There is no doubt that NASCAR has a problem with its current tracks. Many tracks are getting stale and fans. As such, they have been more than vocal about it over the past few seasons. Now, NASCAR schedule issues have come into the limelight.
NASCAR Schedule Reform: It is Time to Address NASCAR’s Stale Tracks
NASCAR seems to have a love affair with a specific type of track: the 1.5 mile tri-oval. In fact, ten of thirty-six races take place on one of these tracks. Four of these races come in the Chase. This basically means that if a driver is good at 1.5 mile ovals, they have the best shot at winning the championship under the Chase format. There are a lot of these cookie cutter racetracks run by NASCAR. These include: Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte, Chicago, Kansas, and Kentucky.
Fans have been vocal that these tracks virtually identical in every aspect. They all race, feel, and look exactly the same. Very little uniqueness is on the NASCAR schedule nowadays. Sure there is Pocono, Daytona, and the road courses, but NASCAR has lost its sense of creativity. Instead, it has just started building clones of the same track in different cities across America across the NASCAR schedule.
Take a look at NASCAR’s largest competitor: Formula 1. This series has a compiled a list of tracks that are all unique in their own way. From the famous tight streets of Monaco, to the up and down hill nightmare that is Spa-Francorchamps. Finally, no F1 dream track list would be complete without mentioning the race track on an island: Circuit Gille Villeneuve.
Every Formula 1 circuit has different elevations, unique corners, long and short straights, and different elements of creative track building that NASCAR tracks lack. These tracks are meant to challenge each driver’s abilities and push the limits of the cars, tires and teams. Most tracks in NASCAR don’t require nearly as much skill to effectively master. However, that is not saying these tracks are easy by any means. It is just that NASCAR has lost their creativity with new tracks and has gotten stale. Now, fans are getting sick of it. When the biggest wow factor about your track is the there is a casino, mall and soccer stadium, within walking distance, there might be a small problem.
1.5 Mile Ovals
Looking at the 2016 Cup Series schedule it apparent that NASCAR loves 1.5 mile tri-oval tracks. With six of these tracks in the current schedule, and 10 races in total, it is clear that NASCAR has lost creativity. In fact, in the last 20 years, NASCAR has added only 1.5 mile ovals to their schedule. These are Las Vegas, Chicago, Kansas, and most recently Kentucky. These tracks are the reason why NASCAR has the stereotype of just being “rednecks driving around in circles all day”. These tracks are the closest thing to circles they can build. NASCAR has had a lot of great unique speedways in the past, but are sadly not in use anymore.
Here are some examples:
Nazareth Speedway – A .946 mile track with 5 corners.
Evergreen Speedway – A 5/8 of a mile track with high banked corner and long straightaways.
Nashville Superspeedway – A fully concrete 1.333 mile superspeedway where drivers are capable of high speeds and close racing, running basically wide open.
Rockingham Speedway – High banked corners gave this 1.017 mile track its challenging nature. It was also known for big flips and big crashes.
North Wilkesboro Speedway – A unique .625 mile track where the back stretch went uphill and the front stretch went downhill.
Walt Disney World Speedway – “The Mickyard”, as it was formerly known, was unique. It was a track similar to Pocono, but with the close quarter racing of Nazareth or Bristol. At 1.6 miles and with three corners all of seven to ten degrees of banking, it was a tough track to master
All these tracks were run by one of NASCAR’s top three premier series and sadly only Evergreen is still currently open for business. Fans loved these tracks back in the day. Rockingham and North Wilkesboro returns are at the top of NASCAR fans’ Christmas lists. Each of the tracks mentioned had something unique about them that most modern tracks don’t have anymore. The NASCAR schedule would be greatly improved by their reintroduction.
So what can NASCAR do to appease the fans and fix their track dilemma? Well, it seems that there is 2 group agreements among many fans.
Fans want to see more road courses in addition to Watkins Glen and Sonoma. With some of the top tracks mentioned being Road America, Virginia International Raceway, Circuit of the Americas, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Canada, Autodromo Hermanoz Rodriguez in Mexico, and Mid-Ohio. While some of these tracks do seem more plausible then others, it is without a doubt that fans want to see more right turns. Road courses offer a lot more challenges to the drivers, they push the race cars to their limits. Plus, they are the only NASCAR races able to be run in the rain.
Some of the tracks mentioned are being run in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series‘ and have produced some amazing races. Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Canada has been used by the Truck Series since 2013. It has produced three amazing finishes with two driver duels on the last lap. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was home the wettest race of 2016 where Justin Marks was able to hold off Bubba Wallace and win a rain-soaked race. Fans need more variety in their tracks, and they have shown the support for more road courses. It is up to Brian France to listen to their cries.
More short tracks and tracks with unique attributes. Short tracks and bullrings are the tracks that formed NASCAR’s roots. Tracks like Gateway Motorsports Park, Irwindale Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Iowa Speedway, and a return to Memphis Motorsports Park and the Milwaukee Mile have always been discussed among fans. Short Tracks like these ones were the heart and soul of NASCAR back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. They are relatable to so many fans because most NASCAR fans grew up watching races at their local short track or dirt track. The drivers beating and banging, and close, hard racing.
Many current Cup Series drivers grew up racing at local short tracks as well. Bristol is the closest thing the current schedule has to a bullring and it has always been very popular with fans. Not forgetting the track that is in the dreams of most fans to have the Cup cars race on it: Eldora. While Cup racing on dirt would be fun, it probably would not work anymore given the current build of the cars in 2017.
It is very clear that fans want more unique tracks and less of the standard cookie cutters. While tracks like Kansas and Texas can be fun to watch, it gets tiring when NASCAR goes to the same similar track every other week. Fans have gotten sick of NASCAR’s same old “build the same track in different states” mentality.
With NASCAR’s fan base growing all over North America, they now have the option to expand into Mexico and Canada. Two countries with many great racing circuits in them and a long history of motorsports. At the end of the day, NASCAR’s fan base is declining and fixing the NASCAR schedule is, unfortunately, only half the battle. Much more will need to be done to restore the sport, regain lost fans, and become the sport everyone knew and loved once more.