The ARCA RE/Max Series cars...
The ARCA RE/Max Series cars of Frank Kimmel (No. 44) and Tayler Malsam (No. 4) represent the two types of teams in ARCA competition these days. Long standing competitors operating on a shoestring budget, Kimmel, and young hot shoes sitting pretty in NASCAR Sprint Cup team funded development program, Malsam. Photo by Jim Smith
All of our five sanction heads agree that the high fuel prices are having some affect on the racers, but not nearly to the degree we expected before the interviews. That is somewhat of a pleasant surprise given the seemingly endless string of bad economic reports when you turn on the TV to watch the six o'clock news.
Weather, of course, plays the biggest role in the current state of short-track racing, especially in the mid section of our country. But there was something more that came out in each conversation when we started talking about the future.
Listen to what ASA's Dennis Huth had to say: "Over the years the outside influences that impact the short-track owner have changed significantly, the competition for entertainment dollars has greatly increased, fuel prices have gone up, the economy has gone soft, more and more NASCAR and IndyCar races are being televised on Saturday night. When combined, these factors can present some pretty significant challenges for the short-track operator."
Given that, the important thing to note is that virtually all of the weekly racetracks operate solely with private funding. Each week, America's short-tracks total attendance can reach five times, or higher, than the attendance of a NASCAR Sprint Cup race and stacks-up favorably against the combined attendance of the NFL, MLB, and virtually all other professional sports. Yet from 1953 to 1970 a total of 30 professional sports stadiums were built with all but three receiving taxpayer support (to the tune of $450 million, nearly 70 percent of the total cost of the 30 facilities). The number is increasing today with several new stadiums under construction, renovation, or topics of discussion.
Brian Ickler (No. 15) is about...
Brian Ickler (No. 15) is about to get passed by eventual winner Eddie MacDonald (No. 71) in a NASCAR Camping World Series East event at New Hampshire International Speedway. The Camping World Series is a healthy regional touring series for the Daytona Beach sanction. Photo by Howie Hodge/NASCAR
"If you sit back and think about it, what the weekly short-tracks across the country have done over their history is incredible, and all on their own dime so to speak," says Huth. "They open their gates week-in and week-out, upgrade their facilities, promote their show, and develop the heroes of tomorrow all without any support whatsoever other than what their own wallet allows. And even more of a travesty, most of the time they do this without any thanks. The short-tracks are an iconic part of the American sports landscape and have been the first introduction to racing for millions of fans and created their passion for the sport."
It would be interesting to see what a short-track racing world would be like if taxpayer subsidies could build or at least help build 30 short-tracks around the country that mirror the facilities of Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri (see the lead photo). But alas, in today's world that is nothing more than fantasy.
The reality is that the track operators are left to fend for themselves. So what exactly are they supposed to do?
IMCA's Brett Root says that in order for a promoter to excel in a down economy he/she must see "the complete picture." Everything must be addressed from conducting the show properly at the back gate to delivering a family friendly product at the front gate. Promoters must also consider special events and offering good community support. But it all starts in the tech shed.
"We do our best to stick to our philosophy of uniform and consistent rules and having good officials who can separate the emotion of the situation. Do you want 80 cars or eight cars? The only way you get 80 is to offer a fair program with rules that are strictly enforced. That way the competitors know that you're running an honest show."
Interestingly, the average IMCA racer only competes for three years. That translates into about a 20 percent annual membership loss that Root and his team have to replace. They've been successful at it. Root says that his membership is consistent and healthy, always staying within 50 people of their annual total of about 5,000 members.
The real key is to not let the long term racers run off the short termers, or worse yet put up road blocks to new racers coming into the sport.