CARS Tour projected itself as a really big deal on Monday afternoon during a press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It wasn’t just the entitlement partnership with zMax lubricants or having all four superstar owners (Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Justin Marks) on the media center backroom stage but it was the presentation of the press conference and the scope of media attention it now gets.
I covered the first ever CARS Tour race at Southern National Motorsports Park in 2015 and never imagined a scenario where the series would have press events at Charlotte Motor Speedway attended by mainstream media and the beat NASCAR outlets.
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverRA) November 27, 2023
Also, in attendance were all three local to Charlotte television stations, the Charlotte Observer, a television station from nearby Greensboro and most of the beat writer outlets that cover the NASCAR Cup Series on a regular basis.
Sure, that’s a testament to the legendary ownership group but they also elicited questions and interest from those outlets who all took time to ask questions about what they were doing with a regional Late Model Stock touring division.
In short, CARS Tour felt like a big deal on par with NASCAR on Monday.
That doesn’t mean to expect the 19 series events to start drawing NASCAR television ratings on the FloRacing digital streaming platform next year but there is commensurate growth transitioning from Year One to Year Two.
Kyle Larson made a start at Caraway and drew a considerably larger set of eyeballs to pavement racing in the process.
Having a race at North Wilkesboro Speedway during the week leading up to the All-Star Race provided similar mainstream vibes with race winner Brenden Queen getting a full NASCAR post-race press conference treatment.
It’s the little things like this and the press conference on Monday that make CARS Tour now feel closer to the Truck Series and less like, respectfully, the ASA STARS Series.
The new ownership group talks often about professionalism and ethics. They talk about racers driving the right way. They talk about broadcast quality on FloRacing. These are all things that are setting them apart from the rest of the short track industry in very positive ways.
This isn’t a slight on any other touring division, by the way.
Also in attendance at the press conference was SMART Modified Tour series operator Chris Williams, who Earnhardt spoke respectfully of on Monday and said they work together on schedules and logistics. ASA promoter Bob Sargent says he touches base with the CARS Tour group for ways they can continue to work together, be it Wilkesboro or for a track like Nashville.
It just stands to reason that when you have those four owners, and their various resource pools working together, it’s going to result in something transformation. Josh Jones, Vice President of Kevin Harvick Inc. was in attendance and that company is deeply invested in the growth of the series.
Justin Marks, who is most known for Trackhouse Racing, also co-operates CARS Tour through the Trackhouse Entertainment subdivision. The new logo was crafted in part by Marks who felt like the branding needed to strike an emotional cord.
It might be semantics to some but identity is at the core of what is taking place in CARS Tour right now.
Not in attendance, mostly because she is busy working on five thousand other things, was Kelley Earnhardt Miller, who the four owners will all tell you is the heartbeat of the series in how she uses JR Motorsports and Dirty Mo Media connections to help CARS Tour as well.
And while it’s easy to point to the current ownership structure for all they are doing to transform CARS Tour into something really special, credit also has to be given to series founder and series director Jack McNelly and director of operations Keeley Dubensky for the foundation they laid years ago.
The Cup Series legends will get a lot of attention, but they are just doing things with greater authority and resources that McNelly and Dubensky established in the first place, in terms of scheduling, procedures and the general culture.
The fact that all six of these series operators are pulling in the same direction is a tremendous blessing for the league. That’s to say nothing of executive director Kip Childress, who was brough on this past summer and is starting to build a stronger bridge between the series and NASCAR.
Even that topic was covered by Earnhardt on Monday, who said it remains of paramount importance that NASCAR sanctioned weekly racing grows alongside the tour because they have a beneficial relationship to each other.
Harvick said that getting the various Late Model Stock rule books together are important.
All told, the new schedule and series partnership isn’t a giant leap for the series. It’s largely business as usual but it’s a bunch of things in the background that really shows the growth of CARS Tour entering its 10th season and second under this ownership.
It’s the gold standard of short track tours and they’re just getting started.