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.
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.
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 bills.
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 stout.
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.
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.