Monday, January 7, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Does a NASCAR Team Have to be Based in North Carolina?

The first weekend of the New Year had Supercross in action from Anaheim. It turned out to be a sloppy event and a few early season favorites got off to a rough start but it with a slight surprise winner. Elsewhere around the world, the Dakar Rally is preparing to get underway in Peru. Testing commenced from Daytona in preparations for the 24 Hours of Daytona at the end of the month. Wayne Taylor Racing was strong as was Mazda, CORE Autosport with Nissan topped the final session and the outright lap records appears it will be shattered come qualifying in a few weeks. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Does a NASCAR Team Have to be Based in North Carolina?
One of the biggest stories at the end of the NASCAR season was the closure of Furniture Row Racing.

One year after winning a popular Cup Series championship, the team was shutting down due to lack of funding and the fairy tale ended. The team's popularity came from its unlikely rise against the behemoths of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. It did it with a likable driver and crew chief in Martin Truex, Jr. and Cole Pearn and a quiet owner in Barney Visser.

What added to the team's mystique was its location: Denver, Colorado, two time zones from NASCAR country.

Other than the Wood Brothers out of Virginia, most NASCAR teams called North Carolina home and these teams have clustered around Mooresville, North Carolina. For a team to be based outside that vicinity let alone West of the Mississippi and in the Rocky Mountains seemed absurd. It seemed like an operation destined to languish behind the rest of the field.

Of course, that wasn't the case. Furniture Row Racing did have its early day struggles with Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek but almost like an expansion team that brought in a few veterans to get off the ground, the team found its identity. Younger talent came to the team and improved results followed. Regan Smith was its first youthful hire and within three years he won the Southern 500 for Furniture Row Racing. After Smith was Kurt Busch, who finished tenth in the championship with the team. Then came Truex, Jr. and we all know where the story goes from there.

In a little over a decade, Furniture Row Racing proved a team could be the best in NASCAR and come from a foreign land. The closing of the team resurrected questions about if such an accomplishment could ever be achieved again.

Why couldn't it?

NASCAR is a more national sport than 25 years ago. There are races all over the country. It is not like the 1970s and 1980s when Rockingham had two races, as did North Wilkesboro, Darlington, Charlotte, Richmond, Martinsville, Bristol and Nashville. At that time it made sense to be based in North Carolina. Most of the races were a day trip away and I didn't even include Atlanta's two races. The treks to Riverside, Texas World, Michigan and Pocono were rare.

The schedule is much different. NASCAR is as much a Midwestern sport as its is a Southern sport in the 21st Century. Indianapolis has a race. Kentucky is closer to Indianapolis than Charlotte. There is a race in Kansas. The series goes up to New Hampshire and has a trip to Watkins Glen. There are plenty of Western races. Las Vegas has two races now. Phoenix has two. The series goes to Sonoma.

Does a NASCAR team have to be based in North Carolina?

There are benefits as everything is there. There is a wind tunnel, manufactures have shops there; a whole industry has cropped up in that part of the country. It is definitely advantageous but does a team have to be based there?

Of course not. The Charlotte-area isn't the only one where motorsports has taken hold in the United States. Indianapolis is just as big of a motorsports hub. There are IndyCar teams, sports car teams and drag racing teams all based around the capital of the Hoosier State. The infrastructure is there. Location-wise, Indianapolis is a lot further from Daytona, Homestead, Atlanta and venues in the Carolinas but it would be better suited in terms of getting to races such as Michigan, Kentucky, Chicagoland and Kansas and it would cut a junk of time out of the long haul rides to California, Nevada and Arizona.

If Indianapolis is too far outside the bubble for a team, then there has to be another alternative that would be more suitable in terms of travel and one place I looked up that might fit the mold is Hilliard, Ohio. If Hilliard, Ohio sounds familiar to you then don't be surprise when you find out that is where Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's BMW program is based.

Hilliard is a bit further east than Indianapolis and it is more centrally located for certain events. Unlike Indianapolis, Hilliard is closer to Pocono, Watkins Glen and Loudon than Charlotte and it is closer to Daytona, Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Dover, Michigan and Homestead than Indianapolis. In fact, using Google Maps, the total mileage of the round trips for all 36 NASCAR Cup races from Hilliard, Ohio is only 144 miles more than the total mileage of the rounds trips from Charlotte.

The one thing Hilliard has against it is, while being better in terms of driving a trailer than Indianapolis, it is not a hub. There aren't teams all around and crew people around. There are simulators and wind tunnels and shops around every other corner. The infrastructure is slightly lacking. Not that it stopped Furniture Row Racing from succeeding from Colorado but there are things that nine times out of ten you would like more at your disposal and are more easily accessible in Indianapolis.

Many mourned the loss of Furniture Row Racing and its story, the little based out of the mountains and relished getting to see a team from Colorado win the championship because they think it will not happen again. But why couldn't it happen again and happen soon? When looking at NASCAR all three national touring series are thinning out in terms of number of teams. Eventually it will turn around. Eventually NASCAR will make changes and work to make it more appealing to teams. Where will those teams come from? How many are already going to be based in North Carolina? How many are going to relocate?

I think NASCAR should want it to be possible for teams to succeed from many places around the country. The series needs to grow and it should not take relocation for a team to be able to compete. If an IndyCar team or sports car team based out of Indianapolis wanted to expand to NASCAR it should be able to do it from Indianapolis. There are going to be places that are always going to be an uphill battle if you are going to based your team from there. It is going to be difficult if you are based out of Seattle or Boise or Omaha but it should be possible from more areas.

Whether it is Indianapolis, Hilliard, Lexington, Kentucky, Nashville, Tennessee or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it is possible to succeed in NASCAR while based out of these locations. Furniture Row Racing should not be the last outsider to run at the top of NASCAR and it should not be considered the exception to the rule. It would only benefit NASCAR if it branched out with more teams from more locations entering the series.

Winner From the Weekend

Justin Barcia won the Supercross race from Anaheim. It was Barcia's first Supercross victory since Seattle 2013. It was Yamaha's first Supercross victory since Daytona 2012.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Dakar Rally continues.
The Dubai 24 Hour.
The Toyota Racing Series begins its 2019 season from Highlands Motorsports Park.
Round two of the Supercross season takes place from Glendale.
Formula E has round two from Marrakesh.
Asian Le Mans Series has its popular race from Buriram and it is the penultimate race of the season.