Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… The Rules Package, Safety & Las Vegas

The small crowd this past weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway should not be too much of a surprise.  In many ways, it should have been expected.  The track has faced difficulty filling its stands for a few years now, and being given a race date with unpredictable weather offered no favors.

So what is going on?

There’s a couple ways to think about the issue (and that’s just for starters).  The one that would seem obvious is that NASCAR is down on Atlanta and that it is looking to remove it from the schedule.  That the track used to hold two Cup races and now just one, combined with the ever-shifting date recently signifies this sentiment.  So maybe the hope is that Atlanta falls by the wayside and another bright, new, shiny track in some other market will get the opportunity.  That game has been played before, right?   (Side note, for an excellent piece on North Wilkesboro and its raceway, check out this piece.)

Here’s a different take: Perhaps Atlanta just is not much of a sports town.  The stellar Braves teams of the past had problems filling their park.  The Atlanta Thrashers, the second hockey team the city had (after the Flames), left after failing to garner a sustained fanbase.  The Falcons, who play in that most-loved of sports in football, also had its issues.  So what makes NASCAR immune to the trends of an area that seems to have adopted an attitude of indifference towards professional sports?  Maybe traffic really is that bad.

Whatever the reasons may be at this juncture, something must be done about getting the race date changed.  Kudos to the diehard fans who attended, but there was nothing that looked enticing about sitting in the stands on a damp, gray, overcast day and watching Jimmie Johnson add to his win total and, oh yeah, make the Chase  (Yes, ugh, those kind of proclamations can already be made).  So while the drivers may rave about driving the Atlanta track, some kind of initiative must be taken to entice the fans.  Or maybe not.  Depends on what NA$CAR’s thinking.

On to some happiness.

Happiness Is…The Rules Package.  A lot was made of the changes in the rules package for the 2015 season – the reduction in horsepower, the lower spoiler, the new rockers, the adjustable trackbar in the car.  Net result, as predicted in this column last year: zero. The changes are barely changes.  Strike that, the changes are, in fact, changes, but not in a way that is significant to bring about any real change.  Ha.  Therefore it’s not really a surprise to see the Hendrick Motorsports crew hanging near the front.  Or that the Team Penske duo is strong.  Or for the Joe Gibbs Racing gang to be looking solid.

So what was the big deal?  About the only thing that the new rules package seems to have done is to make Roush Fenway Racing worse – which for a team with its resources seems altogether surprising.  The question that should be asked then is what was the point of the changes?  If it was to bring about passing, it doesn’t look like that effect is there.  If it was to provide a new challenge, that didn’t work.  At this point it looks like change for change sake, but looks like replacing the design of the dollar bill with one that looks a lot like the original.

Happiness Is…Safety.  For all of Jeff Gordon’s accomplishments, like 65 second-place finishes or 79 poles, the one statistic that he is positively owning the past few years is number of non-SAFER walls hit.  Sure, that statistic is not officially kept by NASCAR but there’s no way that anyone else has a higher number.  Showing his adept skill, Gordon made sure to find another one at Atlanta, this one coming after track officials and NASCAR made statements about safety and taking care of the drivers.  Tom Bowles already touched upon this matter, but the reality stands that it is easy to make these comments but the tracks better actually be doing something about it.  We all know that the concept of a driver’s union has been considered and struck down more than once, but isn’t this situation one where they should band together and make some kind of statement?

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Will Jeff Gordon finally make some noise in Vegas this week.(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Safety continues to be one of the key talking points in motorsports, and the less injuries the better.  But back in the day the drivers wore open-faced helmets, didn’t have HANS devices and all this fancy stuff that the drivers of today do.  It’s the wussification of the sport, just like what’s happening in football.  It’s quite possible those drivers were insane.  And hmm, Happiness Is likes the athletes to be healthy.  To whit, Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso will be sitting out the season opening race in Melbourne to assure his safety after (possibly, details are sketchy) concussing himself a week ago.  There are only 20 races on the 2015 F1 calendar, which means that sitting one out is quite a statement, especially for a top driver like Alonso.  But even better to avoid the necessity to start.

Happiness Is…Las Vegas.  Blimey, is it already time for Jeff Hammond to put on some dorky Vegas costume, or for Darrell Waltrip to talk in gambling cliches the whole race?  Time, you cruel beast!  Too bad FOX won’t break up its broadcast booth and switch some other aspects about before the race (or seemingly ever).

It may seem early – OK, it is – but this second 1.5-mile race should offer the backing evidence to what was offered in Atlanta with regards to the pecking order.  It’s difficult to think that there’ll be much change.  But hey, maybe that Gordon guy will finish a race for the first time in this young season.

Happiness Is…XXXX.  In a travesty sold to the American people, Foster’s beer is marketed as being the notable Australian brew.  The problem with that is that Foster’s is a last resort when down under, instead Coopers, XXXX, Tooheys or VB are the ones to go with for the authentic experience.  And while V8 Supercar racing is the local motorsport, Formula 1 will be gracing the country this weekend to kick off the season.  Mercedes looks tough to beat once again, so maybe the race is for who will stand third on the podium.  Regardless of that aspect, it will be interesting to seem in Williams, Ferrari or Red Bull have closed the gap at all.  And hats off, Marussia, now that Manor Racing is supposed to be on track.  We’ll see.


About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Harley Farkle

Safety? Slow the cars by narrowing the tires, take away skirts and down force. Racing was so much better years ago when the cars were 30/40 mph slower and they drove the cars and not just steered them.


Agreed. For fun, I’d like to see them take a Ford Fusion off the street, rebuild it into the closest facsimile of a safe Cup car one could, and see what kind of racing would be created.


