NASCAR: We Want To Be At Short Tracks As Much As Fans Do

This season, for the first time since 1982, NASCAR will not hold a race at Indiana's Lucas Oil Raceway (the track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park).

LOR, a short track which often provided some of the best racing of the season in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, joins a list that includes Memphis, Nashville, Gateway, Milwaukee, Mansfield and Pike's Peak as "standalone" venues which have disappeared from the NASCAR calendar over the past few years.

The disappearance of short tracks is alarming to NASCAR traditionalists and has led to questions as to whether NASCAR's sanctioning fees are too high for standalone venues that don't host a lucrative Sprint Cup Series race.

But Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations, said NASCAR has taken steps to make hosting races more affordable over the last couple years.

"We'd like to return to every track, every year," he said Thursday. "We love the short tracks, and we know the fans do as well."

O'Donnell said NASCAR cut purses in the Nationwide Series by more than 20 percent (meaning the tracks had to pay out less money) and also reduced purses in the Camping World Truck Series – which O'Donnell said has had a "huge impact" on teams in both series.

And while the purses were cut, O'Donnell said the sanctioning fees did not rise – meaning tracks theoretically had more of a chance to turn a profit (tracks pay NASCAR for the right to host races).

"We'd still like to be at (LOR)," O'Donnell said. "So when the fans look at it and say, 'Boy, NASCAR, why aren't you there? You're leaving those tracks,' most of the time...we were ready to go back and it just didn't work out for the track."

O'Donnell said NASCAR is considering some "different short-track purse models" that would feature shorter races and thus make hosting events more affordable for tracks like LOR or Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia (NASCAR determines sanctioning fees based in part on the length of the race).

NASCAR's return to Rockingham in the Truck Series this season is evidence the sanctioning body listens to fan concerns about the disappearance of traditional venues and short tracks, O'Donnell said.

"I can tell you it's not from a lack of wanting to be there," he said. "Rockingham this year, coming back, is going to be a huge thing for us. And candidly, we're going to need the fans to turn out.

"The fans have all been very vocal about wanting to go back there; we want to go back there. But if we show up and it's a challenge (with attendance), we know what happens. So we're going to ask for full support for that race, and we hope to be back every year at Rockingham and return to some of those short tracks that are out there."

As for expanding NASCAR's horizons beyond existing venues? O'Donnell said NASCAR would like to be in as many different markets as possible, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

Getting government support to build a new track is the primary obstacle in expansion, he said.

O'Donnell praised the strength of the fan bases in Minneapolis, Seattle and Denver, and said NASCAR would like to be in those areas if possible.

But there's no imminent expansion, he added.

"The last thing we'd want to end up doing is pulling a date from someplace the fans say is a traditional date and going to a new market," he said. "So it's got to be a win-win. We'll evaluate it as we go. Is there anything on the immediate horizon? No."

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