We are now, as of the date of the release of this issue, at the mid-point in the off-season and while many teams are well into their planning and preparation, some still have not necessarily decided on the direction they want to go in circle track racing for the new year.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a summary of what we have discovered on our travels around the country so that everyone, decided or not, could have a good grasp of the current definition of short track racing in America. It's beneficial to some to understand the make-up of the class structure and how changes in classes dictate the direction we're going in the immediate future. The big question we need to ask in this day and time is: Do we still have people who want to go racing in America? Of all we've seen, all that we've done, and all we report on as we travel around the U.S., the answer to that one question will decide the future of circle track racing in this country. And it's a valid question to ask. We live in very volatile and uncertain times where our economy is wounded and the distribution of wealth is a widening gap.

Before we dive headlong into the new 2012 racing season, I wanted to share some of what I learned so far on our AMSOIL CT Tour of America related to the above. So far I've covered more than half of the short track racing territory and population in the U.S. by roaming around the Southeast and Northeast. We've been to racetracks in 22 of the 48 continental United States and those states contain more than half the population of racers and general population of this country. Looking back, I still see the passion for racing. I still see family involvement in the teams, working together and building yet another racing legacy for future generations.

The answer to the question I asked earlier is a resounding, Yes, people still want to go racing. The difference between now and 10 years ago is money. There was a day not too long ago when racing a foreign car on a short track was considered treason. Not so anymore. Why? It's because many of the car makers from other countries saw the need, both economic and political, to establish assembly plants in the U.S., in places such as Tennessee, for example. I visited and did work at one such plant way back in 1994 in western Virginia, it was the Volvo truck plant near Pulaski, Virginia. Now it's common to hear of Americans working at Toyota, Kia, and other car manufacturing facilities around our country. Smart move I say to the foreign automakers.

This marriage of automakers with the workforce of America has had a profound effect on not only our economy, but our perception of those "other" cars to the point that we now readily embrace them as a choice for stock class racing here in America.

The Most Popular Classes

Right now, the most popular classes we've seen through two of the four years we have traveled are: 1) Dirt and Asphalt Late Models; 2) foreign compact stocker class cars; 3) scaled race cars such as Legends, Mini-Mods, Allison Legacy Series, and so on; 4) IMCA-type Modifieds on dirt and asphalt; and 5) fullsized American cars.

Some of this might surprise most of you. It's understandable since most of us don't travel the country going to racetracks. That's why we do what we do.

Dirt Late Models--Dirt Late Model racing, be they built motors, crate motors, or other forms of power, are still super popular with both the racers who love the relaxed rule structure and the fans who adore the action involved (NASCAR, take notes!).

The whole way Dirt Late Model racing is set up fulfills all of the desires of both racer and fan. You have almost complete freedom of design, the challenge of developing driving skills, and winners and losers. Parity kills any sport. In all of the history of sports, interest grows from a distinction between winners and losers. That system of winners and losers does several good things. It motivates the losers to work harder, it rewards those who do work hard to create and drive cars made capable of winning. And it tells our youth that there is a reward for hard work and consequences for being lazy. One only need look at the final race in NASCAR Sprint Cup series in 2011. The two points leaders ended up battling for the lead, win, and championship. They outdistanced themselves from the rest of the field which told the fans and fellow racers that they deserved to be there and that the system of rewards for hard work pays off. And the winner, Tony Stewart, became the champion based on the number of wins he had over the season.

The Asphalt Late Model cars have become boring to watch due to the restrictive rules, similarity in body styles and engine packages, and documented cheating with the crate programs. If the rules were enforced and cost controlled, this class might rebound from the declining numbers we've seen the past five years. Compact Foreign--The new kids on the block, compact foreign cars, present a new challenge for racers. Instead of the familiar double A-arm front suspensions, we see strut/shock front ends, and instead of solid axle rear suspensions, we see front-wheel drive. Yes, there are some rear-wheel drive cars out there, but the majority and future of this class is FWD. That picture doesn't thrill an engineer like me who grew up with the former, but I'm just reporting here and I can tell you that the lower-cost ranks of circle track racing are jumping all over those cars and putting them on the racetrack in record numbers.

Everywhere we went we saw more and more classes with varying names put big numbers of cars on the track each and every week. And the numbers are growing quickly. Leave it up to the racer to solve the problem of antiquated 1980s style cars becoming hard to find. Scaled Cars--Racing scaled race cars offers a little of both worlds--real time racing in fabricated cars that are more affordable, and being easier to transport and store in the garage back home. One of the first of those types of cars was the Legends brand and they started out in the mid-1990s in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Looking back, that concept might have been a little premature then, but now those cars are primed to be just the ticket for racers who must race and have the need to watch their spending. There are even dirt models now available and more and more builders are coming to the surface with these types of cars. We could include the Quarter Midgets in this scale class too. These cars provide the perfect transition where our youngsters can graduate from karts to full cages mini race cars. A few years of the Midgets and then the team can move on from Briggs and Stratton motors to motorcycle four-cylinder, high power-to-weight ratio, fast race cars.

The upper tier of scaled cars are the three-quarter scale cars that are very similar to the Late Models, and have more powerful motors and suspensions that are identical to the full-scale cars. I feel much better seeing those cars racing around at upwards of 100 mph on a half-mile track. IMCA-Style Modifieds--Let's give credit where credit is due. The rise of the IMCA sanction showed many promoters across the country that racers could indeed have a high level of competition while keeping the spending down. That concept was so needed and so well accepted that it caused a movement to where we now see both dirt and asphalt Modifieds running in numerous sanctions.