I wish, that would be real stock car racing. Unfortunately Modern Nascar is just identical kit cars with engines from one of maybe four builders. I can’t prove it but I suspect that they have a “bland driver school” hidden away somewhere. I haven’t watched a lap this year, I’m trying to quit.


Hanging around a NASCAR comment board when trying to quite NASCAR makes about as much sense as sitting in a smokey bar while trying to give up cigarettes.

Tim S.

You answered your own question about what will be done to get the race date changed. The TV shills were in the bag, making it look like the coldest day in Georgia history. I’d be surprised if they ran another race there. They won’t rearrange the schedule to get more real variety, but they’ll sure do it to get a second date for Vegas or Kentucky. We’ve seen this script many times. Wilkesboro, Rockingham, Darlington, the one-off Martinsville Busch race to see if they could swap it for a Cup date…I’d get ready to wave bye bye.


If the track is not brining in the fans, why keep it? As was pointed out, maybe Atlanta just isn’t much of a sports town anymore.


Any track with history and character are doomed. They don’t fit into Nascar’s shiny new image of sushi and dirty martinis. Now fans must have an EXPERIENCE instead of a race.




Are you suggesting that if NASCAR wound the clock back 15 years that the stands would be packed? That might be ignoring the new fan, and if you are positing that NASCAR ignore the new fan, do you have the data to suggest that the fan of 15 years ago would fill the stands?


Um, check the seats. There are no new fans.


You know that how? Do you have the metrics that differentiates what fan is in the seats these days? Perhaps most of the seats are new fans because most of the old fans have left for whatever reason.


If Brian France hadn’t been so intent on wooing the “casual fans” at the expense of driving away the diehard fans, the seats might still be full.

Change simply for the sake of change is not always a good thing. Before Brian took over, the seats were usually full, there were waiting lists for tickets at many tracks and the TV ratings were up. Other than being able to get lots of $$ from the tv contracts and corporate sponsors for NASCAR, Brian doesn’t really have a lot of positives to show for hiis management.

Overall, there are less fans buying tickets & watching EVERY week. Casual fans may tune in for Daytona or for the “playoffs”, but week in and week out, no, that doesn’t seem to be working.


Agreed, though I wouold say it’s more the product. The COT was a blessing and a burden that NASCAR has yet to successfully move past in the Gen 6; they need a super safe machine that’s equally competitive. The balance isn’t there and I doubt it’s from a lack of trying. The tweaks in the tech rules and packages are the efforts to bring parity. It’s a no win situation for NASCAR because the manking in the flats that these tweaks produce to bring in parity could be answered by a NASCAR produced kit car that is 100% equal that relies solely upon driver ability – cue new issue to complain about. Equally, NASCAR could step back and say, “Car Chiefs have at it” and Johnson would be working on title number 10 with another issues for fans to comlain about. Back to the point, TV is where the money is and it panders to the casual fan who will PVR the mediocre product and punch through the commercials and parade laps, but still watch it. Not so much at the track. I hope the product improvement will partially address that.


pretty sure Bruton is willing to sacrifice Atlanta to move that 2nd date to Vegas. I have sat in the stands at Martinsville in similar weather and it is NOT pleasant. Once upon a time, when the racing was actually fun to watch, I was willing to do that, but not any longer.

Even though watching racing on TV means I have to multi-task and use my computer with twitter and raceview so that I can get actual information, not just the babble from the annoying shills in the Fox booth, at least I can do other things from home and not just be miserably cold & wet.

As a long time Gordon fan, I was really unhappy about Gordon finding another unprotected wall to run into (courtesty of Hamlin’s spin). I understand that racing is a dangerous sport, no one has ever said it wasn’t and no way it will ever be perfectly safe, but NASCAR & the tracks choosing to not do the SAFER barrier installations is just blatantly a way to not spend $. Kyle Busch is paying a heavy price for that right now and I’m not a fan of the Busch boys. However, I acknowledge he is quite a wheel man and no matter how annoyed I may get with him, I was upset to see him injured, as I would be with anyone else. Brad K made some comment about racing being dangerous? Gee, no s**t, sherlock. I’d really love it if Gordon would get thru the rest of the year w/o hitting another wall.


Do you watch the un-fun racing on TV now?

Tim S.

If you’ve read more than about five comments on this site, you know that Gina follows Jeff Gordon, and pretty much only Jeff Gordon. So yes, I’m sure she’s watched her fair share of un-fun racing to keep up with how her favorite is doing.


To watch so much un-fun racing…a trooper for sure.


Thanks, Tim and yes, Mathan, I do consider myself a “trooper” for continuing to watch racing in person & on tv when I consider that the racing for the past 5 years has been mediocre at best.

I used to really like NASCAR, I wouldn’t have missed a minute. However I stopped beinig a fan of the sport when the idiotic and inept Brainless took over and now I only watch because Gordon is on the track and that will be over when he retires in November.

If you are in love with the current NASCAR, enjoy it, I’ve followed the sport for long eough to have a different point of view.


I agree that Atlanta sports fans have proven to be increasingly fickle. I’m sure if the University of Georgia was playing its spring football game at the track in 0 degree weather, the place would have been packed. NASCAR surely hasn’t done them any favors though. They should have placed the race after the “west coast swing”. Weather wise Atlanta would have had a fighting chance then.


There most definitely is good reason to believe that this decision to move Atlanta to an undesirable spot on the calendar is a cynical ploy by NASCAR and SMI to sabotage attendance in order to justify stripping it’s date. It’s very likely we watched the last Cup race in Atlanta last weekend. I guess the only question right now is where that 2nd Vegas date will go on the schedule.

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