Saturday, April 14, 2012

This April weekend spotlights NASCAR’s two worlds

As 43 Sprint Cup Series and 43 more Nationwide Series cars sped around Texas Motor Speedway on Friday and Saturday night, NASCAR fans were treated to big-league stock car racing in the 21st Century.

When 36 Camping World Trucks Series trucks take the green flag Sunday at Rockingham Speedway, fans will once again experience racing as it was in the 20th Century. Well, besides the fact that it will be trucks and they will race under a few different rules than in the old days at the Rock.

For the first time in nearly a decade, NASCAR will be able to embrace the rich excess of the 2000s while at the same time pay tribute to the good ‘ol Southern racing fans loved from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Texas Motor Speedway, the site of the Cup and Nationwide races this week, is a track that sums up just about everything that has changed in NASCAR since it last raced at Rockingham Speedway in 2004.

Texas is a big, 1.5-mile oval that can seat more than 190,000 people in one of the largest metropolitan markets in the country, sitting just outside of Dallas. Rockingham is a small track slightly more than one mile in length that seats 34,500 and lies in a town with a population less than 10,000 people.

Texas Motor Speedway opened in 1997 on a huge, flat open piece of land that is about as scenic as the parking lot at a mall. Rockingham Speedway opened in 1965 and sits in the hills of southern North Carolina.

NASCAR’s roots are in those hills in North Carolina, but its money is now in places such as that open space near Dallas. About the only similarity between the two tracks is neither has been repaved in the last five years.

When NASCAR left the Rock in 2004, it was the first year of NASCAR’s new title sponsorship with NEXTEL, a telecommunications company that has since morphed into Sprint. It was also the first year of the Chase, NASCAR’s oft-debated playoff system.

For many, 2004 was the beginning of the new modern era. Sure, the changes were coming years in advance, but NASCAR took the path of the future when it reached the 2004 fork in its history.

The sport went from a Southern passion sponsored by tobacco company Winston to a nationwide sport that tweets, competes in huge cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City and is sponsored by a telecommunications company.

The changes in the sport in the last eight years will surely show up Sunday during the truck race. That will be the first NASCAR race at Rockingham to feature double-file restarts, wave-around cars and lucky dogs. Shoot, if we’re lucky maybe there will even be a debris caution.

However, when the trucks fire up on that crowded pit road at the Rock, it will mark another important time in NASCAR’s history. For years now, many fans have felt pushed aside as NASCAR charged into larger and larger markets with shiny new racetracks that ended up all looking the same.

Now it will be those fans’ turn to enjoy a slice of what made them racing fans in the first place. As in the old days, tires will probably be at a premium and the chances of a fuel-mileage finish are incredibly low considering most of the drivers will be seeing one of the toughest tracks in the country for the first time.

In any case, this weekend offers something for everybody. The NASCAR on FOX Digger generation can enjoy the races at Texas Motor Speedway while the generation that remembers not having races on television can enjoy NASCAR’s return to Rockingham Speedway.

Let’s hope this is just the start of similar weekends that can take fans down the memory lane side of the fork in the road.


  1. Here is what I know about the Texas race ...Nothing ...For the first time in over a decade I just decided the hell with Nascar. I have equipment I need to install in my studio. I have some music to edit. Basically I have better things to do with my time.

    I've been a racing fan since the 1950's and here is my new theory .... If France and Helton can't be bothered to show up at all the races ..... Why should I bother to fatten their wallets by watching. Let their ratings tank.

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