As we continue our 2011 AMSOIL Tour, we are finished with western Pennsylvania and now head east for our next two stops. This is going to be a special trip for me personally because I was born in a snow storm at the regional hospital at Danville, Pennsylvania, and lived the first eleven months of my life in a small mining town called Shamokin. I think my first words were, "Move south."
So, in 1952, at age 11 months, to decide where to move, my parents said they closed their eyes, put a finger down on a map of Florida and under it was Daytona Beach, or so the story goes. I arrived here some seven years before the big track was opened, and it was a quiet little seaside resort town where the pier and the concrete "boardwalk" were the main attractions. All of that was to change and along with it, with the construction of Daytona International Speedway, my interest in motorsports would grow.
While we were staying at the Lickdale RV Park near Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, I was within a two hour drive of Lansford, where my father, and his father and his father's father, grew up. After driving through a few of those towns, it was clear that they hadn't changed much in the last 80 years and I was really glad to have had the chance to live my life where I do.
With the economy the way it is nowadays and the decline in the mining industry, there is little opportunity for young people in those small towns. It reminded me of some of the tunes Bruce Springsteen sang that really made the point. But, the people who live in this area north of Philadelphia are avid race fans and racers and we were to experience some of the most exciting racing of the year here.
Mahoning Valley Speedway As I was researching this racetrack and looking at the Google aerial map, what I saw surprised me. This small track, I discovered from the man who built it up from decay, is barely a quarter-mile in length and almost perfectly round. That man is long time racer in his own right, Ward Crozier.
Mahoning Valley Speedway is...
Mahoning Valley Speedway is a very short track with big time action. At just under 1/4-mile, there was still a lot of side-by-side racing and thrills as we saw from the New England Modifieds that race there.
It’s good to see sound suppressors...
It’s good to see sound suppressors on race cars. As civilization moves closer to the tracks, noise complaints increase. If the tracks are pro-active about this issue, then everyone wins.
I had a flashback of sorts...
I had a flashback of sorts seeing some of the frontend geometry on the NE Modifieds racing here at Mahoning. The flat angle upper control arm was a problem I witnessed some years ago on a trip to Connecticut. In the race, cars such as this one had severe camber loss in the right front tire causing the tire to go into positive camber, never a good result.
The track was built initially in 1951, coincidentally the year of my birth, and allowed to run down into disrepair. In 1987, Ward and others leased it from the property owners and transformed it into a first class venue. It's now promoted by Gena and Doug Hoffman with Dino Alberto acting as the media guru and the announcer extraordinaire.
There are no straights in the typical sense and the drivers only turn the steering wheels half way to straight on the so called straightaways. If it's a quarter-mile, that distance must be measured around the top groove. Nonetheless, the action was great and there was plenty of side-by-side racing and passing.
Running here were the Northern Asphalt Modifieds, Late Models, Street stocks, Pro 4 cars and, believe it or not, a Dirt Northern Modified division where the cars must run on dirt tires. Boy, was that a hoot to watch.
As I toured the pits in the afternoon I ran into a young 15-year-old Late Model driver who told me he uses AMSOIL race oil in his race car. Austin Kochenash seemed like a nice, quiet kid and I had a good time talking with his dad and granddad.
Since we give away a case of AMSOIL to the winner of each feature race, which here was the Modifieds, I told him I would also give him a case of oil if he won. Little did I know this was one of the top guns at this track. As of this writing, he is leading the points chase.
As the Late Model race unfolded, Austin led the early laps then was passed. I took video of the early part of the race and by lap five thought I had seen all of the action necessary. Wrong. Just as I turned off the camera as the leader came off Turn 4, a car going into Turn 1 spun and was sitting backwards in the groove in turn one.
The leader drove straight into him head-on and Austin was able to miss both cars and continue. He led the rest of the way for his first win of the season. He had recorded nine wins in 2010 too. So, after the victory celebration, I toted the case of oil over to his pits and congratulated him on a very strong run.
The Modified race was our first northern Mod event of the tour and we couldn't have been more happy to see this class run. These guys race close, the cars are ultrafast, and they run each other very clean. Sure, there are bumpers and nerf bars on those cars that get well used, but the drivers know how far to take it.
You have to be very aggressive on a small track like this one and bull ring doesn't even come close to describing the action. It was all good from the heats to the feature. Later on when we travel to New York and points north, we'll see lots of Northern Modified racing and be darn glad for it.
As for the track, we were well received and the numbers of racers and fans was good. The problem was the track needed some repair. The paint was old and peeling, which could be easily fixed and something that was rare, there was no scoreboard. This is where Dino came in handy. I will say he called a great night of racing.
We've always alluded to the fact that a good announcer can make up for lots of deficiencies in a track. The crowd was entertained, informed and made to feel at home at this track and we came away feeling like this place would survive. There were too many participants and fans who cared about it to have it any other way.
New Egypt Speedway Our single venture into the state of New Jersey took us to New Egypt and one of the newest and most modern short track facilities in the country. Danny Serrano is the tracks general manager for owners Bill Miscoske and Fred Vahlsing.
Our young friend, Austin Kochenash...
Our young friend, Austin Kochenash already runs AMSOIL racing oil in his winning machine. This 15-year-old now leads the points for Late Models at Mahoning Valley. He didn’t disappoint for our visit, winning and taking home a free case of AMSOIL as promised.
The small car class was present...
The small car class was present at Mahoning. This track is well suited for these tiny cars due to the short distance around it.
One odd class was the dirt...
One odd class was the dirt Modified division where the teams had to run dirt tires. This is one case where harder is better. These guys had a blast getting used to keeping it straight. There was still a lot of sideways racing for those drivers who just couldn’t keep it straight.
