NASCAR returns to the East Coast this week, and it’s being greeted with a little controversy. Not because of anything happening on the track, but because Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway – the site of Sunday’s STP 400 – announced on March 18 that they’ll be changing suppliers for their “Famous Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog.”
The track will be making the immediate switch from Jesse Jones Southern Style Hot Dogs to Valleydale Hot Dogs, which is part of Smithfield Foods (which, in turn, fans will recognize as sponsoring the car driven by Aric Almirola).
But why should we care where Martinsville’s hot dogs come from? Because the food has become as significant a part of the sports experience as the sports themselves. In Martinsville’s case, Jesse Jones has been their hot dog and chili company for more than 65 years – all the way back to 1947.
It was one of the longest relationships between a vendor and a track in NASCAR history. There are likely race fans who’ve grown up on Jesse Jones hot dogs and shared them with their families. Now that will change. It can’t be the “Famous Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog” anymore if it’s not the one that everyone’s talked about.
Even if it doesn’t have history, what you’re eating tells its own story. Many tracks and venues try to differentiate themselves from others with their concessions. People rave about the kettle corn at Daytona International Speedway, with one Yelp user posting that he drove almost 75 miles for it.
Charlotte Motor Speedway’s idea this year is a “Brunch Burger,” combining breakfast and lunch in a quarter-pound cheeseburger served on French toast and topped with a fried egg, bacon and maple syrup.
Out west at Phoenix International Raceway, the track just unveiled its “Carburetor Crunch,” which is a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich with toppings that include cereal and bacon. It’s not the healthiest option in the world, but you’ll definitely remember trying it.
You can’t get these items anywhere else, which is part of their appeal. The opposite is also true. When you’ve paid for a race ticket, parking and the gas to get to the track, do you want to be eating a hot dog that you can buy at Wal-Mart?
Martinsville reps called the switch a “business decision,” and it’s one that’s certainly within their rights to make, as their job is to keep the track lights on. The good news for fans is that the price of the hot dogs this weekend will reportedly stay at just $2.
But while we’re trying to do good business, let’s not get too far away from great food. For every track that switches to a brand-name vendor, that’s one less place to find something unique. You can find decent concessions at most sporting events and tourist attractions, but there’s only one place in the country where you can say you ate a sandwich with Cap’n Crunch on it.
Furthermore, people don’t make Twitter parody accounts for just any hot dog.
We’ll see if there’s any more commentary about the Famous Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog when the STP 500 takes place this Sunday, March 22.