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WAID’S WORLD: Don’t Look Now, But CMS Has Planned Another ‘Gimmick’

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Well, Charlotte Motor Speedway is at it again.

At what, you may ask?

It’s made yet another bold, innovative initiative that is geared toward making Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing more entertaining, while, at the same time, provide an impetus for fan interest and potentially higher ticket sales.

Or, more simply put, it’s come up with another gimmick.

We’ve known this one was coming. Late last year CMS revealed that it was going to conduct a NASCAR event on a road course.

Of course, the speedway is a 1.5-mile oval. But it has always had an infield road course layout that would be put to use to create the “Roval” – a 2.28-mile layout with 17 turns that makes use of much of the long-standing circle track.

The “Roval” has come to fruition and will be used for the first time on Sept. 28-30 for the Bank of America 500.

Now here’s where Charlotte’s gimmick may just pay nice dividends. The Bank of America 500 will be the first road race in the history of NASCAR’s playoffs.

It fulfills what many fans and media have requested. It will be a road course race amid the oval-track events that make up the 10-race playoff. It will offer a stronger challenge for a championship in that all types of NASCAR racing – on superspeedways, 1.5-mile ovals, short tracks and, now, a road course – will be utilized.

Don’t think for a moment CMS hasn’t tried to capitalize on this. Yes, there are many who do not like road courses and may have already scratched the Bank of America 500 off their “must watch” list.

But the speedway is gambling that more fans approve of a road courses than don’t. Additionally, the race is bound to raise curiosity – and thus, perhaps, lift attendance.

You can bet CMS is going to do plenty to promote the event.

After all, that is what it has been doing for years, namely, applying as much hoopla to its gimmicks as possible. And very often it gets the desired results.

Let’s talk about the gimmicks – or, more politely, the innovations.

In the mid 1970s after Bruton Smith regained control of the speedway he helped built, he made it known very quickly nothing would languish. Changes based on new ideas were coming and there would be plenty of them.

He hired as his president a long-time PR and marketing pro named H.A. “Humpy’ Wheeler. He was the type of individual who believed racing, at any level, could not happen without fan appeal and support.

In other words his philosophy was to give the customer more than his or hers money’s worth.

This meant more than, say, 10 cents a beer night.

Smith announced that, along with speedway renovations, condominiums would be built. They would be sold to potential homeowners for six figures.

This, of course, had never been done. Condos at a race track? Suffice it to say many thought Smith was ready for the psycho ward.

But darn if all of them weren’t sold. And, a few years later, Smith decreed there would be more condos – much more luxurious and much more expensive.

By this time folks didn’t question Smith’s sanity. They just stood by to see what would happen. Sure enough, the condos sold out.

Wheeler kept pace with his boss. Races at CMS routinely had their own competitive twists; nearly all of them planned the track president.

As one example he created “team” racing, in which one competitor would unite with another and their combined finish in the event could provide a nice payout.

But over the years Wheeler’s claim to fame was not the actual racing, rather, it was the pre-race. He hatched such extravaganzas as flying school buses, a taxicab race, motorcycle jumping, boxing matches and military invasions.

By the way, there were multiple military exhibitions, complete with helicopters and explosions.

The Army was delighted. It claimed it got 200 new recruits with each pre-race show.

The media called Wheeler’s pre-race shows “Humpy’s Circus.” When he heard that, Wheeler’s next show was, yes, a circus – complete with elephants.

CMS was chosen as the site for The Winston, a special “all star” event for winners only. Because of its promotional and showmanship abilities the track was a natural choice. It still is.

There’s much more, such as the installation of lights (CMS was the first large track to have them), the creation of a huge backstretch video screen (not available at any other track), and, of course, The Speedway Club (now decades old after many thought a country club atmosphere would never succeed).

Now we can add the “Roval” to the list.

I will readily admit that the media, and the fans, can be a cynical bunch.

But many times in the past CMS has quelled their cynicism and doubts.

At the Bank of America 500 this September, it will have its chance to do so – again.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement    

Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.