Our next two tracks on the...
Our next two tracks on the AMSOIL Great American CT Tour are different and similar. Williams Grove dirt track is a paper clip shape as is Chemung Speedrome. Both tell us a lot about what makes a team or a racetrack successful.
The gap between the next two stops on our AMSOIL Great American CT Tour, presented by Holley is about two months. During June and July, our motorhome is used for events for our sister publications Hot Rod
and Car Craft
magazines, so we get a much needed break. We ended our first half tour at Williams Grove Speedway instead of Susquehanna due to a rainout of the latter. So, Chemung Speedrome becomes our first stop on the second half of the Tour.
There were a surprising low number of rainouts during our first half. If you remember, in the spring, large and powerful storms came across the Midwest and into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one right after another. It was sheer luck that many of our tracks were able to run their shows.
As of this writing, we’re in New York State staying at a very nice RV park just east of Syracuse where we are well situated for the next five scheduled tracks on our Tour. We added a few stops due to the rain situation that did and will occur in August. One bonus stop was at Utica-Rome Speedway where it was celebrating its 50th anniversary with a $10,000-to-win northern Modified division race. The other added stop is at Spencer Speedway located near Williamson, New York, just a stone’s throw from Lake Ontario.
I heard about Williams Grove Speedway long before we arrived. It’s one of those tracks that holds a certain legendary status among dirt tracks in America. I had been communicating with a racer who has run here for some time now and would get to meet him in person while there.
It’s always interesting to finally meet someone in person who you’ve been talking to and emailing for some time. Wren Clegg is the team engineer for a dirt Street Stock class car. He is very involved with the technology we present here and is working hard to make changes to the car that will help its performance. And they have made good progress. He turned out to be a very interesting person indeed and he just had finished his new book. I guess you just never know. I was impressed.
We were parked in a very large area on a hill behind the speedway where many other motorhomes and trailers camped out. This “RV park” setting was way cool and we met many great race fans as we milled about. This part of Pennsylvania is very nice too, with rolling hills and many farms.
The track is a long, paper clip-shaped track where the cars drag race down each straight and park the car in the corners. A driving line where there is a proper setup off of Turns 2 and 4 is necessary in order to get that jump for the long straight aways.
At Williams Grove, the track...
At Williams Grove, the track has constructed a walk-over bridge so that the crews can access the infield part of the track. This is closed when cars are on the track. It was hit by a flying Sprint Car during the feature race, which is exactly why it’s closed during the races.
The very long straights and...
The very long straights and very short and sharp turns make gear selection tough. The cars that were not turning well sure showed up quickly. Here, an engine with a wide powerband does well. There was a unique entry to the turns that I noticed here and at a future track I will be reporting later on.
It was fairly cold on this...
It was fairly cold on this particular weekend, being May 13. Each of the Sprint Car teams had engine heaters going full blast. This unit circulates the engine coolant through a reverse radiator and puts heat into the block to preheat the oil and components.
During our visit, the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars were there competing and that included super stars Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell. I was amazed at how well these two “seasoned” drivers ran against the young guns of Sprint Car racing today. They both put on quite a clinic for most of the other drivers finishing Fifth and Ninth, respectively.
Composite seats are being...
Composite seats are being seen in Sprint Car racing. With composite construction, it seems the seat can be formed more closely to the shape of the driver as opposed to straight sided aluminum construction. The strength verses weight can be much higher for the composite seats too.
The track has its pits located both inside and outside of the infield. There is a bridge built over the backstretch to allow foot traffic to move in and out of the inner pits. When the racing action starts, the bridge is closed to pedestrians. This proved smart as in the feature race, two cars got into each other coming down the straight right before the bridge and one flipped up and made contact with the bridge putting a noticeable dent in the support.
No one was hurt and the bridge survived the hit. What was to follow was very good racing. The interesting thing about this Sprint Car race was that it pitted the local Sprint Car racers against the best of the professionals in a showdown.
The locals call themselves the Pennsylvania Posse and Daryn Pittman, one of the Posse—although he’s from Oklahoma—was to win the race. Much of the success for the winner came from reading the track and track position on the restarts. He knew where he was good and used that knowledge to put himself in a position to win.
All in all, we found Williams Grove to be a very well organized track with lots of local support. The track food was excellent and plentiful and the racing was moved along and very orderly. There are large grandstands along both the front and back straights to accommodate both the sedan crowd as well as the motorhome/camper crowd of which there were many.
Steve Kinser showed us how...
Steve Kinser showed us how the old guys get around the track. He outran plenty of young guns on this night. Skill is skill, no matter the age. I believe great race car drivers, especially Outlaw Sprint Car drivers, are mostly born, not taught.
I didn’t know much about Chemung Speedrome before I arrived, but had a long conversation with one of the partners in this venture, John White, a veteran racer and promoter once we got there. He also oversees the Spencer Speedway, one of our bonus stops we will get to in about two weeks.
