When the ARCA Menards Series drivers receive the green flag for the Dawn 150 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it will mark a historic accomplishment for the main ARCA series: it will be the 1,500th ARCA race, a series purchased by NASCAR in 2018.
Before ARCA hits the 1,500 race mark, ARCA President Ron Drager spoke to media members via Zoom June 3 to both discuss how the series reached that mark as well as discuss the outlook for ARCA in the future.
Selling ARCA to NASCAR was a much-needed move, Drager said.
“ARCA was a little rowboat in the ocean shaken by big waves, wakes from other boats and when NASCAR purchased ARCA, we got on a bigger boat,” he said. “Last year’s pandemic massively affected our sport. Being a NASCAR property at that time, without their guidance, we never could have our season last year. We would have survived, but it wouldn’t have looked good.”
2020 was the first year ARCA was operated by NASCAR. Some of those changes included adopting a similar points system to NASCAR as well as rebranding the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West as the ARCA Menards Series East and West. What ultimately has changed as far as the day-to-day operations of ARCA is the “corporate services … finance, HR and other business-centric activities take place in Daytona.”
Regarding the ARCA operations of the on-track product, that control has remained at the ARCA offices in Temperance, Mich. In fact, “as the East and West series became part of the ARCA platform, we were encouraged to employ those practices in those series,” Drager said.
Still, questions remain about ARCA’s future. Toyota prospects Ty Gibbs and Corey Heim have combined to win all the main series races, while veteran driver Brad Smith has currently made 371 career starts and scored his first top-10 finish last year at Winchester Speedway. Drager noted ARCA is not solely a developmental series.
“The ARCA series is a career destination for professional racers and a developmental series for those who aspire to race at higher levels,” he said. “For the folks like Frank Kimmel, the Venturini family and Andy Hillenburg, they’re happy to carve out a living racing here. Not everyone passes through but we are best known for that development aspect.”
If ARCA is a mixture of veteran drivers, grassroots teams and young drivers developing their way up the racing hierarchy, what is ARCA’s role as a NASCAR-owned series?
“Our role is to be a friendly platform for grassroots racers to transition into a series where you can race at Daytona International Speedway,” Drager said.
Some of those current drivers include Toni Breidinger, who is competing with Young’s Motorsports after being the winningest woman in USAC history, and Andy Jankowiak, who transitioned from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to running some ARCA races after purchasing equipment from longtime ARCA owner Ken Schrader.
A multitude of drivers have used ARCA as a stepping stone into the national NASCAR series. Nevertheless, Drager openly wants more grassroots racers to compete in ARCA.
“We’ve been working strategically with NASCAR to make our rules package where you can acquire reasonably economically equipment and make the entry point,” he said. “We might want to change the business model from [David Gilliland Racing, Venturini, Joe Gibbs Racing], where they offer a seat for a race or the full season for a price to owning your own equipment and racecar and go race it. The engine, the flange-fit body and now the chassis are things people can invest in. This is the way most grassroots racers have done business. They own their own stuff and they race it. This is what we’d like to try to accomplish.”
ARCA already has worked to lower costs with its modified pit stops. When NASCAR brought the East and West series under the ARCA banner, officials created rules where a car can run in all three ARCA series. This year, there are four combination races the main series has with its two other series. The West season opener at Phoenix Raceway was a combination race with the main series. The final three races of the East schedule at Iowa Speedway, Milwaukee Mile and Bristol Motor Speedway are also combination races with the main series.
“We did that because we were concerned about the car count and we want to keep that series healthy,” Drager said. “We want to preserve the tremendous history of both those series.”
It’s a practice Drager expects to employ in the future with the East and West series, especially the East.
“We need more crossover,” he said. “We got to convince people to do that. Instead of eight-to-10 races in the East and 20 for the main series, we’re building a schedule for team owners to run five standalone East races plus some combination races. There’s a lot of opportunities to race depending on budget.”
Although ARCA wants more crossover, its schedule this weekend makes crossover between the main and West series impossible. On June 4, the main series will race at Mid-Ohio. The following day, West will race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. 18 drivers are entered for the Mid-Ohio race whereas 22 drivers will compete at Sonoma. Why not schedule those two races with at least a week’s gap to combine those entries into one 40-car field? Ultimately, it’s to line ARCA up with its series owner, NASCAR.
“We’re there at Sonoma in conjunction with Cup,” Drager said. “We can run independently but we’re stronger when we’re there with a NASCAR national series. Here we are at Mid-Ohio with Xfinity this weekend. Our marketing partners — General Tire and Dawn — at Sonoma and Mid-Ohio wanted a big race in their markets. It factored into that decision.
“Having said that, on a piece of paper, it doesn’t make sense, but I’m proud we’re able to do this and be respectable at both venues. We’d prefer it not to be this way, but it’s the way it works and we accept that.”
24,860 days have passed since the first ARCA race was held at Dayton Speedway on May 13, 1953. As ARCA has aged, Drager is grateful for countless peoples’ support throughout the years.
“There are thousands of racecar drivers, owners, sponsors, hundreds of promoters and so many people who have been supportive of ARCA,” he said. “Crew members who were loyal to the brand and willing to make those sacrifices to get us to the next race, the next season. I’m most proud of all the quality people in our garage.”