Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should Every NASCAR Playoff Track Have Lights?

Lights at a NASCAR track can sometimes be overlooked. But if you check Twitter, fans are often curious which tracks have them (Hi, Bob!). The course of a race weekend can change drastically based on whether a track has lights.

Over the last decade or so, several tracks have added lights but there are still a few outliers that haven’t. One of those tracks is Talladega Superspeedway. This weekend, Talladega hosted three playoff events, two of which were affected by the track not having lights. Some folks feel that when the races are ultra important, sunlight (or lack thereof) shouldn’t play a factor.

So what do you think? Should every playoff track have lights? Clayton Caldwell and Vito Pugliese debate.

There’s Really No Excuse

It’s insane that a race track that hosts a NASCAR Cup Series playoff event in the year 2021 does not have lights. Lights should be as standard as SAFER barriers in NASCAR, especially for tracks that are owned and operated by NASCAR.

I can understand tracks like Dover International Speedway or Pocono Raceway, which are owned by smaller corporations, not having lights. But it is unacceptable for a NASCAR-owned track like Talladega not to have lights. The fact that it doesn’t have lights and is still in the playoffs is even more ridiculous.

See also
Bubba Wallace Scores 1st Win in Rain-Shortened Talladega Playoff Race

NASCAR fans spend hours and hours comparing the sport to stick-and-ball sports. NASCAR has built its playoff format to model stick-and-ball sports. Is there a stadium in the stick-and-ball world that does not have lights? I can’t think of one. Wrigley Field, which was the longest hold-out for a major sports stadium, hosted its first night game in 1988. That was 33 years ago and they were looked at as ridiculous for holding out that long. Even all the minor league baseball stadiums around the country have lights and those owners and teams don’t rake in nearly the revenue NASCAR does.

I know people are going to say that it costs a ton of money to light a facility the size of Talladega and that’s absolutely correct. Yet I don’t think the problem stems from a lack of funds on NASCAR’s part.

In 2018, International Speedway Corporation, which has since been absorbed by NASCAR, had an annual revenue of $656 million. The company continues to upgrade facilities around the country. Phoenix has gotten a complete facelift and has had multiple configuration changes over the last decade or so. NASCAR threw $400 million into a renovation at Daytona International Speedway that was completed in 2016. A ton of money has been put into Richmond Raceway for upgrades. Martinsville Speedway just got lights. Yet it can’t afford lights to be put up around Talladega? Or does the company just not want to?

Even the Xfinity Series event on Saturday was affected because there are no lights at the track; officials had to call the race seven laps early due to darkness. If Talladega had lights, NASCAR wouldn’t have had to back itself into a corner and do a doubleheader race on Saturday instead of running the Camping World Truck Series playoff race on Friday night.

Two playoff races this past weekend were affected by not having lights. How is that acceptable? Again, comparing this sport to stick-and-ball sports, can you imagine if a Major League Baseball playoff game was delayed due to rain and called at 5 p.m. because the stadium didn’t have lights — especially when pretty much every other facility has lights? Could you imagine the uproar?

The league would force the team and the stadium to put lights up. The problem with this situation is the league and the facility are all one in the same.

See also
Hendrick Teammates Alex Bowman, William Byron In Must-Win Situation After Talladega Crashes

I do believe NASCAR did everything in its power to run the races to their completion this weekend. I also believe when the rains came on Monday (Oct. 4), there would have been no way to go back racing after drying a 2.66-mile track before it got dark. I think everyone did all they could with the circumstances they had this weekend.

However, the circumstances should be different. They should have the option to run the race at night. When it comes to playoff races, NASCAR should give the fans, drivers, teams and everyone involved with the sport the best opportunity to complete the race to the finish.

The best way to do that is to ensure that all tracks in the playoffs have lights. If they don’t have lights, then they should be removed from the playoffs. If you don’t want to act like a big-time racetrack, then you shouldn’t be in such an important slot on the schedule. There are plenty of other tracks, including Daytona, where lights are established and what happened this weekend is much less likely to happen. – Clayton Caldwell

You’ll Get Nothing and Like It!

This past weekend at Talladega, the one thing happened that many had vowed to never again let happen, happened.

No, a car did not get airborne and fly towards the spectator area.

