From Daytona to Franklin County – Drivers, Start Your Engines

The crowds like to see at least a little bit of destruction.

The familiar call sets the tone for the upcoming season of motorsports, and 2017 will bring a number of major changes in NASCAR as well as the local scene at the Franklin County Speedway.

At NASCAR, fans will see a new name for their highly popular championship series that will start the 2017 season, beginning February 26 with the Daytona 500, the biggest and most popular race of the year that sets the tone for every driver.

In December, NASCAR announced an agreement with Monster Energy that makes the energy drink maker the title sponsor of its top series, ending a long process of finding a replacement for Sprint. Cellular company Sprint’s 13-year run as the title sponsor ended with the conclusion of the 2016 Cup Chase when Jimmie Johnson captured his record-tying seventh series title in the final race at Homestead, Florida.

Monster Energy takes over for Sprint, which inherited the NASCAR deal when it merged with Nextel in 2008. Sprint had announced in late 2014 that it would not extend the sponsorship.

Nextel had replaced cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which had sponsored NASCAR’s top circuit since 1971 under the Winston cigarette brand. That deal ended in 2003 in part because of the tobacco settlement with the federal government that reduced the industry’s ability to advertise.

The late 2016 announcement gave Monster Energy little more than two months to prepare for the 2017 season. Previous title sponsors have spent tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport. Monster Energy has had a strategic partnership since 2015 that gave Coca-Cola a 16.7 percent stake in Monster, with the two companies sharing distribution networks.

NASCAR had talked to hundreds of brands before finally announcing the deal a day before their season-ending banquet in Las Vegas.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France called the deal a “complicated agreement” with option years, but emphasized there was no change at all to operations budgets. The new 2017 championship name will be called “The Playoffs.”

Monster’s caffeine-filled energy drinks, known for its green clawed-M logo, targets young consumers and NASCAR has stressed the importance of finding younger fans.

In other NASCAR changes for 2017, a new logo will be introduced and a new stage-based race format for playoff point incentives will be implemented to determine its season champion. The new NASCAR race format is designed to emphasize aggressive racing and strategy, with the goal of delivering more dramatic moments over the course of a race and season.

The late-January announcement came with NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Steve O’Donnell sharing the stage with drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, along with team and track representatives. All industry stakeholders collaborated on the new format.

“Simply put, this will make our great racing even better,” France said. “Our stakeholders had a common goal–strengthen the sport for our fans.” Under the new format, races will consist of three stages with championship implications in each stage. The top-10 finishers in each stage will be awarded additional championship points. The winner of the first two stages of each race will receive one playoff point, and the race winner will receive five playoff points. Each playoff point will be added to a driver’s reset total following the 26th race, if that competitor makes the playoffs.

The structure also ensures that competition will be dialed up throughout the duration of the 26-race regular season, as points for both stage winners and race winners will transfer into the postseason; and an official regular-season champion will be crowned and rewarded with 15 playoff points to the driver’s playoff reset.

All playoff points will carry through to the end of the third round of the postseason (Round of 8), with the Championship 4 racing straight up at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the title.

Along the way NASCAR fans will see the circuit come to The Last Great Colosseum in Bristol for the April 23 day race and the always popular August 19 night race. NASCAR makes a stop in Martinsville on April 2 for the green flag and the fall race on October 29.

Closer to home, things look to be exciting in Callaway as Moonshine Capital Promotions will once again be leasing Franklin County Speedway for the 2017 season.

MCP, which is operated by Langley and Kimberly Austin, has been the driving force behind a resurgence for the 48 year old facility over the course of the last few years. The Austins operated the track in 2013 and for much of the 2014 season. After a year absence, they returned in 2016 where, under their guidance, the track’s car counts and fan counts have been surging and the appearance of the facility has been upgraded in many areas.

The 2016 season at FCS was one of growth and learning.

“2017 looks really promising,” Langley Austin says. The 2017 season will feature a mix of Saturday night and Sunday evening events, a change from the all Sunday schedule last year.

“We listened to our fans and drivers,” Austin said. “They told us how hard it was to come and sit in the sun on a 85-100 degree day.” This year Sunday events will bookend the season in the Spring and Fall, with Summer events primarily taking place on Saturday nights. Things kick off Sunday, March 12th at 3pm. The first Saturday night racing will take place on June 10th.

The season will feature racing in the track’s five core divisions including Late Model Stock Cars, Mini Stocks, V8 Street, U-Cars and Mini Cups. Once a month, the popular Modifieds will race.

Numerous special events involving various divisions will dot the schedule, including several special series appearing at FCS. Two other events that will be fan favorites are the “Karnage Karnival” and “Night of Destruction” events.

“Fans love to see stuff get tore up,” Austin commented. “They love to see wild and crazy things happen on the race track.” These events will feature mass destruction from school bus races to demolition derbies to the ever popular “Any Car” races.

Austin feels as if the track is coming back after a couple of decades of decline.

“Sometimes things get stale,” he noted. “You know, it’s hard to keep something going for 48 years without having struggles and down times. Last year proved we’re on the uptick. We’ve got a lot going on, and 2017 is going to be the year everyone talks about what FCS is doing.”

When the first green flag waves at FCS in March, racers will be rewarded for their loyalty to the track. The new program is aimed at not only rewarding the drivers and teams that spend their hard earned money at the track, but also reward the fans by building a driver base that fans can expect to see at every event. The program will be open to any driver who plans to race full time for the 2017 championship points.

Whether on the NASCAR super speedways or the 3/8 mile track at Franklin County Speedway, the roar of engines and exciting racing is just around the corner.

Bill Turner