A Cup Race On Dirt? A Look At The Pros And Cons

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) returned to the Eldora dirt track, located near Rossburg Ohio, last Wednesday July 18th. for their sixth running of  the Eldora Dirt Derby 150. The race had its’ usual three and four wide racing that race fans have come to expect at Eldora. The race was won on the last lap by Chase Briscoe after narrowly beating his teammate Grant Enfinger to the finish line.

With that said, I encourage everyone to read the race reports and statistics by Eric Smith for the complete run down of the race.

The race once again concluded to rave reviews from the media and race fans alike for the fantastic show on dirt. And again the question was raised, “Why doesn’t NASCAR race the Monster Cup and Xfinity series on dirt?”  To date, NASCAR has not officially made any comment. There are many questions that need answers before NASCAR will commit to racing their top two series on dirt.

Today, NASCAR has the problem of empty seats and some TV ratings that are lowered. The track owners are concerned with empty seats and they want TV to whet the appetite of the TV race fan to get them to the track in the future. The loss of ticket revenue can be offset by TV revenue today, but what happens in the future? The TV production people are concerned with ratings and they want to produce the best production package that is possible. There is a change in how today’s TV viewer watches racing and there is an open debate on how to keep those viewers happy. My question is, will NASCAR on dirt be one of the answers to the many questions surrounding today’s NASCAR racing?

NASCAR has a rich history of dirt racing from its’ very beginning until the mid 1970’s when its’ Monster Cup series, better known then as the Grand National Series, stopped racing on dirt. Back then most of the race teams only had one race car. All they did was change their race set ups from asphalt to dirt and back to asphalt if needed. It was mostly a southeastern United States racing series with only a few super speedways. When NASCAR expanded outside of the southeast the dirt tracks fell out of favor when more modern speedways were being built.

At the same time the Midwest race fans were treated to  some great stock car racing on dirt by the United States Auto Club (USAC) and its’ strong stock car division. Back then everyone drove a real stock car that could be bought from a car dealership and turned into a race car. Both major series had nationally known race drivers that competed regularly on dirt. Both series also had a few drivers that crossed over to the other series to compete against each other too. Both series flourished because of this interaction and the race fans of that era were treated to a lot of great dirt track racing as a result.

Today, a modern stock car is no longer a real stock car, but a specially built race car that resembles a stock car. Most NASCAR teams have multiple race cars that are built to compete on a particular type of race track. They also have a supply of back up cars to replace the primary car in case that primary car is unable to race. At present there are no Monster Cup Series or Xfinity Series race cars built to race on dirt.

The big question is what kind of dirt track would be suitable to race Monster Cup or Xfinity Series on. We have seen what has happened at Eldora with the truck race. Tony Stewart, Eldora’s owner, has gone on record as wanting to host one of those two series. Many want Eldora to remain host to the trucks only and that the other two series would steal the limelight from the trucks.

To answer the question of a suitable dirt track there are some dirt mile race tracks that would be suitable. For many years the Auto Club of America (ARCA) has competed at the Duquoin and Springfield miles, both located in Illinois. They put on a great show and have proven that a major series can race on dirt. I have personally witnessed stock car racing on the Indy Mile located at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Again, the racing has to be seen in person to fully appreciate the racing action. All three are suitable for stock car racing.

Another concern would be the safety of the fans and the competitors alike. I’m sure that any track to be considered would have to meet all of the present day NASCAR safety standards. For some, that may be impossible because of the cost involved.

It has been suggested that the racing take place on a Wednesday evening such as the truck race. That would require a large local crowd as most people work and a mid week event may be a concern . The popularity of the event will dictate the travel plans of the spectators.

Presently there are more questions than answers and that is normal for auto racing. The caveat is that we have been spoiled by the great shows that the trucks put on. In reality dirt track racing is the same as all other auto racing. Dirt racing is more unpredictable than pavement racing, but it can also put on some boring shows. The great thing is the driver is more important in dirt racing than pavement racing.

NASCAR needs to try more things that are important to the race fans and not as important to the business side. They have lost many of their short track race fans and this may be one way to get them to return. Many of the present day NASCAR stars admit that their short track roots have contributed to their present day success. Only time will tell what the future of dirt track racing and NASCAR holds.

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