The lineup of the NSRA's 360...
The lineup of the NSRA's 360 winged Sprint Cars are ready for action on their Championship weekend at Meridian Speedway outside of Boise, Idaho.
Given the current state of the economy, a touring Sprint Car series in the northwestern portion of our country should be at the greatest risk of impact. After all, tracks are separated by hundreds of miles of mountainous terrain. But the Northwest Sprintcar Racing Series, also known as the NSRA, is experiencing just the opposite. Granted, the car counts are off a little but overall the series is healthy and it's bringing a show that puts fans in the stands.
Sanctioned by the American Speed Association, the NSRA is a touring group that, in 2008, visited six different tracks in three states (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) with 13 events. The NSRA can trace its origins back to 1987, when USAC unexpectedly dropped its regional sanctioning of Sprint Car racing in the Pacific Northwest. In response, Curt Kern and Ed Williams started a new association (Northwest Supermodified Racing Association or NSRA) to sanction Sprint Car and Supermodified racing. In 1992, Kern took the Supers and formed the Western States Supermodified Tour (WSST), leaving the Sprint Cars to continue with the Northwest Supermodified/Sprintcar Racing Association (NSSRA).
Since 2001, the sanction has been headed up by Mike Sullivan and focuses exclusively on racing Sprint Cars, hence the loss of the second "s" in the name. Interestingly, many of the people associated with the NSRA, such as the push truck drivers, volunteer their time for the love of Sprint Car racing. Naturally, there's quite a bit of coordination to put on a successful show and that coordination falls on Sullivan's shoulders.
Owner/driver Brandon Johnson...
Owner/driver Brandon Johnson hikes the left front around Meridian's tight quarter-mile track.
Hundreds of miles separate tracks in the Pacific Northwest, making the economical administration of a traveling series a borderline nightmare. Sullivan says that economic factors can be blamed for the small dip in the NSRA's average car count, but there are still 20 teams showing up to each event. "Like any traveling series, local cars do help boost our car count, but then we'll visit some tracks like Mission Valley Speedway in Montana where there really aren't any local Sprint Cars there. So we have to be self sufficient."
Despite visiting areas devoid of Sprint Cars, Sullivan says that by the end of the season, the NSRA might have 70-plus cars that run races in the series at one time or another. Still, a big part of that challenge is the travel time it takes teams to get to a show.
"Getting to some of these tracks is a 15 hour pull for guys from Oregon," says Sullivan. "And we've got racers from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Montana. We have raced in Canada in the past, and I'd love to go back there, but the trick is getting enough money to make these guys feel good for traveling."
So how does Sullivan and the NSRA go about doing that? It's actually a creative approach to race promotion.
The packed pit area is typical...
The packed pit area is typical of the NSRA's traveling circus at any racetrack.
"We have a built-in expense compensation, if you qualify your car (for the race) you're guaranteed a payment," says Sullivan. That payment is based on mileage, and although it doesn't cover all of a racer's expenses, it does help offset some of the travel cost. For example, if a racer tows 300 miles to go to an event and qualifies, he or she may receive $270 to $300 back in the form of expense compensation.
It's a creative approach to ensure the health of your series.
The Car And The Show Winged pavement Sprint Cars are some of the fastest race cars in the country. The NSRA Sprint Car is powered by a 360 ci aluminum block, alcohol-fueled engine. The wheelbase must be at least 84 inches and no more than 90 inches while the overall length of the car is limited to a maximum of 14 feet. These cars have a maximum width of 78 inches and a maximum offset for both front and rear wheels of 4 inches.
Now comes the fun part when you figure the 750 hp motor is sitting in a car with a minimum weight rule of 1,650 pounds with the driver. The combination of lightweight and a ton of horsepower delivers some lightning fast lap times.
The packed grandstands had...
The packed grandstands had an electricity about them for the NSRA Championship weekend.
Rookie NSRA racer Sierra Jackson set a fast time recently at the quarter-mile Meridian Speedway with a mind-numbing time of 11.297 seconds.
To keep the cars on the ground, the top wing size can't exceed 3,600 square inches, while the nose wing can't be bigger than 1,300 square inches.
The NSRA Sprint Car rules package makes for a show at the front, middle, and back of the pack, and that's just how Sullivan likes it. "There's plenty of slicing and dicing. At some tracks, we're upwards of two seconds faster than a USAC car," says Sullivan.
All that speed lent itself to a rule change a while back. Today, the NSRA inverts its field for the feature using the traditional pill draw for one very simple reason. "We used to have fast qualifiers, but that made for a boring show," explains Sullivan. "We're interested in putting on a show, so depending on the car count for the feature we may invert anywhere from 6 to 12 of the racers. The fast qualifier pulls the pill and, ultimately, more people enjoy the A-Main."
Family is a big part of the...
Family is a big part of the NSRA, the #7v car is owned by Kathie Veenstra (right) and driven by her son Cody.
Biggest Challenge Interestingly, Sullivan doesn't cite the economy or fuel prices as his biggest challenges. While those are certainly factors that merit attention, the biggest challenge to the NSRA is getting the word out that it's coming to town.
