Have you ever gone back and watched an old NASCAR race, maybe because it’s one of your favorites, or you long for the history of our sport. I sometimes find myself searching on YouTube for a good short track shoot out from the 90’s to pass the time. Often I don’t recall who won, or where anyone finished, and even though it’s not live I still find it exciting. Nothing says nostalgia like the names and cars of old putting it all on the line for a win.
What draws me to a previous era are the names, Labonte, Gordon, Wallace, and Rudd all with their recognizable sponsors and classic paint schemes. It’s great that fans can look so fondly at the past, but this personification of the “good old days” may contribute to the sports struggle today. I know NASCAR needs to look to the future, but how has the sport not expanded its connection of past and present further than the annual throwback weekend.
I am proposing the NASCAR Hall of Fame race, an annual exhibition race held to showcase the legends of the sport. It seems obvious that this would be a mass success, and while not imperative to the future, it has to be worth it. If the time and money spent on other exhibition races is deemed practical than this seems more than reasonable. I would venture forth to bet that the HOF race would be one of the highest rated events of the season, and will leave everyone saying “Why did we not do this before?”
An annual invite should be sent to all members of the Hall of Fame. Currently there are only 7 HOF drivers under the age of 70, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarret, Bill Elliot, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Ron Hornaday Jr., and Jeff Gordon. However there is no maximum age for NASCAR competition, as we saw Hershel McGriff race in a K&N Pro race earlier this year at the age of 90. Obviously it would be awesome to see Richard petty and Darrel Waltrip compete I don’t think anyone would fault them for not strapping into a car.
This leaves us with a possible lack of participation, but even in the next couple of years we should expect to see the induction of at least a half dozen drivers that can still get it done including Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Gregg Biffle, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Still with such a small pool of drivers to choose from we could expand the starting grid further by allowing participants or invitees to include another retired driver of their choice. Drivers such as Sterling Marlin, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton, Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, and Kyle Petty come to mind. Regardless of how it’s done, NASCAR has a deep pool of retired talent that would be willing to race again.
Owner participation, along with sponsor and manufacturer involvement would be the key to success, but why would they not want to participate. The major cup teams could easily field at least 20 cars, especially for a previous employee or current owner. While putting a car on track for one race isn’t cheap it may be the affordable sponsorship deal some companies want to take advantage of. The right conversations could lead to the return of sponsors like Kelloggs, or Coors while those already participating in the sport may want to rekindle old connections. It could be very possible to see current sponsors like Caterpillar, Arris, Axalta, and Nationwide participating with the obvious driver/ team combinations.
Selecting the car may be a more difficult task, but nowhere near impossible. Even if they just went out and used the same cars as cup or Xfinity the race would be worth it. Maybe it could give insight to how much fans actually care about the cars effect on racing as compared to the nostalgia of old school NASCAR. It would be intriguing to see them run a generation 3 or 4 car, someone has to have some of the 2014 K&N cars still sitting around. Regardless of the car we want parity for an equal playing field so the greatest drivers in history can show off their talents; laying it all on the line for victory and glory. Although isn’t that what we want now?
The race would best be run on a short track, I’m not sure anyone could convince me otherwise. Almost all of the driver’s backgrounds are from short tracks, and the larger the track the less participation you may be likely to get. I could see NASCAR running the race at Charlotte, because of the Hall of Fame and it’s the sports “home track”, but please spare us the pain. My first nomination is Richmond Raceway, but I understand that Bristol and Martinsville should be in the conversations, and let us not forget that Rockingham may be prepared to host a race in a couple of years.
For the sake of the fans I think we need to get as much action out of the week or weekend as possible. While I would like to see the race run the week before Darlington, I understand that those within the sport have lives. It would pair well with the throwback weekend, but NASCAR would have to decide if it were better with a current race, or as a standalone event. Maybe it can get a spot during one of the Xfinity series off weeks.
There are numerous options for the format which we could spend eternity discussing, but all that matters is we have an exciting event to determine a winner. Sticking with the idea of an action packed weekend, it would make sense to me to have a day of practice, and qualifying (Thursday). Current NASCAR rules for the race would make the most sense, let’s see what these old guys can do on a double file restart or green white checkered. I would propose two qualifying/ heat races with half the field the day before the race (Friday) anywhere from 25 to 50 laps. Then the big event, 200 - 300 laps with stages anywhere between 50-100 laps. Not too many gimmicks, just a great race or races.
Seriously the details don’t matter, we just want to see the legends of NASCAR on track!