NASCAR gives you L.A. and Chicago, but also North Wilkesboro, so cheer up! | KEN WILLIS
This weekend, NASCAR has again splashed down in Los Angeles, looking to make serious waves with a return engagement at the L.A. Coliseum.
About 3½ months from now, NASCAR will make another return, this one longer in coming, when the All Star Race roars into Wilkes County, N.C., where the county’s entire population is less than the L.A. Coliseum’s seating capacity.
This ain’t happenstance, folks.
“We’ve made a lot of changes, going into these new markets, taking risks, in order to take racing to different areas we haven’t been to before,” says Ben Kennedy, who’s often credited for driving this new bus.
He’s talking specifically about L.A. and a new venture this summer on the downtown streets of Chicago.
And on the other hand …
“But then, as we think about that, we also try to think about, ‘how do we also cater to the history and the 75 years we have?’ Like North Wilkesboro for the All Star Race.”
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Are these maneuvers — seeking new markets one day, thrilling the older fan base another day — just a reflexive thought process, or is there a ledger, at least mentally, creating this give-and-take philosophy.
“I think it’s consciously, for sure,” says Kennedy, the fourth-generation France family member whose official NASCAR title is Vice President, Racing Development and Strategy.
The first generation got it organized and rolling. The second took it from dirt and hardscrabble blacktop to superhighways. The third digested giant network contracts and took dead aim on Hollywood and Broadway — and not just figuratively. This generation seems tasked with a combination of building, maintaining and rejuvenating.
Ironically, a holdover from that second generation — Jim France — serves as CEO and Chairman. Fitting, these days, given the need to mix yesterday and tomorrow.
Sunday night at the Coliseum is definitely about tomorrow, a tomorrow that includes July’s street race in Chicago. These two events, both so hard to imagine in earlier times, began germinating a little more than three years ago.
“Chicago and Los Angeles, as far as the genesis of the concept, happened around the same time, around the fall of 2019,” Kennedy says. “I’d say we started working on L.A. in August of that year. Chicago probably happened sometime in September or October.
“When we initially talked about it, we were exploring doing something around Soldier Field with a similar concept to what we’ve done with the L.A. Coliseum. We explored that for a little bit, then the concept of doing a street course around Grant Park came alive and then we just ultimately drove it from there.”
NASCAR has proven it can pull off the Coliseum. If Chicago goes well, you know more of both is coming.
“I would say, on the stadium side, we’ve had a few folks reach out,” Kennedy says. “The concept of building a temporary quarter-mile oval or temporary street course gives us the ability to go racing in Los Angeles or Chicago without having a track and the infrastructure and everything that comes along with it.
“That has naturally opened the doors to a couple of stadiums, but I would say, more than anything, a number of cities both in the U.S. and across the borders, reaching out and showing interest in doing some type of race, whether it’s a stadium or street course.”
For those who still cling to the best things offered by yesterday, all is not lost. We lost a few, but we got the Southern 500 locked back into Labor Day weekend. We got dirt at Bristol, some serious renovation happening at Rockingham, and shortly, a start-your-engines at North Wilkesboro, which no sober person imagined until quite recently.
Also this year, the trucks return to the Milwaukee Mile and Indianapolis Raceway Park, while also racing at North Wilkesboro. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway, an old beauty, might be next.
“A lot of these areas and tracks we go to, we think about it in a sense that, hey, these are opportunities for us to take the sport to a different level from a location or type-of-track perspective,” Kennedy says. “But then you also get to celebrate your history with the North Wilkesboros of the world … IRP, Milwaukee, the events and tracks that really helped build up the sport.”
We’ll say it again, sometimes you feel like the Bellamy Brothers’ Old Hippie — Should he hang on to the old, should he grab on to the new?
In the end, remember, he just tried real hard to adjust.
— Reach Ken Willis at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: NASCAR gives L.A., Chicago ... and N. Wilkesboro? Busch Clash arrives