"My biggest issue is when we're leaving town with a car on a trailer and somebody stops and asks when the race is that coming weekend," says Sullivan. "They didn't even know we were there."
Savvy track promoters know that when a touring series like NSRA comes to town they have the opportunity to pack the stands.
"I'm not happy with Saturday nights being plugged up with the 800 pound gorilla (NASCAR)," says Sullivan. "But in a down economy when people can't take off for the big tour, they go back to their local short-track, we've been seeing that in some places."
And that's good for the sport. But promoters are still challenged right now and the NSRA believes that it's up to everybody to work together and help promoters create events that people want to attend.
This three car breakaway is...
This three car breakaway is led by Bob Witte of Ephrata, WA (7e) followed by the #5 driven by Steve Freeman of Nampa, Idaho. Just behind is the #17 driven by Justin Mack from Benton City, WA. Three cars from two different states is typical of NSRA racing.
Championship Weekend One of the tracks people clearly want to be at has been on the NSRA's schedule twice in 2008. Located just 10 miles east of Boise, Idaho, Meridian Speedway was the site of the NSRA's final race of the year and one that would decide the championship.
"When was the last time you saw the wave take place at a short-track?" questioned ASA's Dennis Huth, who was in attendance for the championship weekend. "It reminded me of years gone by ... people were screaming at the drivers, people were having fun in the grandstands."
The weekend was a throwback to what those who grew up in the sport remember from childhood. Packed grandstands, the smell of alcohol-burning race cars, and carnival-style food at the concession added up to an electricity in the stands that, according to the folks who were there, was palpable.
"We had 28 cars show up. We had heat races, A-Main, B-Main. We had a 20 car main event," explains Meridian Speedway owner/promoter Ken Hamilton. "My fans loved it because our local racers had a legitimate shot to win against the out-of-towners. We enjoyed having the NSRA here and they enjoyed being here."
To start the two-day show, NSRA points leader Matt Hein had a near perfect night on Friday; qualifying fourth, winning his heat race, and finishing off the night winning the A-Main event. But Saturday night's action was a bit different. Hein was involved in a Turn 1 crash on lap 27 of the A-Main. Finishing 19th, but with his closest competitor, Andy Alberding, not starting the A-Main due to a broken lifter in his engine, Hein was able to earn enough points to claim his first American Speed Association Northwest Sprintcar Racing Association (ASA/NSRA) championship.
Sixteen-year-old Sierra Jackson...
Sixteen-year-old Sierra Jackson is one of the rising stars in the ASA/NSRA, finishing Second in points in the '08 season and making history by becoming the first and youngest woman in ASA/NSRA by winning the Rebel Jackson Memorial at Ephrata Raceway Park August 9.
Sandwiched smack in the middle of the championship battle was a 16-year-old girl from Idaho. No stranger to racing, Sierra Jackson's resume includes more than 10 years behind the wheel beginning at age 6 in a box stock cage kart. She eventually made her way to the 360 Sprint Cars she runs now, her first taste coming courtesy of Meridian's Ken Hamilton. "I let her drive 'The Pink Lady' (Hamilton's iconic Sprint Car from the late '60s) and she loved it," says Hamilton, the father of open wheel star, Davey Hamilton. "She's talented, has great focus, and listens to everything you tell her do."
Her rookie season in the highly competitive NSRA was 2008, and in her first year with the series, she had a legitimate shot to win the title, which no doubt added that much more excitement to the weekend. Jackson's title shot is even all the more impressive when you consider she couldn't run all the races. "I had to skip the first race because I was only 15 (ASA/NSRA minimum age is 16) and so we only ran 12 races this year," explains the teen.
Coming into the series and immediately challenging for the title gave her a unique view of the NSRA's show. "It's much more competitive than our weekly show," says Jackson, who raced at Meridian when the NSRA schedule would allow. "We still get 18 Sprint Cars at the track every week, but NSRA was more competitive."
2008 NSRA point champion Matt...
2008 NSRA point champion Matt Hein, winner of the A-Main on Friday night, celebrates with Don "Rabbitt" Gist ASA/NSRA flagman and trophy presenter Kara.
In the midst of that competition Sierra noted something about the NSRA racers. "They all were very friendly. Even though it's very competitive, the racers all hang out and talk to one another in the pits."
Jackson made her mark on the NSRA in 2008. In addition to finishing Second in season points to Hein, she won the A-Main at Ephrata, WA, to become both the youngest driver and first woman to win in ASA/NSRA competition. She plans on running the NSRA schedule next year in pursuit of the title and will be joined by many of the same series regulars who have competed on the circuit for years.
Future The future for the NSRA is looking good. It's in a position where it can pick and choose at which tracks it wants to race. "We don't have to go hunt races, we have more demand than we can meet," admits Sullivan. And with a 16-year-old phenom whose stated goal is to run the Indy 500 by the time she's 21, the NSRA is definitely a series to check out if you're ever up in the Pacific Northwest.