The Speedway Motorsports, Inc. family and its leader, O. Bruton Smith, have long been known for being innovative, if not over-the-top, when it comes to revolutionizing the fan experience at the company’s eight facilities, but no more so than at SMI’s flagship superspeedway outside of Charlotte, N.C.
Since opening in 1960, Charlotte Motor Speedway has become “the Mecca of Motorsports” thanks to the progressive thinking of SMI employees and Smith’s deep pockets, and the innovations have been numerous. Not only does the speedway host NASCAR’s longest event — the Coca-Cola 600 — but CMS became the first modern superspeedway to install lights for night racing in 1992. The track’s Speedway Club became the first exclusive, members-only private club to be constructed at a motorsports facility, and CMS was the first American sports venue to offer year-round living accommodations in its turn-one tower condos.
Across the street from the 1.5-mile superspeedway, Smith erected a virtual palace for drag racing, zMAX Dragway, which came with a $60 million price tag and ruffled the feathers of local residents and political figures long before last spring’s controversial Four-Wide NHRA Nationals drew the ire of many competitors. The latest of SMI’s innovations, the world’s largest high-definition video board — weighing in at more than 82 tons — is on pace to be completed in time for May’s Sprint All-Star Race.
And when it comes to the annual All-Star event, the 27th edition of which is slated for May 21, speedway officials have never shied away from creating new rules and altering the show’s format, trying to inject just a tad more excitement into the non-points-paying, $1 million-to-win show. Throughout the race’s previous 26 runnings, the format has varied from a single 40-lap race in the inaugural 1985 Winston to programs featuring two, three and four segments of varying lengths.
Perhaps the most notorious format changes the Charlotte Motor Speedway brass have implemented have been random and full-field inversions. Since 2009, the format for the Sprint All-Star Race has remained a 100-lap event divided into four segments: a 50-lap run with a mandatory, green-flag pit stop on lap 25; two 20-lap segments; and a final 10-lap, green-flag dash to the finish.
Winners from the last two seasons are eligible, as are past champions and All-Star winners from the last 10 years, the winner and runner-up from the night’s last-chance, 40-lap Sprint Showdown, and the winner of a fan vote. Given the event’s and the speedway’s history of changing formats, it was no surprise earlier this month when speedway President Marcus Smith lobbed another curveball regarding the 27th running of the Sprint All-Star Race: no changes to the format of this year’s event.
“Every year we announce some great change to the All-Star Race that makes it even better, even more exciting. With the race we had last year and the year before that, the big change is there’s not going to be a change,” Smith said. “We decided it’s time to leave it like it is, leave well enough alone, and let the guys go for it, get out there, not worry about the points, go for the money, go for the fun, and I think the fans are going to really enjoy it.”
We were surprised — and disappointed — to hear this news, as these crazy format changes have always created a buzz.
Perhaps, though, by not creating some off-the-wall gimmick, the focus in this year’s Sprint All-Star Race will be on the drivers and the actual on-track competition.