Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Racing on Christmas Day

A couple of years ago, a friend asked if I knew of any races on Christmas Day. To the best of my knowledge NASCAR has never run a Strictly Stock, Grand National or Cup race on December 25th. Nor have I found anything to suggest other divisions such as NASCAR's sportsman/beer/insurance/cable TV series, trucks, or modifieds; ARCA; or USAC/CART/Indy Car opted to race on Christmas Day. But I finally found some information about a track bold enough to host racing on that day. 

A handful of racing facilities are held in reverence by fans. Indianapolis, Daytona, Darlington, Syracuse, Ascot Park. The first three still hold races. The latter two do not. The famed dirt Ascot Park Speedway opened in the 1950s, and the track lasted 30+ years until closing in 1990.

But J.C. Agajanian's legendary dirt track wasn't the first LA area race track known as Ascot Park. From what I can tell, the original Ascot Park raceway opened as a horse racing facility. Its debut races were held on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1903.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 24, 1903
The track was sold in 1908 with plans to convert it immediately to an auto racing facility. Though the track isn't the same Ascot Park in Gardena, the original track did host racing in the early 1900s - including more than one event on Christmas Day. The new owners initally planned to create the first Dover or Bristol by replacing the dirt surface with concrete. From what I can tell, however, this did not happen.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 2, 1908
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 2, 1908
The new promoters wasted no time getting ready for the new direction of the track. A two-day race program was scheduled for the two days after Christmas, December 26-27, 1908. That then set the stage for a few Christmas Day races over the next few years.

A two-day race program was set for Saturday-Sunday, December 25-26, 1909. Famed speedster, Barney Oldfield, arrived in LA via train with his car having been shipped to port for him to race. Oldfield was a genuine racer who barnstormed around the country racing wherever and whoever. He was fast - and he was extremely confident. Think Kyle Busch confident.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 25, 1909
As expected, Oldfield won the Christmas Day event.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1909
Three years later, Oldfield returned to Ascot Park to race on December 26, 2014. Before doing so, however, he participated in a match race on Christmas Day at Santa Ana Race Track - against an airplane!

The race between Oldfield's Fiat Cyclone and Mickey McGuire in an airplane was one of several match races in which Oldfield participated that year from coast to coast. From what I can gather, Ol' Barn got a lot of show money to put butts in the seats.

Source: Santa Ana Register - December 17, 1914 
Source: Santa Ana Register - December 24, 1914 
Source: Santa Ana Register - December 26, 1914 
Though this photo from Wikipedia and short video clip aren't from the Santa Ana "race", they provide a good idea of the excitement that the match race surely delivered to the fans.

Wikipedia / Library of Congress
Between the Christmas Day races in 1909 and 1914, Oldfield also returned to the sands of Daytona Beach where he made a record speed run in his Lightning Benz in March 2010.

For years, the section coming out of turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway was known as Oldfield. With the new stands installed as part of the Daytona Rising project, I'm not sure sure if the section names will remain. But for ages, folks in Oldfield got the first look at the field as they rumbled out of turn 4 and down the front straightaway.

Ascot Park again hosted racing on Christmas Day 1916 - albeit without Oldfield. Though the superstar wasn't in the field - and no airplanes raced - the fans still got their thrills.

Earl Cooper, Wilbur D'Alene, and Eddie Pullen were slated to race in a 50-lap match race. Cooper won the race, and D'Alene went for a crazy ride on lap 2. Fortunately, he wasn't seriously injured. D'Alene was even able to pen an article for the LA Herald about his accident - and could even laugh about how lucky he was. However, he did decline to run #13 in the future. Hmm, a precedent to be set for almost all future racers?

From what little I've learned, D'Alene was a wild and crazy guy. Perhaps he could have held himself well against the likes of drivers such as Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Eddie Sachs or Jabe Thomas.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 23, 1916
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1916
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1916
Know about additional Christmas Day races? If so, leave a comment below, and I'll do what I can about learning more about them.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why I Wonder -or- I Wonder Why

With Friday night's awards banquet in Las Vegas completed, another NASCAR season has now officially come and gone. On the Cup side of things, Kyle Busch is the undisputed champion. Many have lined up on both sides of the debate. Some have articulated their positions directly, passionately and with limited bias. Some have defended their positions with as much tact as a rabid, inbred dog frothing at the mouth.

I'm not going to use this post to explain why I think Kyle is a deserving champion. But with the season now concluded, I am going to use it to ask WHY? about so many other things I continually see on social media.

Race tracks of days gone by

Why do folks constantly ask for a return of NASCAR to North Wilkesboro and Rockingham? Both tracks hosted a ton of memorable races over the decades, and I understand the romanticized relationship with those tracks from the past. Many were disappointed at the time the dates were pulled from the tracks - and remain hurt or even angry today (even those who never attended or watched a live race at either track).

But Wilkesboro has been gone since 1996 and The Rock since 2004. Both tracks are in extremely poor condition. The practicality for a return to either track at this point simply isn't there.
  • The current owners of Wilkesboro aren't interested in renovating the facility.
  • The current owner of Rockingham has far too many financial issues to reasonably expect any additional racing there.
  • The costs for either track to finance an ownership change plus restoration and modernization efforts are just about too exorbitant. 
  • NASCAR and its sponsors would not get many marketing benefits by returning to those two markets at this time. 
So as folks continue to propose a return to either of these tracks as a way of restoring NASCAR to its glory days, I have to ask WHY? 

To a lesser degree, many clamor for the return of NASCAR to Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. As someone who grew up at the place, I have a real fondness for the track. Multiple financial issues and short-sighted visions by city leaders resulted in the track's inability to keep up.

Could NASCAR return to Nashville at some point? The place has been like a cat and has burned through a few of its nine lives. So a return by NASCAR is possible. If NASCAR did return, however, the racing would likely be limited to K&N East, trucks or at best a stand-alone Xfinity race. Cup though? Never again. So when folks say a Cup return to Nashville should happen, I ask WHY?

Why is it They will always fund the solution?

Many reference a simple minded approach to improving racing by suggesting ill-defined pronouns or generic references to corporate NASCAR bankroll various initiatives or exert inappropriate influence over rules.
  • They should go back to Wilkesboro.
  • They should rotate the All Star Race to different tracks.
  • NASCAR should bring back ....
  • NASCAR just wants "X" to win (or lose) - Dale Jr., Toyota, Danica, etc.
I have to ask - who is they? My hunch is the use of the pronoun simply covers for the lack of a well thought idea and to pitch the spending of someone else's money. Many have no comprehension of basic financing, investing or operating needs to operate a business - much less one in the volatile world of motorsports. And for whatever reason, many simply assume they can afford to lose money. After all, they just write it off.

Television Contracts

"TV is stupid for putting races on FS1 and NBC Sports Network. I don't get either of them." Some variety of those statements appear frequently in my timeline. Here's a hint: Perhaps if you don't have those channels on your cable tier, you'll call your cable provider to request them. Lots of calls may lead your cable provider to add them as choices. Or perhaps you'll be motivated enough to pony up extra dollars per month to move to the higher end cable package.

If either play works, the cable companies, FOX and NBC increase their viewers. With an increase in viewers, the stations can then increase their rates sold to advertising sponsors. If the plays don't work, then the extra revenue isn't earned. Bottom line...

Engagement with the media

I shake my head in awe as I read tweets from folk to various members of the media. Stating a position or asking a fair question - OK. But WHY must so many tweet such lunacy as the following to folks such as Ryan McGee, Tom Jensen, Jeff Gluck, Bob Pockrass, Jenna Fryar, etc.:
  • What time does race begin?
  • Will they complete the race before the rain arrives?
  • Who is taking over the X car next year?
Please, please, please. Take advantage of the various search engines made available to you free of charge. I don't endorse any particular one. It's safe to say, however, most will return the info you need - or at least keep you occupied long enough to stay off my timeline.

Why should you be entitled to engagement?

For reasons I simply cannot explain, many folks feel compelled to tweet drivers and others in racing asking for a re-tweet or shout-out simply because they're having a birthday, anniversary or other event deemed significant to them. The pattern has become an epidemic. WHY should a driver care - or any of the rest of us for that matter?

I try to adhere to three basic principles when using Twitter: have fun, be relevant and don't troll. To their credit, these folks aren't trolling the drivers - at least in an ugly way. I suppose they consider their request as fun. But they dang sure aren't being relevant. I just don't understand.

Hold Your S & X 

Rick Hendrick entered NASCAR as a car owner in 1984 - more than thirty years ago.

Yet I still see folks spell and say his last name as Hendricks or even Hendrix. WHY? The last name is singular - not plural. And "Mr. H" (another WHY?) has nothing in common with Jimi - except Hendrix played guitar and Hendrick collects them.

I especially like the last one.
Not only is "Hendricks" misspelled - but so is "Gordan" - twice.
My own personal and random rants
  • Why does Sprint and Coors Light insist on having their trophy girls in firesuits in victory lane and particularly away from the track? I get it. They want maximum viewable signage for their logos. But it seems the marketing folks could do so with screen printed apparel rather than a firesuit. I realize the hot pants and white boot days of Miss Winston and Linda "Miss Hurst Shifter" Vaughn are gone, but the forcing of Miss Sprint Cup into a firesuit seems pretty silly - particularly in settings when the risk of fire is zero percent.
  • Why does yelling "Shotgun!" entitle you to a ride in the front seat next to the driver - yet in racing "shotgun on the field" means a driver starts all the way at the back?
  • Why do people type "should of" rather than "should've"?
Look, it's OK to criticize NASCAR. It's OK to be frustrated with the current state of racing. But if you truly have enjoyed it in the past and would like to continue to do so in the future, be constructive with your suggestions and ideas. Take the Jim Rome approach: have a take and don't suck.

See you in 2016.