Move away from Lucas Oil Raceway creates controversy for NASCAR

Fans enter the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the100th anniversary of Indianapolis 500 auto race in Indianapolis, Indiana May 29, 2011. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT MOTOR RACING)

When the Kroger 200 wraps up later this month, it’ll be NASCAR’s 30th and final scheduled Nationwide Series race on Lucas Oil Raceway’s 0.686-mile oval. That’s because after 30 years of racing at LOR, NASCAR’s Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series won’t be back in 2012.

And NASCAR is starting to take some heat over the move.

Nationwide races will be moved to Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), but NASCAR isn’t even sure where the Truck Series will shift. The departure from Lucas Oil Raceway leaves the track with the NHRA’s Mac Tools U.S. Nationals as the only NHRA-owned event.

Wes Collier, general manager of Lucas Oil Raceway, thought that “this was a business decision between NASCAR and IMS and we’re left on the outside looking in.” He went on to say how, “we’re very disappointed in the decision.”

Collier insists that he and his staff were more than willing to do what they could to keep the race at ROL but that NASCAR didn’t make a proposal. It’s quite a blow for LOR and NASCAR in general, even if the racing giant doesn’t see it right now. Some media members believe that the decision to move the Nationwide Series to IMS has alienated the needs of fans and will make for poor racing.

Of course, others feel that change is good. The shift to a new venue could usher in excitement for the Nationwide Series and some drivers feel as though IMS would be a good sell in terms of sponsorship.

We’ll just have to wait and see how racing fans in Indiana respond next year. The good news is that a quick search of car insurance by state reveals that Indiana is one of the least expensive states in terms of car insurance. So at least they have that going for them, right?

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If NASCAR was hoping to acquire new blood, then Daytona 500 failed miserably

If someone were on the fence about whether or not to get into NASCAR, then Sunday’s Daytona 500 race provided enough reason to hop off and not think twice about leaving the sport behind.

If you thought NASCAR was boring when it’s just cars going around a track for three hours, try watching cars go around a track for three hours while also having a 2.5-hour intermission in between. Regular NASCAR fans could appreciate the racing that went on in between workers trying to fix a pothole on Turn 2 at the Daytona International Speedway yesterday, but if the sport was hoping to pick up new viewers then the “Super Bowl of racing” failed to deliver.

The Daytona 500 is regarded as NASCAR’s premier event. It’s the one race that is supposed to attract even the causal racing fan and considering it doesn’t have to compete against football for television viewers, it should be enough to attract new blood to the sport too.

But even the staunchest NASCAR fan would have to admit that Sunday’s Daytona 500 was a buzzkill. It should have been a monumental day for the race, with 21 different leaders (most ever at Daytona), 52 lead changes (third most at Daytona), and a winner in Jamie McMurray that led for only two laps (the fewest ever by a Daytona 500 winner). But with 80 laps remaining, a pothole emerged on the track causing two red flags to come out and 144 minutes of down time. A pothole killed an otherwise thrilling day of racing.

NASCAR remains one of those sports where you either love it or hate it. You have to go at least once to appreciate the noise and speed, but to actually get into the season and watch on a weekly basis NASCAR needs more action than what it got on Sunday. Granted, it was nobody’s fault that the track fell apart, although maybe somebody should have thought about repaving the damn thing after not doing so over the past 30 years. But if the Daytona 500 is the best NASCAR has to offer, then why would the semi-interested fan tune in next week?

True racing fans will always appreciate what the sport brings to the table – potholes or no potholes. But after yesterday, Joe Sports Fan probably won’t cry himself to sleep if he misses next weekend’s NASCAR event because the Daytona 500 probably did little to compel him.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

You’ve never experienced NASCAR until you’ve been driven around a track at 160 mph

I had never been to a NASCAR race before this past weekend. So you could imagine how blown away I was when I got to ride around Atlanta Motor Speedway at 160-plus mph with driver Brad Keselowski, watch Nationwide’s Degree V12 300 from the pits and then take in the Sprint Cup’s Pep Boys 500 from the grandstand.

When I was first invited to Atlanta as a guest of Degree V12, I didn’t know what to expect. When I told friends and family what I was about to embark on, the reactions ranged from excitement, to jealously, to flat out hatred that they didn’t have the same opportunity. (I’m pretty sure that one of my family members won’t be speaking to me at Thanksgiving dinner this year.)

