Chicagoland Attendance Knuckled By Bad Planning

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Sometimes, you just have to shake your head and wonder what NASCAR was thinking.

That surely was the case when attendance for both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Saturday and Sunday’s NASCAR Nationwide event at Chicagoland were announced at 25,000 fans. Those are pretty paltry numbers considering the massive Chicago market and makes you wonder why fans stayed away in droves.

Here’s one theory.

A quick look at the schedule indicates that NASCAR didn’t do Chicagoland Speedway any favors by scheduling a Nationwide race there this past weekend – not when you consider that the division will make it’s first-ever appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this coming weekend.

Realistically, if I’m a Nationwide Series fan based in the Chicago area, I’m headed for Indy this weekend and the NNS/Cup doubleheader at the Brickyard – not buying tickets for an ARCA/Truck/Nationwide tripleheader at Chicagoland Speedway this past weekend.

Ditto for the NASCAR races at Iowa Speedway in two weeks where I can see action-packed K&N Pro Series and Nationwide events - and not the snooze-fest that was the Nationwide race at Chicagoland Sunday afternoon.

That kind of poor schedule planning by NASCAR all but doomed any hopes of drawing big crowds at Chicagoland this weekend. Both the track and its fans deserve better.

Chicago has deep racing roots hosting the first-ever auto race in the United States on November 27, 1895. That day, six cars raced from Chicago to Evanston and back with Frank Duryea winning the 10-hour plus event. Duryea averaged a ‘blistering’ 7.3 miles per hour in capturing the $2,000 first prize.

Since then, the Chicago metro area has played host to more than 40 different raceways, the most notable being Soldier Field (now home of the Bears), O’Hare Speedway and Blue Island Raceway. Over the years, Chicago area speedways hosted every kind of race event ranging from ‘Indy’ cars on the two-mile wood board Chicago Speedway (1917-1919) to midget races at Joliet Speedway nearby the current Chicagoland facility.

Today, Chicago area speedways such as Rockford, Grundy and Illiana are all still hotbeds of stock car racing.

Fans didn’t show up at Chicagoland this past weekend because the ‘Windy City’ isn’t a racing town. In our opinion, the empty grandstand was in large part a result of NASCAR’s bad planning.

That said, it will be interesting to see the head count at Chicagoland this September when the track hosts the opening race of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship ‘Chase.’

You would think the beginning of NASCAR’s ‘playoffs’ – as well as a favorable National Football League schedule that has the Bears off that weekend after playing a Thursday, September 13 game at Green Bay – will help the gate at Chicagoland.

Throw in the annual pathetic state of the Chicago Cubs and the less than likely playoff run of the Chicago White Sox, and NASCAR’s championship opener should be at center stage commanding the attention of the area’s ticket-buying public in September.

If not, it’s likely it never will.

Times Change –

One of my father’s favorite sayings was ‘the only thing you can count on is things will change.”

That saying proved to be true again this past weekend when my nearly four-year professional association with Max Gresham came to an end.

In short, Max is moving a different direction and I’m not part of it. It’s something that happens in racing all the time and I understand it completely. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this and it probably won’t be the last.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Gresham family for all they have done for my family and me over the last four years.

My association with Max – and with Gresham Motorsports Park – has produced some of the most memorable and rewarding events of my career. Being part of a NASCAR K&N championship effort with Max last year and having a hand in the rebirth in Gresham Motorsports Park will always rank near the top of my racing thrills.

More importantly, those years produced a friendship with the Gresham family – and dozens of people that I worked with through that association – which will continue to last well beyond any professional endeavor.

In closing the book on this chapter of my career, Gail and I would like to wish Max all the best in whatever direction his career takes him and continued good health and happiness to the entire Gresham family.

Thanks for everything guys, it’s been a great ride.