Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?
While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.
In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.
The Camping World Truck Series’ visit to Eldora Speedway seemed to be a breath of fresh air for many fans. What, if any, lessons can be taken from this “experiment” that may be applicable to other series?
Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): Eldora reminded everyone that NASCAR racing used to be a lot more fun than it sometimes is these days. The sanctioning body should do whatever it can to capture the electricity, anticipation and good old-fashioned entertainment Eldora created and sprinkle it liberally across all three national divisions.
Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): Don’t be afraid to try something new with the on-track product. That race was a leap for NASCAR, but it paid off in a big way and instantly became the most popular event in Truck Series history. And it also proved that the best storylines are organic and happen via good racing. Just look at Norm Benning and the attention that he and his team received for the battle with Clay Greenfield in one of the heat races.
While I’m not ready to say that the Cup Series needs to jump on a dirt track as soon as possible, it’s more fuel for the thought that the Truck Series should be closer to how it started at local short tracks than where it is now at a majority of tracks where the Cup Series races.
Nate Ryan (USA Today; @nateryan): If the show is compelling, it doesn’t matter who the stars are. That’s the major lesson from any event that turns Norm Benning into a social media folk hero. The other major takeaway is that nothing should be sacred in stock-car racing. Because the racing was so memorable, there were no complaints about heat races, a segmented competition and a surface that doesn’t seem conducive to such heavy vehicles. In weighing enhancements to Sprint Cup, Eldora’s anti-idolatry vibe should be the template.
Also, transfer ownership of any other troubled tracks with promise to Tony Stewart and his management team. His street-smart savvy and force of will to produce success is unmatched.
Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): Eldora proved that “old school” still has a place in stock car racing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to consider dirt-track racing for the Sprint Cup or Nationwide series, but the automatic drama created by a different sort of event can’t be denied. Could be a hint that fans want shorter races with more levels of entertainment. Heat races, anyone?
Ryan McGee (ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine; @ESPNMcGee): I think it would work with the other series, but only once a year. Don’t get me wrong. It was awesome. And to me, that’s exactly what the Truck Series should be doing — going to different markets and trying out new ideas. But when the next two series follow it onto dirt, which will happen eventually, NASCAR needs to be careful not to kill the golden egg-laying goose like racetracks have with night racing. That novelty wore off a long time ago.
Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News; @bobpockrass): Heat races. But NASCAR needs to pay dollars to those who compete in the heats.
Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net; @mikemulhern): The Eldora race played to less than 20,000. Nice marketing gimmick, but nothing long-term. Nice made-for-TV show. And where were the softwalls, by the way?
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro