Should the Busch Series go road racing?
To date, NASCAR has not announced a new sponsor for the Busch Series. Annheuser-Busch, which has been the series sponsor for over a decade, announced earlier this year that it would not renew its sponsorship contract.
This means NASCAR needs a new sponsor.
But to get a new sponsor, it is likely that NASCAR must first address the series’ biggest issue: the so-called “Buschwackers.” These are the NASCAR Cup teams that run only select Busch series races, those which are the prime races in that series. Their participation sucks up both prize money and sponsorship dollars, leaving only scraps for the series regulars because the Cup stars overshadow the Busch series regulars.
Even though the Cup stars sell tickets, their participation is damaging to the long term health of the series. Making the Busch series worth the investment requires changing the calculus on which that series is currently predicated.
Sponsoring a race team is all about visibility. It is a form of advertising. If a sponsor’s car is certain to be overshadowed at all of the important races, much of the purpose behind sponsorship is eliminated. It becomes harder for teams to get a sponsor and those that do get paid less for the privilege. This means that, over time, fewer teams are able to afford to participate in the series and those which can will be less competitive because they have less money.
Eventually, the entire series suffers because it’s not a good show.
But “Buschwackers” are only a symptom of a much deeper problem: the similarity of the Busch series to the Cup series.
In baseball, the farm teams don’t play in the same cities as the major league teams. They don’t compete for the same audience. They don’t hold double headers in which a Triple A game is followed by a major league game. Major league teams don’t play minor league clubs.
NASCAR, however, does all of those things. Many Busch races are held on the same week-end and the same track as a Cup race. The cars are visually indistinguishable from Cup cars. The race tracks are the same as those run by the Cup cars. The only difference is that everyone knows the Busch cars are an inferior product, like watered down beer.
To fix the problem, NASCAR needs to better distinguish the Busch series (or whatever it is to be named) from the Cup series.
The best way it could do that is by adding road races to the Busch series schedule.
While many regard the heritage of NASCAR as oval tracks, the real heritage of NASCAR turned right, as well as left. The origin of the series was, after all, running illicit liquor in the hills of the Carolinas. The drivers who did that were driving, in effect, road courses.
So, including road racing in the Busch series schedule would be returning to NASCAR’s real roots.
Moreover, road racing is a natural for the Busch series.
In years past, road racing was identified with sports cars and European racing. Real American races, like the Indianapolis 500, were run on ovals. Road racing was for the wimps.
Also, it was hard to watch. Fans couldn’t see the entire track, as they could at an oval. They had to sit at one corner and watch the cars as they drove by. It was impossible to see the entire race. Most of the people attending a road race could not see the finish. They found out who won from the public address system.
Then there was the boredom factor.
In road racing, the advent of aerodynamic aids destroyed the one thing which is interesting in racing: passing. To greater or lesser extent, road races became parades.
Today, the two best road races in the United States are the NASCAR Cup races held at Sonoma and at Watkins Glen. The behemoth stock cars actually out brake one another into the turns, pass coming out of the turns, and generally do all of the things that make any form of racing exciting.
Not only that, but the Busch series has already inaugurated road racing. The annual Busch series race in Mexico is a road race. That means the teams already have factored road racing into their budgets and their plans.
Adding a number of road races to the Busch schedule would accomplish two essential goals, and guarantee the viability of the series indefinitely.
First, it would make it a premier series. As long as the Busch series is an inferior clone of the Cup series, it will be handicapped. But the Busch series, were it to add a substantial number of road races to its schedule, would instantly become the premier road racing series in the United States. Americans love stock cars. Stock cars on road courses are a great show, far better than anything open wheel racing has to offer. Busch road racing would be the best road racing there is.
Second, it would give the new Busch series a mechanism for spotlighting the teams that run all of the races. Cup drivers would not drop down to compete in road course events. There would be no advantage to them in doing so. It wouldn’t be convenient, as there would be no Cup event at the same track on the same week-end. Moreover, the investment that would be required in road course cars would only make sense if the team were to commit to the entire season. As an adjunct to a Cup campaign, investing in road course cars would be a waste of money.
In any business, competing against yourself is a mistake.
NASCAR has been making that mistake for years.
It’s time for it to get the Busch series right.
Stock cars at Elkhart Lake, at the Mid-Ohio sport car course, at Road Atlanta,
But most of all, stock cars at Laguna Seca, diving through turn 8a – the “corkscrew” – the turn in which Alex Zanardi passed Brian Herta on the last lap of the 1996 Indycar race by diving inside and through the air on that dropping turn.
Try that in a stock car.
If they do, everyone will watch.