By Jerry Bonkowski
Growing up, how many of you went to short track races? A lot, I bet.
And most of those races were on Friday or Saturday night, right?
But Sunday night races? I’m guessing there weren’t a whole lot of those – at least in comparison with racing under the lights on Friday or Saturday, right?
The reason is simple: Most folks have to go back to work on Monday. Unless you’re the most ardent and die-hard short track fan, particularly a dirt track fan, Sunday night is too much of a no-go for many racing fans.
The last thing you want to do is have an enjoyable time watching the racing, leave the track at maybe close to 11 pm – then you have to drive home, and sometimes it can be a lengthy drive if you get stuck in traffic or have a long distance to travel.
And then, UGH, you’re lucky to get maybe four or five hours of sleep -- or less – when you get home, and then spend much of Monday’s work day acting like a sleep-deprived zombie, which you ultimately are.
That’s one of the main reasons why night races are held on Friday’s or Saturday’s: it gives you the next morning to recuperate or sleep in.
NASCAR will try to host its second annual dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway once again on a Sunday night, just like it did last year.
Unfortunately, if you recall, last year’s inaugural dirt race at the so-called World’s Fastest Half-Mile was postponed from Sunday night to Monday because of persistent rain that also produced flood warnings.
Unfortunately, many of those fans who did show up at Bristol last year on Sunday night were unable to return for Monday’s rescheduled race because many had to go to work that morning.
Let’s hope that rain isn’t in the forecast for the second consecutive year this Sunday.
But Sunday will also mark a significant alteration of course for NASCAR, Bristol and the night dirt race.
For the first time in decades, NASCAR will run a race on Easter Sunday, arguably the most significant religious holiday on the calendar for Christian believers, the day that Jesus rose from the dead.
Easter Sunday has almost always been a taboo day for NASCAR racing (unless a Saturday race the day before was postponed to Easter Sunday due to bad weather).
But, after all, that’s an act of God, so folks have typically been all good with that.
While there are likely fans who may be dismayed at NASCAR running on Easter Sunday (after all, last year’s dirt race at Bristol was held a week before Easter), in a sense, it may kick off a new positive tradition.
I’m not going to get into a religious debate here. But what I will get into is that when you look at other sports, most notably the NFL, how many decades has it held games on Thanksgiving Day, let alone also on Christmas Day and even New Year’s Day?
And Christmas Day has also become one of the NBA’s biggest days every season, where usually four of the top teams typically tip-off in a nationally-televised Yuletide Day doubleheader.
And let’s not forget also about all the college football bowl games that take place on New Year’s Day. Even the NHL has held its Winter Classic on the first day of the new year.
Even with all those religious or celebratory days, fans still keep coming out to games on those dates or find themselves circled around TV sets with friends and family in the living room or den.
NASCAR, to its credit, had long foregone racing on Mother’s Day. But when it decided to begin a new tradition by racing on the day we celebrate our mothers at Darlington Raceway, just like we’ll see this Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 8, it became an almost-instant hit. And kind of surprisingly, mothers were among the biggest group that got behind it.
Now, we’ll see how popular Easter races will become starting with this Sunday’s event. Also to NASCAR’s credit, at least Sunday’s race will start in the evening, when plenty of time has passed earlier in the day to attend church and then have a big, old, Thanksgiving-style feast.
And what do millions of folks typically do after that big Thanksgiving or Christmas meal? If you’re like me and millions of other folks, you either watch the NFL or NBA on TV, or take a nap from being so stuffed from your meal.
Even though some may object to having a race on a Christian high holy day, I think NASCAR has a real opportunity to indeed start a whole new and promising tradition going forward.
NASCAR isn’t doing this with its eyes closed. Rather, it does plenty of due diligence and research, most notably asking thousands of typical race fans during the course of a year their opinions on all types of topics and potentially how to improve the sport, from the Next Gen car while it was in development to, yes, ultimately holding a race on Easter Sunday.
I’m betting most of those same fans gave their blessing to NASCAR to hold an Easter night race, and so NASCAR is giving them what they wanted.
When I first heard there was going to be a race on Easter, I admit the religious side of myself was a bit surprised. But then when I heard it was a dirt race, which NASCAR is obviously trying to grow long-term for many years, I started warming up to the idea, especially at a storied place like Bristol.
And then, when I started thinking about what we typically do on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day, anyway – namely, eat, drink, enjoy our friends and families and watch live sporting events in-person or on TV – I think I can get behind an annual dirt race at Bristol on Easter Sunday.
Sure, we could hold the dirt race on the Saturday night before Easter, and yes, there may be some difficulties getting home after Sunday night’s race, but if this starts a new tradition, I’m all for it.
Heck, look at the positives: maybe many of us won’t eat as much or fall asleep so easily like we do on those other holidays because, after all, what better excitement and compelling drama is there to keep you awake than watching a NASCAR race, right?
Happy Easter, everyone, and pass the lamb cake, please.
Follow Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski