Part of the pageantry of Formula 1 I’ve always appreciated is the way tracks have their own personalities and named turns. This has not been lost over the decades, nor ignored by the on-TV product. It has been embraced as part of the lore of F1. NASCAR has not followed the lead on this. Since Fox came into the NASCAR game, TV coverage has turned to a style called “Hypertight Coverage.” Camera workers; using some fantastic equipment, zoom in as close as they can to the cars, thus filling your TV screen with sponsor logos. In catering to the sponsors, they’ve abandoned much of the ancillary on-track action. Go watch a race on youtube from 1993 or 1983. You’ll see wide, sweeping shots featuring the racing groove, grandstands, infield fans, and cars slicing and dicing all through the pack. Part of this was because technology at the time did not allow for tight zooms on the cars, and ESPN/TNN/CBS didn’t have 20 cameras stationed around the track. It is rare to consistently see these long shots and wide angles in modern coverage. In choosing hypertight coverage, TV production teams eliminated one of the most important characters in the story arc of a race: The Damn Race Track Itself. Drivers will tell you, they’re not only racing other cars, they’re racing the track, especially at a place like Darlington Raceway. The race track can be a driver’s nemesis. Look at Indy. Guys have returned for decades to defeat that track.It becomes an obsession. TV crews need to acknowledge this and discuss the track’s unique characteristics. They need to nurture that aspect of TV coverage.
Even in the era of cookie-cutters, most tracks have distinct characteristics. Let’s look at Charlotte, Atlanta, and Texas. All are near identical tracks, save for minor metrics. In its early days, the dogleg at Texas could literally end your racing career. The racing line out of T4 and into T1 in comparison to the walls were brutal if you lost a tire. Meanwhile, Charlotte is less demanding in the dogleg and T1, allowing a long, fast, sweep, but be wary of the transition from T3 to T4 and exiting T4. That wall will eat you up. Conversely, Atlanta lets you just divebomb into T1, but the T2 wall is like a race car magnet. I’ve never wrestled anything as hard as I have a stock car in T2 at Atlanta (at only 160mph). No matter what approach I took through T1 to T2, that wall summoned me lap after lap. Over in the T3-T4 transition, is an incomparable feeling when you plant a race car just above the yellow line and it Sticks. All. The. Way. Onto. The. Dogleg.
Daytona and Talladega have adopted some custom naming, but they named the dang straightaways? Come on y’all. I can only think of Pocono; a track derided by TV viewers for being “boring,” as the one unique speedway that has identifiable corner recognition.
Side note: Do you know the story behind Pocono’s turns?
Turn 1 was constructed to mimic Trenton Speedway’s classic Kidney Bean turn.
Turn 2 mimics Indianapolis Speedway’s transitions.
Turn 3 is modeled after the Milwaukee Mile’s flat turns.
Thankfully, we have Sonoma (which removed the famous Carousel from NASCAR competition, grrr), and Watkins Glen (which neglects the Boot from NASCAR competition, doubre-grrr). COME ON NASCAR. Don’t deny this rich asset to stock car racing’s history. Bring the tracks into the forefront again. Trouble selling tickets? Talk up the significance of these tracks and their history of their turns. Look at Eau Rouge up there. That turn is B E A U T I F U L.
I WANT TO GO TO THERE NOW.
Make people make the track a destination again. Lord knows I HAD to go to Daytona after watching that smokey crash in Days of Thunder, and I did it at ages 10, 11, 12, and again at 35. I remember the feelings of anticipation when I made my first trek to Darlington. I walked pit road and sat at the far end of the pit wall watching a practice session and seeing teams making constant adjustments to get their cars safely around that stretched snake egg of a track. I make it a point to sit over turns as much as I can so I can study driver’s approach angles and watch their lines through and out of turns as their cars loosen or tighten during a long green flag run. Increasing cornering speeds over the last fifteen years has ruined some of this, thankfully NASCAR is FINALLY making some moves to bring corner speeds down (but not enough yet, gotta ditch the splitter, side skirts, get air under the car, slim up the tires). Baby steps….