RACERS REACT TO NASCAR SCHEDULES by Mike Twist and Jeremy Trioano
What Do Those Affected Most Think About Their 2005 Racing Slates?
You can’t make everyone happy and the people at NASCAR Headquarters know that fact very well.
As Don Hawk told Speed51.com’s Bob Dillner, there are far more things that go into planning a race schedule than the average fan, media member or competitor realizes. Now multiply that with eight tours to plan for and you can see the headaches beginning. Please click here for more on Hawk’s perspective.
The Elite Series race at Pikes Peak on July 23rd is a combination event between the Midwest and Southwest Series.
“I think having the two series combined in Colorado will be really neat,” said MWS driver Tim Schendel. “It might even be the wave of the future and the direction that they are going. But I’m not sure how they are working points and how that is all going to work. Usually, the Midwest cars get a full field in Colorado and actually even send cars home. It is a high profile race and almost everyone always shows up there, along with some of the local Colorado guys and some Southwest guys that normally show up. There could actually be about 60 or more cars that show up for Pikes Peak this year. That would make it ultra competitive.”
Many things need to be balanced in making a schedule. You don’t want too many events, but you don’t want too few either.
“When we heard rumors of 15-16 races, I was really bummed out. But to see 19, I’m pumped up,” said Chuck Hossfeld of the Whelen Modified Tour. “I think the more races the better and the more traveling the better. That’s the whole idea of a tour.”
But with eight tours, some are healthier than others.
“We’ve only got eight races,” said Schendel. “There was a time in 2001 when we had 18. From a sponsor’s point of view, it is hard to go out and get sponsors and keep your sponsors when you are running a llimited schedule. I’m lucky that my sponsor will go with me for all my late model races around the Midwest. I wish there would have been more races and I know that they might add some, but right now, it looks kind of sad with a NASCAR Touring Series having only eight races. [Editor’s Note- the MWS should end up with a total of 11 races, but three of those at this point are TBA events.]
The problem becomes cylicical. Low car counts mean
So when NASCAR released schedules for their Touring divisions last week, they shocked some people. There was some grumbling, but all in all, a racing community which is not shy about complaining is more or less satisfied with what NASCAR has done.
Granted, it’s not perfect and you’ll soon see a few arguments why, but with all of the factors that need to be weighed, NASCAR won’t please everyone even if they hold 25 races a year in each division that pay $100,000 to win and are a tow of just a block or two from a team’s shops.
Some of the criticism is valid. Some might not be. You be the judge.
Jason Hogan is trying to understand both sides of the scheduling issue.
“I think we are hard on NASCAR. Then again, I think we are not,” said Southeast Series driver Jason Hogan. “I think that we deserve to know where we are going to race a little earlier than we did. But, it is a tough deal to get so many people to come to an agreement and to sit down and to confirm a date. They could be a little more helpful in at least letting us drivers know a little earlier so we can help determine where we are going and what kind of budget we need.”
A goal that NASCAR has when putting together a schedule is diversity. Short tracks have always been the home of NASCAR Touring divisions, but in recent seasons, speedways have been added as well. The Southeast Series goes to places like Kentucky Speedway, Pikes Peak is on the card for a couple of the Elite divisions and Busch North visits Dover and New Hampshire. Even road courses have made it to the docket of a few tours. Busch North goes to Lime Rock to end their season and the Southwest Series shares a weekend with the Nextel Cup teams at Infinion Raceway (CA) in June.
Whether it is the beating and banging of short tracks, the art of road racing or even a little beating and banging on a road course like Lime Rock, the NASCAR Touring schedules have it all covered.
Some guys, like Modified ace Chuck Hossfeld, just want to race as much as possible at as many different tracks as can be.
“I like the schedule we have, our 14 races look great,” said Busch North rookie Charles Lewandoski. “I like going to places like New Hampshire and Dover. As a rookie, I need the experience of going to the short tracks so I’m looking forward to going to Waterford and Oxford. I’m excited about going to the road courses too. I’ve never raced one before.”
“This seems like a good mix of short tracks and speedways,” said 2003 Southeast Series champion Charlie Bradberry, who is leaning towards a run at the series title after taking 2004 off from that form of racing. “We have the same old tracks that I know and a couple that I haven’t run on like Houston and Caraway.”
tracks don’t want to book a series and take a gamble on covering the purse. Meanwhile, a weak schedule leads towards lower car counts.
