Absent Scoring Pylons Shed Light on NASCAR’s Fundamentals

TALLADEGA, Ala. – For the second consecutive race weekend, NASCAR industry workers and racing fans came to the surprise of yet another scoring pylon in absence at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last weekend, Texas Motor Speedway tore down their pylon, catching drivers and fans off guard.

“It was funny. I did find myself trying to look for the pylon last weekend (at Texas) totally forgetting that it wasn’t there,” said Bubba Wallace, 2023 Texas pole winner.

Wallace wasn’t the only one left slightly flabbergasted.

“Did they take it down here? That’s why I was looking yesterday (for it),” remarked 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Most Popular Driver, Noah Gragson. “Why would they take it down?” Gragson won the Xfinity Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2022 to advance to the Round of 8.

On Friday, April 19, NASCAR shared with the media that the pylon at Talladega was old and outdated and was removed. They then pointed to the TV screens around the 2.66-mile circuit for visuals and a lineup sidebar showcasing the pinned “Top 5” positions with the next three slots indefinitely cycling through the rest of the field. The pylon at Pocono Raceway behaves similarly, yet still has four active sides instead of just a one-sided TV monitor.

For Talladega specifically, track workers added a horizontal scrollbar to the back side of the main television for those behind the screen, locking the top three positions with car numbers and a rotational scroller for three additional positions for the rest of the field. NASCAR also mentioned the ability for fans to download the official NASCAR app for Android and iPhone for more in-depth weekend statistics.

Representatives from NASCAR also confirmed that parts needed for general maintenance and repairs to the old scoring pylon were no longer made available, forcing them to remove it. Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi from The Athletic shared on Dirty Mo Media’s podcast The Teardown that a new pylon costs “roughly in the range of $5 million” at the current state and technology they operate.

“It’s important to fans too,” Gragson continued. “This place is a party with a race going on in the middle, and you look at the middle of the racetrack to see who’s running where if you can’t see on the track when you’re hanging out with your friends and having a good time. I don’t want to be negative at all. I don’t know the reason why they took it down and what that’s for, but we definitely utilize that as drivers.”

This isn’t the first time tracks have removed a staple of the NASCAR experience. In 2016, Bristol replaced its scoring pole with the Colossus TV, which hangs over the track like a TV board at a basketball or hockey game. The New York road course of Watkins Glen also removed its scoreboard on the frontstretch.

“I can’t make sense why they’re taking out the scoring pylons at these tracks,” said three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin on his podcast Actions Detrimental.

“Listen, they’re so important they put them on TV for you,” Hamlin continued his thoughts during Saturday’s media availability, pointing at the NASCAR on FOX qualifying broadcast within the Alabama media center. “No, it’s important. If you look at it there, that’s what we see. You don’t have any idea where we qualified if you’re an 11 fan or a 42 fan or someone like that. I did talk to Chip (Wile), and he says that they did think it through, but they figured that scoring pylons only service those in the infield. It doesn’t service those that are on the stands. I don’t know about that, but we know it’s important to the race fan because they put it on TV for the millions that do watch at home.

“You want to be able to see where your driver’s at and I think that’s why it’s important and not only that it’s just that’s what a racetrack is. Every time I go through a tunnel – and it might be just me – first thing I do is look at the scoring pylon to see who’s where and what. I think it started with Bristol taking some out and then it was Watkins Glen. And then obviously last week and then now this week. Hopefully, it’s not a trend.”

Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch shared missing the pylons during various track sessions and caution laps at many tracks.

“Bristol used to have it up on the suites in Turn 3,” said Busch. “I miss it ’cause under cautions you get an opportunity to look at where you’re at and instead now, I’m actually having to count cars in order to figure out where I’m at so I can figure out what I want to do on my choose. Having a scoring pylon definitely helps us, being the drivers, have an opportunity where we can’t see video boards.”

Josh Berry, a past stock car champion in the CARS Tour, believed it held many purposes at racetracks.

“On the intermediate tracks, we look at it,” admitted Berry. “It’s in our vision. I don’t know how much of a big of a deal it is looking at it or not, but we definitely do look at it. I don’t know why we can’t just leave things alone that don’t need fixing. I’m not really passionate one way or the other, but I think for the fans and the team members and everybody, it seems like it serves a purpose and that’s to tell the lineup, so like I said, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ kind of thing for me.”

Hamlin reminded media members that the pylon wasn’t just for the industry members, however.

“It’s not for us. It should be for the folks in the infield, and I think that’s what their justification is, which the reasoning is that it’s just for the people in the infield and it’s not for anyone at home or anyone in the stands,” he said. “I think what created so many exciting times during qualifying was when the number would pop up on the scoring pylon – P1 for Dale Junior, whoever it was. That’s what people were looking at, and now it’s just a little different. They’ll reevaluate if they think it needs to come back.”

