As he considered the bustling weekend ahead at the Kansas Speedway on the occasion of the first night NASCAR events here, Speedway president Pat Warren on Friday afternoon conjured an image of the spectacle of “Monday Night Football” melding with the races.
“The way the lights shine off of cars, the things that you can see at night at a race, in my opinion, it makes the visual experience greater,” he said. “It enhances it, because you see flames, you see sparks, all those kinds of things that you don’t realize you’re not seeing during the day. But they jump out at night.”
Did they ever.
The sparks and flames combined with constant caution lights to create a virtual strobe effect for much of the chaotic Camping World Truck Series SFP 250, survived best by Kyle Busch on Friday night.
The race was snarled by a smash-up before the end of the first lap, and 15 of the first 38 laps were conducted under caution.
All of that actually happened before the sun had set, so the halting race wasn’t quite attributable to night-vision issues, despite nine cautions by the end.
But even before dusk had descended, the aesthetic contrasts from the traditional day event already were evident in another showcase of the area’s diverse, state-of-the-art sports facilities that include Arrowhead Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, Sporting Park and the Sprint Center.
The fresh format is expected to energize Speedway attendance, which dipped in recent years, and it was easy to sense the extra appeal from the start on Friday.
As the race began just after 7:30, the trucks already were glistening in reflection of the dazzling force of the Speedway’s system furnished by Musco Lighting:
To be precise, that was the glow from 57 perimeter poles standing 70 to 100 feet; 43 59-foot grandstand poles; 18 18-foot suite roof poles; 268 infield and pit road poles, ranging 6- to 24-feet tall, and 1,695 overall light fixtures.
All of that is connected by 345 miles of wire and 210 tons of concrete to radiate 244 million lumens (an average table lamp emits 25 lumens) and 2.63 million watts of power per hour.
That’s the equivalent of 19,510 blocks of residential street lighting.
Quirky race notwithstanding, it all made for a mesmerizing backdrop on a gorgeous night, an atmosphere that should be similarly resplendent for the 5-hour Energy 400 Sprint Cup Race at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Walking through the stands or down in the pit or around the infield, you’d be struck as much by what you saw as what you didn’t.
During the day, because the landscape is such a vast expanse, the eye drifts to the horizon or images in your peripheral vision that inadvertently distract.
At night, the imagery is more vivid, the view narrowed and refined.
“The rest of the world goes away,” Warren said, “because you literally can’t see it.”
So you could understand what Jimmie Johnson meant when he said earlier in the week, “I think night racing is great for our fan base.”
Never mind that it’s not necessarily as pleasing for the competitors, who have to gauge changing conditions from afternoon to evening to night as temperatures cool and are used to a different rhythm.
“It’s tough for the team and drivers, because we are so used to a Sunday format and what happens,” Johnson said. “We sit around a lot in the morning. The crew goes to work, and the drivers sit and wait, and then it’s finally time to go.”
But it’s all about “if the fans are smiling,” he added, and Warren and NASCAR executives reckon this resonates with fans.
“As important as TV is for the sport, and as big a player as (it is) in the sport, we all have to remember that the reason we exist is for the fans,” Warren said. “And not just the fans who watch at home, but the fans who are here.”
It’s another phase in the evolution of the sport, perhaps even a key element of its future, though Warren stresses that he’d like that future to provide separate experiences at the two Sprint Cup events held here annually.
A night event is “not necessarily better but different, and for us we want a difference between the two weekends,” he said. “We want to provide a different guest experience.”
That they did on Friday in a race sure to spark more ahead.