Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Top U.S. Markets in Need of a NASCAR Track

Did You Notice?… NASCAR remains committed to bringing racing back into downtown Nashville? News surfaced this week Speedway Motorsports is continuing efforts despite a new mayoral administration to fund a redevelopment of the old Fairgrounds track. Last raced on by the NASCAR Cup Series in 1984, the .596-mile oval recently hosted SRX and remains active with local racing divisions.

It’s worth noting NASCAR already has implanted itself back in the region with 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway, although that track is a good 35-40 minutes outside the city in a town called Lebanon, TN. Still, the lobbying continues, a push for SMI to reconnect with one of the sport’s iconic tracks despite large swaths of the country that remain without a major stock car race in their backyard.

As the sport embarks on a new chapter next season, from its TV package to a likely new agreement with Cup race teams, it’s an opportunity to explore new places NASCAR could head in the coming decade. There’s been talk the sport might go international again, with rumors of a race in Montreal building up steam before ultimately coming short of fruition in 2024. Now, there’s rumblings of a return to Mexico City, where the sport’s Xfinity Series once raced in the late 2000s.

That said, there’s plenty of American markets starving for attention, major media markets devoid of a NASCAR event. And with the sport tinkering successfully with both an exhibition inside a Coliseum (L.A.) along with a street race (Chicago), there are now more options than ever to take stock car racing across the country.

With that in mind, here’s five places I’d love to see NASCAR expand to, in order of their importance to growing the sport over the next decade. Keep in mind we’re having a little fun in terms of speculation; just because a city is tops on the list doesn’t mean the sport is in serious discussions about going there. But these are all markets that should all be under consideration within the next 10 years if the sport is serious about growing their brand, touching areas where the sport has not yet made a major impact.

New York City

The top media market in the country has long been a crown jewel coveted by the France family. When they moved the season-ending banquet to the renowned Waldorf Astoria hotel in 1981, it was an “I made it” moment as NASCAR found itself implanted into downtown Manhattan. Suddenly, stock car racing was within an arm’s length of the hubs of so many Fortune 500 companies they needed for big-time sponsorship.

“We’re not intruding here,” Darrell Waltrip said in his 1981 acceptance speech. “We belong here.”

But Staten Islanders felt differently at the height of NASCAR’s popularity, resistant after the Frances purchased land on the island with the intent of building a 3/4-mile short track. The $110 million purchase in 2004 would have cemented racing in the northeast with plans for a 82,500-seat, first-class facility built on a 675-acre site.

It never came to fruition. A contentious public meeting in April 2006 ended with a supporter literally putting a city councilman in a headlock trying to wrest the microphone away. By the summertime, public support for the proposition was at an all-time low; the plan was abandoned by the end of the year.

Ever since, the closest tracks to NYC have been at least a two-hour drive away: Pocono Raceway to the west and Dover Motor Speedway to the south. That’s not exactly connecting to fans that need to be lured toward the product the way the L.A. Coliseum reeled fans in: pop culture (see: a halftime concert) and putting the racing literally in their backyard.

Manhattanites can’t stand roads being shut down for any reason: NASCAR burnouts in Time Square were more irritating then attention-grabbing for locals before the banquet moved out of town after 2008. Could they do it in Brooklyn? The borough’s Red Hook neighborhood has played host to Formula E Racing although there were complaints about the quality of racing and distance to nearby transportation hubs.

You wonder if MetLife Stadium, home to the NFL’s Giants and Jets, could somehow host something? It’s over the bridge in East Rutherford, N.J. but close enough for people within the NYC hub to travel to. Either way, finding a foothold and a strategy that works could be crucial during a time primary sponsorship is coming tougher to come by. It’s easy to woo executives in their own backyard…

Seattle

Speaking of Fortune 500 companies, what about the home of Amazon, scheduled to start televising NASCAR races on its Prime platform come 2025? It’s incredible America’s 13th-largest media market has only one NASCAR-sanctioned track within the entire state of Washington: .625-mile Evergreen Speedway, situated 30 miles northeast of Seattle.

The track hosted Craftsman Truck Series races from its inaugural year in 1995 through the end of the 2000 season. Since then, the entire Pacific Northwest has been devoid of oval racing for any of the sport’s top three series; a NASCAR Xfinity Series trip to the road course in Portland, Ore. is the closest anyone gets.

Despite the scarcity of racing, Washington has produced its fair share of successful Cup drivers over the years: Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne immediately come to mind. There’s a fan base willing to grow and support a track; the issue has always been NASCAR committing the money to build there.

