The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway took place before packed grandstands, and a large viewing audience. Sure there was the intrigue of seeing some of the sport’s biggest stars compete on a dirt surface that brought all of the attention. But truth be told there was a time this series raced before packed grandstands, and generated a buzz in the area it was visiting that almost rivaled the anticipation of the Eldora event on a local level. It’s time NASCAR recaptures that experience.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was born out of America’s overwhelming love for the pick-up truck. NASCAR looking to capitalize on this created a series where the competitors raced vechicles that looked just like the trucks many of it’s fans used for work or even to get to the races. The series grew in popularity thanks to it’s wheel-to-wheel racing on small, tight ovals throughout the U.S.
I got to witness both the anticipation leading up to the event, and the excitement of the race, when the series came to Flemington Speedway in New Jersey. The track had been one of the most well-known dirt tracks in the country before being paved. While many were sad to see the surface change, there were few complaints heard in the weeks leading up to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.
The track added as many additional grandstand seats as they could put around the track, and sold them all. Race fans from throughout the Northeast looked forward to seeing these new racing stars compete on a local track that ran every Saturday night.
As the crewman of a race car competing on the same day as the trucks I was fortunate enough to be on the inside of the track for this event. Drivers like Mike Skinner, Ron Hornaday, and Rick Carelli, walked among those of us who spent every Saturday at “The Square” as Flemington Speedway was known. At different times during the day I found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with both Richard Petty and Chris Economaki. The excitement was as high in the pits as in the grandstands.
Despite running slower laps than the Flemington Street Stocks the Craftsman Trucks put on a great show. There was something almost magical about seeing the trucks you watched on television competing on the same track as your local heroes. Big time NASCAR racing had come to our home track.
Sadly, as the series became more popular NASCAR began asking tracks to put up a bigger purse. Tracks like Flemington couldn’t put enough seats around the speedway to meet the new purse demands. NASCAR began moving them to the bigger tracks, and eventually made them an additional support division for the Sprint Cup Series, much like the Nationwide Series.
While the move to the larger speedways allowed for more attendance, it also took away a lot of that door banging action which made it so popular. As the action decreased so has the attendance. Many times the large grandstands that surround the lager tracks look horribly empty.
However, the recent event at Eldora should show NASCAR that it is time to return the Camping World Truck Series to it’s roots. The small tracks naturally lend themselves to better action. It also looks a lot better to have 30,000 people in grandstands that struggle to hold them versus 30,000 in a grandstand that seats close to 100,000 people.
It’s time to bring that excitement back to the grass roots NASCAR fans. The excitement of seeing drivers and teams you see on television compete on your local track. It is time to bring the Trucks back to the local bullrings. It would be a win-win for everyone involved.
NASCAR would get an exciting product, as would the fans, presented before a packed grandstand. Change isn’t always good. Unless that change returns the trucks to where they belong. The local tracks of the country.