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Nazareth Has Only Themselves To Blame

The Grand Marshal, none other than Roger Penske, of the 2001 Lehigh Valley Grand Prix presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway stood at the microphone ready to say the four most famous words in motorsports.


The sound system went dead. Silence followed. A seemingly long pause. Then the engines started up, almost anticlimactically.

That perhaps was the perfect metaphor for what could be the last CART event at Nazareth. The race started out in 1987 with much fanfare and sold out crowds. Now, it goes on almost unnoticed by the local populace, and the stands are half empty.

Nazareth Speedway wants to keep CART. Roger Penske openly says that CART is making a mistake leaving the Lehigh Valley area. The Andretti's are pushing hard to convince CART to stay, publicly criticizing the decision to leave. However, the fact of the matter is, Nazareth has only themselves to blame.

They talk about moving dates.

"It's a shame the track was never given a better date," said Michael Andretti.

"Maybe we were too lenient with CART," said Roger Penske. "We let 'em move our date around."

However, considering what Nazareth does, or rather doesn't do, blaming it all on a lack of a consistent date is almost comical. You would never know there was a race -- heck, you would never know there was anything -- going on in Nazareth on race weekend.

At Watkins Glen they paint a huge checkered flag on the major downtown intersection and hang banners and signs in every storefront for the major racing events. Toronto, Long Beach, and other city events make it a weekend long festival. Cleveland hadn't gotten so hopping mad since the Browns left town when CART was going to be dropped in favor of the IRL.

Nazareth and the surrounding area was one huge collective yawn on race weekend, and seem not even to care that they may lose a major sporting event.

Last month I was in Albany, NY to attend the college hockey championships. The event was already sold out months ago. Yet, despite that, Albany threw a three day block party, shutting down the street in front of the arena and having bands, activities, fireworks, and food to entertain the out of town fans and local populace. A party that lasted long into each night.

Let me repeat this one more time so you don't miss the point. The college hockey championships were already SOLD OUT, yet Albany spent garbs of money drawing attention to the event. Why? Because Albany knew that the only way they were to be considered again for another chance to host the event is to show the NCAA that they really, really want it again. That it was important to them. That they were willing to invest in it. That it was a BIG DEAL!

With Denver and Montreal on the schedule for next year, and other exotic cities such as San Francisco, Washington, and New York being looked at by CART, Nazareth already has the odds stacked against them. Hopeless cause? Not at all.

Have you ever been to Albany, NY? I can assure you, it is not a rip roaring town. Yet, they were able to make it fun and throw a festive party to be proud of. There is no reason Nazareth cannot do the same.

Another interesting comparison. Albany also hosted the college hockey championships in 1992. That year it was not sold out. Also, that year Albany virtually ignored the event. Just like Nazareth does with the CART race. Now, the college hockey championships have garnered major interest from other cities. Places like Minnesota, Boston, Detroit, New York, Washington, and even Anaheim and Orlando put in impressive bids to get it. Albany recognized this, and knew that this year they had to change tactics if they ever wanted it back, even though the event was already a sell out. Why doesn't Nazareth in a similar situation?

Another factor in the attendance drop could be ticket prices. Cut the prices in half. That's right, 50% reduction across the board. If you sell out the place, you'll end up with the same amount of money as this year's half filled event, right? Wrong. There will be more people at the track spending more money at the concession stands, so in the long run, you make more money. And the excitement a sold out crowd creates is hard to beat, and difficult for CART to ignore, not to mention easier to sell to a race sponsor.

I would like to see Nazareth keep the race, for many reasons. And, if they widen the first turn, it might make the track racier.

However, quite frankly Nazareth has no right to complain about dates, the open wheel war, or any other nonsense excuse. At least not until the track and town leaders look at themselves in the mirror and recognize the primary problem.

Copyright © 2001 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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