The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past: What a Lot of People Are Missing... by John Potts -- Thursday April 8, 2010

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Driven to the Past: What a Lot of People Are Missing...

John Potts · Thursday April 8, 2010


Gonna do something a little different this week.

In addition to being entertaining, one of the things a columnist is supposed
to do is to make you think. My compatriot Amy Henderson did that for me earlier
this week with a column about the K&N Series, and why people should watch it
even if NASCAR isn’t paying attention.

She made me think about all the short tracks around this country, dirt and
pavement, where some exciting racing is taking part every week.

Short tracks have been having a rough time of it for the past couple of
years, but things are starting to look up. At least I hope they are. I help
operate one of those little places, getting back to my roots at a quarter-mile
paved oval, and I love it.

What people are missing is the unbelievable competition that takes place at
these places, and the passion that the participants and even the fans feel for
the sport.

They may not be flashy, but the battles staged by the nation’s local racers put the competition of big-time NASCAR to shame.

Some operators of smaller tracks have blamed NASCAR’s TV coverage,
especially after they started having Cup races on Saturday nights, for drop in
attendance. I don’t really think that applies right now. As far as I’m concerned, a
real race fan recognizes the difference between what NASCAR does and real
competition. Sure, it’s gotten a little spicier lately, but it’s still nothing
like what you get at your local track.

Real race fans, that’s what we’ve got, and we need more. The trick is to
get more of those who don’t know what it’s like to come out and watch it.
Chances are they’ll get hooked on the competition, as well as seeing their
kinfolk and friends participating.

I can guarantee that on your first visit to your local area’s short track
you’ll see at least one or two race teams that have somebody you know connected
with them – either as a sponsor, car owner, crew member, or even as a driver.

I was talking this week with Richard Deaton, the general manager at Salem
Speedway in Indiana, about his upcoming ARCA event. He mentioned that he
remembered those days back in the 60s when ARCA was something like the World of Outlaws. You had between 10 and 20 traveling regulars, and when they came to town they had to do battle with the best of the local campaigners.

At Salem and Louisville, even Winchester and Dayton, it was Charley
Glotzbach, Bobby Watson, Bill Kimmel, Andy Hampton, Jesse Baird, the list was

After ARCA grew, ASA’s Circuit of Champions started the same way in the
early 1970s. Rex Robbins even wrote the rules so local cars could compete.
Right now, Craig Thompson is trying to do something similar with the Ken-Ten Pro
Late Model Series in our area.

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk up to the ticket window at your
local short track is that the price isn’t nearly as steep as it is for one of
those big NASCAR races.

The second will likely come when you want to buy a program, and find out
it’s not $10 or $15. (We do a new one every week in a news magazine format for
$2.) And then you’ll find out that the concession prices are much more
economical. Some tracks are still only charging a dollar for a hot dog. Add a
little of that “official” track chili and it’s probably only a half-buck more.

Finally, you’ll be amazed at the competition.

For most stock car tracks, the premier division is the late models. These guys are just as serious as their NASCAR counterparts – and many of them
are just as talented. The difference is that most of them are paying their own

I’d also urge you to pay attention to the “support” classes, where there’s
not as much cash involved, but the passion and competition is usually just as

Whether it’s super street, sportsman, street stock, pure street, mini-stock,
mini-cup, slammer, bomber, whatever – you can be sure that the car owner and
driver (many times the same individual) are putting everything then can, from
their wallets to their sweat, into each week’s effort.

We’ve got a Modified Mini Series we started a couple of years back to
include the four-cylinder front wheel drives with our former Chevette division,
and it’s become extremely popular. These people race with an attitude.

As a matter of fact, we were having so many youngsters wanting to take part
that we came up with a more “stock” class for the four cylinders, called it
“Mini-Slammer,” and restricted it to drivers 16 years of age and under.

The photo accompanying this particular week’s message shows how competitive
these kids can get. This happened on the last lap of a 20-lap feature.

The 16-year-old in the Saturn on the inside was trying to pass the
13-year-old in the Escort for the lead, and decided to try the old bump & run.
The younger kid saved it, came back at him, and the Saturn finished second by
half a car length with the left side wheels in the grass.