Denver

The Rocky Mountains is another area devoid of major NASCAR competition. Denver supports all four of the stick-and-ball sports, from baseball to hockey, but has never played host to a Cup Series event. Pikes Peak International Raceway once held a handful of Xfinity Series races, about 90 minutes south of Denver, but that’s about it.

Officials once had bigger plans for the area, envisioning a track in nearby Aurora during the 1990s not all that dissimilar to what they planned to do in Staten Island. However, just like in NYC, politicians and city council members opposed those plans, forcing the sport to go the Pikes Peak route before abandoning Colorado altogether after 2005.

That doesn’t mean the area is devoid of NASCAR support. Furniture Row Racing based their center of operations there, growing from a fledgling single-car Cup team in the late 2000s into a championship operation with Martin Truex Jr. in 2017. While Barney Visser exited the sport shortly thereafter, FRR left an imprint on the market, strong enough to employ a full-time reporter following the No. 78 team’s every move.

Baltimore

Most people might go, “Why not pick Washington, D.C.?” It’s because the city is within a two hour’s drive to Richmond, a short track that in theory could one day produce quality racing once again.

Baltimore is a little closer to NYC and areas like eastern Ohio and West Virginia devoid of any major NASCAR facilities. They’re also familiar with the concept of street racing, holding the Baltimore Grand Prix from 2011-13 that surprised potential critics with weekend attendance that surpassed 150,000.

I was doing some sports work on the side in Baltimore back then and it was impressive to see a city that didn’t know all that much about racing fall in love with an event that took over the majority of downtown for months. NASCAR would be another beast altogether but it’s a community that’s been through it and might not throw up the type of opposition we’ve seen in some of these other major cities officials have approached.

Look here for the old track layout, which featured much of its Inner Harbor by the water along with Camden Yards, the best stadium in town and home to Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.

Houston

I’ll finish up here with a stat people might not know: Houston is the sixth-largest media market in the country. It just barely trails Dallas-Fort Worth, where the Cup Series heads this weekend to much-maligned 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway.

It feels like NASCAR racing in Texas hasn’t done all that well in 2024. Circuit of the Americas left much to be desired, a track that feels too long and wide for stock car racing to take hold long-term. And the problems with TMS are well documented, rumors swirling the track may soon undergo a major renovation in order to improve competition.

So maybe it’s a third-time’s-the-charm type of deal? Some sort of race in Houston, either a street race or a new track would open the sport up to fans on the eastern part of the state and Louisiana. New Orleans would be five hours away (driving distance for NASCAR faithful there) and tap into a market that hasn’t seen a Cup race since Bobby Allison won at the old half-mile Meyer Speedway back in 1971.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…

  • Bubba Wallace may not have led a lap at Martinsville Speedway Sunday but he took a big step: fourth was the first top-five finish at a short track in his NASCAR Cup career. 12th in points, Wallace’s three top-five finishes through eight races are just two short of his career high. Feels like this team is on the verge of a breakthrough spring and summer if they could only get their pit crew problems figured out.
  • Martinsville Xfinity winner Aric Almirola looks and sounds reborn driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. You wonder, under the right circumstances, whether he would consider a full-time run in 2025 and go for the NXS championship. That’s what some of these lower series are missing, a better mix of drivers like Almirola and modern day Elliott Sadler types willing to turn a mediocre Cup career into a successful one by dropping back down.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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DoninAjax

In POINTS. Bubba is behind the 19, 11, 54, 45, and 20 in a six car team.

Echo

Wonder how he missed that. I was going to point out bubba now races for JGR.

wildcatsfan2016

I live in the New York metro area. NASCAR tried to permit a track on Staten Island I think some years ago. It was a no-go. Getting people to and from a track with the traffic congestion that exists on a normal weekend day would be an absolute catastrophe. Some of the other cities you mention might have interest but there are plenty of tracks many of which do not sell out. NASCAR needs to get their act together first and produce an entertaining and compelling product first.

CCColorado

Bravo for the Denver plug!
We would love a race, and would give it great support.
Back in the day we had a couple CART Indy car races on a street course. It was great, but whinney businesses and a bad promoter spelled doom.
Then a stupid mayor thought all fans camped out in tents and cars , regaled against the track vote , fearing “bums” would be swarming the events, so that vote failed.
Plus some underhanded stuff from that “other” track sabotaged any chance of a new track being built.
NASCAR, please give us a second chance!

Echo

Washington State. Take a look at a topo map of the state. You have mountain passes to the east of Seattle and Olympic peninsula to the west. Get away from the Seattle area and you don’t have a big enough city to draw people in. Unless you count Spokane but I don’t see big crowds there. Do you realize how much it rains in the Seattle area!

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