We talked about how fellow partner Bob Stapleton worked to revive this track and build it into one of the finest facilities I have seen on our Tour to date. It was completed in 2000 and has been running well ever since.
Chemung started out as a quarter-mile dirt track owned by the Bodine family and closed in 1978. Bob bought the property in 1985 and started the rebuild in 1997. The track is now sanctioned by the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series where the drivers and teams compete on a national level for regional and national titles each year.
What works very well about the partnership between Bob and John is that each has his own responsibility. Bob runs the gates and takes care of the fans while John manages the racers and the tech’ing of the cars. Each is very good at what they do and this is why this track is a success.
This too is a paper clip-shaped track and the drivers use the apron of the track as a part of the racing groove with the approval of the track officials. Handling is paramount. Like most of the tracks I visit, I notice now the cars are setup and how they perform on the track.
John White is one of the partners...
John White is one of the partners for Chemung along with Bob Stapleton. John takes care of the officiating and tech at the track. Here he dons his NASCAR official’s shirt and cap and talks with one of the drivers.
Here they run the tour-style Modifieds called the Sunoco Modifieds, a large contingent of Legends cars, four-cylinders, Super Stocks, and Bandoleros. All of the divisions are well tech’ed and overseen by John.
I make notes about each track outlining the good things I see as well as areas that might be in need of some attention. After this race, my notes were long and all good. Here are a few comments I made right after the event:
Great professional lighting system installed by Whelen.
No trailers allowed in the pits, the teams in the top division are allowed to bring pit boxes in and then remove their trailers and trucks.
A 3/8-mile paper clip track with tight turns highlighting handling.
Many tight/loose cars, but the Super Stock winner drove in, the car turned, and he drove off as well as I’ve ever seen a car do.
Lots of Ackermann in most of the Modified cars as well as camber loss from insufficient upper control arm angles.
Permanent grandstands with seat backs, a rarity among race facilities.
One sad note is that this track and Shangri-La II Speedway, another asphalt track, are only 20 miles apart, but don’t run on the same night thankfully. With Shangri-La II being an ASA-sanctioned track, the class structure is somewhat different, but two tracks so close together makes each compete for fans and race teams in several classes. We planned to go to Shangri-La II but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and that stop got rained out.
The Legends class is a growing...
The Legends class is a growing phenomenon at most asphalt tracks. Here at Chemung, the numbers are very strong with over 20 entries a night. Coincidentally, while I was waiting for the action to start, I was preparing my monthly “Q&A” column and answered a question from this particular driver about his setup for the Legends cars. So, I went into the pits and had a talk with him too.
Our two tracks were similar in the way they were shaped, although one was dirt and the other asphalt. Still, the way the drivers ran their lines and the setups they ran determined the success each one had.
I’m an acute observer of driving styles and setups and I can assure you that the successful drivers had cars that allowed them to keep momentum through the turns. The setup issue and driving styles are topics I’ll address more in coming issues related to specific tracks we will visit on this Tour.
One of the things that keeps me interested in racing is the analysis of the evolution, or not, of driving styles and setups. The overall scenario hasn’t changed in the 15-plus years I’ve been in this business, nor in the 40-plus years I’ve been an observer.
It seems we get new teams, old ones that don’t want to change habits, and smart teams which read and study all they can in order to get better. And the smart teams run their own show when it comes to chassis design and setup. They never follow the leader so to speak.
It’s the new teams who want so badly to do well. They look up to the teams that have long enjoyed success and try to emulate those teams and how they setup their cars. But in doing so, they mix and match setup styles of many different teams, and that is where things go south for them, or as the British say, it goes pear shaped in a hurry.
I haven’t quite figured out how to reach this portion of the racing population, but we’ll continue to try. It all comes down to being independent, running your own show regardless of what others do, and taking responsibility for the outcome of your racing program.
That’s what the winners are doing if you must know. They don’t talk shop with one another, they don’t try to copy from other teams, they know what the cars want and they give it to them. If you intend to become successful some day, then you’ll have to do what the winners are doing and look inside your team for the answers, not outside to other teams.
When you do that, the others will surely be hoping to find your “secrets,” which really are no secret at all, just hard work combined with the correct setup parameters and a driver who can make use of all of that.
There were a decent number...
There were a decent number of Modifieds, but not what is needed to be a strong showing. For this track, the upper class teams pit in the infield, but can’t park their trailers or haulers there. They drop the cars and pit equipment off and then park the truck/trailers outside the track. This helps the fans to see all of the action.
This nicely laid out pit cart...
This nicely laid out pit cart is necessary for the way the teams must setup their pits. Everything needed for a night of racing is contained in this cart. If the car requires more than this, it’s probably done for the night.
The turns at Chemung were...
The turns at Chemung were tight and many drivers prefer to run the apron well below the yellow (now almost black from rubber) line and this is allowed by the officials. There are rumble strips in Turns 3 and 4 and it gets real rough going through that portion below the line, but they still go there. Note the high degree of turning angle in the left front tires of both cars. This is indicative of way too much Ackermann.