who hang out on the Sunset Strip are never, no matter how badly NASCAR desires it, going to be in stock-car racing’s demographic.

The folks who live around Fontana and the many cities north and east, aren’t stars. They’re hardworking people who endure the weather and other challenges of living in the Inland Empire year-round.

But when the track hires 43 model-actress wannabes to act as “ambassadors” and pitches its entire marketing approach around low-rent celebrities and around having a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the fan zone, it seems like those people are being told the track isn’t particularly looking to do business with them.

I think California Speedway needs two races a year.

It’s easy for me to say this track should add variable banking to make the racing better, but it also hosts open-wheel events and that has to be considered, too. Pushing this track’s second date back into Chase for the Nextel Cup seems like an obvious idea, both because of the weather and because the interest level might ramp up.

The simple fix would be to swap this track with New Hampshire’s second date. New Hampshire would likely have better weather this time of the year, for one thing. But that doesn’t address the Darlington issue and it also would further skew the track mix in the Chase toward the intermediate style track.

I think the answer is Kansas Speedway. Put this race where Kansas is. Put Kansas where Dover is, the first week in June, and move Dover’s first race to the first weekend in May.

Slide Richmond back from that weekend to Mother’s Day Saturday night, and move Darlington back to Labor Day. You also leave Dover out of it and just put Kansas in the early May slot.

That leaves the mix of tracks in the Chase relatively unchanged – you actually get slightly more variety since you’re taking about a 1.5-mile track and putting in a 2-mile. It takes away Kansas’ value of having a race in the Chase, but a race in early May or early June in Kansas doesn’t ring any other obvious alarms in my head.

If you really want to get creative and put the open weekend that many people believe we need right before the Chase starts, I can make that work, too.

New Hampshire comes to Labor Day. There’s the open week, then Richmond opens the Chase.

California goes to where Kansas is. Kansas moves to Dover’s slot in June. Dover moves to where Richmond is now, and Richmond moves to the open date in April that will exist next year because NASCAR is eliminating the open date after the season’s second race here in February.

Getting Darlington back to Labor Day is more complicated in that scenario, and maybe that ship has sailed. Darlington’s doing pretty good on Mother’s Day weekend now, and if the trade-off for leaving it alone is a commitment that the track is going to get the money it needs to make the right improvements and the support it needs to keep that May race flourishing, then I am OK with that. Especially if it creates the kind of break at the end of the regular season that all of the rain we had at Michigan showed is needed.


stricklinfan82 said...

As much as I would love to see the Southern 500 return to Labor Day, we all know that will never happen. If NASCAR did that they would be admitting that they made a huge mistake by moving it away from Labor Day in the first place, and I don't see them ever doing that.

The best line of the week so far was Tony Stewart's post-qualifying interview where he questioned the logic of racing in the California heat in August, and then mentioned that the 200 fans in the stands probably agree. Great line. To be fair though, when the Cup Series raced in California in February qualifying had a similar crowd of around 200 people, so I don't think the weather is the reason the Hollywood fans are staying away from the track.

Anonymous said...

same crap every year. you are a very negative person.
look at the bright side, at least some people still go to and watch the races.

Anonymous said...


First I would like to thank you for not bashing the California track to much. All I have read so far on numerous sites is how bad of a race this one is going to be. I have attended the races at California with my family and have enjoyed them in the past. My family and I live 4 hours from the track and will not be attending this year for various reasons even though we would love to be there regardless of the heat. In my opinion Nascar and the California track need to take into consideration the life styles of those that live in Southern California in order to get the attendance level up. For example, most Californians aren't going to attend Qualifying on Fridays when they have work to do. If Nascar was to re-work the scheduling to have Cup Qualifying and the Busch race on the same day I'm sure the attendance ratings would go up. Why spend 3 hours in everyday traffic to get to the track to watch 1.5 hours of qualifying when you can listen to it on the radio, or watch it on speed? As far as the Busch race, I'm sure the seats won't be sold out, very few tracks do sale out for a Busch race. The tracks that do are usually the tracks that don't have a Cup race scheduled there the same weekend. As far as the Cup race on Sunday, I'm sure when the green flag waves regardless of heat the stands will have at least 75,000 fans sitting and waiting at a 92,00 seat facility, not to mention the luxury boxes that will be filled. Yes the California track likes to go hollywood, because they can. I'm not a celebrity, but I deal with it because I know that's the way the track management is going to push it. And last but not least, if they really want to sale out this track twice a year don't put the race on a 3 day weekend. Most Southern Californians are heading out of town to get a break from that everyday life of living in a major metropolitan area, or spending the weekend at the beaches that stretch for miles along the California coast. Hope you enjoy the race David.

Anonymous said...

As a traditional NASCAR fan of over 30 years the Labor Day weekend in California always causes me to ask why I support a sport that has largely abandoned me and gone Hollywood. Even the start time for the Busch race is so late it takes away the fun of watching it live. Yes, I would be in Darlington this weekend as it was one of those traditional venues that had character.
The audience for qualifying had to be embarassing even for those that decided to have Calif on the schedule twice. Bill F

Anonymous said...

I have to agree grudgingly that darlington and Labor day seems to be a pipe dream..I only hope your right about the spring race....Being in california on Labor day still makes no sense ..If they have to have two races one later in the year during the chase might be better..Kansas could be moved out easily..I like the idea of new Hampshire on Labor day the weather would be for thought anyway

Anonymous said...

