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Minter: 2010 To Exit With Non-Fillable Shoes

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 20 2010

The death of Jim Hunter marked just one of the losses sustained by NASCAR in 2010. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

The remaining days of the 2010 NASCAR season likely will be dominated by talk of what was won during the year – who won the races and the championships. Will it be Jimmie Johnson winning a record fifth straight Sprint Cup championship, or will it be Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick winning their first?

But once the checkered flags fall on the finales at Homestead, the sizing up of the year will begin, and it looks as if there will be more stories about what was lost than about what was won.

In the loss column are some of the people who were icons of the sport. Jim Hunter, the NASCAR vice president who had been a fixture at tracks like Talladega and Darlington for ages but stepped in when NASCAR needed some PR magic in the days following Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash and helped steer the sport back on course, was lost to cancer.

Ed Shull, the long-time Gatorade rep on the NASCAR trail who made significant contributions that many outsiders never saw, also left us this year as did Jeff Byrd, the fine promoter of NASCAR and NHRA racing at Bristol, and Jack Flowers, the journalist who like many of his peers gave more to the sport than it ever gave back.

Two tracks that hosted Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races appear to be lost. Memphis Motorsports Park goes on the auction block next month, and Gateway International Raceway apparently has hosted its last races, as has the historic Fairgrounds Raceway in Nashville.

Atlanta Motor Speedway, one of the cornerstone superspeedways of the sport, lost one of its two Sprint Cup race dates.

Tracks everywhere have had difficulty selling tickets, leading to gaping gaps in the crowds, and whole seating sections covered with banners. TV viewership has dropped off again this year, on top of drops in the past two years, numbers that indicate that millions of people who once watched NASCAR races are now finding something else to do on Sunday afternoons.

South Carolina’s Cale Yarborough put it the most bluntly, telling his home state newspaper, The State, “Let’s face it; People have lost interest.”

It’s a surprise to read that in The State. It’s been years since that paper regularly staffed NASCAR races. And The State isn’t alone. NASCAR beat writers were among the first to go when newspapers began slashing budgets a few years back.

NASCAR may well recover and return to its previous peak level of attendance and TV viewership, but will it be able to do so without the guidance of people like Jim Hunter, Ed Shull and Jeff Byrd and without the coverage and commentary and sometimes criticism provided by people like the late Jack Flowers and the late David Poole and the reporters who have lost their jobs in recent years?

It brings to mind a line from an old George Jones song, a line that goes:

“Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you,

Lord I wonder, who’s gonna fill their shoes?”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 20 2010
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