Changes possssssible for NASCAR races

Jan. 21, 2003 at 7:20 PM
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CONCORD, N.C., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The uneasy alliance between Bruton Smith and NASCAR took an unusual twist Tuesday when NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said if Texas Motor Speedway wants an additional date, it should come from one currently held by another SMI track.

France specifically singled out Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte as possibilities to relinquish a date so Texas could add a second date to the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule.

In addition to possibly switching dates of facilities owned by Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. (IMS), France also singled out two International Speedway Corporation (ISC) facilities - North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham and Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. - as possibilities to surrender a date so California Speedway in Fontana could have a second Winston Cup event.

These revelations were made at the NASCAR Research and Development Facility as part of the Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour.

Texas Motor Speedway and SMI have been embroiled in an ongoing battle with NASCAR for several years over SMI's desire for a second NASCAR race date at the 1 1/2-mile track. Located in Fort Worth, the track draws over 180,000 fans to its only Winston Cup event, scheduled for March 30 this year.

"If Dover (Delaware) would like to take one of their races and shift it to St. Louis or Nashville, or if Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler want to take an Atlanta race and shift it to Texas where it can sell all of its tickets, we will entertain that," France said. "We're calling this realignment 2004 and beyond."

Neither Smith, the CEO of SMI; Wheeler, the president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway; or Ed Clark, the president and general manager of Atlanta Motor Speedway were immediately available for comment.

France contends that if Atlanta is having trouble selling 80,000 tickets for either of its two races, then one should be shifted to its sister SMI track in Texas, where it could sell close to 200,000 tickets. The same can be said for several ISC facilities and even the tracks that are part of the Dover Downs International Speedway group.

"We're not going to put tracks on notice," NASCAR's Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President Brian France said. "We don't want them looking over their shoulder wondering if NASCAR is going to pull their date. But we want to take a more proactive approach to see if racing somewhere else makes more sense."

NASCAR has enjoyed tremendous growth and currently ranks as the country's No. 2 television sport in terms of ratings. Rather than have two dates in small Southeastern markets such as Rockingham and Darlington those dates could be better utilized in other markets.

"NASCAR has done a good job of trying to manage the interests of so many of its constituents," NASCAR chief operating officer George Pyne said. "We are going to look at what we can do to realign our schedule. We are going to begin that process in 2004."

Pyne said NASCAR will look at the geographic distribution of events without additions to the schedule.

"At this time, the schedule cannot expand beyond 38 races," he said. "We need to look beyond the schedule to see if any moves can be made to broaden the sport nationally and to bring the sport to more fans across America. We will not unilaterally remove a race date from anybody. We will be proactive with our promoters to see what can be done with the distribution of our events."

Pyne also said the series is looking at later starting times to better increase its TV audience. Instead of a race starting at noon, it may start at 3:30 p.m.

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