As I went walking through my files this morning, I came across this article that might be of interest. It was written on the day of a long awaited...or maybe that was "feared", press conference by BZF...during which he confirmed the death sentences for both the "Rock" and the Southern 500. He must have felt extremely "Important" that day. (It's perfectly OK with me if you mistakenly read that as "Impotent.")
This column originally would have dealt with the responses to last Monday’s article about the Star Spangled Banner, but in light of recent developments, that has been put on hold in order to bring you the following thoughts.
The news is out and it’s not good! This morning I watched the much-vaunted “announcement” by Brian France, trying to keep an open mind, since most of the content was already common knowledge anyway. Then, as a good journalist should, I took some time to get my temper back under control before attacking this keyboard. That didn’t work!
Already, my mailbox is filling up with letters from readers, and strangely, not one of them tells me how thrilled the writer is with Brian France’s plans to “grow the sport.” (One grows tomatoes or roses. One does not grow a sport.) By now, most of you are familiar with the content of the big announcement, but for the cave dwellers amongst us, here’s a capsule recap.
North Carolina Speedway aka The Rock is gone from the 2005 schedule. RIP Rockingham, we’ll miss you. The grand old Lady in Black, Darlington Raceway, has lost the fall date (You know, that little race we’ve known since 1950 as the Southern 500) and will run the spring race at night on Mothers’ Day weekend next year. (Yep, that should bring in record crowds) Bear in mind that Darlington’s fall race last year and the early race this year were filled to capacity. When questioned about that, Mr. France glibly mentioned that the size of the crowd was not sufficient. Darlington of course, like the Rock, is owned and operated by ISC (International Speedway Corp.), which is owned and controlled by the Family France. Can you say “planned obsolescence?”
The two dates freed up by that move will serve to settle that annoying little lawsuit out in Texas, since Texas Motor Speedway will indeed appear twice on next year’s schedule. That out of court settlement of course, spares NASCAR and ISC the embarrassment of having to produce their accounting ledgers in open court for the world to see. It’s funny really; I used to mistrust Bruton Smith, but that was back in the days of Big Bill France. Today I can almost applaud him for knowing exactly what screws to turn to bring down the third generation of that family.
The second open date will go to Phoenix International Raceway, another ISC owned track. Here, I believe, is where logic ends and fallacy begins. With apologies to the entire state of Arizona, PIR is one of the most boring races on the schedule, perhaps second only to New Hampshire International Speedway in sleep induction. Bruton Smith, Chairman of the Board of SMI (Speedway Motorsports Inc.) promised that if a second date were awarded to his Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he would rip out the flat surface on that one and a half-mile cookie cutter and repave it with graduated banking, as was done at Homestead-Miami last year with remarkably good results. Phoenix on the other hand, belongs as stated to ISC and no such changes will be in the offing.
The most devastating revelation of the morning, to my way of thinking, was the announcement (Not entirely unexpected) that Martinsville Speedway and all of its assets have been purchased by ISC. Knowing the love that Clay Campbell has for that pretty little track built by his grandfather, H. Clay Earles, there must have been some pretty fancy screw turning on that front as well. I wonder if it’s out of the realm of possibility to suppose that it came down to either sell or we’ll take away your dates. Putting on my Carnac hat for just a moment, I see elimination of at least one race from Martinsville in the future, even though it seats 100,000 and continues to grow and expand. The track lies tucked away in a beautiful area of Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but probably cannot deliver the capacity or the “image” of a track built in or near New York City, for example. If you haven’t yet realized that nothing is sacred anymore, this should do it for you.
Casually mentioned also, was the fact that the All-Star race would remain in Charlotte for 2005. Yawn! After the big announcement, France fielded questions from members of the media, but neatly sidestepped answering most of them directly. What I took away from that was another round of, “It is what it is.”
Following that was an interview with H. A. “Humpy” Wheeler, President of SMI and Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Sorry, but I’ve searched all the maps and there is no town in North Carolina called Lowe’s.) Humpy’s view of the future was enough to scare me to death. Within a few years, he sees the sport going not only continental (Canada and Mexico) but global in scope. Along with prognosticating that we’ll soon be seeing races in Europe and the Far East, he sees the cars of tomorrow as being a mix of Mercedes, BMW, all of the Japanese makes and I think he even tossed in Lamborghini. Well, isn’t that special! We’ll become F1 with fenders, unless they decide to remove those as well.
That’s pretty much what was said this morning, and I’m sure you’re clever enough to know that this writer is not particularly thrilled by any of it. I do give myself an “A” in self control though, because I resisted the urge to hurl my coffee cup through a perfectly innocent television screen. I have one last pearl of wisdom before I leave you today. Several times during the announcement and the questions that followed, France spoke glowingly of preserving the traditions and heritage of NASCAR, while continuing to “grow” the sport. I guess the traditions he was speaking of are long lines of traffic and exorbitant ticket prices.