As I was sitting down to pen this month's "Turn Five" I received an email regarding my column "How Obama will kill racing" (Oct. '09). Then I received another. Then another. Clearly, I struck a chord. But as I read these letters I realized I struck a chord that was vastly different than the one I expected.
There were actually two sides to the emails; those who were, as I expected, against the idea of the Cash for Clunkers program. These readers cited two major issues, one was the use, or in their eyes, misuse, of taxpayer's dollars; the other was that they saw the program as a threat to the supply of "junkyard" racers. These cars are usually the entry level vehicles that people interested in getting into racing often turn into racers for their first division. This idea was the basis for the original column.
The flip side of the emails centered around the need for our industry to modernize, embrace new technology and "leave the old stuff to old guys like me," as one reader put it.
Let's look at both sides of the argument. I was talking with Al Varnadore of the ASA-sanctioned dirt track East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa the other day. During the course of the conversation I asked him, in terms of car count, what was the biggest class at his track. "Bombers, easily Bombers, and we're getting 24-plus Late Models every week, so you know our entry level class has to be big," he said. He went on to say that tracks across the country should be experiencing the same situation. "If they're doing it right and promoting properly they (Bomber-style cars) should be a track's biggest class."
A recently completed reader survey of Circle Track subscribers validates what Al is saying. Of our 100,000-plus paid subscribers, a solid 48 percent race in a Street, Hobby, or Bomber Stock division. A significant number, if not all, of these cars likely trace their roots to a junk/salvage yard or being bought from a private owner as in my Chevelle example in the previous column. Throw the IMCA-style Modified, whose rules read "1964 or newer OEM perimeter American rear-wheel drive passenger car frame only" into that mix, and the percentage jumps to 72. So, nearly three-quarters of Circle Track's subscriber base race a car that potentially started out as a "clunker." That's a significant percentage. And if we make the assumption that the Circle Track readership mirrors the short-track racing population, we can draw the conclusion that a huge portion of this industry relies on these lower-level classes.
On to the flip side of the argument, I had one reader write in and ask, "Why does local short-track, 'stock car' racing have to rely on this dinosaur-like technology?"
The reader brought up a valid point in that much of stock car racing (as we saw in the above examples from our readership) relies on what he calls "dinosaur-like" technology. He went on to detail one of the problems at his local track is getting today's youth interested in the "oval-track racing scene."
He writes: "When is the last time you, or anyone you know, bought a new car with a carburetor on it?"
Indeed. When was the last time you saw a new car with a carb? That late 80s Monte Carlo pictured in the Clunkers column was probably pretty close to it. Kids today have a hard time relating to a carbureted engine and how would they? The Chevy LS3, Ford 5.4, and Hemi 6.1 are the pinnacle of high-performance that young people see today and every last one of them is electronically controlled and fuel-injected.
We've actually said it in a number of articles in this magazine; for short-track racing to flourish promoters, sanctions, and racers alike will have to embrace new technologies-whether it's alternative fuels, propulsion systems, or vehicle platforms. Check out May '09 "Turn Five" and Oct. '08 "Green Racing" as just two examples. That being said, for the true health of this industry, the introduction of these new technologies must be done in a way to peacefully coexist with the current technology. That's the only way we will successfully grow oval track racing.
Finally, in that vein, one reader wrote: "It's 2009 for crying out loud. Why not put our heads together with more modern technologies and embrace 2009,'10,'11,'12 and try to let go of 1975?"
This subscriber, as I hope, the rest of our readership, will be interested to learn of a project whose origins date back to PRI 2008. It will be unique and different, employing much of that 21st century technology. Keep an eye on the next several issues of Circle Track as we will be unveiling our plans in the very near future.
Until then, go fast and turn left,
P.S. I wrote the original Obama column before Cash for Clunkers, or CARS as it's officially known, was signed into law (gotta love magazine deadlines). Through the tireless work of SEMA and the Sema Action Network, the law is somewhat different than the bill I based my column on. Visit www.semasan.com to view the latest information on the program.