Carolina Speedway
For our first dirt venue of the Tour, we visited Carolina Speedway, just 16 miles by crow flight from the center of Charlotte. On April 23, when the USCS Winged Outlaw Sprint Cars came to play, they filled the stands until the parking overflowed into the pasture across the street which happened to be the property of the previous track owner. At some point, the local law enforcement halted the influx and closed off all parking, turning patrons away.

The 4/10-mile track was built in 1962 and an early promoter partner was the legendary Humpy Wheeler. Clint Elkins, is the general manager for the track today along with Mark Gibbons and Larry Lee, a group who recently took over the track management and are committed to improving the experience for both racers and the fans.

We had seen a similar success at places like Eldora for special events, but for a local dirt track, it couldn't have been better. On this night, there was a very decent turnout and lots of entries. And this was one of the, if not the, cleanest short tracks we've been to. A lot of attention was paid to keeping the place tidy, landscaping, and ongoing cleanup during the event.

The track itself was high-banked and fast. It did dry out before the feature race which provided a lot of dust in the air and single-line racing. Clint told me that plans were in the works to reduce the banking to help create more side-by-side racing and slow the cars down. It seemed to me that there was just too much sand mixed in with the clay and once the track dried up, all there was left was sand which blew into the air creating a sandstorm.

A track with more clay content will turn black and maybe rubber up as the night goes on, but not completely dry out. Dirt racing is dirt racing, but when the fans have to shower the sand out of their hair and clothes after an event, it diminishes the enthusiasm. We need to look at all aspects of our facilities and try to make not only the racing better, but the fans more comfortable as well. If that part is ignored, the numbers will dwindle.

The makeup of the race teams here included some Cup team members and shop workers from the many nearby Sprint Cup team shops. It's only natural that the people who work in racing participate in racing. We see lots of those guys and gals on asphalt tracks around this area, but it was refreshing to see them racing on dirt.

I think when Cup drivers like Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader participate at the local level on the dirt, and both have raced here, it sends a message that connects big time racing with its roots and that always has a positive result. I see big things in store for this track and with the push toward improvement by the aforementioned trio, it can only get better.

Analysis
On this leg of the Tour, we definitely saw larger numbers of fans and a good count of racers. We continue to see the lower classes growing in numbers with even the Legends cars running on the dirt. Tracks have multiple classes of four-cylinder cars including front- and rear-wheel-drive. We also see young drivers in top divisions as usual and big money teams showing up at smaller venues.

I think it helped Bowman Gray to run the big Modifieds as the premier class. They were definitely more exciting to watch than the asphalt Late Model cars we see at most short tracks. That is not an indictment on my part, but a call out to the track promoter to find ways to make the racing action better. Single-line racing and winners who are a half lap ahead at the end do little to generate a thrill for anyone.

Maybe we should invert the field more. We did see that being applied at some tracks and, believe me, it shakes up the racing and also the points chase. Of course, we might see a little sand-bagging in qualifying if that order were reversed, but if you reverse the last week's finishing order, you would see the fast cars at the rear.

For shorter races, the mid-pack and even some back of the pack cars could experience leading the race, at least for a while. There is a lot of incentive for this process and it is good for the racers and the fans. On our very first Tour visit to the F.A.S.T. series in Florida, fast qualifier Wayne Anderson was asked to start at the rear for an additional $500 if he won. He did and still won, but watching him come up through the pack made for a good show.

Whatever the new plan is for each track, we do know that they need to keep shaking things up and refining the plan. Short track racing needs to be so exciting that fans talk about it with their friends at work and around the neighborhood. That brings in new fans and even entices some of those to participate at some level. What are your thoughts?

What Next?
Coming up next month we visit with the folks at Cherokee Speedway, a dirt track that was reconfigured some time ago into a smaller and hopefully more competitive track. And then we take in the action at the resurrected Dillon Speedway for our last racetrack visit of the first half of the 2010 AMSOIL Great American Tour.