Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Happened To You NASCAR?

What happened to you NASCAR? You used to so cool. It wasn't that long ago that we had a NASCAR circuit. We had Antioch, Watsonville, Merced, San Jose and even Baylands for the dirt track racers.

Okay, it's been a little over 20 years since we had all of that. Has it really been that long? Where does the time go?

As it came to a close, the legacy that Bob Barkhimer started had Antioch, Watsonville and San Jose. We know the rest of the story. When the contract was up at Antioch, a new promoter won the bid and elected to leave NASCAR. San Jose closed within the next couple years and Watsonville left next.

As the 90's were coming to a close, NASCAR had 100 tracks and a very nice Regional point system. So, what happened? Obviously, there was a reason that all of these tracks left.

It's really very simple. NASCAR no longer cared enough about these tracks to try and make it work. Oh sure, there are some tracks left, but it's not anywhere near where it once was.

Times have changed. Let's take a look back.

In the 40's, Northern California had BCRA. Why does that matter? You know that "Hall Of Fame" that BCRA has? Well, Barkhimer, Bert Moreland, Jerry Piper and John Soares are all in there. They got their start with BCRA.

Before NASCAR was the big deal, it was BCRA. They sanctioned Midgets, as they still do today, and the legendary Hardtops. They sanctioned several tracks.

When "Barky" and Piper left, they founded the CSCRA and started sanctioning races themselves at many tracks. In fact, there were over 20 at one time. During the early 50's, the CSCRA and BCRA sanctioned just about everything and you could race about every day of the week and sometimes twice in a day.

Barkhimer met with Bill France Sr. and soon brought his tracks into NASCAR. You might say he brought California into NASCAR. That's not just the tracks for the big tour that became the Nextel Cup that we know today, but those little short tracks where the racing dreams are born.

Promoters like Soares and Moreland helped it grow in those early days. There was a Hardtop circuit and a Super Modified circuit, and drivers competed up and down the state.

It's my belief that it's these little Friday and Saturday night tracks that helped make NASCAR who they are, and Bill France and Bill France Jr. knew that. Not everybody could attend a Cup race or be a competitor on the circuit, but they could do the next best thing and go to their local NASCAR track. It mattered.

The golden age continued through the 80's, but things would decline from there. Why did it have to happen.

For several reasons, really.

For one thing, the sanctioning fees weren't getting any cheaper. After a while, promoters began to wonder if the cost was really worth it. It's not as if that many drivers at any track were reaping the benefits.

Plus, the Winston sponsorship was gone by the late 90's, and that sponsorship paid the point funds for the Regional point races.

Also, NASCAR was shifting it's emphasis to running more night races for it's top two series. This move has not been a good one for short track America.

It's my opinion that NASCAR has lost touch with its roots. It's kind of like the man who dated and even married a supportive woman. She is there for him, helping him achieve his dreams, and when he does, he leaves her for another woman.

The short tracks deserved better than that.

Now, I'll be the first one to admit I've been a critic of NASCAR through the years, but you'd be a fool not to realize what that banner flying over the race track meant.

Just the fact that it was NASCAR and part of the Weekly Racing Series made it special. It gave it more meaning to fans and racers. It's hard to explain why. It just did.

Universal rules. A driver knew that the Street Stock or Late Model they had was legal at the other tracks. It was track unity.

Getting promoters these days to agree on anything is next to impossible it seems. But it happened under NASCAR. Barky made it happen, and those in charge after him still kept it going for years until it started falling apart in the 90's.

The Regional points gave top drivers the opportunity to compete against other top drivers in their region and across the country for bigger championships.

There's also the insurance. NASCAR had a top notice insurance policy for the racers.

Also, the possibility of appealing official decisions to NASCAR. Sometimes mistakes are made, and it was nice to have the option to go to the people at the top for a second look.

All of that is gone, and I can't help but wonder why it had to happen. I think greed had something to do with it. I'm not pointing any fingers, but I will say if NASCAR wanted it to stay together, they could have found a way.

Will we ever get it back?

It's hard to say at this point, but it doesn't look like it.

Oh sure, people will point to other organizations, such as IMCA. I don't want to offend anybody, but it's not the same. It just isn't, and it never will be anything close. It's not that they are bad either, so don't think I'm saying that. There are a lot of things I could say about IMCA, good and bad, but at least they are there.

But, NASCAR could have it all if they wanted it. They could put it back together.

You have the top three touring series on TV. The Regional touring series are still there, but the weekly short track program is lacking.

Why does it mater? For the reasons I have laid out here, but it would be good for NASCAR in the long run too. Short track racing is important to the health of the sport, plain and simple, and NASCAR should care about that. Fans of the local tracks become fans of the product on TV too and loyal supporters.

Not everybody can make it to a Cup race and not every racer will make it their either. But they can be a star at the local level and do it under a NASCAR banner. It can be profitable for both the track and NASCAR if it's done right.

I'm of the opinion NASCAR would need to appoint people to positions for the Weekly Racing Series and set up offices in several areas to help oversee the regions. The goal would need to be to lure tracks back into the fold.

I'm sure cost of sanctioning would be a concern, luring sponsorship money, ascertaining what divisions are viable for sanctioning and that sort of thing. If they wanted to do this, they could.

But, it's probably a pipe dream. Most of the leaders who made it happen before are no longer with us, and I'm just not so sure there is that type of leadership anymore. I suppose you never know, but it seems like there are too many who are out for themselves and not enough wanting to play for the team.

It's a shame. The sport will continue. Though tracks will continue to close, others will survive, and the show will go on. It could be so much better.

I feel for racing fans today, especially the newer ones. If they think things are great now, they would absolutely love the sport 20 or 30 years ago.

But, who knows? Anything is possible. As long as people still have places to go racing, anything is possible.