Originally created 08/21/05

NASCAR process is stuck in reverse

There is what makes sense - and there is NASCAR.

This statement is not made to offend anybody. It is to prepare them.

NASCAR, you see, is weighing proposals from five different cities on where to build its new hall of fame. Two of those locations - two that would seem to many the most sensible options - are within a leisurely three-hour interstate drive either side of Augusta.

Atlanta has the nation's largest air hub, the most extensive corporate support and is the modern capital of the South, where NASCAR was born and bred.

Charlotte has its own hub, is a thriving financial center and is quite simply the existing heart of NASCAR.

The smartest pick would be Charlotte. It's been there from the stock start. It's where most of the race teams are located, and it already holds three of the NASCAR's premiere events. It's a no brainer.

Which is, unfortunately, why so many people - the ones who believe this process is already rigged like a race or two might have been in the past - are convinced the non-brains that run NASCAR will

go about as fer away as they can go from that heart.

All the way to Kansas City.

Yes, that Kansas City. The one smack dab in the middle of America - half a country away from practically everyone. The one with four - count 'em, FOUR - years of tradition to build upon. The locale where Junior Johnson never raced, Fireball Roberts never raced, Bobby Allison never raced, Cale Yarborough never raced, Richard Petty never raced and Dale Earnhardt never raced.

The track where pretty much any driver that would be considered "Hall of Fame" never raced.

Which is why the NASCAR geniuses will deem it perfect. After all, they've been selling out the sport's roots in the name of expansion for years. Why stop now when they want to honor its history?

Picking Kansas City over Charlotte, Atlanta, Daytona Beach and Richmond, Va., wouldn't be the biggest mistake NASCAR powers ever made. It would just be another mistake - paving the way for a hand-in-hand boondoggle of relocating the annual all-star challenge from Lowe's Motor Speedway to K.C. for a built-in induction week extravaganza.

When it comes to attracting people to a hall and museum, location is everything. And support grows best from strong roots.

Baseball's hall of fame has been in Cooperstown, N.Y. - population 2,000 - since 1939 largely because of a completely bogus myth that indecisive Union general Abner Doubleday "invented" America's pastime in a field there.

Pro football's hall of fame has been in non- interstate accessed Canton, Ohio - population 80,000 - since 1963 largely because American pro football was founded there.

Basketball's hall of fame has been housed in Springfield, Mass. - population 150,000 - since 1968 largely because phys-ed teacher James Naismith invented the game at the YMCA there.

Hockey's hall of fame was erected in Toronto, Ontario - population 2.5 million - in 1961 because practically everybody in hockey-crazed Canada lives there.

Care to guess why country music's hall of fame is in Nashville and not Minneapolis?

Hall of fames are designed to preserve the roots of whatever is deemed famous enough to deserve preservation. That's why so many of them are located right where the roots first germinated.

Stock car racing's roots, as everyone knows, were in the rural South, where the barbeque is pork, not beef. The sport was baptized with moonshine and bankrolled by big tobacco, but the powers that be seem destined to distance themselves from the vices and stereotypes of such humble beginnings.

That's why Charlotte and its Richard Petty-endorsed I.M. Pei design might be too perfect. It relies financially on NASCAR more than any other city, meaning it's safe to assume it will work harder to make a hall of fame thrive. Too bad it's the only candidate city with a track not owned by NASCAR's parent company.

Charlotte already has an existing NASCAR tourism base. Hundreds of thousands visit race team shops every year. What some see as a strength, however, NASCAR might see as a weakness. Putting another NASCAR attraction there would be like preaching to the choir.

But that choir is what made NASCAR such sweet music. Yet the governing body has paid the region back by pillaging venues such as North Wilkesboro, Rockingham and Darlington for nouveau chic markets like K.C. and Las Vegas.

NASCAR obviously doesn't care that Talladega already houses the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame or that Darlington Raceway's museum has been inducting National Motorsports Press Association selections to its Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame since 1965.

Too old school. NASCAR is only looking forward, which is why it is likely to be swayed - if it hasn't been already - by Kansas City's pitch to reinvent the wheel.

"We are the future, and we believe we can extend the brand," Jeff Boerger, president of Kansas Speedway, told the Associated Press. "It's now becoming an international sport, and what better location than having it in the center of the United States?"

The future is naturally the first thing you think of when trying to honor the past.

Only in NASCAR, which we can only hope comes to its senses before selling the checkered flag.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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