Our Tour is well under way and this week we will move through Illinois on our way to a long stay in Wisconsin. Along the way is Grundy County Speedway located in Morris, Illinois, and we picked a weekend that starts the local County Fair too. Many of our tracks around this region were constructed to be a part of the local county fairgrounds, but we didn’t think we’d see both in action on the same weekend.

As laid back as Grundy was, the Dells Raceway Park was moving forward in a big way. We learn a little something from most tracks, and we learn a lot from some tracks. The Dells falls in the latter category. To have a surprise like we got so early in this Tour was great, now, on to telling the stories.

Grundy County Speedway

Grundy is not unlike many tracks we have visited in both the Northeast and Midwest where the track is a part of the county fair complex. We usually see vacant pig barns, cattle and horse arenas and judging areas adjacent to the actual racetrack. At Attica Raceway Park, the racetrack sits inside a larger horse racing track and the grandstands are some distance from the action.

At Grundy, the two sit back to back, literally, and the races could be run without interfering with the activities related to the fair. I’m sure the sounds of the race cars attracted more than a few fair-goers to pay the extra fee and observe.

On this weekend, the rides had moved in, there was a big cat tiger display, hot dog and sausages and funnel cake concession stands, and all of the rest of what makes a fair a fair. And we had racing on the half-mile, paperclip-shaped track where the turns were just about as flat as the corn fields that surrounded the property. This is true country racing and we felt as close to Midwest racing as we could possibly get.

This is one tough racetrack to get a good lap in. If you can get through the turns well, you still need to get off the corners. The good cars seemed to rotate well and then shoot straight off the corners. I think a lot of work is going into rear steer both ways to make the cars work on this kind of track.

There is a trend where in the stock classes as well as the upper classes, the rear links are built to pull the right rear back on braking, then to a neutral position at mid-turn, then move forward on acceleration tightening the car off the flat corners. The amount of steer must be tuned, but once the right amount is found, it has a pronounced advantage at some tracks, as we have observed.

This track at Grundy has a very good and thorough tech crew that is not widely liked, and that says volumes about how good they really are. Tech officials are not supposed to be everyone’s best friend. When they are, they miss lots of cheating, or should I say, bending of the rules.

The track promoters had not responded to our correspondence about coming to the event, but once we rolled up in the big Tour bus, it was evident that we were not just another rag mag, rag tag media person wanting to get in free, not that those exist. We were there to conduct the business of the Tour.

This happens sometimes. A few of the tracks don’t really understand our mission and the largeness of the Tour, but once I have a chance to explain and they see the effort that has gone into this, they open up and treat us very well. We get the history of the tracks, what the plans for the future are and some commentary on the state of the sport from their perspective.

And Circle Track is a very popular magazine with the teams here at Grundy. I had many racers come up to me to discuss past articles, ask setup questions or just chat about our Tour and what we thought about their track.

There was a large contingent of Late Model cars at Grundy and this night featured two 25-lap races for that class. The finishes in the two races would be averaged to determine the overall winner of the Firecracker 50 (as I write this, July 4th is just around the corner). Other classes included the Mid American Sportsman, Street Stock, and Pure Stock.

The outer walls of the turns at Grundy were steel plates with wood posts backing them up. In qualifying, one of the cars entered Turn 1 way too fast, pushed up the track and hit the wall hard just in front of me and went airborne.

Of course, I moved away not knowing if the wall would do its job, but it barely moved. The driver was OK, despite not wearing a head-and-neck restraining device. This is a testament to both the strength of the wall and the fact that it gave way somewhat to reduce the g-forces on impact.

The county fair probably helped attendance this night, so we really didn’t get a feel for how it was doing in attracting fans on a regular race night, but the pits were busy and it looked like overall this track was doing alright. It’s located in a more rural area and that limits the ability to attract large numbers, and so it relies on the back gate to survive.

The plus is that the racing was very good, there were few cautions and the racers respected one another. The technical difficulty presented by having long straights and tight and flat turns is challenging to the teams and is a draw rather than a deterrent. It is what keeps the teams coming back, to do what racers do, dig and claw their way to success. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?


