As we sit parked in plain sight at Southside Speedway near Richmond, Virginia, the many fa
The AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour coverage continues as we visit with the racers, promoters, and fans at Southside Speedway, Old Dominion Speedway, and Hickory Motor Speedway. Being in the same region, these tracks do things in a similar way for the most part, but there are differences related to the class structure and the immediate locale for each track.
All three of these racetracks are more than half a century old with Hickory founded in 1951, Old Dominion in 1952, and Southside in 1959. The latter two have been surrounded by urban growth and who knows where that will end up? There were rumors that Old D. was slated for demolition in 2007, but it has survived so far. Hickory is still fairly remote in a more industrial section of that town and has a decent following.
Southside Speedway We visited Southside Speedway, near Richmond, Virginia, on April 16, on a Friday night. Almost off the bat, we began to notice a lot of fans were arriving. On this night they packed them in. The classes were full and the stands were full. I asked one of the owners if they had done any special promotions and if he could tell me why the attendance was so strong and no one was able to pin it down.
The one thing we noticed was that the announcer was a local radio host and he was doing a wonderful job of promoting the races and our visit. Every five minutes or less, he read from our page we offer detailing what our Tour is all about and the reason for our visit to the track. I thought that maybe he had promoted this night's racing in a similar fashion on his radio show. Could that be why so many people came out?
Eddie Johnson (center), a many time winner at Southside Speedway as well as Lanier over th
The AMSOIL sticker looks great on Johnson's car. We spoke with many racers who were either
The IMCA-type Modifieds were in force at Southside and put on a great show. There was an i
One of the small but significant things we see is the support of local groups such as this
Our friends at AMSOIL provided an area dealer on our visit to Old Dominion. Ralph Graul pu
One of the things we like to see is a high level of safety. This Legends driver, Keenan Si
The classes at this track included the Late Model stock cars, asphalt IMCA-type Modifieds, and the usual Stocker classes. This is a very competitive track and the teams in the region have a healthy respect for its toughness. Multi-time winner Eddie Johnson was there racing a Petty blue No. 43 car and I heard that he won the last race at that track as of this writing, the first win for him in two years.
The Modified winner had a very special story. Mike Rudy had quickly prepared his car for this first race of the season after losing both of his parents in a period of nine days last September. Keeping busy taking care of the arrangements and resulting financial details had pushed his race car prep back until just before the season started. Nonetheless, he pressed on and came out a winner. It was an incredible race with the second place car, just feet behind, making contact at the flag and spinning Rudy around in Turn 1. It was an emotional Victory Lane ceremony to say the least.
Longtime car builder Rick Townsend was there with his new partner, Craig Oliver, in their new racing business. Oliver worked with Sprint Cup teams before joining Townsend to re-establish the Townsend name as a regional car builder.
Old Dominion Speedway As I stated in my blog the day after this Saturday night race we toured on April 17, this track has a history with me personally. It was here that I won my very first major championship with Wes Troup in 1996. I had just begun my software and consulting company and Troup was my first consulting job. I engineered the setup at the pre-season practice in March of that year and he went on to win 14 races, the track championship, and the NASCAR Atlantic Regional Championship. He also finished Third in the country in the short-track series that boasted 200 racetracks as members. It was special because it had demonstrated that consistency wins. Troup was not necessarily the fastest car at the beginning of each race, but he was definitely the fastest after 20 or so laps and at the end where it counts.
I reminisced with Dicky Gore, one of the developers of the Late Model Stock class years ago for NASCAR. Our discussion centered on racetrack promotion. Gore sold Old D. a few years ago and the new owner had a difficult time with the promotion side of the venture. Gore agreed to come back and manage the promotions, and the track is well on its way to recovery.
The classes that ran on this night were mixed with a combination of Late Models, four-cylinder stockers, Mini-cup cars, and Legends cars. The Legends cars put on quite a show with the leader getting turned in Turn 4 with two laps to go and flipping down the front straight numerous times. It's a testament to the durability of these cars that the driver emerged from the car unscathed.
The eventual winner of the Late Model race approached me after winning the pole and said how much he enjoyed reading Circle Track and how much good information he had gotten from us. He was still in development with the car, but was very close to getting it just right. In the race, his car was far more consistent and although he did not lead early on, he chased down the leader and eventually passed for the lead and took the checkered flag. That scenario would play out many times over the course of our Tour.
As for the promotion of Old D., Gore does it right. His approach is to come to know each and every one of the competitors, follow what they are doing all during each week, and try to help them to success, as well as to build the pit attendance by enforcing rules and making sensible judgements on violations, some of which he has learned over the years are unintentional. Knowing when to throw the book at a competitor and when to back off has earned him the respect of the racers and allowed this track to be successful over the years.
