Friday, September 14, 2018

EDITORIAL: K&N Dirt Race At Vegas Featured The Best And The Worst Of Modern Day NASCAR

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The following is an editorial piece by site owner/administrator, Matthew Sullivan. The opinions expressed belong solely to the author and do not represent views of any other reporter, race track or sanctioning body.

Last night's NASCAR K&N West Series Star Nursery 100 should have been a celebratory moment for many reasons. It was the first time since 1979 that the West Series raced on a non-paved surface and the first opportunity to see how current day NASCAR stock cars would fair on the dirt in a competitive environment.

Instead of talking about the race, most will remember the race for the failure by those in charge of the speedway and NASCAR for failing to provide a track that could actually be raced on in a safe manner.

The event was heavily advertised going into Thursday night as being the "first" ever dirt race for the NASCAR K&N West Series. As previously noted, the series did in fact race on dirt with the last race tacking place at at the famed yet long-gone Ascot Park half-mile in Gardena, California on September 8, 1979. Bill Schmitt won the 100-lap race over Jim Robinson and Jim Hopkinson.

In fact, what was then known as the Winston West Series regularly raced on the dirt. The first year of Winston's sponsorship for the series in 1971 saw four dirt events on the schedule of the 26-race season. In 1972, the number of dirt events expanded to six races and got as high as seven in 1974 and 1975. When the West Series debuted in 1954 as the Pacific Coast Late Model Division, all nine races on the schedule were held at dirt tracks.

Promoting the Thursday night race as being "the first" dirt race in the history of the K&N West Series seemed to be a major slap in the face to the drivers of yesteryear and to the fans who watched and supported those races. It may not be important in the grand-scheme of things but little circumstances like that have combined to be a big over-all reason why NASCAR's popularity has dwindled over the years.

When NASCAR announced during the off-season that the K&N West Series would be racing on the dirt it immediately became a high-profile event. NASCAR fans have seen the Camping World Truck Series race at the Eldora Speedway half-mile and have been clamoring for another dirt event ever since the truck series debuted there in 2013. Many were eager to see the race and how the racing on the Vegas half-mile would compare to the action Eldora has seen.

The problem was unless you were at the dirt track in Vegas, you couldn't watch the race.

No the highly anticipated event was not broadcast live anywhere outside of Facebook and Twitter video feeds among friends. While the race will eventually be televised on NBCSN on Friday September 21, the excitement and anticipation to actually see the race will fade. Talk about a lost opportunity.

Young up and coming female driver, Hailie Deegan made history by setting fast time for the Star Nursery 100. Besides being the first driver to set the bench mark for future K&N events at the Las Vegas Dirt Track, she became the first female in series history to earn pole position honors. It was a great and historic moment for many reasons.

The heat races went off without major issues but then the 100-lap feature happened.

Deegan led the field to the green flag but the race was immediately slowed when Todd Souza and Michael Kofoid spun in the first turn. The race resumed on lap six but it immediately became apparent that the track was not properly prepared for the race. Dust and dirt in the air are regular sites at any dirt race but the amount that was being sent up in the air was dangerous to the competitors. Three-cars wrecked on lap nine going into the first turn with several others getting damage because they couldn't see. In fact, drivers were driving through the infield believing they were on the racing surface when were not. After the incident, officials red-flagged the event and had the drivers pull off the surface so they could properly prep the track for the remainder of the race.

Why wasn't the track prepped and ready before the action started? According to Matt Weaver of Autoweek Magazine, the surface is rarely watered because of high-water costs. So instead of having the track surface sufficiently prepared for the 100-lap race, drivers raced on a circuit that was completely unsafe for competition.

After the track was properly set-up to race on, the rest of the race ran smooth. NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, Christopher Bell put on a show by driving through the field to the lead in a hood-less car only to be black flagged on a late restart violation. ARCA points leader, Sheldon Creed held off late race charges by Derek Thorn and Deegan to take his first West Series victory in his third career start.

What should have been an historic event will be remembered for all the wrong reasons because of errors that required only basic sense. Las Vegas Speedway Dirt Track officials and NASCAR should be embarrassed and ashamed that they allowed the event to start on a surface that was dangerous and unsafe for the competitors and each share equally in receiving blame. Both the NASCAR West and East Series are struggling to draw cars every week. With only nine drivers attempting to race the full West schedule and the starting fields having 15 cars or less in stand-alone events, big mistakes like this only make things tougher for the series to succeed.

As race fans, we can only hope that the mistakes made last night will serve as a lesson learned and next season's potential event on the Vegas dirt will be bigger and better. Failure to do so will only further injure a series that appears to be on wobbly legs.