“The way it is going right now, the low car count is contributed to by low interest from the racers,” said Schendel. “Who wants to spend $70,000 on a race car if you are only going to race it eight times a year? Some of the purses are really down and some of the laps in the races are down.”
The most common problem heard about this year’s schedules is the amount of time that it took to get them out. Instead of having them ready for the end of the season or during the banquet circuit this winter, most tours did not see an official, or at least semi-official, slate until the end of February. Drivers are understanding to a point, but it is also a hardship to prepare budgets, figure out travel plans or attract sponsors if you don’t know when or where you will be racing.
“I know those guys [NASCAR] have a tough time getting racetracks to commit to races,” said Hogan of the Southeast Series. “The only thing that I don’t like is the length it took to get the schedule and the problems that creates in securing sponsors.”
done a better job, but we are not them, so we don’t really know.”
“I don’t know what you could tell NASCAR to do better,” said Hogan. “It is a tough deal because of the economics and the racetrack’s situations. It is hard for them to commit to putting out $50,000 to $60,000 for a race.”
How would Hogan make it better in the future?
"My suggestion would be getting started a little earlier, maybe before the year ends,” said Hogan. “When we visit those tracks, start working on them then. Maybe then you will be able to secure something a little earlier.”
One of the series that was most challenging for NASCAR when it came to figuring out a schedule was the Busch North Series. The tour is in a transition period. Late in 2004, it was discussed that a name change to NASCAR East and a not-so-gradual shift to more Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern races might be in the cards. Although events at Myrtle Beach, Martinsville, Richmond and Memphis were rumored, only one race south of the Mason-Dixon Line actually made it to the schedule. That date belongs to Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway.
Tim Schendel in victory lane.
“I wish they could get the schedule out before March,” said Schendel. “I think we all understand what a tough job they have and I don’t want to seem like I’m bashing on NASCAR, because I’m not. It would be nice to have it in December though. They have to realize how difficult the sponsorship side of this is for competitors these days, and when you don’t have a schedule until so late, it is near impossible to get sponsors to commit. Most companies set marketing budgets before November. If they ask where you are racing and you don’t know, it makes for a difficult and trying time. I’m a racer and not a marketing man.
“I know they have a tough job, but it is their job,” said Auggie Vidovich, the 2003 NASCAR Southwest Series Champion. “I think it could have been done a lot earlier. I needed to know certain dates for some other stuff I was planning on doing. It messed up a couple things and frustrated me, but there is nothing you can do about it because it was out of our hands and in theirs. My honest opinion is they could have
The transition and rising purse requirements for short tracks, made it appear that several staples of the tour in New England would not return to the schedule. Seekonk Speedway (MA) and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) are in fact gone, but several tracks thought to be in jeopardy remain. It was close for a few though; the season opener at Lee USA Speedway was just announced this past weekend. The tentative schedule actually showed the June 12th Thompson race as the lead off event.
The Lee race means two good things for the series. First, it will get started in May and not June, Plus it will keep Busch North in a market within an hour of Boston at a track that fans and competitors enjoy.
“I’m glad that we are going to be racing at Lee,” said three-time defending Busch North champion Andy Santerre. “I was a little bit worried that it might be bad for the series to not
start until June. Lee is a good track to keep on the schedule and not lose.”
“Now that the Lee race is set in stone, it looks much better,” said Lewandoski. “I wasn’t too excited about waiting until June to start the season. May is a little bit better.”
But while Lee survived, Watkins Glen did not, at least for now, and that leaves one less Busch North marquee event on the schedule.
“I’m disappointed that Watkins Glen is off the schedule, that was one of the biggest places we ran,” said Santerre. “For 2006, we’ve been told that we will probably be going back there, but that doesn’t help us this year.”
Many of the Busch North competitors are happy that they will be sticking close to home, but some see the value in expanding to a more national schedule.
“Between 12 and 15 races is perfect for us,” said Busch North driver and owner Dale Quarterley. “The areas that they are hitting are good. If they can grow it and we could go to Kansas City or Nashville in the future and make it worthwhile to go, I think that would be good for us.”
