Circumstances related to the coronavirus have required that the All-American 400 next Sunday at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway will serve as the championship race for both the Southern Super Series and CARS Super Late Model Tour.
Additionally, it is co-sanctioned by the Champion Racing Association and Midwest Tour, but what if it were so much more?
What if it were the Super Late Model national championship season finale?
While nothing is imminent, the concept has been discussed by the most prominent regional promoters from all four corners of the United States, and the All-American 400 could be viewed as a template for how it could work.
Hypothetically, this national championship would exist parallel to the CRA Super Series, CARS Tour, Southern Super Series, Midwest Tour and Southwest Tour — the most prominent races from each region also paying points towards an overall champion.
Imagine a national schedule that includes a Southern Super Series race from Five Flags and the World Crown 300 from Gresham Motorsports Park; the Midwest Tour Joe Shear Classic from Madison or Dells and the Milwaukee Mile Father’s Day 200; the Southwest Tour Winter Showdown at Kern County and All-Star Showdown at Irwindale, the CRA’s Redbud 400 and Winchester 400; and the CARS Tour Mid-Atlantic Classic from Orange County.
Then, of course, the co-sanctioned championship race in Music City for the All-American 400.
Imagine a full-time roster that included Bubba Pollard, Stephen Nasse, Ty Majeski, Derek Thorn, Preston Peltier, Matthew Craig and Johnny VanDoorn.
The basic premise was first posited towards the other series directors by Larry Collins of the Southwest Tour. His version of the idea started modestly, taking one rotating race from each region, and counting that towards a combined national championship. If that gained traction and didn’t damage the integrity of regional tours, expand it until the right balance was struck.
“It was something that I threw out there a couple of years ago, and we haven’t had the chance to re-address it, because we haven’t had the chance to address a lot of things this year obviously, but I wanted to start a conversation on it,” Collins said. “If you start a national Super Late Model series, the regional series might lose cars, so I want to find a way to create something that has national recognition, that could attract television and make the top teams want to chase the deal.”
After all, the likes of Pollard, Nasse, Majeski, Thorn, Peltier and Craig have each entered numerous crown jewel races this season. They’re already there so why not count points and crown a national champion?
To Collins’ point, the most immediate concern would towards how a national championship could exist without taking away from the regional car counts, should the national stars simply focus on just the national championship.
It’s worth pointing out that Pollard (Bristol) and Nasse (Montgomery) have both missed Southern Super Series races this year anyway, and that the CRA Super Series championship is decided by a NASCAR Final Four format that allows drivers to miss races and still be eligible for the playoffs.
Of the regional promoters, Midwest Tour president Gregg McKarns is the most enthusiastic about what a national championship could provide the industry at large.
“There are challenges, that you bring up, but I think this is something we can achieve,” McKarns said. “I believe there is a want for some of us, from the teams based on their traveling patterns, to make it happen.”
McKarns says the All-American 400 next week is the first step to having a more thorough conversation about a Super Late Model national championship.
That race is expected to draw the likes of Pollard and Nasse, who are racing for the Southern Super Series championship. Craig will be there to close out on his CARS Tour championship, and the entry list also includes Thorn and Peltier from the west coast.
Carson Hocevar completed a clean sweep of the CRA Triple Crown this summer (Redbud 400, Money in the Bank, Winchester 400) and is seeking an All-American 400 win as well.
“I think Nashville next week could be a measuring stick for what this could look like, with a national field,” McKarns said. “Hopefully we’ll get good weather and that can tell us if this has merit.”
McKarns conceded a national championship may create conflicts that prevent his regional champion, Casey Johnson, from competing at a weekly show at Dells or Madison if he were pursuing the national championship at Kern County or Orange County.
But the ASA National Tour, Pro Cup, or the All-Pro Super Series presented those challenge too.
“ASA would be running at Jennerstown, and so Dells knew they wouldn’t have Scott Hansen or Tony Raines,” McKarns said. “But you would still have Joe Shear and Scott Carlson so I do believe that can be overcome.
“It would just present some different challenges.
“I think there’s a lot of merit to it. I think we’ll all have more to say about it after Nashville once we have a gauge of where our (drivers) are at and if some of them would want to do it. We’ve had preliminary conversations and are still working through the pros and cons of it.”
It’s worth pointing out that the regional promoters largely try to avoid date conflicts with each other and have consolidated their schedules to that end.
Even Ocktoberfest and Winchester will race on separate weekends in 2021.
Southern Super Series promoter Tim Bryant isn’t as bullish on a national tour as McKarns, even if he is enthusiastic about the concept, mostly because he wouldn’t want to lose his biggest attractions if they no longer decided to run at least a majority of the races in the southeast.
“If there were enough national tour events that it made for a good schedule for a Bubba Pollard or Stephen Nasse for instance, and no disrespect for anyone else, but I’m just using those guys as an example,” Bryant said. “If we lost those guys in the other Southern Super Series races, it would be a blow so that would be the possible downside.
“I like the concept. I like the idea. The other thing is if we had a national tour where the races paid $30,000 plus to win, would guys just want to run those races only? That would be my fear.”
A typical 100-150 lap or so Super Late Model race pays around $4,000-6,000 to win.
But the industry is only in this position to have a conversation about a national championship because the regional promoters have unified over the past decade-plus to create a largely unified rule book and procedural expectations.
Pollard, Nasse, Majeski, Thorn and Peltier are able to race all across the country at their current pace because the rules are so similar — something that wasn’t true at the start of this century.
That’s opened the door to make a national tour a realistic possibility.
“I believe we will (talk about it) and what that yields remains to be seen,” Bryant said. “We’ve got a group of people right now, industry leaders, and I don’t consider myself one of them because I’m just proud to be associated with them.
“There are a lot of smart people working to figure this out. I think we will. This isn’t the first time that we’ve done a three-way event, because there’s the U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol, but this is the first time that it’s a quartet at Nashville.
“When I found out Gregg was going to be involved, I was jumping for joy because he brings so much to the table. So, I think we will talk about it and work through some of the things we do differently…
“I think we’re on the right track. It won’t happen as quickly as some will want it to, but it’s not that easy.”
Snowball Derby winner Travis Braden would want to be a part of a national touring championship.
“It needs to happen,” Braden said. “It needs to happen. We need to do it in a strategic way that works with the regional tours, and do it in a way that’s attractive to corporate sponsors and television.
“Let’s make the purses and fields large enough to entice a title sponsor. Obviously, teams will have a responsibility to do their part to find sponsorships on their own. But being a part of a national tour could help us pick up the slack.”
ASA and World of Outlaws had a live TV agreement with TNN in 2001, but it became embroiled in controversy when the company rebranded from The Nashville Network to The National Network and reneged on its motorsports content agreements. That was the last time a national short track tour had live TV and the current void is working through its 19th season.
Since then, each regional tour has embraced new technology and internet streaming, most races appearing live through various over-the-top digital platforms. Those same feeds are then repurposed and aired on a tape-delayed basis — mostly on MAVTV.
For now, any hope of a national championship runs through the All-American 400 next weekend, and like his contemporaries, Collins is watching with hopeful optimism.
“This type of event is exactly what we’re talking about,” Collin said. “Derek Thorn will be there so we’ll be represented. We’ve had some of our guys run Nashville, Winchester and the Snowball Derby, so there’s something to this.”