Well, fans, it’s already St. Patrick’s Day. We’re four races into the Sprint Cup Series season, and we’ve had three races each in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series seasons. The American Le Mans Series starts up this weekend with the 12 Hours of Sebring, Formula 1’s Grand Prix of Australia is next weekend, and the Indy Racing League campaign starts the weekend after that with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.).
But as you know, that is not the only racing out there. The United States (and Canada, for that matter) is peppered with various short tracks, road courses and drag strips that host weekly races. There are 28 of them in the state of New York alone, 23 of them being dirt. With the world economy the way that it is, it may be a little difficult to attend major league racing events this year. However, there are local options that are available to most fans out there. If at all possible, race fans should check out a local place at least once this season if they don’t already.
Now, I’m not going to restrict this to just NASCAR sanctioned short tracks, of which there are approximately 70 scattered through the continental United States and Canada. That simply is not fair to all the places that aren’t sanctioned by NASCAR. In addition, I don’t live within a reasonable distance of a NASCAR sanctioned track. It’s well over 100 miles to the nearest one. Which one is that? I’m really not sure. It could be one of three (Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson International Speedway in Connecticut or Monadnonk Speedway in New Hampshire). The one that used to be closest (Riverside Park Speedway, Agawam, Mass.) was torn down after the 1999 season to make way for a roller coaster (Riverside was bought by Six Flags and redubbed Six Flags New England).
However, there are no less than five dirt tracks (Lebanon Valley Speedway, West Lebanon, N.Y.; Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta; Fonda Speedway in Fonda; Glen Helen Raceway Park in Fultonville; and Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Fairhaven, Vt.) within 60 miles of my house.
These tracks are generally well supported by the locals and I like to go to every now and then to check out the action. Typically, I’ll go to Lebanon Valley because it’s only 15 miles away. I’ve also been to Albany-Saratoga before, but I’ve never frequented Fonda, Glen Helen or Devil’s Bowl. Here in upstate New York, depending on where you go, big blocks or a 358 modified class are the top division. In addition to the modifieds, there are sportsman, pro stock, and street stock classes, in addition to non-weeklies.
The racing is generally good, and the prices for admission are not insane. Using Lebanon Valley Speedway, a half-mile high-banked clay oval for an example, adult general admission for the 2009 season is $10 per person. The touring series (ex: World of Outlaws Sprint Cars) and special events (ex: Monster Trucks) that frequent the track will demand a higher admission price. There is also a $1 premium per person on Fireworks Night around the Fourth of July, presumably to pay for the fireworks. The vast majority of the seats there are general admission. Certain seats (typically the top couple of rows) are reserved seating and cost $11. Seating in the tower at the track costs $16, regardless of age. Tickets for children 12 and under cost no more than $2, and are free on some nights. There are also special theme nights; for example, a Ladies’ Night on which women get in free, or nights where any grade school student with an A on their report card gets free of charge.
Concessions are also far cheaper than what you see at major sports events. A soda might cost $1.50, as opposed to $4.50 at some venues. A hot dog, $1 instead of $4. Nothing costs more than $4.
Overall, a night at the races definitely compares favorably to other typical things that you can do for a night out (movies, dinner, etc.).
In addition, tracks typically offer 50/50 raffles. This is important to contribute to because half of those proceeds go towards the points fund at the end of the season. Fans essentially finance the end of season rewards with their pocket change. The other half is raffled off to a lucky winner, along with some other prizes, like gift certificates to local businesses.
After the races are over, anyone can mosey on over to the pits and chat with the drivers and crew. Interesting chaps, I must say. I’ll admit to having one embarrassing moment in the infield at Lebanon Valley Speedway in 2007. I was standing just inside the trailer of one of the modified teams when I slipped on a combination of spilled soda and dirt and landed flat on my back. I didn’t hear the end of it that night from my friends and the couple of crew members that actually saw my fall, but it was all in good fun. The people I see there are generally friendly and really passionate about their racing.
Many Frontstretch readers live relatively close to smaller tracks, and I’d like them to share their experiences at local race tracks, either to me through email, or to people they know. I’ll admit to having positive experiences at short tracks, I’ve always enjoyed myself.
And while racetracks can advertise their cards all they want on television and radio (an example of this is Raceway Park, the drag strip in Old Bridge Township, N.J.), good word of mouth advertising is always great to have. Most track owners, like Ken Schrader for instance, know this.
Word of mouth advertising is the best advertising of all. First and foremost, it’s free. Also, people tend to trust the opinions of other people that they know far more than they would trust an ad campaign. If people have positive experiences at the track, then they are more likely to either bring friends along with them or recommend that people come along, and thus bring more money into the track’s coffers.
On the surface, the dirt tracks here in the Albany area seem to be doing OK, but other short tracks are not doing as well. Earlier this year, Mansfield Motorsports Park had to cancel their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and nix the weekly racing season. However, the track just announced an ARCA Re/Max Series race for June 20th, replacing a race scheduled for the Music City Motorplex in Nashville, Tenn. The Music City Motorplex appears to have shut down. Their website is no longer online, and the Tennessee State Fair board is debating whether to tear the track down.
I fully plan on attending races at local tracks this year when time permits. Around here, the season begins in approximately one month, even though it might be a little bit cold for night racing in mid-April. I suggest that race fans, if they can, do the same at least once this year. They could really use the patronage.