The UMP Summernationals has become an event that has grown by leaps and bounds. The multi-week, multi-race concept sends racers scurrying throughout the Midwest, racing in a different town at a different track night after night. It's the 21st century answer to the barnstorming days of old.
For a racer in the Midwest, the commitment to travel is a formidable one. For a racer in another region, the idea of competing in a series like that gets cost prohibitive in a hurry. Consequently, racers in the Southeast would find little opportunity in pursuing the Summernationals title. It wasn't from lack of desire, but from a practical standpoint.
Well, if you can't get Mohammed to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammed.
Ray Cook put his racing on hold for two weeks to spearhead the first Southern Nationals.
That idea was the gist of a conversation between chassis builders Keith and Tader Masters and North Carolina racer Ray Cook, who was asked why the idea wasn't tried in the Southeast.
"We wondered if it would work," Cook recalled. "I had promoted a race last year on Thursday night, so we proved that racing in the middle of the week could work."
The seed was planted. Cook decided to take the tentative first steps to see if something like this could work. "I decided that if it was going to work, I was going to need 10 people," Cook said. "I started talking to different ones and asked them what they would think about it. After that, I decided to do it."
It stayed easy. "I got the first six right off the bat," Cook continued. "I thought, Well, there's nothing to this. It took three weeks to get two more."
Jeff Cooke competes at Crossville Raceway USA.
The idea came to light late in the '05 season, which worked against the idea. "Some of the tracks already had their schedules planned. We decided to go ahead with eight tracks."
The tracks were in place, but what about the drivers? They were not accustomed to mid-week shows, let alone back-to-back mid-week programs. Could Cook get enough racers to make it worthwhile for racers and promoters? What about fans? Would anyone come out for a show like this on a Tuesday night in the Southeast?
The fans were warding off the temperature with umbrellas, which were not needed for rain.
For the racers, the decision was made easier. As a racer himself (who put his own racing on hold for more than two weeks), Cook knew what was important to the racer. "Because of the race structure, the payoff, and the laps involved, the racers were all for it," Cook said. "We figured it from a racer's standpoint, but we had to make it so it worked for the promoter. One of the things wrong with a lot of the races is that the purses are top-heavy. It's all on top and there's nothing left for the others. There are only a few who do it right."
Cook set his payout, and there were no secrets. Full-page advertisements in publications such as National Dirt Digest listed the pay for each position, giving drivers essentially a window to the bank. The majority of the races were $3,000 to win with $300 for Last Place. The series finale offered $5,000 and a minimum of $500 to start.