Watched part of NASCAR’s second race at Darlington in less than a week, the 500 km event rain eventually shortened and Virginia’s Denny Hamlin won after his teammate, Kyle Busch, knocked out contender Chase Elliott just before the drops started to fall.
At this point, the races are run without spectators in the stands, half as many members of each team present and announcers calling the race from a monitor-filled control room in Charlotte.
The race started two hours late because of an earlier rain and the return of more wet stuff shortened the event to even less of the 31l miles that 500 km approximates on a track the size of Darlington.
Why kilometers instead of miles? NASCAR is experimenting with some shorter races as it struggles to play catch with multiple events, including some on weeknights, in events where longer races produce dull periods and, with delays, stretch programming times on TV.
Even without a pandemic to keep spectators away from stands, NASCAR’s actual crowds during events have dwindled in recent years and, like so many sports, now panders more to TV than the enthusiasm of spectators who build the popularity of the sport.
I grew up a NASCAR fan. So was my mother, who dated Joe Weatherly and Cale Yarborough before meeting my dad. As a kid, I went to races at North Wilkesboro, Richmond, Bristol and Darlington and, with Amy after our marriage, would be in the stands at the World 600 in Charlotte, the Inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, the Daytona 500, Bristol and other races.
But becoming a TV attraction changed NASCAR and big-money sponsors filled infield with tents for their preferred guests and NASCAR, in our opinion, ruined the racing by adding stunts like the
race for the chase,” and segments and other gimmicks that tried to attract more TV attention than attention to the loyal fans who supported them through the years.
Wednesday night’s race on the Fox Sports Network, which I watched streamed-live on Hulu, was a pure made for TV event. The cameras focused tightly on the cars with virtually no shots of the empty grandstands.
Hamlin’s win, like the one this weekend by Kevin Harvick, was a muted affair with no victory lane celebrations with a trophy brought over. Drivers remain in their coaches until it is time to go to the cars at the start of races because there are no fans, no introductions, and little interaction.
Both races had several spins. The forced span my Busch of Elliott, brought discussions by the announcers, and Elliott flashed the finger at Busch when he drove by but NASCAR blurred out the gesture on replays. The fans who so often boo Busch were not there to do so this time.
You dd see some fan reaction on social media after the race and Hamlin’s interview pretty much ignored the incident, given the fact the Busch is his Joe Gibbs Racing Teammate.
It was a made for TV event with no pretense of having to deal with all of us pesky fans.
NASCAR runs the Memorial Day 600 at Charlotte this coming weekend. The race will be 600 miles, weather permitting, not a shorter 600 km but it will be another TV event only.
We won’t be watching. NASCAR has ruined its appeal for us. It might as well be made-for-TV wrestling. We might have watched the Indy 500 this Sunday but it is now postponed until August when organizers hope they can have fans in the stands. The Monaco Formula 1 race is canceled.
Perhaps NASCAR should have done the same. Or maybe they should just tear down the stands and make all the races, even after the pandemic has passed, a just for TV fake reality show.