This thundering herd shows the strength of having good weekly racing. The paying customer
We started the ball rolling last issue with the thoughts of a trio of promoters, and they have more thoughts on more issues. The complete picture required more than the 3,000 words that were written last month (May 2006).
Our promoters represent a dirt track, a paved track, and a track operator who is also a series promoter. Their views are their own, relating their experiences and their opinions. Their suggestions may not work for a paved track in Washington or a dirt track in New Mexico. That decision would rest with that particular promoter and his or her interpretation of what it takes to keep the gates open. The problems facing short-track racing are the same, only different. There may be a common concern, but there is not a common solution.
While promoters have the responsibility of providing a place for the racers to compete and fans to watch, the success of short-track racing rests with anyone who chooses to be involved. Drivers play a very critical role.
At Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, some of the drivers seem to get the message. "We hear about our drivers telling people about the races, about what they did on the weekend, and we see some of these people in the grandstands," says Pam Henricks. "We've had drivers come up and buy tickets for their family, their friends, and their sponsors."
It's a mixed bag at Dixie Motor Speedway (near Flint, Michigan) when it comes to driver help. "Some are very good, and some don't care or don't think about it," says Mike Kern. "There's a handful who are true ambassadors for Dixie. You'll find a lot of enthusiasm from guys who are new to it. They realize how good it is, and they want to help spread the word.
"You'll see it when you have a class that's growing. Someone is telling the new racers about the opportunity. If they experience and like it, you've got that momentum from the drivers. The quality of the product is very important. If you get someone into the stands because a driver talked to them about it, you better have the quality of product they expect. You might be able to buffalo somebody once, but not twice. Even some of the touring drivers have been very supportive, talking to the series organizers about bringing a show to us."
Tom Curley has been involved in promoting for 30 years. Along the way, he has picked up aw
With his 30 years in the business, Tom Curley has seen quite a bit when it comes to racing. As promoter of the Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont, Curley runs Thursday night programs for a weekly operation. He also oversees the competition of the American Canadian Tour and has been hailed as a forward-thinking force in racing. He knows you can't do it yourself and sees drivers as a way to help the sport grow. He just doesn't get the cooperation he would like.
"It's sad," he says. "The greatest missionaries are our drivers. They can be icons in the community, but in the last 15 years, the drivers have been too busy with their own agendas to worry about it. It's really sad how few are cognizant that they need the track to be successful if they want to be successful. When tracks start to close, maybe that's when they'll start to realize it.
"People are on the go all the time these days. The series used to schedule 33 races, then down to 24. This year, we're looking at 12 races because the drivers don't want to travel. You have to look for the positive. Where is the pony in the pile? We can't dilute the product. We have to worry about quality and not quantity in this case."
There's another aspect of the driver role that seems to be missing, and it may hold a key to some of the struggles faced by the sport. The world has changed. There are no service stations on the corner with the local mechanic keeping his race car beside the shop for the world to see. If there are heroes in the sport, they're the ones who are racing on Sunday afternoons (and Saturday nights) on television. It's not the guys at the local track anymore.
"The heroes on Sunday have replaced the local and regional heroes," says Curley. "Today, when you're a driver at a short track, your immediate aspiration is to get good enough to move to North Carolina and become a hero. The reality is that the margin is so thin for that to happen. You have a better chance of winning the lottery. If you have a young kid who wants to go to that level, he could go south and become mediocre. There are thousands who can drive, but it takes more than that at that level. It's pretty much internal, based on who you know. There are a lot of racers who have that dream, and the dream doesn't include being a local or regional hero. Not long ago, everyone knew of the regional heroes. I knew about Mike Eddy, Dick Anderson, and guys like that, even though I was living in New England. Every region had its stars. Stafford [Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Connecticut] was a place that gave the regional guys a chance to race each other. Television has taken over, and there is no need for regional competition. We're working hard to create those regional heroes again. They will draw people to the special events. There's still an attraction for the regional hero to race against the local hero.