When we competed back in 1996, we were stinking up the show by all indicators. We sat on the pole most nights, won most of the races, and most nights we were usually leading by a half lap at the end. This is not what most promoters want to see. And there were rumors of cheating on our part circulating. So, one night, Gore was going to find our "secret" one way or the other. After winning the race, the officials stripped the car of all of the body panels, removed the transmission and rearend, disassembled those and traced every electrical wire on the car. After a couple of hours of frustration, the car was deemed legal.
In doing so, Mr. Gore had demonstrated to the other competitors that he was bound and determined to run a fair show and once we were thoroughly inspected, he told Troup he would never do so again. The whole of the pits was satisfied that we were legal and all knew that they were going to have to get busy and do their homework if they were going to keep up. And they did-with another of my clients, Dale Delozier, winning the track championship two years in a row in 1998 and 1999.
Hickory Motor Speedway We added Hickory MS after the original schedule was published and we're sure glad it we did. Hickory was hosting the USARacing series along with the USAC Ford Focus Midgets, ISCAR (an ASA-sanctioned series for compact stock cars formerly known as the Goodies Dash Series), and the Allison Legacy racing series.
Granted, these were not typical Saturday night scheduled classes because USARacing rents the track for this event. But it does tell us something about how this premier series is adapting to the changing times. The regular Hickory fans get to see not only the top non-NASCAR series for short tracks (ARCA being considered a big track series), but they were able to see Midget cars and a few other traveling series run. And the competition was very good providing lots of racing action, passing, and last minute lead changes all night.
More and more Mini cars are running in the same program as Late Models at many short track
This blast from the past paint scheme showed up at Old Dominion. If you read this issue of
If you can read these signs at the entrance to Hickory Motor Speedway, they say, "Americas
I spoke with USARacing's Larry Camp, the managing partner of the series, and the group that purchased this series is continuing to build it from near extinction into a strong representation for what short track racers can aspire to become. After all, these cars are as close as you can get to what is run in Sprint Cup or ARCA.
With the TV coverage and the ability to run a variety of tracks including the mile-long Rockingham Speedway, drivers and teams who desire to go further find this a very good stepping stone. Not only do the driver and crew chief build confidence and experience, but they also gain knowledge of public speaking through interviews, online promotions, and other media coverage.
As a side note, we were supposed to visit Winchester Speedway on this leg of the Tour, but unfortunately, we got rained out. This was to be our first dirt track of the Tour with many more coming during the second half of the 2010 Tour including the famed Eldora Speedway and the World 100 race.
Analysis What we are continuing to see on this tour are the practices of combining classes, combining engine rules, introducing what used to be considered "lower class" cars running motorcycle engines, and the drivers are getting younger and younger.
Do these trends appear to be favorable to the fans and will they save the sport? Only time will tell. But for now, it all seems to be working out. I usually sit in the stands for the races because I want a fan's eye view, first of all. And secondly, I can gauge the crowd's reaction to, say, a Legends car race or a Mini-cup race. I'm interested in how the changes that are going on affect the success of the front gate attendance.
Sure, racers are racers and racing is racing-from karts to Cup. How many of us have had a good measure of thrill beating our buddies on a commercial go-kart track in an amusement park? I know I have. It's no different to the driver and teams who run the various classes, but we need to be considerate of the families who attend.
And maybe these trends attract more youngsters who see drivers their age competing on a big track against, sometimes, much older drivers. If the tracks we have visited so far are any indication, something is drawing the younger generation, because there is definitely an influx of youth in short track racing today. That is healthy for the sport by all indications.
What's Next? In our next installment we visit Bowman Gray Stadium and Carolina Speedway, our first dirt venue on the Tour. With us not able to visit Winchester, we are excited about looking into how dirt racing is going and what trends and adjustments are taking place on the dusty side of short track racing.
There are some very interesting things to report in the next issue of CT, so stay tuned. Our major sponsor, AMSOIL, has been great and the reception we get from the tracks, fans, and racers to its products has continued to amaze me. The fact is, AMSOIL is out there big time and the users and distributors are very passionate about the product.
It's high time the stock car racing community was made aware of this unique product that boasts being the very first synthetic oil to come to market. And the nice thing about the company is that it has always supported racing in various forms with a complete line of products specially formulated for racing engines. Now, fortunately, we are able to spread the word about AMSOIL.
The USAC Ford Focus Midgets line up, and are readied to compete on the tough 3/8-mile trac
Our Dirt Late Model engine partners, Roush Yates Engines, build a mean four-cylinder engin
Among the younger drivers to compete in the Allison Legacy Series was Casey Hillenburg, th