Race Weekend Central

On The Road Again

Call it the story of my life.

Just when NASCAR heads east after three weeks out west, I pack up and head west.

I’ll admit that timing has never been my strong suit, especially when it comes to the racing schedule, but this trip still has ties to NASCAR and recent developments in the sport, regardless of where I am in relation to any of the touring series.

And where I am is anywhere but NASCAR-obsessed. I am in Seattle, Washington to give a presentation at the national conference of the Popular Culture Association.

My judgment above is based on the debate, now almost a decade old, over whether or not a Sprint Cup race should (or could) ever be held in the Pacific Northwest. Just this past Monday afternoon, on Sirius XM’s NASCAR Channel, Jim Noble and Chocolate Myers discussed new markets that might re-energize fan interest in the Cup Series. Jim Noble suggested that the sanctioning body put an event in the Seattle region, an area that would likely draw an audience from Vancouver.

Such an addition to the Sprint Cup schedule sounds like a great idea, especially since Vancouver is just two and a half hours north of Seattle on Interstate 5 – an easy trip to make when the weather is good. With Kasey Kahne’s ties to the city of Enumclaw, less than an hour’s drive from Seattle, the Hendrick Motorsports driver might find a sympathetic crowd if he happened to make contact with another competitor.

And Kahne is not the only Washington native to compete in NASCAR. Roush Fenway’s Greg Biffle is from the state, as are Chad Little and 1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope. Sprint Cup veteran Ed Negre is from the region, and so are former XFINITY drivers Chris Bingham and Damon Lusk. NASCAR enjoys close ties to the Pacific Northwest.

Washington is home to Deming Speedway, which is located less than 100 miles from downtown Seattle. Deming was one of the tracks where Kasey Kahne began his career. And less than 80 miles from the center of Seattle is Skagit Speedway, another of Kahne’s early conquests and where Richard Petty Motorsports’ driver Brian Scott raced in the 360 Nationals. And don’t forget Evergreen Speedway, which sits just 33 miles outside of Seattle. Evergreen’s 5/8-mile oval has hosted some of the greatest names in NASCAR, including Bill Elliott, Geoffrey Bodine, and Kevin Harvick.

Evergreen Speedway would be the best location, albeit small, for a Sprint Cup race if the powers-that-be in the Seattle area wanted to host an event in a hurry. Given that fields lately have been below 40 cars, maybe such a confined space would make for good racing.

Evergreen would put the “short” in “short track”, and that’s no lie….

Naturally, the best way to host a Sprint Cup race in the Pacific Northwest would be to build a new facility. In 2006, the theory was that International Speedway Corporation would build a track in one of three Puget Sound counties: either Snohomish, Kitsap, or Thurston.

According to Tim Appelo, who interviewed yours truly and wrote about the proposed speedway in Seattle Weekly a decade ago: “if the Puget Sound track could sell out two national races and less-than-half-fill one local event per year, it would rake in revenues of about $87 million to $121 million a year, more than $65 million of it new money from out-of-state fans.”

I guess some dreams do come true, but – as recent history demonstrates – this kind of success is anything but realistic. For particulars, check with the administrators running Atlanta and Charlotte Motor Speedways; I don’t think they ever envisioned removing seats because of declining attendance.

The hope was for ISC to decide and act quickly, but the group that acted quickest was the anti-NASCAR coalition that cringed at the thought of loud cars burning gasoline and rubber in what Appelo referred to, in his article, as “Ecotopia”.

And maybe the people managing Michigan International Speedway failed to see the irony in having one of their Cup races called the Pure Michigan 400? I, too, live in a place considered an “Ecotopia”, and I saw what naysayers can do to a racetrack that offends their environmental sensibilities.

Cherry Speedway, near Traverse City, Michigan was deemed dirty, loud, and full of raucous race fans. To improve the area, a developer bought the track, leveled it to the ground, and began building homes on the site.

A historic connection to the region had nothing to do with the decision. It was just a matter of bad timing: the sale was done before the racing community could respond. Cherry Speedway, like the proposed racetrack near Seattle, was finished before its next chapter even began.

Not unlike the story of my life: always a step or two behind the times….

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