1. Volunteer Speedway goes from Flo to closed?
The Kyle Larson Late Model Challenge on Flo Racing appeared to be a completely unmitigated success, with the grandstand crowd at the Volunteer Speedway reported to be the largest the track had seen in 20 years, and Flo Racing reporting that the event was the highest-viewed event in the history of its parent company, Flo Sports.
Despite all that, it wasn’t a week removed from the event that the track announced that the remainder of its 2022 schedule was canceled.
Volunteer Speedway announced via its website that it would be canceling its event scheduled on May 7th and they would not be going forward with scheduling any more events for the 2022 racing season.https://t.co/DacvD3JN1M
— News 5 WCYB (@news5wcyb) April 22, 2022
There are two competing forces at work here. One, the business model of streaming dirt races is still new, and one that has yet to find a perfect balance between the interests of streaming platforms and of the racetracks they stream from. Yes, streaming opens up racetracks to a national audience that otherwise would not see racing from them.
On the other hand, they do make it easier for paying fans to stay home out of the grandstands. What’s more, unless it’s a national touring series with national sponsors on the cars, most of the small businesses that sponsor local racecars aren’t going to see a boom in business for the exposure.
Which brings us to point number two; that is, that high-profile events with large purses in the dirt racing ranks are actually the lowest-margin events a racetrack can host. Many tracks actually host touring series events at a loss as an incentive of sorts for local race fans to frequent the track for the rest of their seasons.
At day’s end here, the fault for this mess does fall on the promoters, well-intentioned or not. Contracts had to be signed to bring Flo Racing and the Kyle Larson Challenge to their facility, meaning they knew what it would cost and what it would take from a revenue perspective to break even.
It’s a cautionary tale on two fronts. First, the challenge of running a racetrack on a special events-only schedule, by definition reliant on high-dollar, low-margin events. And two, the need for improved symbiosis between the facilities that host racing … and the entities bringing them to fans.
2. Selinsgrove packs the stands … then cuts the lap count
There were no shortage of disappointed race fans taking to Facebook Sunday (April 24) after a disappointing count of less than 20 410 sprint cars showed up for the $5,088-to-win Ray Tilley Classic Sunday at Selinsgrove Speedway. We’ll get to that issue in a minute. Speaking as a paying spectator at that race, I have a different gripe to raise.
After heat races were completed on Sunday evening, the track made an announcement that the sprint car feature would be cut from 30 to 25 laps, owing to an acute tire shortage that reportedly had several teams on the premises racing on used rubber.
I’m not unsympathetic to race teams that through no fault of their own literally could not get their hands on racing tires. And yes, the shortage is that bad in sprint car country. Even the All-Star Circuit of Champions, which went on a three-day swing through Pennsylvania this past weekend, posted in their competitor bulletin that tires would be limited in availability on Friday and likely unavailable on Saturday. If the national tours can’t get tires, an unsanctioned race on a Sunday, the fifth straight day of big-money 410 racing in the region, never had a chance of getting inventory.
Having said that, the call to shorten the feature should have been made long before the track sold thousands of grandstand tickets (and it was thousands, Selinsgrove was PACKED on Sunday).
Great crowd here @RaceSelinsgrove on a beautiful Sunday evening!
5th track in 5 days! It’s been like a little practice round to build up for Speedweek this summer! Race 22 of ‘22! pic.twitter.com/ApWmvU2heW
— Rich Watts (@MrAddicted2Dirt) April 24, 2022
I had other issues with Selinsgrove that have me questioning whether I’ll return (there’s no reason a half-mile oval should feel like a sardine can the way the facility does). The takeaway is this: Shortening a race over a real problem isn’t the end of the world, but when the problem is known in advance and the originally-scheduled distance is advertised all weekend anyhow, that rubs me the wrong way.
3. Selinsgrove incurs the wrath of Pennsylvania’s Speed Palace
Now let’s get back to the car-count issue. Drawing less than 20 cars for a $5,000-to-win event that was a stone’s throw from a national touring event (the All-Star Circuit ran at Port Royal the night before) is a disappointment. But it makes sense when one considers that none of the All-Star regulars decided to make the trip to Selinsgrove. And this was allegedly because the folks at Port Royal told the ASCoC race teams not to come back if they went to Selinsgrove.
I want to stress the word “allegedly.” But in terms of sourcing, I could have documented it 10 times over at the track Sunday. That posture by Port Royal was the talk of Selinsgrove when I was in the pit grandstand watching heat races, in turn 1 for the feature … and in-between those two events when I was standing in line for a pizza burger. The fans at Selinsgrove were unhappy.
As for me, I was frustrated as well, until the race was over and I was in the Mustang driving home with time to think (and to consult with some fellow track chasers). With my (slight) irritation over a race that was thin on cars and laps worn off, I had to empathize with Port Royal. Why?