This kind of stuff happens more than once a night, and you can imagine the
fans getting into it.

Give your local short track a chance. Not only will you be happily
surprised if you’ve never been there, you’ll see where just about every driver
you’ve ever seen on television got his or her start, and acquired the fire
inside needed to compete.

Contact John Potts

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04/09/2010 10:08 AM

Judging from nas$car’s downturn in attendence figures, I’d say a lot of people are already headed back to the short tracks. The Phoenix starting time for the Nationwide and Cup races are inane. By the time they come on tv, a lot of people have found other things to occupy their time. If I want to watch Saturday night racing, I’ll go to All-American
Speedway in Roseville, CA

04/09/2010 10:20 AM

Local racing will always put on a good show if track owners and promoters can be restrained . Those two groups are rushing headlong to kill local auto racing completely .
Spec tires , Spec engines ,Spec fuels , Spec chassis , crate motors , and race tire and race fuel companies as series and track title sponsors are rapidly killing off local oval track racing as well as touring series .
Crate motors are becoming the norm because GM and Ford are pushing the idea . Why ? Because GM and Ford make lots of money if people are forced to buy their crate motors . But what happens to the speed shops , the race engine builders , the racers who build their own engines ? They all leave the sport . Doesn’t sound like a good way to grow local stock car racing .
And forcing racers to use a certain tire brand or race gas brand only hurts competition . Tracks have an official tire or fuel because they received a check from said tire or fuel company . Has a spec tire rule or a one brand of race fuel rule helped save the car count at any small track ? Absolutely not . And the racers seldom see any of the money that was paid by the spec tire or spec fuel company to be the only allowed products . It also keeps the prices up on those products , the tire and fuel people need to recover the money they spent to be the only product allowed . Same goes for the crate motor prices . GM and Ford spend big money to worm their way into race tracks and race series . The crate engine prices stay far higher than necessary because GM and Ford have to get some of their sponsorship money back . Tink crate motor racing is the way to go ? Ask the ASA Series how one brand of crate motor worked out for them over the years , They went from the number one short track touring series in America to going under at least once a year . Bob Sennecker in a T-Bird with a Chevy street stock engine .
My suggestion , open the rukes back up . Any tire brand , any fuel brand , no spec engines , only sensible engine rules that include many different combinations including backyard built engines . The average racer couldn’t possibly write a check for a crate engine , or a pro built engine . But he probably has enough spare parts in the garage from years of racing that he could build his own race engine .
To survive , local tracks need to bring in the local NAPA store , the local Wendys , The local Home Depot for sponsors , not force racers to use the tires , the fuel , the engines of manufacturers that are only interested in buying up racing to keep out competition . The racers will never benefit from that system .

Mike In NH
04/09/2010 12:36 PM

Want racing in the rough? Try the 24 Hours of LeMons (not LeMans, LeMons) series. Randomly chosen cars are subject to crushing by the judges and if you flip onto your roof, you’re done for the day.

Lots of fun!

04/09/2010 01:21 PM

I guess what i was trying to say in my longwinded post above is …. local short track racing has almost eliminated the concept of competition . Competition between engines , competition between car makes ( car makes you could easily identify with , not just different decals on the same bodies with street stock ( crate ) engines .
I even used to enjoy the competition between Goodyear , Firestone , Hoosier etc . at the tracks . Now , one company writes a check to the track owner/promoter and has everything to himself for 1 to 3 years . No incentive to build a better product , or lower the price . Same with the race gas companies . No incentive to lower the price , or raise the quality .
I really think the lack of real competition is driving many real racers out , and in their place you’re left with checkbook racers or dumbed down rules and classes to keep the few remaining racers coming to the track .
Now i know that track owners/promoters will fight these ideas to the death , but one truth has always remained constant in this world . And that is , competition always breeds better products and lower prices . ALWAYS !

Tommy T
04/10/2010 11:43 AM

I’m there with you Potts!

One of the real treats for the wife and I while RV’ing around the country is to seek out a local track where ever we are and take in some of the local competition.

We are rarely disappointed!

Jerry Wahl
04/12/2010 12:12 AM

Another very good article John and how true what you said. Now if we can only get the asphalt fans in our area back in the grandstands like the dirt tracks.