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Is The Future of NASCAR in Leagues?
By Jan Bazen

Can you imagine a Winston Cup race without Jeff Gordon? What about Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace, the Labonte's or the Burton's? You can go through the whole list of regular Winston Cup drivers and if you are like me, I can't imagine everyone not racing together except in a case of an injury or illness. Well, according to an article that appeared January 15, 2002 in the Raleigh News and Observer entitled "NASCAR drives toward expanding its horizons" by Rupen Fofaria, that is exactly what NASCAR is considering.

Mike Helton was quoted as saying that the sanctioning body has spent a great deal of time discussing how to expand upon NASCAR's growth. One way Helton mentioned was splitting Winston Cup into two leagues, for example the American League and the National League. Helton refused to give any details on how this would occur but stated that splitting into leagues would allow NASCAR to "create a bigger pie" by allowing more races to be held in more cities during the year. Bruton Smith, who heads up Speedway Motorsports, suggested this could be done by ranking the star drivers and then dividing them evenly between the two leagues. The tracks with more than one race date could be guaranteed to have every star driver at least once during the year. I wonder who decides who the "star drivers" are and who does the ranking?

This all seems to be boiling down to economics and as Helton was quoted as saying, "building bigger pies". The older and smaller tracks are in the southeast and most have two race dates a season. Often they do not sell out their races. The larger and newer tracks are mainly west, can seat many more fans and are considering creating waiting list for fans wanting tickets because the races always sell out. Some of the newer tracks are only slotted one race per season. The example was used that 60,000 seat Darlington brings in an estimated $85 million vs. the $130 million at Texas Motor Speedway that seats twice as many fans. A $45 million difference that is not easy to ignore. These figures come from a marketing analyst report by Bear Stearns, an investment bank, that was released last summer on NASCAR's potential growth. On paper, I can see the dilemma that NASCAR is facing. However, it was also reported that International Speedway Corporation (ISC) that owns and operates 12 of the 23 major tracks and is run by the France family, reported a record net profit of $57.8 million for the first nine months of the fiscal year.  That's double what it made in the same period in 2000. So how big does the pie need to get?

Another remark included in the Bear Stearns report that disturbed me was that as the demand for stock-car racing grows outside the southeast, this is no time to be concerned with "personal bonds and long-standing relationships". I know business is business, but that sounds pretty cut-throat to me. Where do loyalties stop and economics take over? It is not like NASCAR is getting ready to go bankrupt.
So some changes do need to be made, but what is the answer? Is splitting into leagues the only way to keep up with NASCAR's growing popularity? I have a hard time with this solution because for fifty years NASCAR has been one big family. Splitting into leagues would be like splitting up the family, problem being there probably wouldn't be any family reunions for everyone to get together except for maybe the award ceremony.
At the same time, I cannot see closing down smaller tracks like Darlington, Rockingham or Martinsville. They are too much a part of the history and heart of NASCAR.

The race season is already 40 weeks long and the drivers and crews complained about how difficult it was to maintain the harrowing schedule. So, expanding the season any further does not seem to be a viable solution either. The only other solution would be to take a race event from tracks that have two dates and split the dates among the newer tracks out west.

I am sure any answer NASCAR derives will be a difficult decision to make. I am also sure that there is no way to make a decision that will be acceptable to everyone. We, as fans, can only hope that the decision will be made in the best interest of the sport, that loyalty is taken into consideration and the decision not be based upon economics in its entirety.

email Jan Bazen

Jan is an RN who lives on the North Carolina coast with her husband, three children and her dog. When not watching or reading about Nascar,  she enjoys fishing...any kind of fishing.  She enjoys gardening and reading.  Although Jan is new to the sport of Nascar, she was exposed to Nascar from the early, tender age of 5 by her older brother, Fred, who has always been a diehard Nascar fan. Jan welcomes any comments or opposing views.  You can contact her by clicking on the North Carolina tag above.

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2002 Car Guy of Benchfield
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