Courtesy Haywire Racing
The single biggest problem with Late Model racing in the Northwest, to me, is the lack of a common theme shared among the promoters of the individual tracks in the region. What I mean by this is a sense of direction, working together, common ideas, and rules.
If you look at Late Model racing in its current state within our region, you see a scattered handful of cars at each track. Looking at the Eastern states you see a much fuller field at each track. While some will say that the Eastern states enjoy a denser population, I think the truth is that they have figured out how to work together toward a mutually beneficial result.
So what can we learn from them? A lot, really. The one thing that jumps out right away is that most of those tracks share a similar set of rules. While they may vary a little from track to track, the end result is that a guy can race just about anywhere without huge changes to his equipment. Anyone who knows anything about this type of racing knows that changes in rules mean more money for the teams.
The best way to help keep costs down is to keep the rule changes to a minimum. By sharing a common set of rules between multiple tracks I believe you can start to build on that theme I was referring to. By locking the rules down so they aren’t changing every year, you can help save the teams money they are currently spending on modifications to their equipment just to keep up with the rules.
What else can we learn? Let’s look at the schedules. In the Eastern states there are a lot more tracks in tighter areas than we have, offset by much denser populations. But there are some things that they are doing that we should look at a little closer.
Some tracks choose to run on Friday night instead of Saturday night—some on Sunday and a few on a Wednesday or Thursday night. While this may seem crazy at first, think about what it does for a second. By running on a night that the other tracks aren’t you open yourself up to teams being able to run your track by removing schedule conflicts. You also provide an opportunity for a guy to run multiple tracks in a single season if his budget allows.
How many times in the past have we seen tracks schedule races on top of another track that is only a few hours away? Sharing dates is bad for car count. So why not work toward a common schedule where tracks aren’t competing for the same days on the calendar?
Now, I’m not saying that you should start racing on Wednesday night. What I am saying is you shouldn’t be running the same class of cars on the same night as a track close to you. It really isn’t too hard to figure out, either.
If you take a map of the Northwest and put a dot on each pavement track you can begin to see how a schedule could be constructed in a manner that allows for the best car count at each track and provides the opportunity to run for a championship at multiple tracks during the same calendar year. Think about this for a second.
If we assign weeks to tracks, starting with what we’ll call "Week 1" and working through a typical three-week turnaround, it might look something like this:
Week 1—Wenatchee Valley Super Oval, Douglas County Speedway, Spokane County Raceway
Week 2—Southsound Speedway, Yakima Speedway, Stateline Speedway
Week 3—Evergreen Speedway, Ephrata Raceway Park, Columbia Motor Speedway
You can quickly see that the result is that each track races Late Models one week and has two weeks off before the next Late Model race. Also, no track is running Late Models on the same week that its neighboring track is running them. The end result should be an increase in car count as teams can run multiple tracks during the same year. Instead of having only four or five cars at each track all racing on the same night, we might end up with 10 to 15 cars racing as many tracks as they can. The end result is a fuller field of cars that the fans can enjoy watching.
So how do we build a better show? We’re in the entertainment business, right? The show is what brings the fans out, right? First, we need to look at what’s wrong with the current show.
Programs that start late run up against curfew issues. Gone are the days when we could just race until we were done. Now we live in a time where we fight housing developments that require noise curfews and the reality of families that want to go home at a decent hour and put the kids to bed. Factor in a half-hour drive after the races and think about what that means to a family that has a child they need to put to bed.
Getitng the show started at a realistic hour that allows you to send everyone home at a decent time. Does this mean we need to start at 2 p.m.? No, but we need to think about moving start times to accommodate the reality of families wanting to go home and sleep too.
Another factor in bad shows is huge down times. We’ve all heard it said that a given track had almost an hour intermission with nothing to do and it bored the fans to death. While I do feel that intermissions are a must to allow racers a moment to fix early damage and stay in the show all night, we also need to keep them realistic and entertain the fans in some fashion.
Some tracks use pit reporters. To me, this is a great idea. Send a guy with a microphone through the pits during that intermission. Have him talk to the drivers, ask the fast qualifier how he feels about the coming main event, talk to the guy thrashing to fix his broken car about whether he thinks he’ll make it or not, or just tell us what broke, let the fans hear what’s going on behind the pit wall.
Some tracks have a driver meet and greet time. This is another great idea. Local tracks around here have a huge disconnect between race teams and fans in my opinion. Back East, the idea of a "local hero" means something. Fans cheer for "their guy," they wear his T-shirts, put his stickers on their cars, and they boo his rivals.
Around this area, fans don’t even know who the drivers are other than a name they hear at the beginning of the race. Providing some sort of interaction can only benefit the show by giving the fans a face to put with the name or a person they like after meeting them.
Next we can look at the on-track action. How do we make it better? A topic I hear debated heavily is "full field inverts." Several tracks run an invert of the top qualifiers. A few select series or tracks across the country run a full invert. The full invert should be the only option. Fans want passing, invert the field and make them pass. Drivers will tell you they don’t want an invert because it tears up cars. So make them learn to drive cleaner. It has been proven that it can and does work.
If drivers are forced to do something, they will learn how to make it work. They don’t have to like it; they do have to put on a good show. Give them some incentive for passing all those cars. I’ve seen points given out for each position gained, this seems to be a good answer. In the end, fans come to see passing, give them passing.
Gimmick rules are another topic I hear from time to time. Things like the "tap out" rule. Back in the eastern states they use the same rule we use of "all cars involved in an incident go to the back," but they also allow a driver to admit fault by tapping his roof above his window (tapping out) and allow the other driver to remain in his spot. This builds a level of respect between drivers and adds some accountability. Will every driver be so honest? No, probably not. But I think the end result is something the fans can enjoy watching and cheering for.
Cone restarts are another gimmick rule. The cone restart should be implemented at all tracks. It adds another dynamic to the race and can change the outcome of a race in a matter of seconds. This type of excitement is exactly what the fans come to see. Some drivers don’t like the cone restarts because they feel double file restarts tear up cars. Again, make them learn how to drive cleaner. The excitement for the fans is paramount.
I could go on and on with ideas that I feel will help Late Model racing in the Northwest. In the end, I think what I’ve outlined is more the start of a conversation than an ending. I’m also sure there are plenty of people out there who have more great ideas about how we can change things for the better.
Maybe they don’t voice their opinions because they don’t know where or how or to whom. Maybe this will be the start of that conversation and provide them with a means to build on the things I’ve outlined.
The challenge for you, the promoter, is to listen to these ideas and improve your product. In the end it should benefit everyone involved.
About the Author
"Terrible" Tim McDougald is the driver of the #68 HayWire Racing/KMB Design/Print-Northwest/Cornwell Tools/Ringers Gloves Toyota Camry in the Whelen All-American Late Model series at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington. When Tim isn’t driving the car, he helps the family owned team on the pit crew of the two-car team. Tim also handles the spotter duties for his brother, Tommy Rasmussen who drives the #92 RPM Sales & Service/Vital Signs/Dan’s Automotive/Mauritsen Enterprises Pontiac Grand Prix racing in the Whelen All-American Series at Evergreen Speedway. Tim is the HayWire Racing team’s website editor and Media Relations Director handling all team PR, media obligations, and sponsor relations.