COMMENTARY | Fans of NASCAR's Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series are still awaiting word on the official 2013 schedules for each series, but one rumor that has been floating around that has been addressed to some extent is the possibility of a Truck Series race on a dirt track, namely Tony Stewart's track, Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Track owner Stewart has addressed the idea with the media, saying that he has been in talks with NASCAR but that is as far as it's gone right now. The idea of NASCAR on dirt isn't a new one, and it's an idea whose time has come. Here are five reasons why NASCAR needs to get down and dirty at Eldora - or any other dirt track that can fit thousands of fans who are ready for a change.
History - NASCAR hasn't had a regular season national series dirt track event since 1970, the last time the Grand National Series ran at Raleigh's North Carolina Fairgrounds, but NASCAR's history is steeped in dirt tracks. In 1949, all seven oval track races in the "Strictly Stock" division were run on dirt. In 1955, 40 of the season's 45 races were contested on dirt tracks. From 1949 to 1970, there were 489 Cup Series races run on dirt - and 72 of them were won by a driver with the last name of Petty (40 by Lee and 32 by Richard).
Bring back the old fans - attendance at NASCAR Cup Series events has gone down annually at most tracks on the schedule, and tracks have made adjustments in seating (lowering capacity numbers) in accordance to these figures. Where are the fans? Some track owners, like Speedway Motorsports Incorporated's Bruton Smith (owner of eight NASCAR tracks), thinks fans are getting bored with the competition on the track - too many fuel mileage races, too many long green-flag runs and not even drivers with a "mean streak."
Bring in new fans - bringing a dirt track to the schedule - whether it's Eldora Speedway or the Dirt Tracks at Charlotte Motor Speedway or Las Vegas Motor Speedway - will introduce more NASCAR fans to the excitement of dirt racing, and introduce more dirt track fans to the thrill of NASCAR.
Time to bring Trucks to the forefront - as a long-time NASCAR fan, dating back to the mid-1980s, I have watched NASCAR change over the last 25-plus years - and not always for the better; I agree with Smith on many things - especially that fuel mileage races are boring. As a fan, I lost interest when Jimmie Johnson dominated the Cup Series year after year, and lost interest in the Nationwide Series when it was dominated by Cup Series drivers. These things led me to become a Truck Series fan, and I would love to see the series move to the forefront by doing something different. The Truck Series is actually the perfect national series to try this experiment with, as it is still something of a "novelty" - it is not the standard "race car" that fans were accustomed to prior to the series' 1995 debut, and draws fewer fans than the Sprint Cup Series does weekly.
Dirt track racing is exciting - in addition to being a long-time NASCAR fan, I'm a long-time dirt track racing fan - I've attended local dirt modified races for about 20 years, and World of Outlaws Sprint Car races at nearby Rolling Wheels Raceway Park for the last two. These were the most exciting races I saw this year, and drew thousands of fans even on a cold New York night (the October Outlaws race at Rolling Wheels was run in approximately 40-degree weather - with a packed grandstand).
It's time for a change in NASCAR - and the future is in its historic past.
Paula is a long-time auto racing fan who also covers the sport at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.