This past Friday night (Sept. 1), late model stock cars hit the track at Florence Motor Speedway in Timmonsville, S.C., just 20 minutes south of Darlington Raceway. Joining the late models were multiple other divisions in an event dubbed “The Prelude to the Southern 500.”
The featured race on the night was the Locked In 150 for the late model stock cars, with the winner of the race being locked into the track’s crown jewel event, the 31st South Carolina 400, set to take place later this year. In addition, the winner was guaranteed pole position for the crown jewel late model event.
In the end, the event was a success, drawing in big names like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Briscoe, all while promoting the South Carolina 400 and even the big races up the road at Darlington for NASCAR’s weekend of racing.
All of this leads to the question, should other short tracks, given the opportunity, hold events like the Locked In 150, to promote other events at the track, or even use NASCAR being nearby to draw in fans? What about the CARS Tour, could they utilize this same opportunity?
What Florence did with this event was brilliant and if replicated properly, could be the blueprint for tracks all across the country. One thing to note is that the event was originally scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, but due to Hurricane Idalia, the race was moved to Friday, Sept. 1.
With racing at Darlington on Saturday and Sunday, the race being moved to Friday was most likely for the best, especially when it allowed for the late edition of Earnhardt.
The South Carolina 400 is one of the most prestigious late model stock car races in the country, but it isn’t the only one. The most prestigious of them all is the ValleyStar 300 at Martinsville, but with Martinsville already being a NASCAR track itself, this opportunity likely wouldn’t present itself.
However, the other two tracks that hold races in the Virginia Triple Crown, South Boston Speedway and Langley Speedway, have this opportunity. South Boston and Langley both hold season-long track championships for late models, so they could easily create an event earlier in the season to promote their big races, those being the Thunder-Road Harley Davidson 200 at South Boston and Hampton Heat at Langley.
With a format something like the one at Florence, not only could these races add to the prestige of the already well-known events, but they would give the track another big event to help draw big car counts.
Another track that holds a big-money late model event is Southern National Motorsports Park, home of the Solid Rock Carriers Thanksgiving Classic. SNMP also held the season opener for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour this season back in March. Despite the fact that the Thanksgiving Classic is not a CARS Tour-sanctioned event, the series and the race share a title sponsor, so the opportunity for collaboration is there.
Creating an opportunity where winning the CARS Tour event at Southern National could guarantee you a spot, or even the pole, in the Thanksgiving Classic could do good for the CARS Tour, the stand alone Thanksgiving Classic and SNMP as a track; if all parties could come to an agreement that is.
Speaking of the CARS Tour, how could the CARS Tour take advantage of ideas like the one Florence used this past weekend? Just this year, the series joined forces with NASCAR for a week-long event at North Wilkesboro, as the series ran on Wednesday night before NASCAR’s All-Star Race took place that Sunday.
Despite being a midweek race, both the Late Model Stock Car division and the Pro Late Model division drew massive car counts, including names Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Ross Chastain.
So it has been proven that having an event that coincides with NASCAR is good for the series while not being too overshadowed by the big stars of NASCAR.
The series attempted to repeat their success with the Old North State Nationals at Tri-County being scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, the same weekend that NASCAR was in Charlotte for the Coke 600 weekend. However, the drive from Concord to Granite Falls, N.C., is over an hour and not a drive some fans would want to make. So where could the series go to replicate its success from North Wilkesboro?
Kingsport Speedway in Kingsport, Tenn., presents a great option for the series to not only once again coincide with NASCAR, but return the series to Tennessee. Kingsport is a 0.375-mile concrete oval that sits less than 30 minutes away from Bristol Motor Speedway, well within driving distance for many NASCAR fans to show up a day early for race weekend and go watch some late model racing.
The concrete surface similar to that of Bristol Motor Speedway would provide a unique challenge unlike any other track in the series and even an opportunity for some Cup Series stars to get involved.
The CARS Tour could also potentially move their date at Florence to the weekend of NASCAR’s spring race at Darlington, although the track typically holds its own event that weekend and might not want to give that date up. We could even see the series have its own event at Martinsville or Richmond, if an agreement could be made with NASCAR as both are NASCAR owned tracks.
All of that being said, what Florence pulled off this past weekend ahead of the Southern 500 is something other tracks – and series – should look to replicate. Whether that will happen, only time will tell.
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