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Opinion: 51 Super Select was a big hit and it could be so much more

The 51 Super Select hit all the right notes but can be even better in 2020

NBC SPORTS

The 51 Super Select at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis billed itself as the Super Late Model All-Star Race.

For the most part, mission accomplished.

Bubba Pollard earned $10,000 in the winner-take-all showdown, cementing his legacy as the current face of the discipline by defeating 12 other regional champions and marquee race winners from over the past 12 months.

He did so under a three-segment, 75-lap format replete with inverts and a starting lineup for the final stage based on the average finish from the first two segments. The 13 drivers who made the trip to central Indiana received a free set of tires and no entry fees.

“It was a great format for this venue,” Pollard said. “I think it can work great at some places but not everywhere. But I think it was exceptional at this race track. A place like Berlin would be good — places where you can pass.”

In short, this was a true all-star race, and it was quite frankly, made for television as a potential gateway to attract new fans.

Enter the NBC Sports Network.

The NASCAR television partner is in the midst of a push to spotlight short tracks, called the Grassroots Racing Tour, a really admirable program.

If NBC wanted to put some money behind its sweet talkin’ to short track racin’ mouth, here’s how to do it: Broadcast the 2020 Super Select live and offer tow money for up to 25 invited drivers.

If there was one complaint about the inaugural Super Select, it was just that 13 teams of the 60 invited accepted the offer to race.

What would it have taken for say, Johnny Sauter, to haul his Super Late Model seven hours south to the Circle City in addition to the paid entry and the free tires? Take it away, Jim Jr.

As one industry insider texted during the race, “all this thing is missing is about 10 more cars,” and this individual is correct.

The racing after the invert was exceptional but with 13 cars, Pollard made pretty quick work of the back half of the field and just ran out of laps to do anything with Casey Roderick, Matthew Craig and Harrison Burton in just 25 laps. It also allowed for Pollard to easily acquire best average finish over the first two segments, allowing him to start on pole for the final 25 — a position he did not relinquish.

Now imagine if Pollard had to deal with the likes of Sauter, Matt Kenseth, Preston Peltier or Ty Majeski.

Now THAT’S an all-star race.

Certainly, having the support of television with purse assistance and/or broadcast time would go a long to attracting the rest of the stars. NBC analyst Jeff Burton has been one of the driving forces between connecting his bosses to short track racing and he says they were paying attention to the racing on Saturday at IRP.

“This format was great,” Burton said. “We’ve pushed short track racing really hard at NBC this year and we’re going to continue to do it. Obviously, I don’t make those decisions. That goes above me but I know the people here are dedicated to getting grassroots racing in front of more people. We just have to figure out how to do it.

“But I loved this format. This is probably the best all-star format I’ve seen. I don’t like having to do math but it worked out really well. But yes, I think we can do more to bring real grassroots racing to NASCAR fans and a race like this would go a long way to getting people interested.”

Even if this race doesn’t immediately go to television moving forward, a lot of credit needs to go to Speed51 founder Bob Dillner — the longtime NASCAR pit reporter and short track enthusiast who first conceived the Super Late Model all-star race format.

He doesn’t know when the race will return in 2020, but knows it will take place and will grow even bigger than what fans were subjected to on Saturday night.

“This is what we need more of in short track racing,” Dillner said. “We don’t need 150 lap races other than the crown jewels. Dirt has shown us that. Bob Sargent (Track Enterprises) has already talked to us about putting more money on the line to make this even bigger. We don’t know when we’re going to do it yet, but we’re looking forward to seeing how this race did and make the best decisions from there.”

If Saturday was any indication, they are on the right track.

Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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