Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: Where Did All the Night Races Go?

On June 25, the NASCAR Cup Series visited Nashville Superspeedway for the first time under the lights in its three seasons of competition at the 1.33-mile concrete oval.

Nowadays, night races seem like a foreign concept to those who have been fans of the sport for even the last five years. Night races have almost gone the way of the dodo, and in 2023, just six races on the schedule have a scheduled start time of 6 p.m. ET or later (excluding exhibitions races), down from nine just 10 years ago.

There are several tracks on the schedule that have lights but don’t host any scheduled night races in the Cup Series, including World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Richmond Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A lot of these racetracks end up using their lights during a race, as at a race that starts at 3:30 p.m. ET that takes place at an east coast track, there is potential for races to go into the night (see this year’s race at Gateway). But none of these tracks have races scheduled to start and end in the evening.

See also
Podcast: An Exclusive Conversation With Carl Edwards

Other tracks such as Nashville, Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt race and Atlanta Motor Speedway changed their race start times from afternoon to evening. In the case of Nashville and Atlanta, the change was made due to high temperatures in the afternoon; a cooler air temperature takes less of a toll on the drivers.

So why aren’t there more night races, especially in the summer? It’s been documented recently at tracks like Nashville that the heat gets so brutal that drivers frequently end up sitting next to their cars and receive treatment from emergency crews, including bags of ice to pour over them, or trips to the infield care center for an IV.

It’s time to bring back Saturday night races wherever possible, especially in the summer. Some summer tracks such as Sonoma Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway don’t have lights, so unless NASCAR changes the schedule to avoid going to those tracks, day racing is impossible to avoid.

During the summer months, NASCAR typically travels to tracks with high heat indexes, so the addition of Saturday night races could help the drivers exponentially by avoiding said heat. Not to mention the fans who have to sit stationary in the stands for hours in the beating sun.

Plus, rain has been a topic of conversation in recent years; it seems like almost everywhere NASCAR goes, the threat of rain follows it. Typically in the event of a rainout, NASCAR will postpone the event to the next day around 11 a.m. or noon ET.

If a Saturday night race gets rained out, NASCAR can push it to early Sunday and allow more fans to return for the race instead of being forced to head home due to strict travel plans or having to go to work or school the next morning.

Now, late afternoon start times on Sundays are supposedly good for TV ratings; it allows west coast viewers to be able to catch the race at a reasonable hour.

Some tracks also host all three of NASCAR’s premier series in a weekend, and unless it wants to consistently push the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races to Thursday night or schedule doubleheader after doubleheader with the Trucks and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, it would be a little difficult to coordinate.

But a bigger push for night races could result in bigger crowd turnouts should a postponement occur, and could help drivers, fans and personnel avoid baking in the sun for hours.

See also
Stat Sheet: A Statistical Dive Into the Month of June

Plus, Saturday night racing opens up a whole different kind of racing. The track and car handle different in the cooler nighttime, which could completely change the outcome of a race. The Next Gen car hasn’t really had too many chances to prove itself in pure nighttime racing, so maybe it races really well in the night.

And who doesn’t love the way bright paint schemes shine in the night? It would also give Alex Bowman more chances to run the night version of his Ally paint scheme, but I digress.

As the 2024 schedule release draws closer and closer, it might be wise of NASCAR to consider more night races for the health and safety of its fans, drivers and personnel, as well as more logistical options in the event of a rainout.

Let us return to Saturday night showdowns.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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.

Share this article

5 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gary Caldwell

Great write up. I totally agree with you about racing on Fri and Sat nights for quite a few reasons. Several things cento. Mind right away. These races or tracks are great family fun or to take a civic group to. Usually admission is not to expensive. Of course everyone knows tracks have concession stands. I remember going to a local track on weekends. Always took me a small cooler with can drinks in it. Took some snacks from the house as well.. We would pop our own pop corn. Put it in a big brown paper bag.
Getting back to Fri and Sat nights would tend to bring familys out more together. It would also keep young people .kids away from TV’s and video games. I am sure if kids actually went to more races and developed a interest in racing, we would see a lot more down home down to earth talent. Domestic issues with young people would go down some as well. I know as a teenager I stayed at a race track some where. Gave me something to do and kept me out of trouble. I think about my high school days and thank the good Lord everyday for allowing me a chance to be involved in something that I liked and kept me out of trouble.

sb

AMEN! If you schedule races to accommodate TV, you aren’t scheduling to make it easier for the fans. Attending the august race in Bristol is doable because I didn’t have to sit in the heat of a Tennessee summer to watch a race.

JT

The force that’s trying to push aside night races are the TV affiliate stations who hate when the average network night race broadcast busts right through their lucrative 10-11 p.m. news programs. While NASCAR and the TV partners can put TV night races on cable, the viewership on cable takes a significant hit compared to race broadcasts on the TV networks.

Last edited 3 months ago by JT
Kurt Smith

I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine how 11:00 news on a Saturday night can be lucrative for TV affiliates.

Kurt Smith

I personally would just like to have a few races each year where I don’t have to immediately go to bed after the event because I have to get up for work the next day. Little bit of rain in a Sunday race that starts at 3:30 and sometimes I don’t even bother to watch the end of it.