NASCAR TOURING SCHEDULES – YOU THINK IT’S EASY? by Bob Dillner
NASCAR’s Don Hawk Talks Exclusively with Speed51 Regarding 2005 Schedules
My Mom always used to tell me, “Don’t criticize something until you know all the facts.” Or how ‘bout this one, “Don’t knock it until you try it.” I bet you’ve heard that one a thousand times. I’m sure whomever coined the latter statement (and I’m sure my Mom wasn’t the first to use it) probably wasn’t talking about putting together racing schedules, but it certainly does apply. Problem is, if any of us regular folk ever really tried to put all the nuts and bolts together for a touring racing series, we may never want to do it again.
or a Modified race and guarantee the purse.’ There is a lot of misconception about who pays the purse. Well, the purse is paid by the racetrack. And the purses have become so large; too large for some tracks to stomach.”
NASCAR’s purses per race for its Elite and Grand National Divisions range from a low of $29,000 to a high of $125,000. And while purse structures have certainly not matched the rise in the cost of racing itself during the past few decades, tracks have seen the rise and fall of the economic rollercoaster themselves. Expenditures have gone up for them too while attendance has either stayed the same or, in some cases, declined as track operators battle other forms of entertainment provided by society today.
“In years gone by, a short track in Iowa or New York could bring a short track series to their track and they would make a killing financially,” states Hawk. “Now they’re battling so much more. And if there’s bad weather, they are wondering how much am I really going to lose?
“It doesn’t make a difference if the purse is $10,000 or a $110,000; if it is raining that day and the race is called halfway through, then they have a $100,000 headache.”
So when putting together a Touring Series season, it has to make sense for a track to agree to schedule one of NASCAR’s Grand National, Elite or Modified division races.
“It wouldn’t hurt for the competitors to understand, NASCAR doesn’t pick a date when a racetrack should run a race. In 90 percent of the cases, the racetrack picks the date that is best for their financial model, best for their schedules; best so that it doesn’t conflict with anything that is happening in their community.
“When you start talking about March or April in some parts of the country, tracks are scared to death to touch it for fear of rain in one part of the country and snow in another part.”
Case in point, NASCAR’s Busch North Series opener. When the schedule was first released, the opening date for the series was June 12th at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. That has since been changed to May 15th at Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire, but it was a struggle for NASCAR to obtain early dates for that series.
Herein lays the problem. When NASCAR released its 2005 Touring Series schedules a little more than a week ago, the critics were climbing out of the closet to take a jab at NASCAR.
Why were they put out so late? Why aren’t there more races? Why do some of the series seasons start so late? Why is this track on? Why is this track off? Why aren’t the purses higher? The questions, more in the form of bashing than in an inquisitive nature, went on and on. And don’t think NASCAR wasn’t listening.
“When we released our schedules, there was a lot of feedback on message boards, websites and telephone calls
NASCAR's Don Hawk talked exclusively with our Bob Dillner regarding schedules.
in a negative way,” admits NASCAR’s Don Hawk, who is in charge of racing development for the sanctioning body and the man who, with a group of others, spearheaded the scheduling project. “They were saying, ‘I can’t believe NASCAR chose this date or that date.'”
“As the guy that’s running around with a bunch of different people booking race dates from Seattle all the way back to Long Island, the part that is really frustrating is that people don’t realize how much effort we expend. We care so much that we are spending the money that people sometimes criticize us as to sticking in our pockets.”
For us to understand the answers to the critics’ questions, we must first understand the process. That process begins and ends with the tracks themselves and the issues all surround the almighty dollar.
Coming up with race schedules for eight divisions is not an easy or overnight task.
Hawk (speaking at the recent Short Track Summit in Florida) has been instrumental in doing everything he can to help NASCAR's Touring programs
“Scheduling, as I understand now, is a very tough and tedious process,” continues Hawk. “As the environment changes economically in this sport, it is becoming exceedingly more difficult for a short track in America to pay a purse, to make ends meat and to keep the gates open week after week.
