The bullrings of the country are where the future stars of Winston Cup or the Busch Series or even the Craftsman Truck circuit are born. Take a look through the starting line-up of any of NASCAR's big three divisions and you'll find name after name of drivers who began their career on the local short tracks. For years, NASCAR has provided a place for weekly short track drivers to gain experience on a touring series with its regional racing circuits. These tours give aspiring drivers an opportunity to take the next step up from competing weekly at their local track and learn to hone their skills on a traveling series.
Circuits like the All-Pro Series, Southwest Tour, Busch North, Winston West, Northwest Tour and the RE/MAX Challenge Series have all served as launching pads for a variety of future Truck, Busch and Cup competitors. Up until 2002, there were nine NASCAR regional touring series. But the sanctioning body decided to drop the Midwest-based All-Star Tour for dirt late models at the end of last season. NASCAR's only non-asphalt tour, the All-Stars had been around since 1985. When the remaining eight touring series schedules were released for the 2002 season, the number of events were down significantly. In most years each series included between 16-22 races a season. But several 2002 slates are alarmingly short of that level.
The southeastern flavored All-Pro late model tour will only compete 13 times in 2002, down from last year's 16 race schedule. The midwestern RE/MAX Challenge Series shows only 12 events, a big drop from the 2001 slate of 18. Why the reduction? Several track operators have declined to host a touring series citing large NASCAR sanction fees as being to pricey to make a profit. Longtime tour tracks such as Missouri's I-70 Speedway, Georgia's Lanier Raceway and Illinois' Grundy County Speedway bailed out because of the fees.
The loss of races has resulted in the loss of cars and drivers. It's hard to justify a late model team spending the money to build a car capable of running only a handful of races. Although the rules for All-Pro, the Northwest and Southwest tours are the same, a team would need to be willing to travel coast-to-coast in order to compete. NASCAR needs the touring series system just like it needs the Weekly Racing Series program. More races and better purses would be a step in the right direction.
- In January, 2003, NASCAR realigned its regional touring series. Eight regional tours, previously a single group known as NASCAR Touring, were subdivided into two divisions, with two of the tours essentially left out of the realignment. The two divisions that the restructuring created are titled the NASCAR Grand National Division and the NASCAR Elite Division. The reason for the realignment was to better define the steps that could propel a budding driver up the ladder to NASCAR's national divisions. The Elite Division has been repositioned as a likely first step for drivers to graduate to after competing in weekly racing at their local track. The Grand National Division has been slotted as the next logical step before moving into one of NASCAR's national divisions, and it allows drivers to get experience in cars that are more mechanically aligned with those used in NASCAR's national series.
- NASCAR Grand National Division, will consist of the Busch North Series and the NASCAR Winston West Series. Previously, these cars had different specifications - the Busch North Series cars are modeled after the NASCAR Busch Series cars while the NASCAR Winston West Series cars are designed after NASCAR Winston Cup Series cars. The NASCAR Grand National Division will represent NASCAR's top regional touring series, where competitors will refine their skills before making the jump to one of NASCAR's three national series. The "Grand National" designation has a long history in NASCAR racing. It was first used in 1949, when the first NASCAR Grand National Division races were held. This division evolved into the Winston Cup Series, and the "Grand National" moniker was passed to the NASCAR Busch Series in 1986. The NASCAR Busch Series no longer carries the name as it's passed on to this division.
- The NASCAR Elite Division will consist of four NASCAR-sanctioned series with identical rules for Late Model touring cars: the Featherlite Southwest Series, Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series and the newly renamed International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series (formerly the RE/MAX Challenge Series) and the renamed Kodak Southeast Series (formerly the Hills Bros. All Pro Series). Both the Southeast and Midwest series acquired new sponsor backing during the off-season. The Elite Division will accommodate drivers who have recently been competing in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge or at other local short tracks. At this level, competitors will compete on a variety of tracks before progressing to other NASCAR divisions.
- Southwest Series
- Brings twenty NASCAR races each year to tracks located primarily in the Southwest. Many of the races are held in combination with Cup and Craftsman Truck races. Featuring late model stock cars with a minimum weight of 2,900 pounds, they must maintain a wheelbase between 101 and 105 inches, and use 350 to 358 cubic-inch engines.
- Southeast Series
- A series of twenty events, started in 1984 – formerly known as the All Pro Series – that match the country's best short-track racers. Events are held throughout the Southeast as well as in Indiana and Missouri. Many Busch Grand National and Winston Cup drivers began their careers in this series.
