Ed Hardin: All that’s left for Nascar is the funeral – Greensboro News & Record

CONCORD — The “roval” sat silent Sunday. The stands stood empty. The old National 500 has just about run its course.

Martin Truex Jr. ran away with the race again, now a recurring theme for this track and this sport. They really should just go ahead and give him the Chase trophy.

Everything seems a forgone conclusion these days. The sport has been reduced to about four or five drivers trying to outrun Truex every week, and before this one was half over they were already talking about next week.

That would be Talladega.

Charlotte’s hold on racing has been slipping for years now and tour expansion has spread the playing field with lots of clone tracks in far-flung places. Twice a year almost anywhere is a stretch these days. And through the years, the fall race here has been a tough sell no matter who’s driving and winning.

The reason people look forward to Talladega is for the change in pace. Well, that and the sheer insanity of a 2.66-mile paved airstrip.

A year from now, we’ll be right back here. Only instead of watching Truex turn lap after lap running away from the field, we’ll be on the road course that was lined with RVs and golf carts Sunday.

It’s an odd little course, a winding route through a parking lot surrounded by guardrails and tires. There are no SAFER walls on the inside course. This is a risk Charlotte had to take, and NASCAR was quick to embrace it.

We’re to the point that NASCAR will try anything to survive its impending doom.

Yes, we’re headed to the fastest closed-course race track in the world next week, but you’ll notice by the name of it — the Alabama 500 — it will be run without a sponsor.

NASCAR is now going through its first death lurch, and no one has any ideas for saving the sport from itself. The dependence on sponsor money is killing the sport.

Walking around the complex Sunday, the thing that jumped out at you was the lack of kids. There were a few in strollers in the infield, children of the team members themselves. But in the stands, where we all came to this track as teenagers, there were only men. Old men mostly. A few car guys with their wives and girlfriends, but not many.

This is an aging sport, and a column this week by Associated Press writer Paul Newberry made a crucial point. The car guys are going away. He cited a recent study by a research group at the University of Michigan that found the number of 16-year-olds with driver’s licenses has plummeted almost 50 percent since 1983. Cars aren’t cool anymore, at least to the next generation. And that bodes ill for car makers and for stock-car racing.

When the kids don’t care about getting a driver’s license, we’re not headed toward a good place for motorsports.

Which is why next year’s experiment with the road course just might work. At least it will be different, and that’s probably about all NASCAR can hope for in the coming years.

We sort of saw this once before in America, when young drivers started buying foreign cars instead of Fords and Chevrolets and Plymouths and Oldsmobiles. They eventually stopped building Plymouths and Oldsmobiles.

Racing survived because young boys still considered the driver’s license the holy grail of adulthood and stock-car racing the natural outlet for driving the heck out of them.

We’d come to Charlotte in convertibles and hot rods, and spend the weekend. That’s unheard of now.

The race Sunday was actually interesting at times, but nothing about it evoked 1983. That was the year Richard Petty won the 500 in a cheater car and rocked the sport. It was awesome. I was in the second turn that day with my friends when Petty blew past Darrell Waltrip so fast Waltrip’s Junior Johnson Chevy bobbled. We still talk about it. So does Darrell.

We’re never going back there, though. Sunday’s was a race with no buzz, a sporting event with no fans, a sad echo of the way we were.

And now we’re so far removed from those days that they’ll race on the parking lot next year.

They could’ve done that Sunday, too. The parking lots were empty.

It’s a foregone conclusion that something has to be done. But no one knows what to do. Sunday felt odd, like a glimpse into a dark future.

It felt like we weren’t witnessing a playoff race in a modern new format. It felt like the death of the old National 500.


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