The age-old question in sports is how much of a good thing eventually turns bad by means of oversaturation?
That’s certainly a topic in NASCAR right now regarding the annual Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway. In just five years, the Dirt Derby has transitioned from a risky proposition to a marquee event on the overall national touring schedule.
Naturally, when something works and is enjoyable, there’s a desire to see more of it.
On one hand, a second Truck Series race on dirt would undercut the value of the original at Eldora. Fans currently travel to Rossburg, Ohio, from all over the country, knowing that the Dirt Derby is the only chance they have to see a NASCAR race on clay.
Over 20,000 fans pack every available seat at the iconic half-mile owned by NASCAR legend Tony Stewart. A copycat race risks failure and minimizing the drawing power of the original.
For that reason alone, third-year Truck Series driver Johnny Sauter only wants one race on dirt.
“I think you better keep it sacred,” Sauter said on Wednesday during a NASCAR media teleconference. “I’m good with one.”
Third-year trucker John Hunter Nemechek agreed.
“I’m there with Johnny,” he said. “I’d like to keep it sacred, just keep it there with one. And keep to the asphalt stuff. I like that a little bit better.”
But of course they would say that.
Both Sauter and Nemechek are asphalt Super Late Model byproducts. They spent their childhoods racing at tracks like Slinger Speedway, Winchester Speedway and Five Flags Speedway. If they wanted to race dirt, they would have pursued the World of Outlaws or the Lucas Oil Late Model tour.
They’re NASCAR drivers.
But so too are Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe. Both have extensive dirt backgrounds and disagree with the sacred nature of dirt races in NASCAR.
The more the merrier, they say.
“For me and Christopher both, I feel like we both have way more dirt experience than most of the guys we race against, so it’s nice to come to a track where we do have a bit of an advantage,” Briscoe said. “And if we could do that in the playoffs, that would be awesome.”
It stands to reason that the Truck Series playoffs, which currently include a road course, a restrictor plate track, one short track, two one-milers and four intermediate speedways, could stand to have a dirt race, too.
“I do think there are a bunch of tracks that could host one, obviously Knoxville from a seating standpoint and trackside standpoint,” Briscoe said. “That would be good. I think you could even go to Charlotte Motor Speedway, the dirt track, because it’s close to home.”
Those are the two obvious ones.
Knoxville Raceway in Iowa: home of the Knoxville Nationals. Charlotte Motor Speedway: home of the Dirt World Finals.
Half-mile Knoxville holds 24,172 fans, while the Charlotte Dirt Track holds 14,000. These are world-class facilities. From a scheduling standpoint, the Charlotte dirt race could take place the week of the Bank of America 500 NASCAR playoff weekend, which is already unique due to its roval date next season.
“Lawrenceburg (Ind.) could get into the mix, too,” Briscoe said. “If you could make that a playoff race, that would be great.”
Naturally, Bell would like to see the entire championship decided at Eldora.
“I say just go ahead and switch Homestead and Eldora and let’s race for a championship there,” Bell said. “Then we could replace Eldora with another track at the beginning of the year.”
OK, so that was maybe tongue-in-cheek or a reflection of his Championship 4 defeat last fall at Homestead, but the point remains that there’s probably room for one dirt race in the Truck Series.
The NASCAR community shouldn’t accept just one dirt race because it keeps it special. In a world where the Truck Series has traded short tracks for mile-and-a-halfers, wildly entertaining races are the exception rather than the norm.
Under that logic, Martinsville should only get one date.
Let’s have good races again. The Truck Series was born from the short tracks of the West Coast. Its roots are firmly entrenched in grassroots racing.
More of what we’re going to see next Wednesday night at Eldora isn’t going to hurt.