Bristol’s night race, Texas’s 2011 springtime event, Charlotte’s Chase race. All promote themselves as a big deal because they are held at night. But are they?
The night race tag was special when Bristol Motor Speedway and the Nashville Fairgrounds were the only events on the NASCAR Cup schedule with Saturday evening bookings. Over the years technology has increased to where television broadcasts and superspeedways brought in a much higher grade of illumination. Now night racing is possible at 12 out of the 22 raceways on the schedule.
Bristol still holds an aura of a special race. The track lends itself to being a fan destination whatever time of day the green flag waves. Other races have gravitated towards extra billing for being under the lights.
Daytona’s Independence weekend show, Atlanta’s Labor Day event and Richmond’s Chase field decider all have the winners celebrating well after sunset.
I have heard from journalists that cover professional racing as well as other major sporting events that the nighttime gives sports a big league feel. Like something a little extra special was happening.
With my racing upbringing, not so to me.
From spring to Labor Day, every weekend was spent at a speedway. Either as a fan, crewmember, or driver, my teens and twenties consisted of being at a racetrack. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights when possible were a given. Any special races during the week that were staged within a few hour radius of home were fair game.
I saw Modifeds, Late Models, Sprint cars, asphalt and dirt cars. They were all good. And they were all at night. Weekly grassroots speedways for the most part held their regular season races through summer. Then the special events began during the autumn.
The weekly Saturday night program wound up with the feature race at 25 to 30 laps. A 50-lap main was a big deal.
Fall brought upon the 200 and 300 lap big races for big money. And they were held during the afternoon. For decades an afternoon race defined a major event. It meant that I was watching something special. My weekly heroes were accepting the challenge of traveling big names. The ‘Fall Specials’ were anticipated all year.
The Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 used to be two of the very few televised auto races. And both were always in the daylight.
I still feel the same way I did as a kid. During the afternoon I have a feeling I am seeing something big, something special, something that should be remembered. The night races are cool but the distinctive sense of major league belongs to the daytime.
I may go against the grain to sports observers with most big events taking place at night. That is what comes from growing up with weekly racecars as an interest and not much else. And I am all right with that.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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