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‘Tator Day Thoughts: Short Tracks

PREFACE: Every week, on Thursday, or “‘Tator Day,” I will try to give my thoughts on a particular idea or thing. This week is short track racing. However, one may wonder, What is ‘Tator Day?

For those who attend VSU and regularly read The Spectator, ‘Tator Day is the day that the Spectator is released every week, Thursday. You will see, from time to time, the phrase “Happy ‘Tator Day!” on a specific page of The Spectator. This is a device for whenever there’s space that needs to be filled on a specific page. Ask the outgoing managing editor, Chad Stone, about this. I bet he hates it. It probably brings evil memories of trying to get a page ready for human consumption while we get The Spectator prepared for you on Wednesday nights.

This week, NASCAR’s Cup and Nationwide Series race at the Richmond International Raceway, a three-quarter mile oval, one of three short tracks on the NASCAR calendar. In my eye, that’s not enough, and in today’s world of 1.5 mile ovals filling the NASCAR schedule these days, they are truly a breath of fresh air.

Why? Well, the answer is quite simple. Action on what I call the “one-fivers” is a little less entertaining than what you’d see elsewhere. Fans will attest that the last few races at places like Kansas and Texas have not really been the most entertaining races they’ve ever seen. Drivers run around in their own lanes – low, high, middle, whatever, and run around for 400 or 500 miles. Sometimes, these races produce some entertaining moments, such as Martin Truex’s hilariously botched attempt at a slidejob pass late in the race at Kansas, or some of Tony Stewart’s crossover maneuvers at California, but these moments are rather rare compared to the relative monotony of the races on these one-fivers.

If you want action, you want to watch a race on a short track. Here, the action is a tad bit more physical. The best way to get around a driver isn’t always to take a different lane, but rather to knock the guy ahead of you out of the way. Bumpers will be frayed, and so will tempers, at times. You may recall Jeff Gordon having some words with Clint Bowyer after the race at Martinsville. You may also recall about two dozen drivers being angry with Brian Vickers after his catastrophically bad performance at the same track last October. Or Kevin Harvick shirt-collaring Greg Biffle after a Busch race at Bristol ten years ago. Or maybe the near-riot that occured at Richmond four years ago when Kyle Busch booted Dale Earnhardt Jr out of a sure victory.

The point is, you don’t get that sort of action at most tracks. Due to the speeds being lower, drivers can more ably exact revenge on another driver for a wrong committed either during that race, or in a past situation, or whatever. It’s safer to exact this sort of revenge at a place such as Richmond than at a place like Texas or Atlanta, where speeds near 200 mph, and drivers can fly through the air like a matchbox in a wind gust. All a driver needs to do is hook the rear quarter-panel of his target, and revenge has been exacted. Yes, this leads to frayed tempers, but a wrong has been righted in the eyes of a driver.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough of these tracks and races on the NASCAR schedule. Richmond, a .75 mile track, along with the two half-miles at Bristol and Martinsville, are the only three tracks on the calendar. There are other circuits that could provide some incredible racing for a NASCAR Cup race, but unfortunately are not being used.

The most glaring is not far from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s called Indianapolis Raceway Park, in the suburb of Clermont, and it might be the very best short track in the country. Yes, the track is banked progressively, and yes, there are a multitude of lanes to use, but this multitude of lanes actually helps make the racing more entertaining in this situation.

Check out this wild battle to decide the ’94 Busch race at IRP:

Click here for video.

A Cup race here at IRP would be infinitely more entertaining than the fare at the Speedway, which is awesome as hell as a IndyCar track, but hasn’t been known for an entertaining Cup track. I’ve long said that it is physically impossible to have a bad race at this track, but I wish those with more powers than me would understand this.

Another good short track is Irwindale Speedway, a track that is either in limbo, closed, or open for business, depending on the day. The track, a half-mile, is another progressively-banked track, but because the action is more close-quarters than the one-fivers, the action tends to be more entertaining. Check out action from the 2011 All-Star Showdown:

Click here for video.

You can’t tell me that the racing isn’t awesome here. There are other tracks, of course, such as North Wilkesboro (which appears to be sadly closed, again), the Nashville Fairgrounds (which is enjoying a bit of a resurgence after almost being on the chopping block for a few years), Iowa Speedway (which isn’t half-bad of a track, Rusty Wallace designed it, which might say something), and the like. But what do you think?

By the way, here’s what I plan to do with SPECRacing:
Monday: Post-weekend analysis and thoughts
Wednesday: Video of the week (and a little blurb with it)
Thursday: ‘Tator Day Thoughts
Race Weekend: Some random thoughts during the races

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