Editor’s Note: Due to an internet problem, Jeff Meyer’s Voices from the Heartland will show up on Friday instead of Thursday. In the meantime, we have Mike Neff filling in with a little commentary of his own… on arena racing.
The offseason can be a dreadful time for the racing fan. Unless you like German touring cars, motocross, or snowmobile racing, there has never been a fix for the racing obsessed during the cold of winter. Sure, there’s the Chili Bowl and the Ice Bowl… but those are isolated races. For the true fan that has a desire to see door-to-door racing on a nearly weekly basis, there has never been that kind of fix in the winter… until Arena Racing.
Arena Racing has been around for four years, starting in the fall of 2002 in Norfolk, Va. The series consists of ½-scale stock cars on an indoor 1/10th-mile aluminum racetrack. Ungoverned, the small cars are still capable of running 100 mph. They have a fully working coil-over spring suspension, rack and pinion steering, and a full roll cage. Laps on the track are lightning quick; they take just over eight seconds to complete.
After gaining local support in other areas, the series came to Charlotte this year with the backing of NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs. The series debuted in October with guest race appearances by JJ Yeley, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart during the offseason. They all enjoyed the experience, as the racing was intense… although hampered by the new racing surface. The cars were unable to get much grip and were running through the corners like cars racing on dirt, sliding sideways and being forced to power their way through.
After another week of difficult handling, the series organizers bead blasted the track, put on coke syrup and officially worked the new surface in. Things changed 180 degrees; it is now a very racy surface with so much traction that cars can actually flip in the corners all by themselves if the driver puts too much wheel into the car.
So, how does a normal evening at the arena work? The night consists of several races. To start with, there are heat races in the afternoon that are not open to the public; they are used to determine which main race a car will be entered into. The fans are then allowed into the arena at 6:00 p.m., and the infield of the track and the straightaways are filled with the cars and teams that will be competing for the evening. It’s a great opportunity for fans; with such a small track, they can meet the drivers and see the cars up close. Once the fan session is complete, the cars for the A-main are wheeled out and the C-main is run. The B-main follows the C. Then the cars that do not finish in the top four of the B and C mains are wheeled out, and the A-main cars are wheeled in. The A-main is run and the top-six cars, along with the top four from each of the B and C races, are put back on the track and compete in the feature race of the evening: the Top Dog race. After the final race, the fans can once again come down onto the track to see the cars and drivers.
The series is open to anyone with some cash who wants to go racing: $12,000 will put someone into a race-ready car with everything they need to compete. The series is tightly regulated, with very little that can be changed on the car. Old school at heart, it puts the success of the team squarely in the driver’s hands.
Those drivers are men and women of all ages competing in the series; they range from 14 to 74 years old, letting their heart hang out on a short track with the goal of chasing a dream. It’s an amazing thing to watch; if you are in the Charlotte or Hampton Roads area on a Saturday night, be sure to check it out. The Daytona 500 may still be two weeks away… but you’ll be amazed at how much excitement you can have indoors in the winter until then.