Should NASCAR Go Back To Their Regional Roots?

By Brody Jones

If I have said it once, I’ve probably said it a billion times. NASCAR currently is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. For the want to expand into a global empire, the simple fact remains that no matter how many international drivers that NASCAR lures in from Formula 1 (or Formula Un as Jean Girard called it in “Talladega Nights”), it’s always going to have its roots firmly entrenched as a Southern sport, almost an NHL of the South, if you will. William Faulkner said many years ago about the South “You can’t understand it. You would have to be born there.” Such is the case on being a NASCAR fan in the South as well and why outsiders fail to grasp the reality that auto racing is a sport.
The efforts to expand to new markets and locales in the NASCAR hemisphere (I refuse to use the words “NASCAR Nation” as only the Oakland Raiders should be known as “Raider Nation”) have largely been a mixed bag. While race-starved markets like Iowa, Texas, and Kentucky have done well, other tracks have struggled to move tickets, namely Chicagoland, Kansas, California, Atlanta, and the Nashville SuperSpeedway. The attendance is so sparse at those venues that one has to wonder if they’re even worth holding races at? And efforts to go to Staten Island, the Pacific Northwest, and Mexico all were, more or less, total failures. As much as Brian France and Mike Helton, who once was quoted as saying “The old Southeastern redneck heritage that we had is no longer in existence.”, don’t want to admit this, NASCAR has been, and always will be, a predominantely Southern sport. So this begs the question “Does NASCAR need to go back to basics?”
Unfortunately, the issue is not that cut-and-dry for the Cup Series, which has, for better or worse, acquired something of an elitist mentality to it as they only race at the most modern facilities with all the current amenities, while actually enthralling close-quarter, side-by-side competition that NASCAR fans grew to love is tossed aside for fuel-mileage races few paying customers care about. For NASCAR to tell Sprint that we’re going back to the short tracks that built our sport would be marketing suicide because, as sad as it is to say, Sprint would likely either pull the plug on the series sponsorship or cut back their sponsorship money substantially if NASCAR chose to do this. So while, in theory, it would be nice to see the Cup series back at North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, the Nashville Fairgrounds, etc., it likely would never happen.
However, while it wouldn’t work for the Cup series, it could really pay handsome dividends for NASCAR on their AAA and AA levels of the sport in the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. Both series have a similar identity crisis right now as the Sprint Cup Series (perhaps worse in the Nationwide Series) and need some sort of shot in the arm to draw in new fans to their sport. Think about it, would it not be awesome to see the Fairgrounds, North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, Hickory, South Boston, and Bowman-GrayStadium back on the Nationwide schedule over these bland cookie-cutter tracks that few fans enjoy watching races at? And also, as something else to digest, would a full house of 15,000 fans at “The Madhouse” not look more impressive to NASCAR than 15,000 people at Atlanta? If you want the attention of fans, get the series to run at tracks where it’s not that difficult to draw a full-house.
While this thought process is currently just a pipe dream, wouldn’t it be nice to see NASCAR make some effort to restore their roots instead of trying to denounce them? Granted, the seating capacity is nowhere near as large as California, to use a baseball analogy, these bull-rings in the South have the kind of charm that consistently draws sell-outs at Fenway Park while these cookie-cutters are much like all the mega-parks that baseball built in the 1970′s. And one has to admit (even for an Orioles fan like myself), Fenway Park is unequaled in terms of being one of the most enchanting places to watch a baseball game. So, in conclusion, hopefully NASCAR will one day learn that bigger isn’t necessarily better. But until that day? One can dream, can’t they?