The Dells Raceway Park

The Dells is an area of central Wisconsin where families from all around the state go to camp and have fun in the summer. Because the winters are so long and cold, people get out a lot in the summer and we noticed several areas where the vacation destinations are concentrated.

The Dells RP is unique in several ways. One, it has a new owner this year. Taken from imminent foreclosure, Wayne Lensing, long time owner of Lefthander Race Cars, bought this track from the bank and quickly moved into ownership like he had wanted to do this for a long time. His passion for track ownership and this track showed through as he walked me around and even offered the use of his personal golf cart.

I find it interesting when someone who has not been a track promoter, and actually sat on the opposite side of the fence literally, goes about organizing and running the track like he used to imagine it should be run all along. And that is what Wayne has done here.

He has that opportunity now and he is taking full advantage. First off, as we neared the track, we noticed the signage that directed fans and racers was very artfully done. At the track, that theme continued and the place was immaculate. The Dells wasn’t exactly run down by any means when it was taken over, but Wayne has made some improvements in the hospitality areas. There is an inside gift shop that is air conditioned and several well placed food concessions and beer counters.

One very unique feature that I had seen a few times before, but never done this well, was the Victory Lane area being located outside the track and just behind the bleachers. This way, when a driver wins a race, he does his/her victory lap, then drives out of the track and into the Victory Lane where the fans can be up close and take their own photos, even with the driver.

That might not sound like much, but it’s huge. It gets more exposure for the team and sponsors, it is exciting for the fans, and it helps move the program along because the next race can get underway more quickly. No one benefits when the program runs long and the racers and fans get home very late.

The next item of interest is a lane stripe Wayne painted on the track. When two cars are racing two wide, there is a potential for one getting into the other, either the outside car coming down to block or the inside car moving up and into the outside car. What Wayne has done is painted a lane stripe to divide the natural lanes where the cars would run at speed side-by-side. It’s not one of those stripes that divides the track into equal segments and where the cars can’t follow it, this one is precisely placed along the racing groove and it works.

It took him several tries to get it in the right place, but from watching the races that night, he did get it right. The line runs exactly between the lanes where two cars would run if racing side by side for position.

The rule is, if you cross the line and someone gets spun, then you go to the back and the other driver keeps his position. It’s as simple as that. This line provides a visual reference to all of the drivers and I believe it teaches the newer drivers how to run a side-by-side race cleanly. And, it gives the track officials a way to monitor behavior.

The track itself is a perfect length track, not too long and not too short. There is a large, paved infield that is currently not being used that Wayne might convert to a smaller track to attract Quarter Midgets and other small-car classes. The track has a very nice kid’s area, a must for every track, and the fans are allowed into the pits after the show.

I find it interesting when someone who has not been a track promoter, and actually sat on the opposite side of the fence literally, goes about organizing and running the track like he used to imagine it should be run all along.

One car racing in the Sportsman class really stood out. I talked about it last month in my “Track Tech Q&A” column, but it bears repeating. This car was a stock clip Buick frame car underneath, but the team had installed a late-model Mustang body on it and it looked fantastic. I really thought for a while that they had converted a late-model car to this class. The body was perfect and looked like a street car. This is what we have been saying for some time now, the cars that race need to look like the cars on the street. Since then, I have seen a few more of these converts, but we need more.

The Dells is a showcase and the new owner has plans for more improvements as well as creating a new, low cost class of fabricated Late Model type of cars. But Wayne is still putting that together and when it is introduced, we will do a feature article on the class and car.

From what he told me about how it would go together, I think it might just be a winner. And if we could get Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger bodies on those chassis, all the better. We’ll work on that too.

Our next race “weekend” is a four race run from Thursday till Sunday making up four of the nine racetracks we will visit in Wisconsin. We’ll be reporting on State Park Speedway and Madison Speedway in the next issue and both have a story to tell as well. Stay tuned.

SOURCE
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