It rained.

There are few things in life that are as torturous as a NASCAR rain delay. The type of inhumanity only so vividly and graphically represented before in the Saw film franchise, can turn what may have started off as a destination vacation, end up as Gitmo getaway. Held hostage by the clouds, subjected to yet another forced viewing of the 2001 July Daytona race, the emotional abuse of drying the track for three hours, cars return to the track under caution … only to start raining again.

Can’t go on. Must go on…

Now once the race was completed (just barely past halfway to make it official) on Monday, the hand-wringing began and the questions started flowing in, demanding action.

How can we prevent this from happening again?

Isn’t there a tarp we could cover the 2.66-mile track with?

Are we sure there isn’t an awning big enough for at least the turns and backstretch?!

Naturally, my first reaction to these sorts of things is, “Yes, sometimes weather happens.” But should there be some sort of requirement for race tracks to have lights in the Cup Series, particularly during the playoffs?

First, let’s take a step back and ask why are lights the answer? Lights don’t automatically make for a great race — or a safe one. Look no further to the incident at Las Vegas where Sheldon Creed ran full speed into Chandler Smith as he emerged from the ether and glare of the lights on the backstretch.

I’d take the contrarian view and say in rare instances do they make any sense. The Bristol Motor Speedway Night Race is iconic, and should always be ran under the lights. Richmond? Eh, I guess one is cool. The All-Star Race if it’s at Charlotte Motor Speedway so they can air the 1992 event again for a week, would be the other exception. Otherwise, day and earlier start times — Daytona at 11 a.m. ET, everything else 1 p.m. ET unless it’s out west — typically make for a more manageable viewing experience at the track or at home.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: More Reasons Why Bubba Wallace's Talladega Win Is a Big Deal

Also, lights aren’t the be-all/end-all answer either. Sure they provide a bit more flexibility in trying to finish a race, or at least get it to halfway, but what if it’s still raining? Do you browbeat fans who have been there for seven or eight hours to gut it out for a couple of more all for naught?

If it’s on a Saturday, maybe it makes sense, but what if it’s on a Sunday? Locals likely need to get going home to get ready for work or at least let the dog out. Those who traveled probably bailed already to catch their flight or hammer down on the way home. Besides, who doesn’t like getting on the road in the dark, amongst unfamiliar surroundings with people who may or may have not put a dent in a case of Busch Light recently?

For the viewer at home, it’s not much different either.

When they pulled the plug on Sunday afternoon, sure I was bummed … but there was also a sense of closure. I could make peace with the decision as I flipped over to watch football and ponder what toppings I would require on the pizza I was about to order. Yes, I always get green peppers and black olives.

Not to mention the networks who then have to jumble around hours of programing because it’s raining in the one area of the country where it really did not need to be raining at that particular moment. Is it easier to just call it early, not hold people captive and figure it out tomorrow? Of course it is. Sometimes the right call is to do nothing and walk away.

When the going gets tough, quit.

Other sports have to deal with the same thing during their playoffs. Ever watch a football game in the snow? It’s stupid. Nobody can catch, everyone’s falling down, and it’s a punt fest. Yeah, it’s fun for a couple of possessions, then it’s just kind of dumb and feels like a waste of game. Baseball has lights AND tarps! And guess what? They usually will call it early as well and not start the game too late or make people huddle around in the pedestrian walkway for hours on end.

Instead of lights, why not just run the races on Saturday? Either way you’re playing second fiddle to either the NFL or college football, so stop unjustifiably starting races at 3 p.m. and scheduling two races (Xfinity or Trucks) on Saturday. If it rains, you still have all day Sunday to run them, and NBC doesn’t have football on until 8 p.m. ET. That’s a good bit cheaper than asking tracks without lights to invest millions of dollars in lights, for one or two events a year given everything that has transpired over the past two years, on the off chance it rains. — Vito Pugliese

About the author

Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kevin in SoCal

My friend Vito, he’s always the negative one.

I don’t remember the XFINITY series having a fall race before, it was always the XFINITY in spring, trucks in fall.

I agree with the earlier start times though, we west-coasters do just fine with football starting at 10am PST, 1pm EST.

They could have Talladega as the final race in August, and Daytona during the playoffs, since Daytona has lights.

Share via