The racetrack was first built in the 1950s as a dirt track, paved in the '60s and underwent several changes back to dirt with other owners until in 1997 the current owners purchased the track and completely rebuilt it into one fine establishment.
The track website states the amenities as: "The entire facility features a daylight-quality lighting system and excellent sightlines from any seat in the house. The track is fully wheelchair-accessible with wide, clear, and well-groomed walkways. There are clean, heated restrooms, and a monitored playground area for the littlest fans. Whistle-clean concession facilities serve up everything from sausage sandwiches to ice cream treats at family-style prices. Our dynamic-duo of track announcers keep the fans informed and involved with a state-of-the-art sound system.
On the fans' side of the fence, the buzzword is "interactive." Theme nights, contests, games, prizes, giveaways, even dancing in the aisles are a typical Saturday night at New Egypt Speedway, where the fans are as much a part of the show as the competitors."
It was Mothers Day weekend and every mother who came through the gate got a free bouquet of flowers free. This attention to detail and concern for the well being of the fans is what makes this track so successful.
Many of the drivers had legions of fans who sported their shirts, cheered them on, and even purchased billboards like the Billy Pauch number one Dirt Modified three-time track champion display. Oh, and by the way, he is currently the points leader of the Modified division as of this writing.
On this night we would see the 305 Sprints, the huge dirt Modified division, the Crate Late Models and the rookie division. The nice thing about this Tour is that we sometimes get surprised by the results. And this night was no different.
The winner of the Dirt Modified race, Gary Butler, had won the Mothers Day race one year ago too. That was a special night because his mother had passed away just three days before and he had placed the trophy on her grave then. Now he dedicated his win to his mother again. In Victory Lane he said, "To be able to repeat it again this year is beyond words."
As I toured the facility before and during the races, I noticed that all age groups were represented, with families, young adults and older folks enjoying the races. Twenty and 30 years ago it was like this. Back then there were few entertainment options and cable TV wasn't available. To see this kind of interest in a racing event today on a local level was very encouraging.
The “clubhouse” entry at New...
The “clubhouse” entry at New Egypt was very modern and functional. This whole racetrack shouted “class act.” The entertainment was great, the food was outstanding, the crowd large and the programs, especially for the kids, were wonderful. This track needs to be a model for others.
The fencing at New Egypt provided...
The fencing at New Egypt provided great protection from flying dirt clods with its fine mesh. Visibility was still good though and it made for a more enjoyable night of racing for the fans. The extended height meant more protection from loose parts and wheels.
Billy Pauch has his own billboard...
Billy Pauch has his own billboard on the front stretch grandstands. He is one of the crowd favorites at this track and for good reason. He is the current points leader in the large northern dirt Modified class here at this track.
I have a feeling that I will see more of this type of interest in the tracks of the northeast as we continue northward to Maine. I keep notes on every track I visit written after the night has ended and for this track I wrote, fan friendly, good food-great food, great announcers, program moved along, many fan favorites drivers, fans are passionate about this track. When you can accomplish those goals, you've got the right combination to succeed.
And this track even has a Kids Club that is open to youngsters from age 4 to 10. It's called the Ralphie the Racer's Kids Club. The kids meet twice in the picnic area near Turn 4. The first meeting is to organize for the Fan Van experience where the kids get to ride through the pits at around 4 p.m.
As is stated in the website description, "The second meeting time is for Ralphie's Club Members to enjoy many different activities. We do arts and crafts, games and much more. All activities are supervised by myself, Kim Shipley (Ms. Kim) and Ms. Dawn. I'm CPR and First Aid Certified. I also have 12 years of experience in child care with certificates. The club meets at 7pm back in the picnic area."
Promoters take note, this is the way you get families to come to your racetrack. Every weekend the kids will beg their parents to take them to the track. There they will have fun, and with the professional supervision, you can relax and enjoy the races without having to hire a babysitter. It's all good.
All in all, we came away from New Egypt feeling like there was a future for short track racing if only the promoters of America could take a few pointers from those who do it right. And for this state, this is one of only two stock car tracks in existence. Wall Stadium Speedway is an asphalt track on the Jersey shore that we won't have time to visit this time around.
Conclusion Again, we observe that racing is alive and well in the northeast. The biggest difference in the tracks we visit is not the passion of the racers or the fans, it's in the way the events are promoted, the way the track property is maintained and the degree of effort that goes into promotion to attract the interest of the fans.
Racetrack promoting is an expensive undertaking no doubt. New Egypt has a very high mortgage that needs to be paid every month. Nonetheless, the facilities are kept up, well maintained, clean and nice to look at. And, it has a scoreboard to boot.
There are activities for all of the age groups and coming to the races leaves a person feeling like they got something special for their hard earned money. After all, we have Tivo recorders so that we won't miss any TV shows. So, the racers, families and the fans really don't have a good excuse not to go racing on the weekends. And unless you have a large amusement park nearby, there's little opportunity to be a part of or see this kind of action anywhere else.
A large contingent of 305...
A large contingent of 305 Sprint Cars was on hand on this night of racing. The winner was the car that raced more straight ahead the entire night. With the track holding moisture throughout the event, sideways seemed to slow the cars too much. It takes discipline to keep from throwing the car sideways in a Sprint Car.
The Blewett’s had a few cars...
The Blewett’s had a few cars entered in the Modified race. This family name has been around for a few years to say the least.
The Kids Club is for youngsters...
The Kids Club is for youngsters age 4 to 10 and activities include riding in a small school bus through the pits before the races so the kids can see the teams and race cars up close. The teams hand out treats and toys to the kids at times. This plan is great for families and helps make the entire racing experience one for all ages.