- Northwest Series
Starting in the 1984 and similar to the Featherlite Southwest Tour, except its races are held in the Northwest, primarily in Oregon and Washington. Throughout the year, the Northwest Tour holds races in conjunction with the Southwest Tour and also in combination with the Craftsman Truck series.
- Midwest Series
- Starting in 1998 from the ARTGO Challenge Series, the cars maintain the same size, weight, engine requirements and rules package as three other NASCAR Touring divisions - the Southwest Tour, All Pro Series and the Northwest Tour. The ARTGO Challenge Series was founded in 1975 by Chicago businessman Art Frigo as a major paved track Late Model stock car series in the "Chicagoland" area. The series was purchased by John and Sue McKarns in 1978.
When promoter John McKarns sold his ARTGO late Model series to NASCAR (who renamed it the Re/Max Challenge Series after its new title sponsor), the anxious whispers could be heard from Rockford, Illinois, to Daytona Beach, Florida. For NASCAR, the marriage was a natural. The sanctioning body already held title to three of the top Late Model series in the United States, with the Slim Jim All-Pro Series, the Featherlite Southwest Tour, and the Northwest Tour. The acquisition allowed NASCAR to cover touring Late Model racing from coast to coast. For ARTGO racers, the move held promise and a bit of nervous anticipation. The promise of racing under the NASCAR banner spelled dollar signs -
both coming in by way of purses and sponsors, and going out, in terms of higher equipment and traveling costs.
There's no junk. Clearly, the commitment to the series has been made by owners and drivers. The series has left local Saturday night warriors behind, but has few bona fide national or regional stars. It has developed car owners who are making the investments of a real traveling series, but have yet to find sponsorship appropriate to the expenses.
In addition to the newly defined Elite and Grand National divisions, NASCAR's regional touring program also includes the open-wheeled Featherlite Modified Series, a series that dates back to NASCAR's first season in 1948. The Featherlite Modified Series is excluded from the newly created divisions. The Modified Series will remain under NASCAR sanction and will continue to be a key series for NASCAR Touring in the Northeast.
Chris Boals, NASCAR's director of touring series, says NASCAR's goal for the restructuring was to simplify the system. Some races have been shortened to lower costs for race teams. "All four Elite Division series run under identical rules, and for the first time, all four will be using Hoosier tires in 2003. Now drivers, if they so choose, can run a race in any of the four series and know that they won't have to make any changes to their cars to do so."
O'Relly Auto Parts All-Star Series (formerly the Busch All-Star Tour) was the only NASCAR division that held races strictly on dirt tracks. drivers competed in events in several Mid-western states, including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Originating in 1985. NASCAR is discontinuing the series to focus more on its weekly racing program after 17 years of All-Star action on the Midwest's dirt.
The only NASCAR Touring series to feature six-cylinder cars, the driversy's Dash Series was also the only NASCAR Touring Division to compete at both Daytona International Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte - two of the most famous venues in motorsports, NASCAR abandoned the series after the 2002 season. Formerly known as the "Baby Grands," driversy's Dash Series cars are essentially scaled-down versions of NASCAR Winston Cup Series cars. driversy's Dash Series cars use a 268 cubic-inch, 9:1 compression V-6 engine. The cars must weigh 2,750 pounds and maintain a wheelbase of 100 inches. The driversy's Dash Series was also the only NASCAR Touring series to feature foreign-manufactured cars, specifically the Toyota Celica, in addition to Chevrolets, Fords, Dodges and Pontiacs. The Elite Division is no longer in place. NASCAR disbanded the division after the 2006 season.
- NASCAR Mexico Series
- The formation of the NASCAR Mexico Series has fueled a transition from this historically open wheel market to stock car racing. The Series consists of 14 races over a 9-month season: March to November. The Series races on 10 ovals and 4 road courses in 7 of Mexico's major cities. Races take place on Sundays at 1:30 PM and last 1 hour and 20 minutes. The Series is broadcast nationally on Televisa and throughout Central and Latin America on FX and Speed. The NASCAR Mexico Series is supported by major corporations and is positioned for strong growth.
- NASCAR Canadian Tire Series
- On September 12, 2006, NASCAR, in partnership with Canadian Tire and TSN, announced the exciting launch of a newly formed Canadian auto racing series, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. Debuting in the Spring of 2007, the new series will bring together some of Canada's best stock car drivers and teams anchored by the marketing, promotional and motorsports resources of Canada's leading retailer, media company, and motorsports property. The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series will bring a strong identity to Canadian motorsports and further expand the reach of NASCAR racing to Canadian fans.
- Toyota All-Star Showdown
- The Toyota All-Star Showdown is a nonpoints, all-star race that brings together the top drivers in NASCAR's lower-level series. It was inaugurated in 2004.