The Future Isn’t the Past

Texas Motor Speedway (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 4, 2018, 9:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Are you ready for a rewind?

NASCAR doesn’t race on Easter weekend. If such a word as tradition exists practically anymore, this one persists. Every informal, unscientific internet poll I’ve seen shows that the fans loved Martinsville, and I don’t question the legitimacy. Clint Bowyer’s surprising victory was a rousing spectacle. Perhaps it would have been beneficial to use the next weekend to build on that momentum, but if the race at Texas Motor Speedway had been last Sunday instead of next, it might have been one gigantic buzz kill.

An off week settles things down. One of the overlooked facets of sports is that everyone exaggerates everything. If Kevin Harvick wins three straight races, stories pop up with headlines such as:

Where Does Harvick Rank Among NASCAR’s All-Time Greats?

Kevin Harvick celebrates with his crew after winning at ISM Raceway on March 11. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Answer: It’s impossible to determine until Harvick’s career is over. He’ll make the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day, but, by then, its membership will be swelled far beyond even what it is now. Harvick is a very good driver who has had a very good career. He has time to achieve greatness. Every driver has a clock ticking, but no one knows how fast it tocks.

Martin Truex, the current champion, won in Fontana, setting off a short wave of “here we go again” that lasted up until Bowyer tamed Martinsville with the season’s second of many Cinderella stories to follow. The period since set off a wave of demands for more short tracks, and this summer will bring, along with its hurricanes, a demand for more road courses.

In evaluating the best path to the future, the people who half-populate the grandstands and media centers are at a distinct disadvantage in the prognostication racket. They don’t have to pay for it.

The most lavish, expensive, fan-friendly, interactive facilities in NASCAR are large tracks that were not built with cash on the barrelhead. They have debt service. They know the difference between one race and two. They know the difference in ticket and TV revenue, along with all the lesser revenues.

The answer isn’t shutting down tracks. The answer isn’t a once-great track lying dormant, such as the one in College Station, Texas, where thousands of cars damaged by Hurricane Harvey now reside.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The answer is making the racing at those tracks better. It was not always deemed moribund. Some of NASCAR’s more memorable events occurred at Charlotte Motor Speedway. One cannot go to races at Charlotte, Texas, Atlanta, Chicagoland, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Michigan, Fontana or Homestead without hearing the same refrain: You should’ve seen the races we used to run here.

I’ve always loved short tracks. I grew up watching races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Darlington is my favorite NASCAR track, but Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond queue up next in my mind’s line. I enjoy the road races more on TV than being there because it always annoyed me that I couldn’t see enough of what was going on to suit me.

I’m looking forward to Texas. I loved going there. It was an event as much as a race. Seldom have I failed to find something that interested me. Flamboyance wafts in the Texas breeze.

NASCAR keeps tearing down what it needs to build up, and my reference isn’t just to grandstands.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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