Looking back at some of those examples shared by fans, one of the most famous qualifying videos taken by fans in the stands was in 2013 with Hamlin’s new lap record qualifying run at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Fans along the Turn 1 side of the grandstands watched the Fedex Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota rocket around the 1.5-mile North Carolina oval. As Hamlin took the checkered flag for his timed lap, fans looked straight at the scoring pylon with thunderous cheers as a bright yellow number 11 dotted the top of the vertical scoreboard.

Even last year, a fan took a video of Wallace’s pole qualifying lap at Texas, pointing straight to the pylon with its famous Big Hoss television screen in the background.

That evaluation appears to be right around the corner. As first reported by Toby Christie, NASCAR will be sending out a survey to all ticket holders. While it wasn’t shared what specifically will be within that survey, the presentation of live timing may be included in the survey.

It’s also a friendly reminder that more than just NASCAR competes at these tracks. This weekend, the ARCA Menards Series ran its third race of the season for the General Tire 200. Last year’s Daytona ARCA winner Greg van Alst added to the significance of the pylon, being from the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

“You can definitely see them when you’re on the track, so it’s nice to have them,” said van Alst. “It’s nice for the spotter to be able to see them. I’m from the Indy area, so the most famous pylon in the world. I’m all for them. I’m not really a big fan (when) they started taking him away. I’m hoping it’s just they’re going to rebuild them or something.”

In 2014, Indianapolis Motor Speedway unveiled its third generation of the iconic 33-position scoring pylon along the front stretch. The new high-tech pylon stands over 92 feet tall just south of the Gasoline Alley entrance. With the new technology, instead of just a lap counter and car number, the new pylon adds tracking of lap times, miles per hour and time intervals behind the race leader.

Two years later, California’s Sonoma Raceway followed suit with an upgraded scoring pylon of their own, a road course owned by Speedway Motorsports Incorporated. The 85-foot-tall LED scoring tower replaced the outdated pylon originally built in 1994. It provided real-time running orders for up to 20 positions, dynamic race-related graphics, fan information and more.

A $178 million renovation of Phoenix Raceway in 2018 added 45,000 grandstand seats, over 50 suites, a new pedestrian tunnel and an upgraded scoring pylon. While not fully digital, it still proudly stands in the middle of the Arizona 1-mile oval, looking down upon the NASCAR champions that have been crowned every year there in November since 2020.

Don’t take just the driver’s word for it. Other industry workers took notice as well.

“Since we don’t have a scoreboard anymore,” tweeted Tab Boyd, spotter for Ricky Stenhouse Jr, “can we please put how many laps remain in the race on the big screen?”

Talladega quickly responded during Sunday’s GEICO 500 with the lap counter added to the TV screens around the track.

“I don’t even understand the point,” said Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart. “There is no more efficient way to quickly know where your team is running than a (roughly) 30-car pylon. Confusing.”

It’s funny cause looking back to last weekend in Texas, (Keith) Wolfe told us what lap we were pitting under green,” commented Zach Case, jackman for the No. 43 Xfinity entry of Ryan Ellis with Alpha Prime Racing. Keith Wolfe is the crew chief for the team. “My first reaction was to look towards Turn 1 to see what lap it was. Then I began to question myself because I could have sworn there was a pylon there. Makes sense now. There’s nothing more frustrating as a crew guy than when a crew chief says we are coming to pit road on this lap, and you can’t see the lap and where the guys are around you. We don’t have time to look at the NASCAR app or watch monitors behind a pit box.”

Even more so, one of NASCAR’s own got caught peeking into the blank sky.

“I messed up,” shared one NASCAR Official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Without going into details of the official’s job duties, they admitted to making a mistake on pit road because they were looking for the scoring tower to help make a decision and took too long.

Last weekend at Texas, Rob Albright, Turn 1 radio broadcaster for Performance Racing Network, admitted to the increased difficulties of calling practice and the trio of races live.

“Doug (Rice) and Mark (Garrow) are in the booth and have access to NASCAR’s scoring,” Albright explained to Kickin’ the Tires. “For me, down in Turn 1, I don’t. So, I’m left guessing where a driver is or where the conversation is taking place on track. My view (at Texas) is a short straight at the end of the dogleg with a rough angle that makes it difficult for me to see roof numbers and paint schemes.

“It’s more significant at a place like Talladega where a fan’s favorite driver starts making pit stops or where they are at in a pack. The greatest frustration for me is that I can’t do as good of a job on the radio for our fans. I can’t give them as much information as they want.”

Photographers use the pylon to find where their drivers are to shoot accurately and promptly before moving to their next location. The various photo towers at Talladega make it near impossible in some locations to see the video boards or the running order, whereas the pylon previously guided them through the dark from all angles around the race track.

