There are thousands of race car drivers across the United States who will never get the opportunity to race for a NASCAR Cup Series championship.
However, that doesn’t mean they can’t race for a NASCAR championship at the local level.
The NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series sanctions more than 40 race tracks across the United States and Canada and offers drivers the opportunity to race for track, state, regional and national championships.
Tom Hearst was crowned the inaugural NASCAR Weekly Series Division I national champion in 1982. He was followed through the years by some of the best local racers in the U.S., including five-time champions Larry Phillips and Philip Morris, four-time champion Lee Pulliam, Mike Alexander, Ted Christopher, Barry Beggarly and, most recently, Josh Berry.
However, there is much more to the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series than championships. For promoters, working with NASCAR offers a bevy of benefits.
“There is something in it for everyone,” said Kevin Nevalainen, senior director of Weekly Racing Operations for NASCAR. “How a competitor might look at the program might be different than how a promoter looks at it. Within the promoter groups, there is an assortment of different types of promoters across the country.
“I think each of them that are in our program, they might be in it for a different reason. They may find the competitor point funds are a great asset to them in promoting to their drivers. A different track may look at all of the different ancillary programs, the name recognition, the brand, maybe that’s why they’re signing up to be NASCAR sanctioned.”
When a promoter signs to be a part of the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, the track and its competitors gain access to a number of additional programs. One that stands out to Steve Britt, owner and promoter of Virginia’s Dominion Raceway, is the insurance package offered by NASCAR.
“If a driver is injured here and they don’t have medical coverage, then NASCAR has a policy that gives them some relief if they have some medical bills,” Britt explained. “That’s a great value.”
Bill McAnally, owner of the Bill McAnally Racing team that competes in the ARCA Menards Series West division, promotes All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif. He agrees that NASCAR’s insurance policy for local racers is one of the biggest benefits of being a NASCAR-sanctioned race track.
“As a promoter, the insurance that I can get being a NASCAR weekly track is phenomenal,” McAnally explained. “I couldn’t afford to get that type of insurance for my competitors.”
That’s just one aspect of NASCAR’s involvement. Another is access to major sponsors and branding from companies such as Advance Auto Parts, which signed to sponsor NASCAR’s weekly racing program last year.
“It opens the doors to a lot of corporations that we get to deal with that are in the NASCAR family,” McAnally said. “They’ll come in and do a night at the races. Whelen supplied lights for our track. It gives us an opportunity to build relationships through other partners of NASCAR.”
Nevalainen estimates that between sponsorships and contingency programs, NASCAR is offering more than $1 million in point fund bonuses to weekly competitors.
Gregg McKarns, who promotes Wisconsin’s Madison Int’l Speedway under the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series banner, Angell Park Speedway and the ARCA Midwest Tour, agrees the NASCAR point fund is a huge selling point to not just his racers, but also those racing for the national title.
“The point fund aspect for our teams, I think that is something big,” said McKarns. “We had Jacob Goede, who was third in my rookie points in 2003 at Elko (Minn.) when I ran that track, he was the national champion two years ago. Nick Panitzke was third in the national points. We actually threw a Midwest is Best party in Charlotte and rented the upstairs of an Irish pub there. We had nine drivers from the Midwest who were being recognized at the NASCAR weekly banquet.
“It helps set the bar in the pit area and having some of those guys come through and barnstorm for points is a neat aspect.”
The NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series is always evolving. That continued earlier this year when NASCAR reintroduced regional championships to the series, which will allow drivers in four regions across the United States and Canada to battle for bragging rights and a $15,000 check.
“We certainly want to capitalize on where we’ve been, but we don’t want to rest on those laurels. We want to keep working,” Nevalainen said. “This year, we’ve reintroduced the regional championships, which we got away from the past few years. I don’t know if that’s 100 percent the answer to everything, but it’s another way to highlight different parts of the country and highlight those champions.
“I think that gives us that opportunity to grow regionally, which is important. It gives us the opportunity to highlight drivers in different parts of the country. We’ve got a great national championship platform, but this regional championship sets us up to grow the program in different parts of the country.”
Being involved at the weekly racing level has been an important part of NASCAR’s overall program for many years. Drivers have to start somewhere, so it makes sense for NASCAR to be involved at the local level not just to help groom the next Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch, but to help the sport grow.
“This area of the sport is the foundation of motorsports. Whether it’s NASCAR or any other league, you need a place to start,” said Nevalainen. “I think from NASCAR’s early years, that obviously pre-date me, I think we don’t want to lose sight of the foundation of where it all began.
“The France family got NASCAR started back in the ’40s promoting races and working with promoters from Bowman Gray Stadium to Greenville-Pickens and Langley Speedway to name a few. I think internally we don’t want to lose sight of where we got our start. I think that is important to the France family, I think that is important to the board at NASCAR.
“Our piece in that is preserving that history, but also building on our past and also the present,” Nevalainen added. “How do we adapt and pivot to today’s times and have a program that is important to local racers across the country? It’s important for us to have access to the grassroots level because that’s how we communicate to fans. That’s how you get your first start in motorsports, hopefully.
“At the end of the day, I think it is the foundation of our sport. It’s where NASCAR got its start and I think that’s first and foremost why we always need to be in that space.”