Southern Califormia will never be a sell....Roger Penske realised that....You have Phoenix and Las Vegas that are reasonable to get to for fans in that area and they are better tracks...Northern California would have been better but all that is water under the bridge ..If Fontana has to have a second date then later in the year in the chase might be the only way it survives...As much as it grates on my nerves your right about Darlington on Labor Day that ship has sailed unfortunately

Anonymous said...

David, why does California need 2 dates? They obviously dont appreciate the sport the way others in the country do, and there are tracks out there that would kill for one cup date, let alone two. Perhaps a second date in Las Vegas makes more sense, but if I had my way, I would agree with you about Darlington and Labor Day. Being from NH, I am a bit biased... I like the date being the first date in the Chase, but I suppose I would settle for Labor Day if it was moved to there. September in NH is fantastic weather...

Anonymous said...

As a 25 year NASCAR fan from Kansas, I am certainly glad you don't have a snowman's chance in hell of making any decisions concerning who gets what date! It is very unlikely that Kansas will ever get a 2nd date for a race so why shouldn't it get a race during the CHASE!

Blue Collar Blogger said...

I normally don't agree with much you say, but I was mostly thinking what you wrote the other day. I think the rapid expansion of NASCAR is hitting a plateau and needs to get back to their roots. California will never be the market they dream about. Look at it's sister track Michigan till this year how many sell outs did it have. How many seats does MIS have vs. Cali. By the way get rid of a pocono race and bring back the ROCK!!!!

Anonymous said...

Noooo! Not New Hampshire! They already screwed up my summer by moving the July date to the holiday weekend. I WORK holidays! You mess with NHIS again and I'll get very upset :-( Until somebody wants to pay me to follow the circuit, I shall be firm about this. Having the race at California this weekend works just fine for starts at 8PM, plenty of time for me to get home and catch it live while I nap from the long day at work ;-)

Anonymous said...

The good thing for Darlington is that it's doing as well as it's ever done with the Mother's Day weekend date.

I don't blame NASCAR for trying to expand to other markets. Progression is a necessity for any business. They used to be a regional sport with heavy saturation in the southeast. Now they're in Vegas, southern California, Kansas, Chicago, Texas, New Hampshire, etc. etc. yet they still have 16 races in the southeast. Daytona twice, Atlatna twice, Bristol twice, Martinsville twice, Richmond twice, Talladega twice, Charlotte twice, Darlington and Homestead. Adding any more races to the southeast while taking races away from other places would be regression which is bad for any business.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article and the one by Tom Higgins. As a NASCAR fan of 35 years who grew up a few miles from the Orange Co Speedway, Hillsborough, NC, NASCAR committed the ultimate sin when it sold its sole by eliminating the Southern 500 for the money of Southern Cal. Bring back the Labor Day Southern 500 in all its traditional glory, NASCAR, and you can win me (and many other traditional fans) back. Until then, enjoy your boring tracks and dwindling audiences.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous #11, getting back to a sport's real demographic is never regressive or bad for business. NASCAR grew and grew and did so by not following the model of other sports - they didn't have a centralized TV deal, they didn't have "big market" speedways, and they let their demographics evolve naturally - they didn't try to force themselves into markets that didn't want them and didn't try to push "diversity."

That Darlington is doing well in mid-May is due to being in a racing demographic; if they had their second date back they'd do well with that also.

"Progression" is not always good for business (witness the semi-collapse of the NHL and the mediocre status of the NBA). NASCAR doesn't particularly need southern California or Chicago, and it absolutely does not belong in New York City or the Pacific Northwest.

Anonymous said...

An 8 PM start time on a Sunday Night is just too late. I'm sure that cost a lot of television viewers. I know it was a holiday weekend, but there are still a helluva lot of people in this country that had to get up and go to work bright and early on Monday morning, myself included.

stricklinfan82 said...

Just be thankfully that the race didn't start at 10:00 Eastern like the Busch race Saturday night, LOL.

Anonymous said...

David you can't have it both ways. you can't argue that California deserves a 2nd date and then complain that it is Labor Day weekend. Moving their 2nd date is not going to change the issues they have with fan apathy and the other items you listed.

Monkeesfan said...

blooze, they do that because they still think primetime equals better ratings, and it never works that way for most sporting events.

Anonymous said...

Well I for one loved staying up until past midnight to watch the end of the race - NOT!

At least this California race wasnt quite as boring as prvious races there...

Anonymous said...

Amen!!! The Southern 500 should remain as it was intended...Labor
Day weekend! Night time even makes it better. But why stop there? Let's bring back Rockingham and North Wilksboro. We need to get the "racing" back in racing instead of watching a 180mph freeway. Too may "sister" cookie cutter tracks out there. As much as I would love to see some of the old tracks come back to the circuit. There just isn't enough money in that. And we all know that is what makes the world..uh I mean cars go round.
Also, dig up Bristol and put it back like it was, exciting. There's not a fan out there who doesn't want to see the ole' "bump and run"!

Douglas said...

David...i virtually NEVER agree with you...but one thing is for sure. Los Angeles doesn't give two terds about NASCAR. The arrogance of Nascar brass never ceases to amaze me. If the NFL can't keep fans in seats in damn sure can't.

Make Darlington's ONE race the Southern 500. Make it it isn't so damned long and get r did.

Sunday, and Sunday's race is just a shining example of Nascar trying to be something it isn't.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous #19, actually there are more than a few fans who'd prefer racing instead of the stupid bump & run - that's cheapshot racing.

"We need to get racing back." We did have some spirited racing at Fontana this time around, and we need to get that and more.

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