OPINION: NASCAR, SMI letting 30k fans watch big changes for All-Star race

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

The decision by NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc. to move the annual All-Star event from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Bristol Motor Speedway may have been a necessary occurrence but it was a genius idea – that placement of the car number though …

Over the past few weeks, some of the decisions by the sanctioning body have obviously caused consternation amongst more than a few in its fanbase but putting what has lately become just another race at Bristol will help bring eyes to the television screen and, yes, put butts in the seats. As track president Jerry Caldwell said, “tickets are on sale now” for the July 15 event. Truthfully, the tickets had been on sale for roughly a year but the coronavirus (COVID-19) left many wondering what would befall the All-Star event since North Carolina has strict limitations on public gatherings – just ask Ace Speedway.

“Oh my gosh, we are thrilled, thrilled and honored to host such a legendary race,” Caldwell said, and fans at the track and watching on TV can expect a racing spectacle.

Regardless of the move being a last-minute saving grace, rest assured the NASCAR All-Star race shifting to Bristol might be one of the only positive things to come out of the pandemic. Shaking things up has always been talked about but the sport is set in tradition and change never seems to come quickly or easily. This was different.

“It came up fairly quick so this was one of those curveballs but I think in a good way,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “With every challenge comes some opportunity and we could have kept doing the same thing but I think all the teams recognize this is an opportunity for us to showcase our sport and do something we’ve always talked about. Let’s take a chance and see how it works and I couldn’t be more excited, I think the whole industry is ready to go.”

Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO, was equally as excited during the teleconference announcing the switch but the biggest news of the night was that fans would be in attendance – en masse. Bristol Motor Speedway has seats for 165,000 fans so putting 30,000 fans in the stands for the All-Star race will be easy on two fronts – there’s plenty of room and plenty of fans wanting to go.

“When we were evaluating this opportunity we did talk with people in the governor’s (Roy Cooper) office but we felt like this was the right decision for NASCAR and NASCAR fans,” Smith said. “This wasn’t about leveraging North Carolina or Tennessee, it was really about doing the best thing for NASCAR fans and the sport.”

Statistics show there has been an upswing in the number of positive cases for COVID-19 in North Carolina – particularly in the Charlotte area – but there has also been an increased number of tests given, so those numbers are expected to rise just like they have in Texas and other places with increased access to tests. Still, as Smith said, this didn’t need to be a “lightning rod issue” at a time when the sport can’t afford much more controversy.

So, kudos to NASCAR and SMI for stepping up and giving a lot of fans the chance to attend the race, thinking outside the box and putting racing where the action is at – short tracks.

On the flip side, news broke of the plan to shift the position of the car number from the door panel towards the rear of the car. Aesthetically, it looks goofy. Not bad but different and something that many fans immediately bristled at.

It is also something that O’Donnell became frustrated with via Twitter.

“I wish people would have this much passion about what really needs change in the world right now. Car number placement for one race OR Listen-learn-and try individually to be better,” O’Donnell posted after seeing the pushback on the number placement.

As typically happens when fans are upset, the conversation digressed into the racing package, management issues, etc. but those conversations can be saved for another time. Touching on the racing package issue just briefly, big changes are coming with the new car so there is hope. As for the other complaints, some fans just want to bitch and moan to bitch and mona. There is usually little substance to it.

Once again, at the end of the day, this is NASCAR ball, court and game – they can do what they want. They are definitely riding a big win with the Bristol All-Star decision but fans are fickle when it comes to certain aspects of the sport. The placement of the car number appears to be one of them.

And it’s not that it looks bad. Honestly, it could grow on me but at the end of the day – unlike some fans and drivers – it isn’t a hill I am willing to die on. If moving the car number helps get sponsors additional recognition for their brands and that brings in additional money or helps keep money in the sport, then let’s go with it. But don’t do it just because it’s different or someone in Daytona had what they thought was a brilliant way to shift some of the positive press NASCAR is getting from the All-Star race move.

Maybe, with some tweaking, it would be more appealing but it’s one race, so we can all live with it. Besides, under the current pandemic protocols, there won’t be an abundance of media allowed at the track anyway, so the number of photos of ugly car numbers will be somewhat limited. <—-  That last sentence is a joke for those who are overly sensitive.

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