Look at the 410 scene over the last week in Pennsylvania. Bloomsburg hosted the All-Stars on Thursday and paid a sanctioning fee. Williams Grove hosted the All-Stars on Friday and paid a sanctioning fee on Friday. Port Royal hosted the All-Stars on Saturday and paid a sanctioning fee. So why shouldn’t they be bothered that Selinsgrove scheduled a race on Sunday, less than an hour away, meant to entice those same competitors without the sanctioning costs?
That’s not to say there wasn’t talent in the field at Selinsgrove. Sunday’s race was won by Anthony Macri, a Pennsylvania Posse driver who right now is the winningest sprint car driver in America thus far in 2022. Devil’s Bowl World of Outlaws winner Brent Marks was also present.
In a perfect world, Sunday’s race would have been a nice weekend cap for a smorgasbord of sprint car racing across Pennsylvania. 2022 isn’t a perfect world for racers. Touring races cost more than ever, with the tours increasing purses to keep big-name drivers from sticking with them as well as bringing streaming along for the ride (we already talked about that, didn’t we?) .
What’s more, an acute shortage of sprint car parts and tires means a stretched team that wrecks on Sunday may well struggle to prepare for their touring series’ next event.
Call it protectionist. It is. I don’t like it, but I do understand.
4. Wartburg warzone shows tracks can actually work together
Tennessee’s Wartburg Speedway played host to what was arguably the ugliest scene dirt racing has seen this year, with dwarf car competitor Hunter Rich and his father beating a track official mercilessly after an on-track incident.
There are two angles of this video out there, but one conclusion. There is NOTHING that track official did to deserve being touched, much less beaten senseless as he was (fortunately, the track confirmed the official was not seriously injured).
Wartburg immediately slapped Rich with a lifetime ban from the facility. As did 411 Motor Speedway. And Boyd’s Speedway. And I-75 Raceway. And Mountain View Raceway. And Smoky Mountain Speedway. And Tazewell Speedway. Volunteer Speedway didn’t, but as we discussed earlier, it’s closed.
I’m not going to lie, I feel vindicated for writing a couple weeks ago about NASCAR needing to get serious about penalizing drivers for acting like fools over absolutely nothing. Touching a race official, much less assaulting him, is unacceptable for motorsport. And by actually enforcing penalties as opposed to romanticizing brat behavior as “the good ol’ days,” two grown men behaving like criminals are no longer part of Tennessee dirt racing.
5. Crate late models at Lake View imitate Jeff Gordon at Las Vegas
Saturday was my third visit of the year to my home track in Winchester, Va., but the first week that the racing program didn’t feature an inordinate number of incidents that saw cars being turned into traffic down the backstretch. Sadly, as previously noted in this column, such an incident in the season-opening UCAR program claimed the life of local driver Jimmy Billmeyer.
Since then, Winchester to its credit did new concrete work on the backstretch pit opening and installed a gate to hopefully prevent a recurrence of the wreck that claimed Bilmyer’s life. The lesson learned at my home track, as it should be at any form of racing, is that safety is a moving target requiring constant refinements.
Case in point, Lake View Motor Speedway in South Carolina. The 602 late models there managed to find the vulnerability in that racing surface and hit at full speed, slamming into the track’s turn 1 infield opening.
Lake View in my eye wasn’t negligent here … the tractor tires present at the infield opening are standard safety protocol at countless dirt tracks across the country and did do their job at containing, to some degree, the violence of this wreck.
If nothing else, wrecks like that are a necessary reminder that as the racecars themselves continue to grow in terms of power, tracks and their safety measures need to grow as well.
6. Two-year anniversary of a truly historic race
The most memorable races of our lives are 99 times out of 100 races that we attend in person. But today marked the two-year anniversary of the most memorable race I’ve ever streamed, and believed to be the world’s first organized motorsports event since COVID-19 shut the planet down in 2020, the Open-Wheel Nationals at Park Jefferson Speedway in North Dakota.
Contrary to the posting above, the race was not the world’s first sporting event post-pandemic. Nicaragua’s professional soccer league never stopped contesting matches. And the social responsibility touted by the event’s organizers and the dirt racing community would disappear in a matter of weeks after the event.
Having said that, this race had everything go right for it. The field was stout, with teams traveling across the country to race. The surface was impeccable, as Park Jefferson’s surface was graced by a light rain shortly before the program’s scheduled start. And Speed Shift TV’s crew did a bang-up job bringing the action home to all of us. It’s a big-time event that has Jeff Gluck tweeting about a Brock Zearfoss sprint car series win.
Brock Zearfoss wins the first race in America (maybe the world?) since the shutdown began. https://t.co/uqcfBOOKTT
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) April 26, 2020
There are a handful of experiences in racing I’ll never forget. My first race, the 2004 Coca-Cola 600 with my dad. The 2008 Paul Johnson Memorial at Winchester, still the best display of oval-track racing I’ve ever seen at any level. The inaugural Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.
Streaming the Open-Wheel Nationals in my parents’ basement during lockdown will likely stay among those ranks.
About the author
Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.
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