Thursday, July 2, 2009

On reviving the Truck Series

The rumors of the Truck Series' demise have been floating for as long as I've been a part of it, which this season is ten years. There has always been someone talking about NASCAR shutting it down due to one reason or another. Most have to due with races taking place in front of empty grandstands or because the manufacturers don't support it at the level they do their Cup and Nationwide programs.

Earlier this week, NASCAR's Jim Hunter stated that NASCAR has no intention of shutting down the Truck Series any time soon. That is a nice vote of confidence - but unfortunately there is an inaccuracy in Mr. Hunter's remaining thoughts on the matter. He also said that NASCAR has never given up on a series, but for those of us that remember the Busch All-Star Tour, the Goody's Dash Series, the old NASCAR North Tour, and most recently the four regional touring late model series, we know that isn't the case. So with that in mind, those that love the Truck Series hope that NASCAR is willing to do whatever it takes to breathe life into our favorite form of motorsports.

I do think that NASCAR is committed to the Truck Series. There is value there, to sponsors, to track operators, and even to the teams and of course the fans. But there are things that need to be done to ensure the future is brighter and on a firmer foundation.

Sponsor value has always been a weak link for the Truck teams. Because of the costs of participating, they continue to need to ask for more from sponsors although the value they return hasn't increased at the same rate. Sponsor value has stayed flat, and according to some experts, has even dropped. Why? Because at best, the Trucks are plaing second-fiddle to the Nationwide Series and third-fiddle to both Cup and Nationwide on race weekends. With the demise of the Mansfield race, there isn't a single venue on the schedule where the Trucks are the top attraction. If NASCAR wants to add sponsor value, then it needs to eliminate some conjunction races and take the Trucks back to markets that the Nationwide and Cup cars don't go. Second races at Martinsville and Texas should be moved to markets like the Pacific Northwest and/or the upper Midwest. Other races that have no value, such as the California race, should also be moved elsewhere.

Track operators will benefit from redistribution of the schedule too. More tracks could be a part of the NASCAR family, and fans craving NASCAR action in underserved parts of the country can finally come and see big league racing. And those tracks that continue to hold conjunction races will benefit too since triple-headers will be less common, marketing them as something the fans don't have a chance to see often will help attract customers into the seats.

Teams will benefit because sponsors will again return to the series. As it is now, why would a sponsor come in when the majority of races are held in areas where Cup and Nationwide sponsors already saturate the market? What chance does a small ($2.5-$3 million) sponsor have when trying to activate next to someone spending ten times that much? But that smaller sponsor will find value in markets that aren't already saturated. That's what helped the series flourish in 1995 through 1998. As an example, in 1995 over half the Truck races were held at tracks that didn't host a Nationwide or Cup race. That had dropped to 25 percent in 1999, and now in 2009 there are no races held at tracks that don't have a Nationwide or Cup race.

There are plenty of racetracks out there that could help diversify the Truck Series schedule. Road courses in the Pacific Northwest, a number of good short tracks in the Upper Midwest, and even some venues in Canada that would fit the bill.

Racing at huge cathedrals of speed like Daytona and Charlotte does have value. But so does reaching the grassroots fan at places like I-70 Speedway and Evergreen Speedway, two tracks that are unfortunately long gone from the Truck Series schedule. There are other tracks in underserved markets that should be looked at and added. Then maybe ther Trucks will again be a series that is growing and flourishing instead of simply treading water and fighting for survival.

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