Each year, the President addresses the nation in an effort to keep citizens up to date on the latest key issues and social concerns. As the government and taxpayers have to worry about political issues, sanctioning bodies and races have their own issues to be concerned with. In years past, fan attendance has been up and down, car counts have fluctuated, payouts have dropped, and we've all heard rumors of, or had our local track cease operations due to financial burdens. Fuel has been more expensive than ever, and if you race in a traveling series, simply getting to the track can cost more than winning will pay out. Is this still the case? Or are we past the doom and gloom and on our way back to racing the way it was before the financial bottom fell out a few years ago? We were happy to hear that Dirt Late Model racing as a whole is just about as strong as ever. Granted, some markets are still on a decline, but the majority of the major race sanctions we spoke with have maintained, or in some cases are showing growth. In the next few pages we are going to bring you up to date on the state of Dirt Late Model racing in America. We spent some time with heads of selected major sanctioning bodies to get their take on the ups and down of the sport, as well as past, present, and future of dirt racing.
Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series
Larry Lee-Series President
If you live in the Carolina's and race, or like Dirt Late Models, then you're probably familiar with the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series. With 18 events at 8 different tracks across North and South Carolina and Virginia, the Carolina Clash Super Late Model series offers tons of dirt-slinging action. With payouts as high as $10,000, this series attracts some of the best drivers in the Southeast. Larry Lee is the Series President, and we took some time to chat with him about the current state of the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series. "This year we've had a good turn out," explains Lee. "Car counts have been down about 10 percent, which isn't bad at all. We've had some great racing and the crowds have been good." While reporting only a 10-percent drop in racers over years past can certainly be considered a good thing in uncertain economic times, Lee feels the "entertainment dollar" is stronger than ever. "People are still spending money on entertainment to get a break from the daily grind." He continues, "people go to work all week just try to survive. On the weekends, they want to spend some time with their families and be entertained. "I wouldn't say we are growing, but we are maintaining and holding our own. It gives me a real good feeling because I think the economy is going to come back in the near future, and when it does and things get rejuvenated, it's going to make Dirt Late Model racing much better. We are in a bit of a holding pattern right now, but I feel that we are going to see an upward swing. The future is looking bright!"
Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
Ritchie Lewis-Series Director
The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series is one of the premier national touring series for Dirt Super Late Models. The series sanctions 46 events at 30 tracks in 19 different states. Boasting open engine and tire rules these Super Lates are on the cutting edge of technology. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series averaged 49 entries per event in 2011 with more than 500 different drivers competing in at least once in 2011. Given the numbers, and the mainstream media that covers its races, the LOLMD series is a serious player in the dirt world. We caught up with Series Director, Ritchie Lewis who gave us some insite into how the 2012 season is going. "Overall, we are very healthy," explains Lewis. "We are extremely thankful for that health. We have 46 events on the books for 2012, and we probably could have booked another 40. With our staff and wanting to put on quality races, we're putting on about all we can handle." The series success hasn't come without loss though. "Our car count has struggled a bit," Lewis adds. "The guys out there with open engines and the budgets to race with open tires have suffered with the economy, and that has taken its toll on car counts. There are hot pockets within the country, but car count has taken a bit of a hit. At the same time, the grandstand count is still just as strong, if not stronger than ever."
Lewis explains that part of this has to do with the series' strong network of race promoters. "Our promoter count is up, and our relationship with our promoters is stronger than ever." He continues, "The quality of racing has been extremely good, and I think the track promoters have been putting more and more effort and time into track prep. There are people out there prepping racetracks in a much better manner than 10 years ago. "At the end of the day, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirst Series is all about having the baddest of the bad. There's still that element of excitement that gets people in their cars or motorhomes to go long distances to watch these guys race. We still want to have the upper teir, USDA prime choice drivers, manufacturers, etc., 'cause there is still something to be said about throwing the green flag on 24 of the baddest Late Models in the country that makes the hair on your arms stand up, and the economy can't affect that!"
Brett Root-Vice President of Operations
"In our Late Model Division, car counts have been pretty consistent," explains Brett Root, Vice president of Operations for IMCA. "It's not our largest division, but where we have sanctions, it's been so consistent over the past 15 years. Our membership in this division has been great. It hasn't fluctuated in years, and we haven't seen any fluctuation now." The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) was organized in 1915, and is the oldest active automobile racing sanctioning body in the United States. J. Alex Sloan, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was instrumental in establishing IMCA and ran more races than all other promoters in the United States combined-all under IMCA sanction. After Sloan's death in 1937, his son John continued the IMCA tradition. Under his leadership, IMCA continued to grow and held its first Late Model race on November 9, 1947 in Lubbock, Texas. In the late 1970's, Keith Knaack introduced the IMCA Modified division. Few knew then that Keith's vision and innovation would result in the largest class of race cars in the country. In 1990, Kathy Root was named president of IMCA and purchased IMCA from Karolyn and Kathryn Knaack in 1996. Using the vision and innovation of Keith Knaack, IMCA is based on enforcing fair and consistent rules that promote affordability as the foundation of racing in America. Through the promotion of the "grassroots" weekly racer, IMCA has continued to see remarkable growth throughout the last decade. Though known as the sanction for the dirt Modifieds, IMCA also offers a home for economical Dirt Late Model racing. "We have cost control measures on the cars, and we've had a spec motor since 1996," Root adds. "This was done to keep the cost of the engines down. We also run on a little narrower tire and a narrower wheel, which relates to a little less expense when it comes to tire budget." IMCA keeps track of the trends it sees among racers. Root explained a little about what they have been observing. "We've seen some patterns where racers are racing a little differently." He continues, "The racers are there and they have the equipment, but we are seeing racers at certain events and at certain racetracks being selective about how much they are racing. "Our philosophy and foundation has been built around trying to control or discourage costs. We try to keep things as reasonably affordable as they can be for racing, and we are going to stay true to that."
