Article by Jeff Hood, RacinToday.com
When it comes to scheduling professional golf tournaments, it’s common for the PGA Tour to visit a venue just once each season. That model has worked well for decades, while players such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods became household names.
A novice golf fan, I must admit it would be odd watching the world’s top golfers challenge Augusta National Golf Club twice during the same year.
But unlike pro golf, nearly all race tracks that play host to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series receive two visits during the course of the season.
A major shakeup is anticipated when NASCAR releases its 2011 Cup schedule in early September. Kentucky Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway are expected to add Cup dates to their lineup next season at the expense of existing races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway (in Fontana, Calif.) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
If this comes to fruition, Atlanta, Auto Club, Kentucky and New Hampshire would join Darlington Raceway, Infineon Raceway, Chicagoland Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Watkins Glen International and Homestead-Miami Speedway as facilities which host NASCAR’s Cup Series just once next season.
But considering the difficulty track operators have encountered over the past 18 months trying to fill grandstands and suites and secure corporate sponsorship, is the potential growing trend of one Cup race per season at a venue actually a bad thing for the sport?
Prior to the running of the Cup race in Las Vegas in February, Jimmie Johnson was asked if he’d like to see a second Cup race on an annual basis in sin city beginning in 2011.
The four-time Cup champion’s response was somewhat suprising, and seemed to be a page right out of the PGA Tour’s scheduling playbook.
“I think its really tough to have two Sprint Cup races at any venue,” Johnson said. ”Look at (Auto Club Speedway) in California. I have friends and family that were season ticket holders and when there was one race a year, it was real simple what you did.
“You only had one opportunity to go to that race and watch, so you would go. They now have two races, their ticket packages and different things were forced upon them to be a part of and things started to change. They thought, ‘I’ll skip the spring race and go to the fall race.’ The fall race comes around and, ‘I’ve got some things going on so I’ll go to the spring race.’ I have some friends that now have not been for four years because of that cycle.
“I think you lose a little something when you go to two dates. I think if you go to two dates, you have to have the situation like Bristol where there’s a long waiting list for one event. Then you consider expanding to two races.
“I don’t think you can take a facility that is seating 60 or 70 percent of its capacity and add a second date and expect a big turnout at either event. That’s just my opinion and what I have seen.”
A crowd estimated at 50,000 turned out at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis for Saturday night’s Nationwide Series event. And NASCAR’s junior circuit will race in front of a packed house at Iowa Speedway at the end of the month.
And while Gateway and Iowa, as well as Nashville Superspeedway, would pay dearly to host the Cup Series just once each season, don’t look for NASCAR to add Cup dates in these small markets anytime soon. And it’s a virtual lock that the Cup Series will never return to once-popular stops in tiny North Wilkesboro, N.C. and Rockingham, N.C.
While it’s unlikely, Johnson admitted it would be a novel idea for NASCAR to spread its top series more evenly throughout the country.
“I think it’s impossible to do this, but I think it would be great if we had 36 races at 36 different tracks and we hit as many towns and areas throughout North America as we possibly could,” he said. ”That’s not the situation we have.
“Tracks just aren’t in certain areas. I do understand it takes a lot to build these facilities and all that. It’s a tough road to hoe to have two events and you have to have a sold out track once a year with a long waiting list to consider a second date, I believe.”