One licensed NASCAR photographer shared the newfound challenges of providing images for their clients during the Talladega weekend.

“It definitely helps me know where one of my cars could be running,” they stated, requesting to remain anonymous. “When you’re somewhere inside or outside the race track, you can’t see the video boards. Needing to know the lap count, it all is important at different stages of the race. The video boards are nice but you can’t always see the video board.

“I was looking for (the scoring pylon). ‘I know it’s in that direction,’ and that’s when I realized it was gone. Even if you can see the video boards from the backstretch, you’re so far away that it was easier to look at the scoring pylon.”

The bottom line comes down to the fans. What was their perspective of the change?

One fan shared, “I’m relatively new to the sport (2020) and have only been to two tracks: Charlotte and WGI [Watkins Glen]. I relied on the pylon as I was trying to learn! The thought of looking at my phone while attending a race is absolutely ludicrous!”

From an unofficial survey done throughout the campground of the Talladega infield, nearly a dozen fans chimed in on the absence of the scoring pylon that once stood tall atop the hill.

  • Brian Agle of Buffalo, NY: “I did (notice) because what’s the point of sitting on the pole if there’s no pole to sit on?”
  • Logan Martin of Tulsa, OK: “I did notice that. I didn’t go (to Texas) this past (weekend), so I didn’t know the (about) scoring pylon at Texas Motor Speedway. I did see that. So that’s news to me. And the fact that they got rid of it here, listen, video boards are great and all that, but different guys have pits at different times. It can be a little bit tough if you get up, get a hot dog or whatever, to see who’s in first, where they’re at when they pitted all that. I’m kind of a traditionalist if I can look up and see where my guy’s at it just makes it that much easier. I feel like with the video boards (or when) you’re pulling your phone out constantly and trying to track that instead, it just kind of takes away from the experience.”
  • Ben Kensinger of Charleston, SC: “Yes. Yeah, actually, last night I was walking around and I was looking for it. I was like, ‘I swear, I remember being able to track the race from something I thought. Well, maybe I was imagining that,’ but no, it’s gone.”
  • Jay Shine of Dallas, TX: “I mean, it makes sense we’re going into the 21st century, so video is obviously better, just seeing the race happen rather than just seeing numbers on a board. But (the pylon) was nostalgic, and that’s what I miss about it.”

From a variety of attendees – some being their first time at any NASCAR track to one fan celebrating their 20th weekend trip at Talladega – none seemed to be upset by the video boards placed along the frontstretch, with one slightly frustrated that there weren’t more video boards along the turns.

  • Jay Shine of Dallas, TX: “I mean, it makes sense because you can see the race, but honestly, you’re not going to be able to see it that much. There’s no video board here, so I think that the pylon was necessary because you could then see. Obviously, you’re gonna be able to see the boys going over there, but you needed to see who was in what position. You don’t know who pitted. You don’t know who did anything like that. So that’s where I stand on them.”
  • Logan Martin of Tulsa, OK: “They’re necessary. I mean, it’s like you go to a football game if they don’t have a video board, you want the video board, right? They can show replays and things like that. I mean, you got to have video boards.”
  • Ben Kensinger of Charleston, SC: “Yeah, I think we need them. How (are) we going to get up close and personal on what’s going on the track from the grandstands without it? We got to have a video board.”
  • Kyle Drasie of Kansas City, MO: “That would be awesome (adding more video boards around the track). We need more around track. We were actually discussing that yesterday that that would be nice if they had that other tracks do and it’s a big help when you’re just watching it from a fan point infield.”

But just as fans unanimously provided positive feedback on the video boards, so were the unanimous viewpoints on the scoring pylon too.

  • Jay Shine of Dallas, TX: “I don’t understand why they would get rid of it. (I want to) keep track of laps, keeping track of drivers. Obviously, we can’t see everything over here like I was saying. This is my first time in the infield, but being able to track the drivers, I think the pylon is missing.”
  • Logan Martin of Tulsa, OK: “I don’t see why if you add a video board, you have to get rid of the scoring pylon. I think they can coexist.”
  • Donna Grisset of Andalusa, AL: “(I first noticed) during the qualifying on Friday because that’s how I always did it to see where they were qualifying and it was missing.”
  • Kenny Grimes of Tyler, TX: “The day I got here, Wednesday. When I got up on that trailer, I looked straight with that pile on and I was like, what happened? I thought I was in the wrong turn. I absolutely would be pro scoring pylon.”

There’s no doubt that technology has advanced over NASCAR’s 76 years of sanctioned auto racing. But New York Times bestseller Marty Smith hopes to see the staple of motorsports stand tall and proud for generations to come.

“They’re quaint, not antiquated,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

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