Darlington: NASCAR’s Winter Classic

2017-Monster-Energy-NASCAR-Cup-Series-Bojangles_-Southern-500-ticket

It’s Darlington weekend coming up in NASCAR, which means the most gimmicky regular season race is happening in full-force. To appeal to the nostalgia crowd, Darlington Speedway decided that since NASCAR moved the Southern 500 back to Labor Day weekend; they would make it a “Throwback Weekend” where drivers and teams alike can really get into the old-time racing attitude and have fun with their paint schemes and their look and really by into that “Good Ol’ Boy” mentality that some think the modern NASCAR has been missing.

While it has been great to see the old paint schemes from yesteryear, the tributes to lesser known racers, the old-time broadcast effects, and the antics that the drivers put on; it’s still getting very, very stale very, very quickly. In fact, a lot of the teams aren’t trying anymore. There’s three cars this Sunday that look like they have the exact same red-white-and-blue scheme (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.Danica PatrickClint Bowyer), the #3 and #31 have just about the same paint scheme, and like always– the #43 is going to have a Richard Petty STP scheme on the track.

The Darlington Weekend is becoming like the NHL’s Winter Classic in some aspects. While the heart is in the right place for a different kind of feel, as it keeps going year-after-year, the whole vibe to the thing wears off. We all know who’s going to be there, you can be assured of what they’ll look like, and while it’s well-hyped– it comes off very “meh” by the end of it.

When the NHL starting doing their annual Winter Classic in 2008 (there was a one-off outdoor game in 2003 which started the wheels in motion for this), it was a great hype vehicle. It allowed for the NHL to go to historic venues of other sports to play their game and get a ton of revenue through ticket sales and merchandise. However, the biggest problem was over-saturating the market when the formula worked. Once they saw the Winter Classic work, they moved to a Stadium Series of multiple outdoor games, the Heritage Classic games in Canada, then when those faded– they started using the teams that people would watch and make the other fans annoyed with a team like the Chicago Blackhawks getting into all the outdoor games.

The NHL lost the plot because they killed a golden goose.

Yes, other markets wanted games, but you can’t blow the wad of outdoor games as quickly as the NHL has seemingly done. Hell, in 2014 alone they had six outdoor games. Last season, the NHL had four outdoor games– but I bet people maybe remember one. Sure, they have gone to places like Wrigley Field, the Big House in Michigan, and Fenway Park; but they’ve also played in BMO Field (Toronto), Investors Group Field (Winnipeg), and Levi’s Stadium.

While this race only happens in Darlington, the drivers and teams are going to the well too many times with the same thing. Not only the Richard Petty STP scheme, but the #13 always going with the Smokey Yunick scheme, and RCR going with some sort of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. scheme. The originality is starting to fade and there’s not much they can do to regulate it– unless they just kill the idea altogether– which they won’t do because then they can’t exploit it.

For this Darlington race, at least, it could be a tool to distract fans from realizing how much NASCAR has bungled this season with the segments, the mismanagement of how points are distributed through said segments, and just the overall lack of hype for the new ideas that NASCAR has tried to instill with their “activation” with Monster Energy. The sanctioning body is a detriment to themselves and the sport. Darlington Weekend is a passing fad that seems to be getting less and less interesting by the year due to the fact we’ve seen it all before and nothing really changes but the looks of the cars.

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