Nesmith Dirt Late Model Series
Mike Vaughn-Series Director
If you race a spec or crate Dirt Late Model in the South, you've probably run with the NeSmith Dirt Late Model Series. This spec series puts on 24 events at 12 tracks in 6 states. And if that's not enough, NeSmith also has a weekly series. We sat down with Series Founder and Director Mike Vaughn to hear more about how the NeSmith Dirt Late Model series has persevered in the past few years. "Really and truly, our overall deal has maintained over the past two or three years where a lot of others have dropped off," explains Mike Vaughn. The NeSmith Dirt Late Model Series Director continues, "Being able to maintain has been a positive. A lot of other series are off by as much as 50 percent. We've been able to keep a 40-car car count for our touring shows, and the weekly tracks are actually growing. The affordability of our spec series has kept a lot of people in the game." Marketing has been a huge part of NeSmith's success. Promoting the drivers and the tracks has given the series the ability to beat the economy. "In tough economic times, you have to give people more bang for their dollar. The promoters and drivers have all stepped up their outlets of promoting our drivers and racetracks in the media to try and get them full exposure. Even our weekly guys are put on a national spotlight. That, combined with the affordability has helped us maintain and even grow in these tough economic times." When it comes to spec series, policing the rules can be challenging. Making sure you have the right technical people in place is key to the whole thing working. "When you have a spec series, you have to be willing to police it," Vaughn explains. "We have a great tech department and that's helped our growth. I think the promoters who give [a spec series] a chance see the benefits of it. I can give you a list of tracks where it has saved Late Model racing there."
World Of Outlaws
Tom Deery-Chief Operating Officer and President
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series (WoO LMS) is another one of the nation's premier traveling Dirt Late Model stock car series-a cousin of the longer-running World of Outlaws series for winged Sprint Cars that was founded by the late Ted Johnson in 1978. The WoO LMS first ran in 1988-1989 under the direction of Johnson, but the series sat dormant until being rekindled in 2004 by the World Racing Group and has grown in each season since then to take its place as one of the most competitive and lucrative tours for Dirt Late Model racers. We caught up with World Racing Group's Chief Operating Officer and President, Tom Deery to discuss the present condition of the World of Outlaw Late Model Series. "We primarily put on special events, and thankfully they still have a high spectator appeal and a purse component that attracts a strong field of participants." Deery adds, "In light of the issues that may or may not be out there, we have been blessed with the way things have been going. On the participant side, overall we have seen growth. We have seen guys step up and intend to, or run the whole series." Beyond the racers, the World Racing Group also pays close attention to the fans. "The attendance at these events has been as good as they've ever been, and in some cases, the best we've ever seen. In my opinion, that bids well for the special and large event series," he adds. "We are so blessed that there are still thousands of Dirt Late Models from coast to coast, and there is still some consistence or commonality in the rules. That has helped us all through the tough times, whether it's a local track, a regional series, or one of the national series."
Wissota AMSOIL Dirt Track Series
Terry Voeltz-Executive Director
The Wissota Promoters Association was founded in 1981 by eight track promoters in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The intent was to offer uniform rules for the promoters and drivers involved in the Late Model division. The "Wissota region" is recognized nationally as a healthy, stable racing region by industry leaders and as a non-profit organization (all of Wissota's income after operating expenses is paid out to the drivers at the conclusion of each racing season through track and national point funds). Terry Voeltz, Executive Director of Wissota and the AMSOIL Dirt Track Series gave us a look into the sanction's current health. "We cover a six-state area and Canada, we have 55 tracks, and honestly, it depends on where you're at," explains Voeltz. "We have areas that are doing very well and areas that are struggling." Though the series is seeing both sides of coin, it isn't always easy to figure out why one area does better than another. "Sometimes it's surprising to see the areas that do well and ones that don't." Voeltz continues, "You expect one to do well, and they end up struggling. And the ones you think should be weak are doing quite well. It may come down to saturation of tracks in some areas, and it comes down to promoting. Some tracks are really good at promoting and others aren't keeping pace." There's no question that the cost of racing has played a huge part in the success or struggles of tracks and race teams. Between the cost of the cars and travel expenses, running a race team or a track has not been easy. "There's no question in my mind that people are not traveling like they use to," Voeltz explains. "That has to be a direct result of fuel prices and the economy. As a sanction, it's important to keep costs under control. We need to control the cost of these race cars, even if you have to take drastic steps to back them down. The amount of money people are paying for some of these engines and chassis are out of control. There is no way the average person can be competitive." Last year, nearly 3,000 drivers were licensed for competition at Wissota's member tracks. The numbers are strong, and Wissota is healthy. "Overall, the racing has been good and the crowds have been good," says Voeltz.
The Bottom Line
After speaking with these six sanction heads it is clear that Dirt Late Model racing in the U.S. is healthy despite the shaky economy and stratospheric fuel prices. Sure, there are pockets of weakness such as slightly lower car counts or struggling promoters, but the overall foundation of the division is solid and that's important. For short track racing to remain stable and dare I say grow, the upper echelons have to be healthy. And from this snapshot everything is just fine, and, assuming the economy turns around, Dirt Late Model racing is just going to get better.