Congratulations, everyone, we made it.
We survived the only weekend within the 2022 NASCAR schedule without a Cup Series race.
Given there was only a Camping World Truck Series race over the weekend, instead of one lengthy column this week, I’ve decided to tackle a variety of subjects I’ve been mulling recently in short bursts.
NASCAR’s Vague Pride Apology
It’s been three weeks since NASCAR’s Twitter account began June, which is Pride Month, with the following vague tweet acknowledging “that recent actions have not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.”
As we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, we acknowledge that recent actions have not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to create a more inclusive environment — in our workplaces, at the race track & in the stands. pic.twitter.com/r0h232xaXd
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 1, 2022
We still don’t know who or what NASCAR was seemingly going out of its way to apologize for.
It apparently warranted a tweet but wasn’t important enough to be explicitly spelled out.
Though, we do have some idea what it was likely referring to, thanks to the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer: the presence of Greg Abbott, Texas’ anti-LGBTQ Republican Governor at NASCAR’s All-Star Race in May, where he waved the green flag to start the event.
I’m not sure what this tweet is acknowledging… someone with the power to acknowledge such things admitted to me Abbott at Texas was a mistake. But below isn’t exactly clear which actions are out of alignment. 🤷♀️ https://t.co/WpJruoau7k
— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) June 1, 2022
Eight days after the tweet was posted, NASCAR president Steve Phelps was asked directly by FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass what the tweet was referring to and why the tweet was necessary.
“I’ll just say, generally, we as a sport haven’t been as a welcoming and inclusive to the LBGT community,” Phelps said. “We want to be, right? So the efforts that we’ve made with Hispanics and with African Americans, this is another important group that we want to reach out to. We want our sport to be as welcoming and inclusive as it can be. And that’s what race fans, you know, our existing fans are primarily, not all, they want to share this sport with others, they do. Whether it’s someone’s sexual orientation or the color of their skin or whatever that might be, it’s immaterial. It’s a love for racing that, that they want to celebrate with each other. And that’s something that we’re working really hard at.”
At no point did Phelps explicitly say what NASCAR weakly apologized for.
Why does what Phelps has to say matter? Because last November, in the wake of the juvenile anti-Joe Biden chant that originated at a NASCAR race, Phelps said “We do not want to associate ourselves with politics, the left or the right.”
Well, Abbott is about as right as you can get.
I asked a NASCAR spokesperson last month — before the June 1 tweet — if it has any say on the pre-race dignitaries at tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports. The only answer I got was that since Abbott is the governor of the state, his presence at the All-Star Race is n’t a big deal and should n’t be seen as a political statement.
If we’re going off the June 1 tweet and what Fryer reported, that definitely isn’t viewed as being the case by someone of note in NASCAR headquarters. Which is saying something, given this is the sport that put on a parade for Donald Trump before the 2020 Daytona 500.
It’s great that NASCAR is trying to put in the work to make the sport more welcoming to historically marginalized communities.
It’s awesome to see “Pride Month” signs at Portland International Raceway (though it was tweeted close to 10 pm ET time).
NASCAR wants to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
A good ally is a forthcoming one, even if — like Disney experienced recently in Florida — there’s the implied threat of a Republican state government taking out political retaliation on that honesty.
Road America Out? Chicago Street Course In?
When it comes to the NASCAR schedule, I have one major tenet: nothing should be sacred.
Well, outside the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Bristol Night Race, that is.
The “crown jewel” races should be off limits. Everything else is fair game.
So when it was reported last week that NASCAR is close to locking in a Chicago street course race for 2023 and that it’s “open” to dropping Road America from the schedule, the reaction was … odd.
.@NASCAR is getting closer to announcing a new street race in Chicago that would start next year, per sources.
🔲 Not yet clear who would lose a race, but NASCAR appears open to dropping a road course and Road America doesn’t have a deal yet for 2023.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) June 17, 2022
The overwhelming response I saw on Twitter was disappointment, which I get.
The 4-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., is a historic track that the NASCAR Cup Series should have been going to long before 2021. But it wasn’t possible until recently after NASCAR’s five-year agreement with tracks expired and both it and Speedway Motorsports became private companies.
However, the tone of the disappointment read as if Road America had been a mainstay on the schedule for years.
This wouldn’t be like Darlington Raceway losing its Southern 500 date to Auto Club Speedway in the 2000s.
In its bid to be more relevant and spice up the schedule, NASCAR needs to be nimble. If a bold, creative opportunity arises for the sanctioning body to hold a race in major market like Chicago, it needs to make it happen. There will be those who say “why not just go back to Chicagoland Speedway?” The 1.5-mile track that opened in 2001 is not located in Chicago.
It’s located in Joliet, Ill., roughly 40 miles from downtown Chicago.
Plenty of NASCAR tracks are located similar distances from metro areas — like this weekend’s races at Nashville Superspeedway. But even with that, Speedway Motorsports is trying to make a Cup race at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, which is in the middle of the Nashville metro area, a reality.
Then there’s the Busch Clash at the LA Coliseum, which is held just 50 miles from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
It makes sense. The closer you have a race to ground zero of major market, the more that market will likely pay attention to you and the easier it is for people to attend.
If a race is held 40 minutes to one hour away, it could be treated as an oddity. But if NASCAR is literally racing on the streets of Chicago, it’s right there in your face.
You can’t ignore it.
Cheap Broadcasts = Bad Broadcasts
Did you know that Jessica Friesen flipped during Saturday night’s (June 18) Truck Series race at Knoxville Raceway?
Did you know that Brett Moffitt went for a ride on the frontstretch wall on the side of his truck right before a caution flew?
If you were only monitoring the race via FOX Sports 1’s broadcast from the half-mile dirt track, you would never have known such dramatic incidents happened.
They apparently weren’t captured on camera, and they were never mentioned by the race announcers, who weren’t even at the track.
Those watching at home initially found out via videos posted on Twitter by a fan in stands (linked above).
Broadcasts not having at-track announcers for standalone Truck or Xfinity races isn’t new. That was the case at Portland earlier this month. When Xfinity held races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in recent years, NBC only sent pit reporters.
I can see the desire for a network to want to cut costs, especially for a Truck Series race on the only off-weekend of the year for the Cup Series. But when you start cutting costs in important areas, you’re likely to produce a worse product and leave fans unnecessarily in the dark.
Pit reporters can only see so much. Race announcers are supposed to be the eyes and ears in the sky for us who can’t be at the track itself.
If CBS could send out announcers for its SRX Racing event at Knoxville last year, FOX Sports should be able to do the same.
2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com. And you can hear more from him on his podcast.
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