“The one thing I don’t think the competitors really have a grip on is that they really need to be thankful for the track operators who put themselves on the line financially. They are the ones making the sacrifice. They are the ones who are saying, ‘I will take an Elite race or a Grand National race
“It was going to open June 12th because nobody was willing to risk, at that point, opening any earlier for the fear of bad weather. We are sitting there trying to negotiate with tracks while the guy making the decision for them has 19 inches of snow out his window and he’s saying, ‘I know this now could be around until late March so I can’t take a date that early.’ Many of them didn’t want to take a date in the first few weeks in April either.”
At this stage of the argument somebody usually stands up and says, ‘Well, NASCAR’s got plenty of money, why can’t they pay the purses and help the tracks?’
“If we only come there once or twice a year with a Tour race and we subsidize it financially, that track still needs to exist when we are not there,” said Hawk. “They have a 30-week window of when they can race. So if we come in there with NASCAR’s big heavy purse and say, ‘Here it is, we’ll pay for it,’ that’s only answering part of the problem because they need to race for a whole season. Who is going to pay for those? We are trying to build a business model that makes sense for these tracks.”
“And there was a phone call that came into me this morning that a racetrack may be in financial trouble and we may need to rebook a date. I told them that as soon as the clock hits 8 o’clock in the morning on the West Coast, start making the calls. Even if we have to subsidize the race to some extent, we need to fill the race for the competitor.
“Believe me, as a former competitor, as a former owner and racer; I understand the frustration of a racer. I’m asking at this point, as a guy trying to bridge the gap, would you guys please realize that we are doing a whole lot more than you think we are doing. There’s a whole bunch more we can be doing and we are getting there. If we work together and if we row the boat in the same direction, perhaps we are going to see the current of the same change.”
And there are ways to change things for the future to make everyone happy. Among the ideas being tossed around are consolidating the touring series, finding new, more economical rules and learning from other short track series that are currently doing well. That’s a story for another day, and we at Speed51.com will explore those issues with Hawk. Right now is the time to answer the questions about the schedule, not ignore them, and Hawk knows that.
Schedules for the Busch North (above) and West Series have been tough.
Some may say Hawk is skirting the issue, but in reality, he is not. Whether you want to believe it or not, he and the others he has surrounding him do care about the NASCAR Touring Series. And there are some examples to back up this claim.
“I’ll give you a perfect example,” Hawk says emphatically. “Grand National West; there’s not a sponsor on that series. You might as well call it the NASCAR West Series because we pay the bills. We put the officials out there; we put them in the hotel rooms; we fly them on the planes; we put the templates there and the equipment and we pay the purse. That’s the kind of commitment we have that sometimes is overlooked.
“I am absolutely not satisfied with the schedules we released. We did so to get some information into our folks’ hands so that they can realize that there really are 50-Elite races booked, 11 races in the West Coast with two to be decided, 12 in the East with two to be decided. We have not stopped working on booking dates.
“Two things that really bother me are that we don’t have enough race dates to make everybody happy and we took way too long. One of my objectives is to have it done sooner and at least give somebody a picture earlier in the year of what the model for ’06 is going to look like.
“We really probably confused some of our competitors and that’s where some of that frustration comes from. I apologize on behalf of NASCAR. Going forward, we hope to give more information
sooner. Sources like you (Speed51.com); we are going to use those assets. We appreciate the time you give us because you get it and you care. Now I want people to understand that we care and we are trying to get it and we are working on that process.”
NASCAR knows its Touring Series are important to the future development of itself as a sanctioning body. Some may have criticized them in the past for ignoring their short track roots, whether that is true or not is irrelevant; the point is that they are paying attention now. The addition of Hawk, the support of NASCAR’s Jim Hunter and his team, and the effort they are putting forth prove that NASCAR is attempting to make their grassroots racing programs better.
Time is of the essence in developing the future of NASCAR’s Touring Series. It’s also the key element in trying to make NASCAR’s short track world a better place. And it’s a give-and-take situation in relation to time; we need to give it and NASCAR needs to take it in order to move forward into the future.