Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: A Guide Around NASCAR Classics

Last week, NASCAR made a big move by releasing a service called NASCAR Classics.

NASCAR video preservation has largely been scattershot in the digital age. NASCAR has released a series of select races on DVD and uploaded a fair amount to YouTube, but the vast majority of races floating around on YouTube from the pre-HD era were uploaded by private users.

Just search for a random season on YouTube — let’s go with “1985 NASCAR Cup season” — and the very first result is a full playlist of all known footage of the 28 races in that season.

Now, officially, NASCAR has every legal right to take down those videos. However, it generally only does so for very modern races. It seems strange, but it’s not that surprising if you’ve been paying attention to the company for a while.

As an example, my colleague at Frontstretch Steve Waid is most known for his nearly three-decade tenure at NASCAR Scene, with a who’s who of today’s lead NASCAR journalists having worked under him for the Scene.

Some old Scene readers may be surprised to know that, officially, the Scene did not have any connection with NASCAR and didn’t have the legal rights to use the NASCAR name or the logo in their own logo. But NASCAR never pushed the issue with the Scene, in part because of how good for NASCAR it was to have a strong independent publication covering it.

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Arson? Maybe for a fleeting second, after a particularly critical column. Lawsuits? Never.

This type of thinking is what led to the creation of NASCAR Classics. NASCAR absolutely could have put this behind a $5 paywall and watch the money come in. But it didn’t and is instead more than happy to offer this for free. Why? Because at the end of the day, it’s good for NASCAR.

When Classics launched, there were headlines marketing this as every NASCAR race ever or that thousands of races were on the service. Neither is the case; I know this because I counted and am keeping track.

As of this writing, there have been 1,132 races uploaded in some form to Classics, falling 1,607 races short of every single Cup race of all time and over 800 races away from having thousands of races.

Still, however, considering that there’s no TV coverage whatsoever of probably about a majority of these races and it’s only been a week since it launched, that’s an impressive amount of races uploaded so far.

When Classics first came into existence, my first concern was that NASCAR would only upload new races. What we had up in the archive was all that was coming, and YouTube would have to be relied on to fill in the gaps from here on out.

My second concern was that it would only focus on the 2000s when it came to classic uploads; there are a number of huge gaps in that decade, including 32 races missing in 2008 alone.

Finally, there was the fear that races would be rotated in and out. With only website advertising income from Classics, the hosting costs and bandwidth alone must be large.

And yet, none of these three concerns have been founded so far.

(It should be mentioned that when talking about races on NASCAR Classics, both the Clash/Shootout and the All-Star Race count. Exhibitions, due to the presence of the three NASCAR Japan races, also count. Qualifying races like the Daytona Duels do not count, as none have been uploaded.)

When Classics launched, 19 of 38 races were missing in 2021. As of Aug. 23, there is now only one race missing from 2021. In a week, NASCAR has uploaded almost half of a season, in addition to eight races from 1988 to 2003.

Maybe the most fascinating thing about all of this is that the Classics social media accounts have not sent out a word about any of these races being uploaded. I do not mean to humble brag, but as far as I know, I am the only person on social media who is publicizing changes to the Classics service.

And of course, the service itself is really good. NASCAR has a surprisingly good on-site media player; I would say it’s better than Peacock. Which is just an incredible statement in general.

The video quality is hit and miss. Everything from 2011 on looks great, while everything on there from about 2003 and prior looks great for what it is and very crisp. A lot of these older races have only been available as compressed VHS copies on YouTube, so seeing them in what I presume are original master tapes looks very good.

But on the flipside, there’s the early Chase era of 2004-2010. A lot of the races that have been uploaded, especially around 2006-2009, look very unkept and VHS quality. That tells me that it’s likely a lot of those races — which represent both the peak NASCAR years when it comes to ratings and my childhood — were not preserved very well. There’s not a whole lot that can be done there if those tapes just don’t exist somewhere.

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That being said, Classics is well worth your time if you have any interest in NASCAR history. On my spreadsheet, my main page starts with 1985, as that is the first year I could find a full playlist of every race on YouTube. But past that, 1985 itself is still a very good year to start with, as it features the rise of Bill Elliott and a tight championship battle that goes down to the wire.

1992 is also a good starting point, as that is the first year that all races feature flag-to-flag coverage. Once again, it has a legendary championship battle, and this time marks the end of the Richard Petty era and the start of the Jeff Gordon era in Cup racing.

And 2011 is the first year that has everything entirely on the Classics site; with the exception of the 2022 Sonoma Raceway event for some reason, every points race from 2011 to 2022 is on Classics. That season is arguably the greatest season in NASCAR history, starting with a legendary Daytona 500, featuring multiple surprise first-time winners and ending with another legendary championship battle that went down to the final lap of the last race.

Regardless of where you want to start, though, there’s no wrong answer. OK, 2019 kind of sucked with the high-drag racecar proving a bore on short tracks and road courses. But it’s there if you want to watch it, in all of its Brad Keselowski-leading–446-laps-at-Martinsville Speedway glory.

After all, it is free.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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