NASCAR’s Home Tracks program has been known as “The Soul of NASCAR.” Unfortunately, when looking at some of the top tracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and what they have to offer, there seems to be a link lost between the fans and the track, one that once defined the heart and soul of stock car racing. The short tracks of America are where a vast majority of drivers cut their teeth from their start all the way up to today… and that’s why the Home Tracks program has become so important to developing the next generation of fans.
On the driving side, NASCAR has a very solid developmental platform that now encompasses additional countries and continents; however, the talent extends even further beyond. Chase Elliott is not only a two-year veteran of the K&N Pro East Series, but also other tracks that don’t receive a large amount of attention. There is no getting past the fact that he is better known for having won major races, bothNASCAR-sanctioned and non-affiliated. Many of them were at some of the roughest, toughest and oldest facilities in the country. Places like Hickory Motor Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Five Flags Speedway, and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway have all contributed to his current-day success.
Chase Elliott’s win at Darlington Raceway could be attributed to his racing roots.
In fact, you could argue Elliott’s latest win at Darlington Raceway was as a result of his knowledge and track record at Winchester Speedway in Indiana. Although they differ greatly in length, the preferred line used around the track is eerily similar. Almost grazing the wall at a blistering speeds every lap is something that takes practice, as we saw with many rookies’ misfortune throughout that weekend.
This article is not a push for the top series to go back to their roots and return to these tracks. That is something that simply is not going to happen anytime in the future. Rather, it is more about the improvement in finding a balance between the right presentation of festivities and what certain Sprint Cup track’s event planners can do to come up with unique but down-to-earth methods to attract the loyal fans. Both sides can do better, pumping up the product and the audience to keep people coming through the gates for years to come.
One track that I feel is getting it right is Richmond International Raceway. For their upcoming Toyota Owners 400, they have introduced a promotion called “Track Takeover.” During the afternoon, a few hours before the Sprint Cup green flag, all ticket holders will be invited onto the track to take part in activities for an unprecedented two-and-a-half-hour period. There will be driver Q&A sessions taking place, but I really hope that even the ones not participating will climb out of their motor homes and become a part of the mix. Either way, it is clear that those involved are listening to fans and have been watching what goes on at many typical Saturday evening short track events. I have a feeling that this idea is truly going to be a big hit.
It is all reminiscent to events like the annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. Every year, on the Wednesday night leading up to four days of racing, they open up the track for four hours to anyone that wishes to come by and see the race cars, walk the track, and listen to live music. All of it is free, but no doubt it has to be helping to gain at least a few viewers on the days after.
During Rockingham Speedway events in recent years, the small downtown North Carolina area had an event called ThunderFest. Once again, it was free to enter while driver appearances and live entertainment were available.
At tracks all across the country, there are events often called Pit Parties where cars are lined up on the frontstretch, all for fans invited to meet their favorite drivers and see the cars up close. At other tracks, the pits are opened up for all to walk around and talk to available competitors after the conclusion of an event. Again, these amenities are at no additional cost to fans.
Why? Quite simply, not every fan is willing to pay that extra amount normally offered to walk the pit area or peer into the garage. So to assure the average interested fan remains that way for years to come, not only does the product on the track have to impress, but the experience as a whole is crucial. Certain perks need to be realized and the benefits will far exceed the initial expense in the long run.
In addition, there needs to be more cross-promotion between NASCAR’s speedways and the short tracks in their vicinity. I’ve seen it done between many facilities, but there are still some out there on both levels where it doesn’t take place near enough. Area short tracks sometimes have ticket giveaways for the big track that holds an event on a particular weekend, but it should go the other way as well. If it’s not happening now, places like Daytona International Speedway should brief the public about New Smyrna Speedway or Volusia County Speedway. After all, it is where some of their stars of today came from; it’s where their stars of tomorrow will develop. Area short tracks shouldn’t have to shudder and consider passing up scheduling events on the same weekend NASCAR comes to town.
Obviously, every idea cannot feasibly work at every event. There are certain logistics that would take too much time to overhaul. Collectively though, things have to change for the better when it comes to fan accessibility and marketing to where, in essence, the best in the business got their start.