Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Has an Easter History, But Should It Continue?

There were many things NASCAR fans eagerly waited for each week as the 2023 calendar approached the late summer.

If you are a fan of The Incredibles, you might remember that one scene where the Parr family is on their way to stop the villain in Metroville and Dash continues to ask, ‘Are we there yet?’

That’s how the 2024 schedule release felt.

‘Is it here yet?’ Nope. ‘How about now?’ Nothing. ‘Surely, today is the day.’ No, but it should come out in the next couple of weeks.

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Finally, series officials released it on October 4, 2023. Now, as a Virginia boy, my eyes gleamed when I saw that not only was Richmond Raceway retaining two races, but they would both be under the lights.

As I’ve covered in the past, Richmond is my home track. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of school on Fridays to either go watch the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond or the NASCAR Cup Series show on Saturday. The common denominator was that I loved experiencing short track racing under the lights.

After a roughly three-year hiatus, that opportunity for fans arises again this year. However, Richmond’s spring date was one that caught many peoples’ eyes, and it was a bit surprising.

NASCAR will roll into Richmond, Va., on March 30-31 … which happens to be Easter weekend.

This year’s race will be the 13th edition of a NASCAR race on the holiday. There were also several races between the 1950s and 1960s held on Easter. The last case came back in 1989 at none other than Richmond, a race postponed by snow and won by Rusty Wallace.

Now, a race on the holiday is nothing new when related to recent years. In 2022, NASCAR went against a tradition that had held for 33 years when they scheduled the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race on Easter Sunday. It received the same slot in 2023.

Despite NASCAR moving away from the dirt race, it kept a race on Easter weekend. Yet, that has received some criticism.

Just last year, my Frontstretch colleague Michael Massie asked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. if he wanted to continue the Easter showcase.

“I’d like to have Easter off,” Stenhouse said with little hesitation. “That’s been a tradition for a long time that we’ve kind of gotten away from.”

So why did NASCAR go back to racing on Easter?

When it was announced the 2022 Bristol race would be held on Easter, executive Ben Kennedy compared it to other sports, saying, “When you think about all the other sports leagues with NFL on Thanksgiving, NBA on Christmas, this is our opportunity to run on Easter Sunday and drive a lot of momentum for our fans that are watching at home.”

But some drivers were not fond of that, including Joey Logano.

“Not a big fan of racing on Easter,” Logano said at the time. “I feel like that’s a very special day, a day that’s equally as big as Christmas, if not bigger, so I’m not crazy about it. I also understand where it makes a lot of sense for a sport to do it. But it’s different than other sports. When other sports compete on holidays, it’s a couple teams here and a couple teams there. This is 40 teams.”

Former Cup champion and current FOX Sports broadcaster Kevin Harvick said that it should be deemed successful only if TV ratings brought in staggering numbers. Obviously, TV ratings are an important ingredient to media rights, a crucial source of revenue for NASCAR and its teams.

To Harvick’s point, it doesn’t take much of a deep dive to determine that network executives played a major role in having a race on Easter. Most people are likely home on Easter, and there typically is not much competition during a prime time slot.

This year, NASCAR won’t have much direct competition when the race begins at 7 p.m. ET. The NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight games will take place at 2:20 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET. NBA games are either on local channels or NBA TV. MLB is the main competitor with the St. Louis Cardinals facing the Los Angeles Dodgers on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET. Yet, a potential race on Saturday was passed on by FOX in favor of the United Football League.

Viewership for the past two Easter races have brought in solid numbers, raking in over four million viewers in 2022 and 3.5 million in 2023. But those aren’t headline-toppling numbers, nor does it put an Easter race in the same category as the NBA on Christmas or NFL on Thanksgiving.

That draws me back to Logano’s point that NASCAR is not a stick-and-ball league, even with moves that have drawn the two closer together in recent years. NBA and NFL teams are not competing for nearly 10 months during the season, nor are they on the road all the time.

The elephant in the room concerning Easter relates to that ‘unwritten rule.’ It’s no secret that NASCAR has ties to Christianity, whether through its drivers, owners or the league office. It is still the only professional sport that holds an invocation prior to the event.

Personally, I am a Christian. Easter is my favorite holiday because of its meaning and what it means to me and many others on a personal level. At the same time, there has to be a recognition that there are many non-Christians who love racing as a fan or competitor, and anyone should be able to be a fan. Because of that, there is a humble appreciation for that invocation and gratitude that Richmond will be hosting an Easter service this weekend.

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Still, there are several Christian drivers and team members who would love to have that family time to focus on the meaning of Easter. Those traditional values were a huge part of building the fan base, and it’s still something that should be respected today.

Building off the family aspect, how many off weekends do the Cup teams get this year? Just two, and they happen to be back-to-back because of the Olympic break, a product of TV scheduling. As we learn more about the health effects of burnout and constant pressure, teams are deserving of at least an additional weekend to spend with their families and decompress. These drivers and their crews are gladiators, but they’re also humans. One off-week can do wonders in refreshing someone.

When it boils down to the core, we all love racing. There are going to be conflicts and disagreements, and these decisions affect many, many people, but we can all agree that we want the best for the sport. NASCAR has also done a valiant job to try to refresh things and not let staleness set in. Eventually, however, there has to be a line drawn between television ratings and the respect of the values of competitors, team members and fans.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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janice

excuse me ben kennedy…..easter is not like the other holidays, ie thanksgiving, christmas…..

yes there will be easter sunday celebrations at the track, but, in my opinion, it should be a regular non-race weekend, period!

there are quite a few drivers with young families. it needs to be a day that they have with their families.

no they should not be racing one easter sundau.

Drew

To my mind I think that NASCAR should be able to take some time off from racing and to be able to celebrate Easter with their families on Sunday.

wildcatsfan2016

I was surprised to see they had races scheduled this weekend and personally I don’t like it.

Laughing at your comment that NASCAR has tried to “refresh” things and not let them get stale? I think that is more a factor that they can’t figure out what to do to make things better. They just keep throwing things at the wall and hoping something will stick.

Last edited 19 days ago by wildcatsfan2016
DoninAjax

I think they throw their brilliant ideas at the ceiling hoping they don’t drop and hit them on their heads, which would explain a lot about their sticky problems. They should read the definition of insanity.

wildcatsfan2016

ha ha @DoninAjax, I agree with you. Maybe things would be better for the sport if some of their dumb ideas did hit them on the top of their heads. Of course one thing that could also help would be if they really understood what has gone wrong and stopped doing it. As you say, instead they keep repeating what they are doing, hoping for a different result.

jim

Ben you want to be like other sports, what a poor example. Easter Sunday night race….now fans ( the few that will be there) will have a late drive home.

Steve

The fact that the UFL game was more important to FOX than Nascar is all you need to know about the situation. I don’t think they should run at all on Easter, but if they must, it has to be on a Saturday so that the teams can spend Easter Sunday with their families. A Sunday night race is a joke. Grandstands will be empty and anyone who has to work on Monday won’t be watching the finish on TV. Makes too much sense to give them a week off, which is why Nascar won’t do it.

wildcatsfan2016

Agreed! The UFL game affects the schedule? Geez what a mess.

Ricky Jackson

Can’t find a Eric Little in the bunch living in a compromising day the love of money the root of all evil

Shayne

Add another “S” to NASCAR. There is no shortage running the show.

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