Fifty-one years since the 1971 West Virginia 500 race in the NASCAR Cup Series of that year, West Virginia has brought in many tourists to visit the sights and sounds that the Mountain State has to offer. USA Today has gone on record stating that West Virginia is the must-visit place to visit in 2022. While exciting news on its own, the more surprising bit of it all is that the state has done this without housing a professional sports team or league within its borders.
Despite the glamor of the tourism dollars, though, West Virginia’s population is on the decline. The state has few if any, employment opportunities and the state ranks very low compared to those they are beating out in tourism. After all, one of the more important aspects of tourism is the locals, and depletion in local populations could lead to those tourism dollars going away over time.
Among many solutions to the long-standing issues of the state, one aspect that has been completely ignored throughout this debacle is attempting to bring a professional sports league out to West Virginia. Of course, the state has held a plethora of minor league teams, but swaying one of the more powerful sports leagues has either never been in West Virginia’s cards or has been relatively impossible. There is, however, a business that has always been synonymous with the Southern U.S. and one that has been on a rebound in recent years after falling off.
NASCAR is not the juggernaut it once used to be in the late 90s and early 2000s, but the motorsport has been making a comeback in recent years as a viable form of sports entertainment. Although the NBC viewership numbers have yet to be released for the 2022 season, FOX revealed that the portion of the season aired on its network averaged 4.5 million viewers per race. While that is not much compared to the viewership that the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL obtain, it should be noted that West Virginia is one of the top 5 states in which NASCAR gets most of its viewership.
NASCAR always has been–and always will be–popular here in the Mountain State. If you go to any bar on a Sunday evening, you will find a race on. If you look around, you can still see NASCAR memorabilia sold at a store or worn by someone who is a fan of the sport. To most West Virginians, NASCAR is still as relevant as Marshall and West Virginia University.
It seems like a no-brainer for NASCAR to come to the state; however, there is a particularly glaring issue. West Virginia does not have a big enough racetrack to support motorsport to support such a diehard following. Even by today’s standards, the now-named Ona Speedway offers very little compared to the main short tracks where NASCAR holds races at.
Obviously, it would be crazy to assume that West Virginia should build its own speedway like that of Atlanta and Darlington, or even more insane to propose a superspeedway on par with Daytona or Talladega. The best course of action for West Virginia to bring NASCAR into its borders is with a short-track speedway. One would not have to go far either to find examples of what works and does not work as the three current short tracks that NASCAR frequents are not that far away, such as Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee; Martinsville Speedway in North Carolina and Richmond Raceway in Virginia, which have all been around for decades.
The next portion of bringing NASCAR to West Virginia is finding where to build the short-track speedway that was decided upon previously. The answer is, of course, Charleston, the state capital. Charleston is the largest city in West Virginia in both square miles and population, so it would be a no-brainer to put our short track in the Charleston area.
Where it can be built in Charleston is another question that is easier asked than done. With a majority of land around the Charleston area taken up by residents and businesses, there is one area of land just outside the city that is close to Charleston. There is a mass of land between Blackberry Lane and Rush Creek Road that should make for an excellent spot to construct a 40-50,000 seat short-track speedway.
Now let’s say all goes smoothly and say the speedway is approved and constructed. There would be a fine wealth of job opportunities for those who reside in the state which could potentially result in an economic boom. Of course, the track would hold its own events, but the main cream of the crop would be NASCAR coming to that speedway for a scheduled race or two every year.
The tourism from holding NASCAR races at the track could potentially exceed what has already been made in tourism over the last few years. Additionally, with most West Virginia residents being fans themselves, they would come out in droves to the area for such a spectacle. This could also give the economy in West Virginia the boost it has been needing for a long time and finally give it something new its residents can be proud of.