Quarterley hasn’t been afraid to put his money where he mouth is. In the past few seasons, his team has towed as far away as Phoenix and Fontana, California to enter NASCAR West events. That has been no small task since his team is based an hour from the Atlantic Ocean in the central part of Massachusetts.
Tracks are a touchy subject all around. The Modifieds have flirted with having close to half of their events at either Thompson, Stafford and Waterford (all Connecticut tracks) in recent years. Facilities that support a series and their fans that fill the seats should be rewarded, but where do you draw the line?
“I’m not too pumped up about going to Thompson five times,” said Hossfeld of the Mod schedule. “I mean, that doesn’t seem like much of a tour to me personally. I think that maybe three races at one track should be the max.”
“I keep saying that it doesn’t matter if we run eight races as long as they are the right eight races,” said Busch North’s Quarterley. “We don’t need a 15-20 race schedule to send us to Beech Ridge nine times. We need to run primary shows in different areas and that’s it. Not even so much the bigger tracks, but we don’t need to go to Beech Ridge three times (the track has been on the schedule for three annual events as recently as three years ago, in 2005 there are no races there). I don’t dislike Beech Ridge, but we don’t need to go to the same place that much. It doesn’t do the sport any good. It doesn’t do anyone’s finances any good.”
“The fans in an area don’t warrant this. We don’t sell out Beech Ridge three times. We might sell out the race once, but the second and third times we don’t.”
“I think our schedule is a lot better right now than they said it was going to be about two months ago. It was looking like 10 races, maybe,” said Vidovich. “They’ve got it up to around 14 or 15 now. So it is better than it was. I’d say it isn’t as good as it used to be.
“In 2000 and 2001, it was the best years. It was 18 to 19 races both years and the tracks varied a lot more. Now it is 14 races, but we are repeating a lot of tracks a lot. We don’t get go to the Bullring in Vegas like we used to and we used to go to the big track in Vegas, which was fun. We are going to a lot of small tracks now. But I guess we are fortunate that we’ve got a schedule, so it goes both ways.”
Plus, every racer wants to have an event in his or her own backyard.
“I’m happy that the series is coming back to Montgomery
Alabama,” said SES’s Bradberry. “That is close to where I live and it’s like a hometrack to me. I’ve run a lot of races there. When I got started, I would race at Birmingham on Friday nights and Montgomery on Saturday nights, so I have a lot of laps around there.”
Race placement is another thing important to competitors.
“I think the dates could be spread a little better,” said Vidovich. “There is one month where we are gone four weeks in a row at different tracks. It isn’t like we are Cup teams and we can just go, go, go. We only got two cars, so it will be hard to do. There is one month then when we don’t do any racing. They could have added a couple of races too because we have a lot of dead time between our first race and second race. They should have run us on the 1.5-mile in Vegas and the Bullring, because those are two great tracks.”
Some changes to the schedules are not under the control of NASCAR Touring officials. For example, changes in the NASCAR qualifying procedures for Nextel Cup (moving their time trials to Saturdays at many facilities) have bumped support series to less than ideal dates. Most affected by this move are NASCAR Southwest Series and West Series races at Phoenix International Raceway (AZ) and the Busch North races at New Hampshire, which have been run on Saturdays for over ten years.
“I’m disappointed that we’re going to be running at New Hampshire on Friday,” said Santerre. “We had a good crowd when we raced on Saturday and everyone enjoyed it. This is going to hurt.”
When it boils down to it, there are two conflicting factors when it comes to having a perfect schedule. Racers want to run as often as possible, but costs also have to be controlled. Still, the smart competitors in the garage realize that life can’t be perfect.
“If I had to change anything about our schedule, I would add more races,” said Busch North’s Lewandoski. “But that’s because I’m a racer. I’d love to see 20 or so events. But looking at the owner’s view, I think this is a reasonable schedule for someone to get the equipment to move up to Busch North and compete for the full season. It’s financially possible for a team to move up from Late Models or Pro Stocks to do this.”
Scheduling is a balancing act. Is it better to have several races at a facility that sells out, like the Mods at Thompson, or do you take a chance on new markets?
Andy Santerre won at Seekonk last year, but the Busch North Series won't be back there in 2005.