CONCORD, N.C. — Several years ago, Marcus Smith decided Charlotte Motor Speedway's fall NASCAR race needed more sizzle. As CEO of track parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc., Smith had the decision-making power and influence within the sport to make dramatic changes.
The speedway had long ago established itself as home of the Coca-Cola 600, the season's longest race, held each year on Memorial Day weekend. And, beginning in 1985, the track soon made an exhibition All-Star race into a fast-paced drama by tinkering with short-burst segments designed to push drivers into more aggressive passes and pedal-down sprints.
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The fall race, on the other hand, lacked an identity. NASCAR included Charlotte's second regular season race — the All-Star event is not a points event — in the 10-race playoff format introduced in 2004. Fans and media griped about the playoff schedule running too many races on look-alike, 1.5-mile tracks, including Charlotte Motor Speedway.
And some in the sport wondered why there hadn't been any attempt to include a road course in the playoffs to test drivers' skills.
It was then that Smith had his light-bulb moment: Why not overhaul the mostly unused infield course at CMS and create a layout combining the revamped road portion with parts of the main track?
Ultimately, that drive to remake the fall race has sparked a rise in attendance, sponsorships and TV ratings. CBJ's special report takes you behind the scenes on how it was done.
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