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Greed behind expansion of race schedule

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2000

Don CobleNascar Columnist

The house of cards that is the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule grew taller this week. The sanctioning body, which also moonlights as a race promoter, piled on a couple more racing weekends to push the sport beyond overtime and into insanity.

The season now involves 38 racing weekends in a 41-week stretch, including a run of 20 races in 20 consecutive weekends.

Teams will start practicing in January, then begin racing Feb. 11 at the Bud Shootout All-Star race at Daytona International Speedway. The season will finally end Nov. 18 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

There were no surprises with next year's schedule. NASCAR added dates at Kansas City and Chicago, as expected, and moved the Brickyard 400 at the Indianap olis Motor Speedway from Satur day to Sunday.

When the schedule grew from 29 to 30 races in 1993, the race teams yelled ''No more!''

In 1994 it grew to 31 races. In 1997 it grew to 32. In 1998 it grew to 33. And in 1999 it grew to 34.

Now it's at 36. When will it end?

Not soon.

NASCAR is operated by the France family. Bill France Jr. is the president; his brother Jim and son Brian are vice presidents. NASCAR makes the rules and establishes the schedule.

The France family also operates International Speedway Corp. That's a conglomerate that owns the Daytona International Speedway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, North Carolina Speedway, Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Michigan Speedway, California Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and the new Kansas Speedway. ISC also owns a piece of the Martins ville (Va.) Speedway and the new Chicagoland Speedway.

NASCAR adds races because it makes ISC richer. The same people who make rules on Sunday make bank deposits on Monday. There isn't another sport that features such a gross conflict of interest.

The new $400 million-a-year television package from NBC, Fox Sports, FX and TBS means each track will get about $10 million in extra revenues for each race. The only way to get on that gravy train is to own a racetrack on the circuit, and that's why ISC is frantic to corner the market.

Each race team has to build and maintain up to 15 cars. Also, each team has to build, maintain and rebuild about 25 engines a year. Cars are stripped down, rebuilt and repainted after each race.

Most teams will have to buy a second tractor-trailer to transport race cars and a second full-time truck driver to keep up with the pace. That's an additional $400,000-a-year expense.

A new speedway has been built near Cincinnati, and others are planned for Denver, New York and Nashville. What happens when they want to get on board?

NASCAR will have to decide between greed and common sense. You figure it out.

REACH Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.



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