If I’m going to listen to a horn section, I’m going to go to the symphony.
If I want to eat good seafood, I’m going to go to the beach.
And if I want to watch dirt-track racing, I’m going to watch professional dirt-track drivers in dirt-track cars.
That’s something I decided on Monday afternoon after just a few laps of a weather-delayed (more on that below), crash-plagued Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series’ first return to dirt-surface racing in over 50 years.
And as I learned fairly quickly, for good reason. Let’s hope in 50 years, if the thought comes up again, there’s now enough tape to remind NASCAR what a joke Monday’s race weekend really was.
I say weekend, because Monday’s race was originally scheduled for Sunday. That after a Camping World Truck Series race was slated for Saturday night.
Of course, neither of those two races were run on schedule. Rain in Bristol? In March? In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains?
I have personally been to a spring race in Bristol three times. One of those was scheduled for a noon start. The green flag dropped at 8 p.m. As for the other two? If you guessed Monday races, you guessed right.
I don’t have to be Spencer Adkins to advise NASCAR to quit putting races at Bristol in March. Heck, why not move it to Seattle? Is there a track in Alaska in January available? How about the Amazon rain forest? If we’re going to cover one of the meccas of the sport in dirt, why not?
The whole thing just came off as a cheap ploy to me. A gimmick for a governing body desperate to reclaim the attendance and ratings it once carried. And it’s not needed.
NASCAR picked up some momentum when it was basically the only sport going during the early portion of the COVID pandemic. Several of those people watched and saw what I’ve seen for the last couple of years — better competition, a more riveting and inviting playoff format and an organization willing to take swings at improving its product.
However, with swings come misses, and this one whiffed like Gary Sanchez at an 0-2 curveball in the postseason. Not even close.
First, while there are certainly tracks that need rethinking on the schedule — how about two Pocono races or seven road courses, for starters — Bristol is fine. A high-banked, half-mile short track filled with speed and different racing grooves. It’s like watching 39 bumper cars forced to go in one direction around the rim of a cereal bowl ... if those cars run between 550-750 horsepower. It’s fascinating.
With the leader usually catching the tail end of the field in a matter of 20 or less laps, there is racing wherever you look. Full of drama and tempers and home to some of the most memorable finishes and races in the circuit’s history, Bristol is just fine the way it is.
Imagine if the Cubs decided to turf Wrigley Field. Or if the NCAA held the tournament outdoors in the wind. Well, actually, no one would likely see that since the NCAA can’t start Elite Eight games before 9:40 eastern time, so maybe that’s not the best example. Yet another grievance with Monday.
Point being, it would be ridiculous. And that’s what Monday was to me.
There was no pit strategy involved as drivers weren’t allowed to take tires until competition cautions that were stupidly squeezed into each stage, partially because tires couldn’t hold up over the course of a full 100-lap run. Those cautions came at the end of each 50 laps, breaking any kind of flow of the race.
Several of the pre-race favorites — primarily Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson — were taken out early. There were mechanical failures, overheating issues (imagine, the grill of a Cup car didn’t allow enough airflow to the engine when it’s covered in mud), track-maintenance breaks, potholes and something referred to as “a dirtle,” which was basically a white square along the inside line to keep cars on the track. Of course, when said white square was caked with a layer of mud it became invisible and the result was a lot like watching cars drive around the border of a landmine field. The results of hitting one of these were catastrophic in terms of damage.
Just stop. I don’t need it. NASCAR doesn’t need it.
There are guys that grind on dirt week in and week out to make a living. Some elevate up the ranks all the way to the Cup Series. The aforementioned Bell and Larson, Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe ... all are guys that have extensive experience on dirt.
There’s just no need to go in the opposite direction. Dirt racing is great, by all means if you live near a track that offers it at a local/area level, go support it. You’ll have a blast, I promise.
I just wish NASCAR didn’t feel the need to try to be something it isn’t. If I want to watch dirt races, I’ll watch World of Outlaws. If I want to watch road courses, I’ll watch IndyCar or F1.
When I grew up playing baseball, a popular saying screamed at you from the dugout after you were just hit by a pitch was, “Rub some dirt on it.”
Unfortunately, that advice doesn’t transfer to NASCAR Cup racing — or, an apparent case of the Mondays.