CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ahhh, the dog days of summer — and those nights when there’s nothing exciting on television.
Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon believes auto racing could fill that void. Gordon grew up in the “Thursday Night Thunder” era when he raced at tracks that hosted USAC races across the country that were televised on ESPN2.
NASCAR doesn’t venture into that territory with the elite Sprint Cup Series, but the addition of Eldora Speedway to the Truck Series will mark three midweek races. The trucks ran on a Thursday night at Kentucky in June, are scheduled to run Wednesday, July 24, at Eldora and Wednesday, Aug. 21, at Bristol.
Gordon thinks maybe it’s time for other series to try a midweek date.
“I think when ‘Monday Night Football’ ends, we should start ‘Monday Night Racing,”’ Gordon said. “But that’s just me. Of course I came from ‘Thursday Night Thunder,’ and ‘Thursday Night Thunder’ was ridiculously successful back in the day.”
Alas, Gordon says NASCAR officials have been cold to the idea.
“It seems like every time I talk to NASCAR about doing a weekly race or one midweek, they say ‘Oh well if you do it on this day, you won’t get as many people coming to the track, so the track suffers, and if you do it on this day, then maybe the track does well but then the people at home won’t watch it because of this’, so it always seems to be some kind of obstacle,” he said.
“I am not saying we need to do it every week, but if we could find the right week in the schedule and mix it up, make it special, and make it make sense for the fans at home as well as the ones that could attend, then I think it would be awesome.”
There was a buzz last weekend at Daytona about returning the night race back to its traditional early morning start, when teams were at the track for breakfast and on the beach by lunch. But Gordon believes running the race on July 4, regardless of what day it falls during the week, is a better solution and could start the midweek trend.
“I think July 4th might make sense because everybody is off on that day and looking for something to do,” he said. “Of course, we are not off, but I think that is why it could work.”
POSITIVE POCONO: For years, about the only thing in NASCAR as popular as Dale Earnhardt Jr. was bashing Pocono Raceway.
The track wasn’t safe. The races were too long. The facility was outdated. On and on it went.
But, slowly, the track has won over Sprint Cup drivers with a series of upgrades to the track — everything from additional SAFER barriers to a repave of the 2½-mile surface — that left them raving about the new look the last two years.
Of course, slicing the two Cup races from 500 to 400 miles in 2012 certainly helped.
Pocono Raceway CEO and president Brandon Igdalsky has led the push for the overdue makeover.
“I got tired of people talking bad about us, plain and simple,” he said. “If you have drivers and people in the industry that aren’t talking positive, that translates to what the fans hear and how they react. Last year, drivers started talking about how great things here are now. It changes the mentality of the fans.”
Igdalsky’s latest gamble appears to have paid off: He brought the IndyCar Series back to Pocono after a 24-year absence and the first race last Sunday was considered a success. The grandstands weren’t completely full, but the estimated crowd of 30,000 did exceed most expectations. Unlike the NASCAR stars, IndyCar drivers didn’t have to warm up to Pocono. They loved it from the first test session.
“I love this place. Pocono, the fans, just everyone has been fantastic,” race winner Scott Dixon said. “It’s great to be back.”
There’s more to come. Igdalsky said he wanted to “dress up” Pocono by improving everything from the seats, traffic patterns and adding permanent or temporary videoboards to enhance the fan experience.
The fans did clog the single-lane roads entering the track and many of them complained about heavy traffic on social media. Igdalsky said he would meet with state and local officials about the issue and made a “solemn promise” to fix the traffic woes.
Of course, it’s better than the alternative — fans not showing up at all.
With at least two more years of IndyCar racing at Pocono on the schedule, there’s time to fix everything. Igdalsky has proved in a short time he’s eager to please.
“It makes me feel awesome, but it’s not about how I feel,” he said. “It’s about the perception of the facility. We are a great facility for motor sports in America. Are we the best? No. Do I want to be the best? Hell no. It would cost us a fortune. I don’t want to be the best. But I don’t want to be at the bottom of the barrel. I’m happy about being at the top of the middle.”
DRIVER STANDINGS: IndyCar is standing pat.
The open-wheel series is set to introduce standing starts for this weekend’s doubleheader in Toronto.
Drivers will take their starting positions with the front wheels of the car remaining within its designated orange grid line. The starts are similar to the format in Formula 1. IndyCar traditionally uses rolling starts, but is experimenting with the standing starts in Toronto and Houston.
Four-time series champion Dario Franchitti said he wasn’t looking forward to the change.
“Not particularly,” he said. “I like the traditional rolling starts. We’ll see. It might be good. Who knows? I might be completely wrong. But it’s going to be bloody interesting, let’s put it that way.”
GOODWOOD: Michael Waltrip Racing co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman are headed to Europe this weekend for the 20th annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in England.
It will be Waltrip’s second appearance at Goodwood, which features a hill climb in historic motor racing vehicles in front of 150,000 global motorsports enthusiasts.
Waltrip, the two-time Daytona 500 winner, will drive a 2012 Toyota Camry that Clint Bowyer won three races in last season while finishing second in the Sprint Cup standings.
“It is so cool to fire up a NASCAR Sprint Cup car and see the reaction on the faces of everyone there,” said Waltrip, who also visited Goodwood in 2010. “You wouldn’t believe all of the people who are interested in NASCAR in jolly old England.
“For many of them, this is as close as they’ll ever be to a Sprint Cup race. I’m honored they asked me to make a few runs and it’s also cool that Rob Kauffman will make some runs too.”
The Goodwood Festival includes everything from modern concept cars to historical vehicles dating back to 1902, along with racecars from all disciplines. NASCAR stock cars, Formula 1 Grand Prix racers, Le Mans style cars and various forms of motorcycles will all make their run up the hill at Goodwood.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed to this report from Long Pond, Pa.