I try to limit this blog to racing, but I?ve had an idea in my head for the last couple weeks that combines racing with another passion of mine: hockey.
The NHL just played its fourth Winter Classic and ratings for the game rose for the fourth consecutive year. I initially wrote the Winter Classic off as a gimmick, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. Hockey was invented as an outdoor winter sport. It may have moved indoors for economic reasons, but it remains an outdoor winter sport.
I know that most of the pre-game hype this year revolved around the rivalry that has been brewing between Pittsburgh and Washington as well as a more personal rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin; however, I believe most of the draw comes from the venue. A historic venue such as Wrigley Field or Fenway Park offers better ambiance than a modern stadium such as Heinz field. This brings us back to racing.
There?s always been a divide between racing and the stick & ball sports. I want to close this divide by holding the Winter Classic at a historic racing venue. I propose the Winter Classic be held at Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol is no stranger to odd events, it has hosted NFL pre-season games and sprint car races on a temporary dirt track. While some seats may be unusable with infield buildings obstructing the view of the rink, it would still be possible to fit 140,000+ spectators into the track (breaking the previous attendance record for a hockey game by about 40,000).
Logistics for the event seem simple. For my math there is 100 feet (30.4 meters) between the backstretch pit wall and scoring pylon, and an NHL-size rink is only 85 feet (25.9 meters) wide. Tents could be constructed in the infield as temporary locker rooms. The infield medical center can treat injured players. Temporary lights may be brought in to reduce shadows on the rink, but the track lights still provide some illumination to the infield. LED boards may be hung as auxiliary scoreboards around the track.
I only see two real drawbacks to this plan. The first is that Bristol is about two exits from the geographic center of nowhere. Bristol is 200 miles from Nashville, 200 miles from Raleigh, 250 miles from Atlanta, 300 miles from Pittsburgh, 300 miles from Washington, and 300 miles from Columbus. This leaves the most probable matchup as Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes (?Shea Weber vs. Eric Staal? doesn?t have quite the same ring to it as ?Crosby vs. Ovechkin?). The second problem is the unsexiness of these teams. These Sun Belt teams barely bring fans into their regular season games, and now we?re asking the elite few that do watch hockey to drive a few hundred miles on a holiday to watch a game in a foreign environment. The hope is that a few casual observers will be seduced by the hype to give the game another try and learn follow it regularly.
In the spirit of mutual benefits, racing can draw respectability from hockey, and hockey gets its biggest venue from racing.
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