On Friday, along with three other media members, I was taken to Atlanta Motor Speedway via a party bus. When we got there (the track seemingly appeared out of nowhere, which played into the ambiance of the experience), we were driven to the infield and immediately shown the media center. From there, we went to the pits and got suited up for what would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The people from the Richard Petty Driving Experience helped us get into our flameproof suits and helmets, which was definitely one of those moments in my life when I questioned what the hell I was doing. Brad showed up shortly thereafter and immediately asked with a smile, “Is anyone scared?”

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Cars crash at Talladega! Oh, and Brad Keselowski wins,0.jpg

With Talladega finished and Brad Keselowski the winner, people have started learning about the big crash, or the key term: “The Big One.” Take notes on that, there’ll be a quiz later. Of greater interest than the winner is of course the fact that a multi-car crash occurred. Jay Hart of Yahoo! Sports writes:

Seven people were injured Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, victims of the spectacular last-lap crash that saw Edwards’ 3,200-pound race car spiraling through the air, then slamming into the catch fence that separated him from fans only a few feet away.

That, not Brad Keselowski winning his first Sprint Cup Series race, is what will be remembered about the Aaron’s 499. Most who were there left the track ecstatic, even if Dale Earnhardt Jr. did wind up second, because they got to see the best race of the season.

But at what cost?

The injuries to the seven fans were said to be only minor, reportedly a broken jaw being the heftiest price paid. But as Edwards said, it’s only a matter of time before the price of admission goes up.

Since the instituting of restrictor plates at Talladega, each year has been one long wait for someone to make a mistake and send tons of shrapnel and drivers flying into the Alabama sun. The idea behind these restrictor plates is, obviously, to restrict the maximum speed available to those on the track. Since no one can maintain a clear mechanical advantage, it’s a race of pure skill, and luck.

I can see the obvious benefits of this: it’s exciting, the media attention is always greater following a big crash, and it makes for great photos. NASCAR has been in some sore need of that attention lately. As gasoline prices have continued to rise and attendance has dropped, things have been getting tighter off the track too.

But what’s the answer here? If the plates were taken off, though crashes might not be quite so large, they could be much more violent for the few involved. The idea behind of the specific speed calibration is to keep cars from sky-rocketing if turned sideways at 220MPH. I would not like to have a 3,200lb car land on me, potentially crushing my beer, pelvis, face, and corn dog.

I suppose I’m not smart enough to revolutionize the sport today. It’s important that these kind of issues remain in the public eye though, because someone in NASCAR needs to start considering a third option not previously discussed here. Someone who’s not busy watching something else.

DVD review: The Ride of Their Lives (NASCAR)

CMT and Paramount video entertainment released a historical perspective DVD last Tuesday entitled The Ride of Their Lives, which chronicles NASCAR from its early southern roots in the 1950’s to its corporate juggernaut status of today. The pioneers of auto racing are brought to life through the words and memories of the men and women who were a part of the early days of NASCAR.

This documentary follows the evolution of racing through archival footage of NASCAR’s first 60 years in business and also documents the technological transformation that has occurred in the sport. Long-time fans will have the opportunity to reminisce once again about the days when racing cars had the same look and feel of the automobiles that were sold at their local dealerships. It was a time when drivers repaired their own vehicles without the assistance of a pit crew.

NASCAR is a way of life for some of the drivers as racing has been a part of their families’ lives for generations. This DVD gives an in-depth look at the history of the Petty, Allison, and Earnhardt families and delves deep into each family’s personal tragedies that have taken place throughout the years. You will also hear an emotional account of the life of Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR driver and the gut-wrenching story of Tim Richmond who died from complications of the AIDS virus in 1987.

And no racing documentary would be complete without a video montage of spectacular car crashes. My favorite was a still picture collage of an on-track fistfight between the Allison brothers and Cale Yarbrough. It serves as a great example of how tempers can flare up when drivers are jockeying for position at high speeds with a large amount of money at stake.

Racing fans throughout the country are gearing up to converge on Daytona Beach, Florida this weekend to attend NASCAR’s equivalent to the Super Bowl — The Daytona 500 — so the DVD’s release is timely. And the interview with former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr., where he recollects the early days drivers racing on the local Daytona beaches (prior to the speedway being built), will get fans primed for the big race.

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