What does NASCAR get for its love affair with New York? Not much
What does NASCAR get for hosting its banquet in New York? A big shrug of indifference and wall-to-wall coverage of Plaxico Burress, writes David Newton.
Updated: December 3, 2008, 7:09 PM ETBy David Newton | ESPN.com
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJimmie Johnson is taking another star turn in New York, but are New Yorkers really watching?NEW YORK -- Six hours in New York City, and I've seen enough. It's time to move NASCAR's annual season-ending banquet out of the Big Apple. This town doesn't care that three-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is posing for pictures atop the Empire State Building or in the middle of Times Square.It doesn't care that he'll be ringing the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday or that he'll be honored along with the rest of the top 10 drivers at the Waldorf-Astoria on Friday. I didn't see one sign at the airport welcoming the Sprint Cup Series to town. People weren't walking the streets in No. 48 Lowe's jackets or any other NASCAR paraphernalia, for that matter.This town is about one thing right now -- Plaxico Burress.And if it wasn't about him, it would be about something other than NASCAR. What is NASCAR worth in NYC?"We're just a pimple on a buzzard," said Jimmie Johnson's team owner, Rick Hendrick. So another troubled NFL player is in the spotlight, not a model citizen with a model wife. More reporters followed the New York Giants wide receiver, apparently also known as Harris Smith from Applebee's, to the team's practice facility than will follow NASCAR's annual "We love New York, so why doesn't New York love us?" pilgrimage the entire week.Johnson walks the city with a paid photographer.Burress can't go to the bathroom without having his picture taken.So it's time for the powers at NASCAR to give up this vision by the late Bill France Jr. to give the sport a presence in New York. It was a good idea 26 years ago. Fans got a kick out of watching the top 10 drivers taking a spin around Times Square, making more noise than a cabbie who was shorted on a tip.But the parade lap is gone, apparently too expensive and too dangerous for the governing body to justify it.Now it's time for the whole show to go elsewhere.The exposure that the sport gets from television appearances on "Good Morning America" and "Late Night with David Letterman" isn't worth it anymore. Neither is the close to $3 million -- enough to allow at least some testing -- it costs to throw the party here.So where should it be?
Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith would like it moved to Las Vegas, where he happens to own a track. That makes a lot of sense. The cheesy atmosphere created by putting grown men whose idea of style is a sponsor-laden firesuit into tuxedos would blend in perfectly in a town where grown men dress up like Elvis.But why spend the money to go to Vegas during these tough economic times? And, by the way, those in NASCAR who have strong ties to International Speedway Corp. would not want an SMI track to host this. Just lave the banquet where it belongs: the home of NASCAR, Charlotte, N.C.Count Hendrick as a fan of the idea."You know what I think would be really cool? To do it in Charlotte when the hall of fame is finished," Hendrick said. "The city would roll out the lights. It would be the thing."In all likelihood, the banquet will find its way to the Queen City -- that's Charlotte, in case you live outside the Carolinas -- when the NASCAR Hall of Fame is completed in 2010. Most of NASCAR's decision-makers likely will be in the adjacent office tower by then, and the overall facility would be the perfect backdrop.Plus, Charlotte and its people would embrace the banquet. Just take a trip down Tryon Street -- turned into Speed Street for the Coca-Cola 600 in May -- and witness the thousands of fans, and you'll see why.These people aren't worried about Burress. They want to know what Dale Earnhardt Jr. had for breakfast and what color underwear Junior is wearing and, well, anything to do with the son of the seven-time champion.He even has a bar in uptown Charlotte. You can hardly get a bartender in New York City to turn the television to a NASCAR event on Sundays.When people talk about bars here, they talk about the one in which Burress discharged a gun.So move the banquet where it belongs, where teams can celebrate without spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars and they can be appreciated by the fans. Where signs in the airport will welcome the visitors, and where people will wear licensed NASCAR gear.And far away from Burress.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesNew Yorkers seem to have one sports story on their minds: the ongoing saga of Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.