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NASCAR elite divisions finished after 2006!


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From Jayski.com

 

NASCAR Restructures Regional Series in 2007: NASCAR announced it will restructure its regional touring series divisions beginning in 2007. Citing declining support for the Elite Division style of racing at all levels, NASCAR said it will focus its resources and efforts on those Divisions that will help build and sustain a better developmental program for the future. Following the 2006 season, the four current Late Model Elite Division Tours will be discontinued. The Elite Division tours were formed nearly 20 years ago, in the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and Northwest regions of the country. Beginning in 2006 and continuing in 2007, NASCAR will implement several Grand National Division changes in an effort to reduce the cost of competing in the Busch North Series (which will be re-named the Busch East Series) and the AutoZone West Series. These changes include a less-costly "spec" engine, as well as composite bodies.(NASCAR PR)(12-28-

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Here is an article from Racinboys.com that

hits the nail right on the head!

 

December 29, 2005

 

The release cites “declining support for the Elite Division style of racing at all levels” as the cause. Well, duh. Why do you suppose that happened? Short track racing, and Late Model racing in particular, is doing well. Reality is that a series of decisions from NASCAR headquarters engraved the tombstone for four once-proud series.

 

NASCAR’s Vice President of Regional Touring, Jim Hunter, got it right in saying, "These tours were originated to offer NASCAR's weekly member tracks special events once or twice a year. The Elite Division was designed to allow the best local racers an opportunity to race periodically at an advanced regional level," said Hunter. That’s true. In the heyday for these series (from the mid-80s through the mid-90s), these series drew full fields and enthusiastic crowds.

 

They did so by employing the age-old formula of “traveling pros vs. the local boys” that forms the core of much of short-track promotion. The rules for these series closely mirrored the cars that were headlining weekly shows throughout their various regions as the “Super Late Models.” Keep in mind that, although the Northwest and Southwest tours originated with NASCAR, the Midwest and Southeast did not – respectively, they purchased the ARTGO series from John McKarns and the All-Pro series from Bob Harmon. Both men were well respected in short track promotion and had their fingers on the pulse of short track racing. After purchasing these series, NASCAR then made a series of decisions that destroyed their foundations.

 

I should interject here that I am an admirer of NASCAR’s management of major league auto racing in this country. The Nextel Cup Series has eclipsed all other forms of motorsport in this country as the true “National Championship,” and the Busch Grand National and Craftsman Truck Series are #2 and #3 respectively. They’ve done so by making the business model of each series into one that is supported, in the main, by Corporate America. NASCAR’s mistake with its short track series is that they have tried to accomplish the same thing – instead of using the series for what they were, good short track series, they attempted to make them into “Baby Busch” series.

 

Shortly after buying ARTGO in 1998, NASCAR began a series of decisions that gutted the regional tours, and led to their discontinuation. The first was to change the race format. ARTGO had been primarily a series of 100-lap, one-day races for top short trackers in the Midwest area. Where teams were asked to travel far from their Chicagoland base, ARTGO scheduled two races on the same weekend in order to make it more worthwhile to travel. That worked nicely – as far from home as Lebanon, MO, ARTGO routinely drew 40 or more cars for a 100-lap race paying $3,000 to win. It’s also worth noting that a 100-lapper is too short of a race to require pit stops. That cuts the cost for travel, tires, pit passes, etc. Teams could run ARTGO with two or three crew members.

 

NASCAR changed that. The two-night swings were gone by 1999, and most races were extended to 150 laps or more – requiring pit stops, more crew members, etc. All Pro followed suit (although, to be fair, All Pro had always had more long-distance, multiple day races). Purses, however, didn’t increase accordingly. Promised television didn’t come through, to the frustration of competitors who now were working hard to attract corporate bucks in order to continue competing.

 

NASCAR went a further step in 2000. Throughout most of the ARTGO and All-Pro areas, the weekly late model was built on an “offset” chassis that featured a right side frame rail that went straight from the front to the back, rather than kicking out to the right door as on a Nextel Cup car. The bars that went to the door were commonly called “crush bars,” as their main function was to crush before the right side of the cage was contacted. The Southwest and Northwest had always stuck with the “perimeter” car, where the right side kicked out to the door.

 

For 2001, NASCAR legislated that competitors on the Midwest and Southeast Series must run a full perimeter chassis. In one fell swoop, most of the cars that currently competed on those tours were illegal, as were the weekly cars that had made up much of the fields for ARTGO and All-Pro. NASCAR’s contention was that the series were headed toward more-lucrative superspeedway events, and this step was necessary for safety. NASCAR also legislated that the very expensive 9:1 compression engine was the only engine to be allowed, rather than the multiple engine formulae which had served so well in the past.

 

Meanwhile, NASCAR’s weekly program was pushing its member tracks in the opposite direction, with highly restricted 2-barrel engines in a bewildering array of chassis. In the Midwest, the old offset cars prevailed, while in the Southeast, the NASCAR Late Model Stock prevailed (a type of perimeter chassis that was incompatible with the All-Pro rules – if you’re confused, so were the racers). Suddenly, if a local driver wanted to run with the Tour when it came to town, they needed a special “Tour car.” Most didn’t bother, which cut the fan interest.

 

Many former Tour competitors did in fact buy new cars – to run with the more-lucrative Hooters Cup series. Fan favorites like Mario Gosselin, Billy Bigley, Mike Cope, Freddy Query, and others did just that. In the Midwest, a couple of other series (MARS and CRA) began to fill the gap, and some racers migrated there. Other fan favorites, such as Jim Weber, just said to hell with it altogether and quit racing. And the superspeedways? There were a few attempts. Kentucky and Nashville both ran Southeast races, and Pike’s Peak International and Gateway ran some Midwest races. None of them stuck.

 

Wallets that were already running on empty were taxed more by the higher cost of NASCAR licenses for drivers, crew, car owners, and other personnel. Increased travel dollars and other “soft costs” like tires bit into the budget. The Tours became less of a venue for regional stars, and more a venue for whiz kids on their five-year plan to get to NASCAR. As such, the racing suffered – giving fans less of a reason to attend. Hunter actually summed it up well in the press release, saying, "The cost of competing at this level has escalated significantly over the years and participation has continuously declined in every region. It has also become extremely difficult for our member tracks to successfully host these events."

 

Meanwhile, other series stepped up to take their place. In particular, the CRA/Sunoco Super Series took prestigious (former ARTGO) dates like the National Short Track Championships at Rockford, IL, and the Winchester 400. In the South, the Southern All Stars snapped up the All-American 400 at Nashville among other venues.

 

In short, NASCAR killed their own “Elite” series through gross mismanagement. What’s disappointing is that they chose to cut and run, rather than make a stand and fix the problem. What’s worrisome is that Hunter is supposedly the guy assigned to “save short track racing.”

 

There was a way to save these series, but it would have taken a lot of work on NASCAR’s part, and probably some subsidies. It’s simple. Make each a series that could be run by a driver/owner with 2-3 other guys in a cube van and open trailer, with one race car. 100 lap races, two to a weekend, with a set of rules that encompassed the Tour cars and the weekly cars. Forget superspeedways, TV, and corporate America. Corporations aren’t going to buy into regional tours well enough to support them. Forget pit stops, too. It can be done – out of the ashes of the discontinued dirt Busch All-Star Series has come the World Dirt Racing League, with bigger purses, bigger fields, and bigger crowds.

 

If NASCAR isn’t willing to do that (and they’re not), I doubt that competitors in any of their other short track divisions can rest easily.

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