SMI’s Marcus Smith Gives Insight on New NASCAR Changes

Photo by Andrew Coppley/Harold Hinson Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

CHARLOTTE, NC – While NASCAR and its stakeholders were aware they needed to revamp their product to keep up with today’s racing fans, it wasn’t until this past December that things kicked into high gear and everyone came together to make Monday’s announcement of changes to the racing format a reality.

It was Champions Week and representatives from across the NASCAR world – drivers, sponsors, broadcasters, team owners, members of the sanctioning body and other key players met, hashed out ideas, left a lot on the cutting room floor and came up with a plan that would enhance the on-track action, provide recognition to winners and put an emphasis on racing hard every lap. And, when the announcement was made on the stage at the Charlotte Convention Center, everyone was on board.

“We had this great meeting, an initial meeting in Las Vegas during Champions Week, and from the beginning I knew it was not a typical meeting because we had people from every part of the sport,” said Marcus Smith, president and chief operating officer and director of NASCAR track owner Speedway Motorports, Inc. and general manager of SMI-owned Charlotte Motor Speedway. “You had TV there, team owners, drivers, other promoters, NASCAR people there. I give a lot of credit to Steve O’Donnell (NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer) for the way he really led this charge down some unchartered territory and took the risk of getting all those stakeholders together and risking that we would all say, ‘This is terrible. I can’t believe you’re proposing this.’ But we worked together really well. There was a lot of candor and a lot of back-and-forths.”

Smith said the fact that so many people could come together and hash out the details of the new racing format, which breaks races up into segments, awards winners and puts an emphasis on actually battling for position, is “exciting.” Of course, when there are lots of ideas being thrown out on the table there are a lot of ideas that get tossed in the trash. That was definitely the case here but no one wore their feelings on their sleeve. Instead, the group came together to develop a product it thought was best for the race fans, Smith said.

Smith joked that Figure 8 Racing and backstretch jumps were quickly eliminated from consideration but other more realistic ideas were also cut out. Shortening races and lengthening races were both considered by the group when it met in Las Vegas but it was decided those wouldn’t achieve the ultimate goal.

“There is a lot that we threw on the board to consider and what we came out with is that we wanted to do something different,” he said. “We wanted to make it true to our core but at the same time we wanted to make it special and better.”

On the stage for the announcement were O’Donnell, Smith, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Burton, Brett Frood of Stewart-Haas Racing, Joie Chitwood of International Speedway Corp., Dave Alpern of Joe Gibbs Racing, Steve Newmark of Roush Racing and Marshall Carlson of Hendrick Motor Sports. Behind the scenes, there were even more people invested in trying to come up with a winning plan and they have a lot at stake if the new plan falls flat.

“There were about twice that many people involved in developing this strategy and we all have our own reputations on the line, we didn’t do this just to check off a box,” Smith said. “We would have left it the same if we felt like leaving it the same was the best thing. I can tell you that everybody in that room is behind this formula and everybody in that room is a big NASCAR fan. It’s our job but it is also something that we love and we are all thrilled about the season ahead.”

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