Brothers and sisters, I have seen the path to NASCAR’s future. It is brightly lit, and it leads directly back into its past.
Brothers and sisters, I have seen the light. I mean, like, a whole lot of light. To be exact, 750 lights atop 19 poles, casting a futuristic, state-of-the art LED illumination onto stock car racing’s most aged bullring.
Brothers and sisters, I have wiped the red clay and tire rubber residue from mine eyes, and I have peered into a prophecy of horsepower that we all should accept into our hearts as our collective destiny.
The NASCAR All-Star Race should be moved to a midweek, midsummer evening at Martinsville Speedway. Close your eyes, and just imagine it. A jam-packed, fender-bender, one-day Wednesday night showcase held within easy driving distance of every Cup Series race shop, with the main event held in primetime under the lights.
Forget complaints about intermediate track fatigue and “did you learn anything you can use for next week’s Coca-Cola 600?” Forget aerodynamics and downforce. Forget empty seats. Forget all of that, and simply let the rough side drag.
A Martinsville midsummer All-Star Race would be a motorsports baptism, a sorely needed tent revival held alongside a Virginia country road. It would be, quite simply, the greatest stock car bunkhouse stampede of all time, held as the sun sets over the mountains and summer ebbs just a bit to make way for hillside breezes.
This idea, lo, this vision quest, was delivered to me on the wings of a racing angel. OK, not actual wings but the painted-on wings of Goodyear Eagles. And OK, Leonard Wood isn’t an actual angel, but he is as cherubic a mortal as you will meet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage.
On Jan. 26, the 82-year-old NASCAR Hall of Famer celebrated the flicking of the switch that electrified Martinsville Speedway’s new $5 million lighting system by power-sliding through hot laps in the very 1937 Ford his brother Glen raced on the half-mile paperclip oval in 1960.
“Glen and I were standing on the backstretch watching Red Byron win the first race here,” he recalled giddily, speaking of the track’s first event 70 years ago this summer. “Turning those laps was awesome.”
Yes, it was. Chilling, in fact, and not because it was January. Rather, because it opened up a grandfather clock cabinet of possibilities at NASCAR’s oldest facility.
No, night racing is not new. If anything, it has become NASCAR’s version of a tired party trick, an idea that once was special but has become routine. The same can be said of the event that birthed NASCAR’s big-time night racing era, the annual All-Star Race, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway all but one year since its 1985 debut.
That race has been held under the lights since 1992, the forever legendary “One Hot Night” that featured racing and wrecks and Hall of Famers and a million dollar payout and, ultimately, entirely too much too early for the event to live up to again.
I love Charlotte Motor Speedway. I loved The Winston. But despite Charlotte’s best efforts, including a forgettable list of never-ending format changes, these days, the thrill of One Hot Night feels smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. It is time for a change.
Rotating the All-Star Race around other tracks, an idea floated every May, is too complicated. It costs too much money. And whereas the idea of “another week at home for the weary teams” has always been a little overrated when discussing Charlotte, it isn’t entirely untrue.
Martinsville solves that problem by being just up the road. A week closer to home in the middle of NASCAR’s endless summer is a lot more attractive of an oasis than it is in May, and it keeps what should be a signature affair from being swallowed by the 600, the Indy 500 and all other Memorial Day weekend activities.
Running the event in midsummer, let’s say mid-July, also comes at a time when the All-Star Race would have a chance to dominate the sports headlines. Baseball is in its post-Midsummer Classic dog days, while football and basketball are still weeks and months away.
Running the event midsummer also doesn’t interfere with Martinsville’s two current Cup Series dates, which should remain on the calendar and should remain during the day, so as to preserve the sacredness of the track’s history while preserving the prestige of the new All-Star event.
If the new proves to take away from one of the other traditional times, so be it. The overall NASCAR schedule needs to be compressed anyway. Success on a midweek night might finally convince those in charge to take bigger swings when it comes to calendar revisions.
Think about the biggest complaints from NASCAR fans today. They want more short tracks and fewer “cookie cutter” races. They want uniqueness in events. They want more emotion. They want more old-school, and they want to revive the spirit of One Hot Night.
A midweek, midsummer All-Star Race at Martinsville would address all of that. It would take what people love so much about the annual Camping World Truck Series event on the dirt at Eldora Speedway and recreate that energy with Cup cars and stars … all while, importantly, allowing Eldora’s event to maintain its identity.
NASCAR doesn’t need more night races. It doesn’t need to keep reinventing an event that has passed its prime. It needs to move the All-Star Race into the future by going back to the future.
I have seen the light. You will too if you cast your eyes toward the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is calling us home.