Commentary: Truck Series On Uneven Ground

The old adage goes take one step forward, take two steps back. While the Camping World Truck Series hasn’t taken that second step backward, it seems it is inevitable that something else is coming down the pipe line.

Just 16 days ago NASCAR and Camping World announced that the company was extending its entitlement sponsorship through the 2022 season, marking 14 years of sponsoring the series. There was much promoting of the series as the place where young talent is found and pushed along to succeed in NASCAR. Camping World gushed about how it has helped their RV sales since joining NASCAR.

That is good PR spinning on the state of the sport, but the reality is it is struggling. After starting the season with full fields, 36 trucks, at Daytona and Martinsville, the number of trucks has dropped off. Only 31 raced at Kansas, just four days after the announcement, and only 33 raced this last weekend at Charlotte.

Of those trucks, only 18 drivers have attempted all four races, with Sprint Cup Series star Kyle Busch winning three of those races. That number will drop when the series next goes to Dover because of Tuesday’s news that Red Horse Racing was ceasing operations of their #7 team driven by Brian Ickler to this point.

Without much sponsorship, the team did not want to pull down the performance of its other two teams to keep Ickler on the track. That says a lot that a team that currently has the second and third place teams in the standings can’t find sponsorship for a third team. Go a step further and Timothy Peters, who sits second in points, has run the past two races without sponsorship on his car.

The sponsorship woes didn’t begin this year, numerous teams folded including on of Busch’s teams despite his on track success. In fact, Busch has stated that he runs the series as a means of funding his teams, although adding trophies to his collection can’t hurt.

For the long-time health of the series the schedule needs to be lengthened to at least 25 races to get maximum value for sponsorships and cost reduction is needed. While it was great to see underfunded teams running higher than they ever have, it shouldn’t be because of short fields and start and park entries.

Expanding the schedule to 25 races could be seen as adding costs for teams. The rationale to adding the three (or I’d be open to a few more) is to bridge the large gaps that start the season. They open the season on February 21st, but then it’s not until March 29th that there is a second race.

From there it’s not until May 9th do we see the third race of the season. That is just enough time for everyone to forget about the Truck Series and for drivers to be off their game. This was evident with the number of accidents seen in the third race Kansas.

What sponsor would invest in a product that disappears for a month right after its season kicks off? Brendan Gaughan told me as much at Watkins Glen last season. He’s seen the Truck Series from the side of owner and driver during his career.

“The Truck Series needs more races, 22 races is not enough to give value to a sponsor. And it doesn’t save us any money having less than 25 races. Get us back to 25 races,” explained Gaughan.

He indicated he didn’t care where those races were added, as long as they were venues that deserved the series and were up to par on safety around the track. I would take that one step further and say you need to hit locations with this series you don’t go to now with the Sprint Cup Series.

This would go back to the origins of the Truck Series which saw it go to tracks such as Masa Marin Raceway, Milwaukee Mile, Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway), Heartland Park Topeka, Flemington Speedway, and others.

To cut costs, make the events one day shows if possible by running night races. That way teams can save on external costs, such as hotels, and fans get the ultimate bang for their buck. They don’t have to worry about coming back for qualifying or a practice another day.

NASCAR and Camping World need to build on the momentum that was found last season by running at Eldora Speedway and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Both venues, that had not run another other series until then, were praised as being successes by fans and media from not only the show the Trucks put on, but the facilities themselves.

It is too late to do anything about 2014, but it’s not too early to start planning changes for 2015. With rumblings of a major shakeup in the Sprint Cup Series scheduling for next season there is hope there will be a trickledown effect that will benefit the Truck Series. If not, this model of doing the same old, same old will slowly kill the series.