Was this onetime event a success? Considering that it was sold out the day tickets became available, that they sold tickets to 48 states, and four different countries, was standing room; and from the looks of lawn chair seating as well, then yes it was a success.
Were they impressive? By all means, and fun as all get out to watch, getting to see some historic dirt racers trying to learn how to pilot those big bulky trucks was great. Getting to see guys that thought dirt was only used to grow crops try and figure out how to actually drive on the dirt was a blast.
Did NASCAR get it right this time? I would say yes. When the format was originally announced I wasn’t sure where I came down on how this was going to play out on T.V. and let’s face it, that is what was the most important aspect of this event, how well it was perceived on television is what would ultimately be the final grade on the quality of the event.
Seeing seven trucks racing to try and secure their starting spot was great, thoroughly enjoyable and something that I think that NASCAR should consider revisiting for the CUP series. My good friend and fellow Speedway Media write Nick DeGroot wrote an article detailing this a few weeks back and is something that should be checked out, you can find it here: Qualifying Changes. For those that missed it, or haven’t read about it elsewhere, here is a brief synopsis of how the qualifying worked for the “Mudsummer Classic” worked.
Each driver went out and ran a “hot lap,” basically a qualifying lap and based upon their speeds they were seeded for the nights qualifying races. In each qualifying race seven trucks battled for position in the main event race that would be held. Kenny Schrader, who is now the oldest person to ever qualify on the pole, won not only the pole but also the first heat race of the night. Now in the heat races when the caution came out, any laps run under caution did not count. All in all the heat races were fairly tame. There were a couple of cautions for self spines but that was about it. The heat races locked in 25 drivers to the main event. Then there was the “Last Chance” qualifier, which took the 10 trucks that had not already made it into the main event and would only allow the top-5 finishers to race in the big show. This is where it got pretty entertaining, everyone in this race was hungry and racing for pride. Where as in the other races there were highlights of good hard racing for position, this last chance qualifier race saw tons of beating and banging. Several restarts and some pretty disappointed drivers and teams. IT WAS GREAT!
Now to the main event, three segments broken into a 60 lap event, 50 laps, and finally 40 laps. Between each segment teams were allowed to come down pit road, make as many repairs and adjustments as they could in about three laps and then would return to the track in the same spot that they ended the previous segment. We were treated to some great side by side slide job racing during this 150 lap event and it was very entertaining. So to answer the question that started this article, was the event in and of itself a success? Yes, without a doubt and it is something that has excited not only the fans, but drivers and teams.
Who didn’t see this coming though? BUT, will it remain a success? Ultimately isn’t that what we the fans and community want it to be? Was the Mudsummer Classic something that is going to be looked forward to every year; something that sparks that excitement level in everyone for years to come?
This is where I caution everyone to tap the brakes for a moment. There were flaws in the event, despite what we felt was an entertaining race. NASCAR returning to its roots was huge, and I am honestly not trying to throw them or Tony or anything else under the bus, but realistically do we see this being a yearly event that will take a town whose population is around 209 people and exploded it to some 20k for a two night event. This by itself alone proves that Tony Stewart and everyone else involved in the event did an amazing job. The drivers that have dirt experience even commented and complimented Tony on all of the hard work he did, and how perfect the track was for the event.
Let’s take a look at another historic track that NASCAR had never been on, and see what parallels we can draw from there. The Indianapolis Speedway, you really can’t get much more historic than that can you? NASCAR finally raced there for the first time in 1994. The track has been around since 1916, and has the second highest paying purse in NASCAR, (next to the Daytona 500). In its first year it drew some 250,000 spectators to the event. Impressive numbers to say the very least, but let’s be honest with each other, when was the last time you as a fan got excited about the Cup cars being at Indie? I know there was a ton of excitement last year because the Nationwide cars finally got to race on the big track, but honestly when was the last time you circled this event on your calendar and held a race watching party for it? That’s what I thought.
Back to the trucks, when the format was announced of 60, 50, 40, my first thought was, “How cute they are giving the trucks their own all-star race.” It felt quite simply, wrong to me. Being raised on NASCAR, the races are supposed to be run in one long continuous segment. Yes, I get that they had to break it up like this to accommodate 30 trucks on the track at the same time or should I say pit road at the same time. Still doesn’t change the fact that it originally felt wrong to me.
Now to the event itself, it was a slam dunk success this year. And quite honestly will be for at least two years more, but this is not a cure all for what is ailing NASCAR. When we stop thinking about the event itself, all the hype and hoopla that surrounded the event, at the end of the night it was all NASCAR, trying to figure out a way to fix NASCAR. While it was fun and entertaining as a one shot deal, but realistically we aren’t going to see Cup or Nationwide cars back on dirt in this generation or even the next generations’ lifetime.
NASCAR is trying to lure in more fans and a younger audience, and the trucks running at Eldora or heck even having half their schedule on dirt might do that for a short time fix. If NASCAR truly wants to fix attendance and T.V. ratings they need to stop with gimmick fixes like this event and focus on improving the quality of the racing on the track. Figure out a way to keep the guy that starts first from having an incredible advantage on the rest of the field would be a HUGE leap in the direction of fixing what fans want.