5 Reasons Why NASCAR Needs More Night Races, Especially in the Chase
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It's hard to get NASCAR fans to agree to much of anything. They have different favorite drivers, different favorite tracks, even different favorite races.
And there's nothing wrong with that.
But if there's one subject that brings fans and drivers alike together in their opinion, it's the almost universal enjoyment and appreciation of night racing.
Some like racing under the lights because it reminds them of their early years as either a fan or driver, watching or competing at some of the smallest grassroots short tracks in the nation, from Washington state to Florida, from New Hampshire to California.
Others like Saturday night racing because of the entirely different way the senses react. Watching a night race—particularly in person—is a whole different experience than watching a race during the day, from sights to sounds to sometimes a near-sensory overload.
For whatever reason, night races just seem to enhance everything about the entire racing experience.
Here are five of the best reasons why NASCAR should consider adding more Saturday night races to the schedule, particularly during the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
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1. The Lure Is Already There
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Admit it, even though it occurred because of a rainout the previous day, wasn't this year's Daytona 500—under the lights—an entirely different experience, either in the stands or in front of your TV? It was like watching an entirely brand-new race and at a brand-new race track on the Sprint Cup schedule.
Thus far this season, including the rescheduled season opener at Daytona, we've had 12 night races (including the non-points Sprint All-Star Race). If you take away the latter two, that still means 10 points-paying races that were on the original 2012 schedule.
To refresh your memory, here's the list of night races we've enjoyed in 2012:
- Rescheduled Daytona 500 (February)
- Texas spring race (April)
- Richmond spring race (April)
- Darlington (May)
- Charlotte Sprint All-Star Race (May)
- Charlotte Coca-Cola 600 (May)
- Kentucky (June)
- Daytona summer race (July)
- Bristol summer race (August)
- Atlanta (September)
- Richmond – final Chase qualifying race (September)
- Charlotte fall race (October)
In a perfect world, we'd like to see maybe three or four more night races—a little more than a third of the season—on the schedule, particularly during the Chase, which currently only has one night race among its 10-race slate, the October Saturday night race at Charlotte.
Granted, there are several races, including this Sunday's race at Phoenix and next week's season finale at Homestead that start in mid-to-late afternoon and finish under the lights, but that's not the same as a true night race. We're talking about the true evening races, those that start after 7 p.m. and sometimes don't end until after midnight.
We see several more night races, particularly in the Camping World Truck Series, that have become quite popular. Why not in the Sprint Cup Series?
2. The Overall Sensory Experience
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One of the most enthralling aspects of a night race is how it heightens all your senses.
Visually, there's enough sparks under cars or while trading paint during the course of a race to put even the most lavish fireworks display to shame.
There's also the sounds. For example, go to Bristol for the spring Sunday afternoon race, and it sounds like a typical race.
But go to the Bristol summer night race in August, and your ears have a whole other experience. There are also heightened smells, taste and touch.
I remember my first night race at Bristol Motor Speedway many years ago. I have a blind friend who is a huge NASCAR fan. Everything about the race, from the vibe going in, the anticipation of the green flag, all the way through the checkered flag, makes for a pleasant sensory overload.
To hear the cars take off at the green flag, it sounded like thousands of bees or hornets were unleashed at the same time with such a loud buzz from the cars as well as an equally loud buzz of cheers from the fans as the race got underway. You don't get the same feeling in the spring Sunday afternoon race; not even close. And let's not forget the sparks from under the cars, providing an incredible light show that lasts for 500 laps.
And that's just one example. The same feeling is repeated at so many tracks.
I'm telling you; there's nothing like it.
3. Having Sunday off
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One of the most difficult things for fans—especially those who have traveled more than 100 miles one way to see a race on Sunday—is the long trip back afterward and then back to work on Monday.
Saturday night races make it easier for fans to get home at a more reasonable time and still be able to enjoy a good chunk of Sunday with their families.
Maybe go to church, have a family barbecue or just enjoy a day off doing nothing.
Sometimes, fans just can't afford to take an entire weekend off to see a race. But if they can get their racing fix on a Saturday night and still leave Sunday open for a myriad of other activities, it's a win-win for everyone. Even drivers like Saturday night races because it gives them an extra day to rest before moving on to the following week's event.
It's no wonder so many folks like to call Saturday night races the most fan-friendly of all.
4. More Time to Explore Around the Track
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One of the most difficult things fans go through on Sunday races is—if they aren't staying at a nearby hotel—the commute to and from the track while still having enough time to explore the race track or souvenir stands around the track.
More often than not, it's a case of rush-rush-rush in the drive to the track, rush-rush-rush to get to your seat, rush-rush-rush to leave the track and then rush-rush-rush to get home.
With Saturday night races, fans can get to the venue early and have significantly more time to spend just rambling around, checking out the latest souvenirs, enjoying some great eats or just walking around and taking in the sites and people watching.
While watching a race in person is an experience unto itself, being able to take your time and enjoy the surroundings and activities (like pre-race concerts and other festivities) only further enhances the night race experience.
5. More Chase Races Under the Lights
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While the Chase format has only gotten better over the years, one thing continues to be a conundrum: going head-to-head on Sunday afternoons with the NFL.
That's why you still see empty seats at several Chase venues, particularly those that are held in conjunction with nearby NFL games.
If more Chase races were moved to Saturday nights, that would eliminate the NFL issue. Plus, I bet fans would appreciate the ability to root for their favorite NASCAR driver on Saturday and their favorite NFL team on Sunday rather than having to choose where to point their allegiance to.
Sure, college football is king on Saturday, but that's primarily in the afternoon. From a TV perspective, a college football game in the afternoon, followed by a Chase race in the evening would be a ratings bonanza, I feel.
In addition to the night race already in place at Charlotte, among the places I'd like to see Saturday night races in the Chase (even if it meant bringing in portable lights): the kickoff in Chicago, New Hampshire, Kansas, Texas and Homestead.
Granted, that'd be six of the 10 Chase races, but at the same time, don't we see most marquee events in other pro sports leagues held at night? What about Major League Baseball's World Series, the NBA Finals and even the Super Bowl (starts late afternoon) at night?
If other sports' best come out at night, why not in NASCAR?