Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bruton Smith attempts to fix a self-inflicted problem with Bristol

As with many changes in the world of NASCAR during the past decade, the 2007 reconfiguration of Bristol Motor Speedway turned out to be a flop.

The World’s Fastest Half-Mile and host of two of the most anticipated races of the Sprint Cup Series season went from the role model of all short tracks to a wanna-be speed track.

Instead of the one-groove, beat-and-bang racing that made the track famous, the reconfiguration turned the track into a short version of nearly half of the tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Drivers could suddenly run side-by-side lap after lap. That was unheard of prior to 2007. If a driver didn’t hold the bottom of the track, he got freight-trained and sent to the back.

Now, not all fans hate the new version of the track and not all fans loved the old version. Even back in Bristol’s glory days when races were nearly sold out years in advance, some people complained that it wasn’t “real racing” just as they complain that restrictor-plate racing isn’t “real racing.”

The same can be said for the two road courses on the schedule. Some people think NASCAR should add more to the schedule and others never want to see a stock car on a track that doesn’t exclusively have left turns. Whatever real racing is, some people don’t like anything that is different.

In any case, it looks like track owner Bruton Smith is going to finally do something Monday Morning Crew Chief suggested a year ago in this story and put Bristol back the way it was before the repave. Smith has said he will use $1 million to fix the track. What can $1 million do to change a track? Only Smith and his cohorts know the specifics of that, but it is sounding like the progressive banking has seen its last race.

Unfortunately, NASCAR has caused or dealt with many changes in the past decade that many fans wish would be put back as they were previously.

Daytona International Speedway had to be repaved for the start of the 2011 season. The pothole during the 2010 Daytona 500 proved that. But, both the repaves at Daytona and Talladega produced two-car drafts that at times made for tame restrictor-plate racing, which was something many people didn’t think was possible.

All of a sudden the fans spoke out that they didn’t like the new drafting style and NASCAR worked to make the racing more like the old, big packs that made restrictor-plate races thrilling. Even then, most fans heard way more about how the cars cooling systems work than they ever cared to know. Plus Speedweeks felt like one huge test session because nobody knew how the races would look.

Fans also got NASCAR to remove the rear wing from the new Cars of Tomorrow and bring back the traditional spoiler. There have been several other examples throughout the decade of fans wanting a change to some aspect of the sport. NASCAR has addressed some, and left others such as the Chase format alone.

The sport has to change to some extent. That’s the way of the world, especially the car world. New cars come out every year with new innovations incorporated into the new model.

It is interesting, however, that most of the recent changes have been to return the racing back to how it was before a particular change was made. Even the 2013 Cup models are an attempt to return the look of the cars back to some semblance of the corresponding passenger car, as they were back in the day.

Now, whether Smith can bring back Bristol the way it used to be remains to be seen, but sometimes the best change is the one not made. That would saved several of the sport’s controversies during the last decade.


  1. People need to understand that Nascar is not as popular as it once was and I don't think Bristol will ever sell out regardless of how exciting the racing is for fans. Why is 100,000 people at a race now all of a sudden a bad thing? I think getting sellouts at these over built facilities on a regular basis is a pipe dream now.

    Bruton can do whatever he wants with that track, but it isn't going to get sellouts anymore. Nascars wave in popularity is gone. Its time to accept reality and accept that 100,000 people is a good crowd.

  2. And why would NASCAR not be as popular as it once was? What causes a fad to rise and fall? NASCAR got popular because of the men who pioneered the sport and the exciting racing it once produced. It didn't "just become unpopular" overnight. It's because of the six zillion changes Brian France has incorporated since 2004. 3 Different chase formats, a new points system, dreadful new cars...etc. Turning the drivers into generic product placements...the fans aren't stupid and they know a fake when they see it. "NASCAR's wave in popularity is gone" is a true statement, because it was self inflicted by the bozos running the sport....not because NASCAR all the sudden "got lame" overnight.

    If they take the tackle away in Football, and millions of fans leave...would we say that "football was just a fad?" Or could we attribute some poor decision making as the leading cause for it's decrease in popularity?

    1. My point is that as much as I still love NASCAR and want to see the sport gain the momentum it had, they need to get NASCAR feeling like it's good ol' self again, and not like a shell of what it used to be. You look at NASCAR today and it feels like a cheap knock off of what it used to be...and that's where the problem lies. Imagine the NFL changing all their team names and jersey colors....imagine the superbowl being a best out of 3 instead of winner takes all....people will not take change very well and will leave as a result. NASCAR is no different, yet the powers that be feel like the fans are going to buy into every gimmick they throw our way, and they're learning the hard way that's no longer the case. If Bristol get's reconfigured back to the old way, then Brian France could take a major hint from all this....don't screw with it if it ain't broke.

  3. The problem with the whole deal is it they forgot what made the fans be so loyal. What made fans be loyal was you knew what to expect: The drivers were genuine, they basically drove for the same manufacturer year after year, same sponsor, same number, and etc. Now how can the fans have any loyalty to anything. The drivers personality is fake, they change teams, they change sponsors, they change numbers and the list goes on and on. Nobody really gives a damn anymore because of it.

  4. Eric Dawalga - Totally agree. Rockingham is back on the Truck Series schedule this year. That is a step in the right direction, hopefully the new 2013 car models are, as well.

    Anonymous - Unfortunately the sport also priced itself out of some popularity. Moreso in sponsorship requirements than even ticket prices. I'm not sure we'll return to single company sponsorships even if the economy improves.