By MIKE GRIFFITH, Californian staff writer,e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once again, simple economics has left Mesa Marin Raceway unable to host a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Without the corporate sponsorship needed to offset a purse in the neighborhood of $400,000, Mesa Marin officials took a pass on Wednesday, opting not to host an event in April of 2004.
"NASCAR is announcing the 2004 schedule (today) and there will be no Mesa Marin race," said track senior vice-president Larry Collinson Wednesday. "It's a numbers game. They increased the cost to us and we were unable to secure the sponsorship we needed to put on the event.
"We would still like to be on the schedule in 2005 and will work hard toward getting a race for the spring of that year."
The same conditions forced Mesa Marin, which had hosted a truck race every year since the inception of the series in 1995, to pass on holding a truck race in 2002.
Mesa Marin officials worked diligently with NASCAR during 2002 on a purse structure, secured two major sponsors and several smaller sponsors and a deal was struck at the 11th hour for the series to return to Bakersfield in 2003.
Dennis Setzer raced to victory in front of a near-capacity crowd at Mesa Marin on March 23 for his second victory at one one of his favorite tracks. For the record, nine drivers swapped the lead 15 times, producing a race that was entertaining for those in the stands as well as television viewers.
Collins has been working on finding sponsors for a race next year since March and was still talking to at least one company when the clock struck midnight.
"It's just a timing thing," Collins said. "Some big corporations are in the budget phase for '04 and weren't ready to finalize their budgets. NASCAR needed an answer."
Collins could have gambled and set a date for 2004, but the track would have wound up hemorrhaging money if a large amount of sponsorship was not found.
Collins would not say how much sponsorship was needed to hold a race, but Irwindale Speedway bailed out of the running for a truck race in 2004, saying it could not find the $300,000 in sponsorship it needed.
"It's a lot of money for a short track to pull together to put on an event like this," Collins said. "We've been doing it a number of years and there aren't many short tracks like ours left doing it.
"You have to make sound business decisions. As much as we'd love to have (a truck race) and as great as it is for the community, if the numbers aren't right you have to make a good decision and move on. Irwindale couldn't make the numbers work either, that says something."
This year, Mesa Marin (.500 mile), Memphis Motorsport Park (.75-mile) and South Boston. Va. (.400) were the only stand-alone short track races on the Craftsman Truck Series schedule.
Collins said South Boston would not be back next year.
Perhaps it's a sign of the times.
As the cost to field competitive truck teams continue to soar and purses continue to rise, short tracks such as Mesa Marin (which seats about 10,000), are essentially left out of the equation.
The first prototype truck for the series was built at a shop just outside turn three at Mesa Marin and the first exhibition race was staged there.
But the series has grown, has created a bit of a new identity and the playpens of yesteryear may soon be nothing more than fond memories.
Hold on to those scrapbooks. We'll be looking at them down the road and remembering "the good old days."