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The Bristol Ball Will Be Placed In The Fans’ Fannys

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, March 30 2012

The decision to attempt to recapture the past at Bristol has been made. Will fans again fill the grandstands?(RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Hey, I’m just sayin’…

The fans who hate the new Bristol Motor Speedway got what they wanted as owner O.Bruton Smith announced he will attempt to change the high-banked short track back to its former self.

The interesting aspect will be the thing about the dog chasing the Mack truck: Now that the fans got it, what will they do with it?

The guess here is: not much.

Races at Bristol used to be special. They were events. The wonderful metal canyon of a track filled to brim with the fans and the awe-struck curious. Sellouts were a given. Even at 160,000 seats.

Then, a couple years back, the place to be for NASCAR fans became the place to rip. At first, the tickets became less tough to get. Then, bit by bit, not got. Until finally two weeks ago, the place looked to be half full, or, if you’re a pessimist, half empty.

Smith, it turned out this week, is a pessimist. He sought out “fan input” in the days after the Food City 500 and the decision to reach for the reset button was made.

No specific details on just what changes are being considered, but the logical assumption is that Bristol will attempt to bring back one-groove racing. The races will, apparently, not be won by the swift – or most talented – but by the angriest.

What Smith decided to do took guts – and, without a doubt, lots of bucks.

Here’s hoping he got a proper sampling in the survey his people conducted. Because you have to put your Socrates hat on and wonder if by appeasing one half the fans of Bristol, the angry half, might he end up offending the other half with the change?

Might Mr. Smith just exchange one set of empty seats for another set of empty seats?

Interest in NASCAR has slipped. Everywhere. While there can be considerable debate about the causes, the effects are undeniable. Yes, Bristol has been hit particularly hard.

The sport made a bit of a comeback late last year. But I think not because Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were wrecking each other every week, but because the racing was so darn good and the storylines so compelling.

I keep thinking back to Darlington, another of those really, really cool old tracks in NASCAR’s Southeastern cradle. The place has character and history by the, well, Mack truck load.

But despite having just 60,000 grandstand seats, sellouts became history at the place after the turn of the century. Track owner International Speedway Corporation publicly pondered moving one of its two yearly races to another of its tracks.

The traditionalists went crazy. Really crazy. A couple assaulted me in the media center parking lot during one of those race weekends. Seems they held the media responsible. I was glad for strong fences that day.

So the challenge went out: Fill the place and keep race. Unfortunately, Darlington is now a one-race venue.

The big question about Bristol: Will the revamped track result in packed grandstands at the place later this year and next year and the year after that?

The guess: No. Racing’s problems are deeper than that and also, you just can’t please everybody.

But, huge ‘atta boy to Mr. Smith and his folks for making the attempt and I really hope I’m wrong on this one. Love Bristol and loved the race there two weeks ago.

Houston, you may be a problem…for one of the tracks which helped IndyCar racing though some very tough times.

I just cannot imagine that Eddie Gossage and the folks at Texas Motor Speedway were delighted with this week’s news that IndyCar has added a street race in Houston to its 2013 schedule.

Houston and Fort Worth are not exactly twin cities, and one will host a street race and the other an oval event.  But you have to believe that the two Texas cities are close enough to where the new race will certainly syphon off some of the TMS fan base.

There is still a recession going on and while most things are big in Texas, an important exception may be race fans’ bank accounts.

The week also brought news of the death of another NASCAR institution – SceneDaily.

Nobody covered the sport over the years like the folks at Scene. First as a print product and then as an online product. Great reporting and writing. Scene was more than a publication, it was reference material.

But, first with the prolonged illness of print journalism, and then because of complications of reduced demand for information and  then, finally the economic blow up of 2008, Scene withered.

What’s left will be absorbed by The Sporting News website. But it will do so, apparently, without one of the finest racing reporters on the beat – Kenny Bruce.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, March 30 2012
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