Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

So on this glorious day which story do you think that you will hear about more often, the potential return of our Lord Jesus, or the potential return of Brett Favre? :)

Here is my 2008 season wrapup column that appeared in the December 2008 edition of Hawkeye Racing News....if you're not already a subscriber you should be!

As I wrap up my thirtieth year of writing for Hawkeye Racing News those of you who have read this column from time to time know that I use the December issue as my one time of the year where I will write, in a general basis, something negative. Thirty years ago that wasn’t the case as I often complained about things that must have seemed important to a teenaged race fan at the time, but now as I read some of those original columns I am thinking that I must have been a very disturbed young man!

In this day and age our sport receives enough of a shake down or dismantling by the anonymous weasel posters (copyright Craig Kelley) on the internet forums that, to me at least, it makes no sense to "pile on" in this column so I am instead committed to always finding the positives to report on here. With that said, I hope that the following comments will be taken as "constructive criticism" in the hope that everybody enjoys their experience at the tracks even more in 2009.

Once again I am trying not to call out an individual track or series because I truly believe that the promoters of each and every event that I saw this year were trying hard to put on the best show possible. Sometimes though it is hard for a promoter to step back and think that their traditional way of doing something just might not be very fan-friendly, or maybe they continue to do things to cater to a few drivers who are more vocal than the others. Or it might just be something that they don’t realize unless they are sitting in the stands watching their event unfold, and that is usually when a promoter will determine whether or not his announcer is doing a good job. I am old-fashioned, but the very least that I expect from an announcer is to be able to walk out of a track at the end of the night knowing the driver’s name for each and every car and that driver’s hometown. If they say it once during the night, and I miss it, that’s fine, but at least make sure that your racers are being identified to the fans. I don’t need to know every single sponsor that somebody has, which is often the reason why an announcer ends up only getting a few names out before the green flag drops. Give me the full line-up with names and hometowns first then, if you want to recite a full list of sponsors for each driver before the race starts, go for it. I must say that during our 2008 "tour" the quality of announcing that we heard was pretty darn good outside of two or three exceptions. The lowlight was during a mid-summer touring Late Model event when the veteran local announcer knew the names of very few of the travelers and ended up giving most of the lineups with just numbers and no names. His folksy approach probably goes over well for their weekly show, but he had many in the crowd frustrated with the lack of information. Promoters need to realize just how valuable a good announcer is to their racing program and I am confident that most do as we have several great announcers located right here in the tri-state area!

I am proud to say that the "Free Restart" rule or "the stupidest rule in racing" as it is known on the Back Stretch was only used at a couple of tracks that I attended this year. And, even at those tracks I did not notice any drivers taking unfair advantage of it as I have seen in the past. It is good to know that more and more promoters now realize that when a driver causes a caution, even if it is on the first lap of the race, that driver needs to be penalized. Common sense prevails!
Late running shows were a problem for us a couple of times this year and it is exasperated when the track takes an intermission that lasts for more than ten minutes. A break in the action long enough to allow your flagman and the scorers to slip out to the restroom is all that is needed on any race night and minimum down-time is especially important for a weeknight special event. I actually left a couple of weeknight shows this season when the intermission hit the fifteen minute mark and there was no sign of any track officials returning to their positions. In both cases it was nearly ten o’clock and I had at least a two hour drive home ahead of me, so does fifteen minutes really make that big of a difference to your fans? Well, I guess that is up to each promoter to decide. If promoters are concerned that a lack of an intermission would hurt their concession sales, I would urge them to perform the following test. Take your twenty minute intermission and have your fans stand in a long line to maybe get a soda or a late evening snack during that intermission and see what your concession sales revenue is per ticket sold for the night. Then, on another race night, have your announcer state early in the evening that you will not be taking an intermission tonight and have him encourage the fans to stop down and pick something up to eat or drink when perhaps their least favorite division is on the track. My experience has shown that you have a more steady flow of customers at the concession stand rather than the twenty minute glut and the result is that your concession revenue per ticket sold increases. Plus, you could likely reduce your concessions staff as well since your stand is not overwhelmed all at once. Give it a try and see what happens, my bet is that you will increase your sales and reduce the length of your racing program and that is a positive result for everybody!

Finally I’ll finish off this section of the December Back Stretch with an opinion that I have held for several years now, and it is in regard to the number of divisions being run at a track. It is my belief that if you are currently averaging 80 cars at your weekly show that means that you have 80 racecar drivers in the area to race at your track. If you have six divisions running at your track then my guess would be that your car counts in each of those divisions would be right around the 15 car average and that means that you are running two heat races in each that really don’t mean a thing since everybody transfers to the feature. You have no need for any "last chance" races or B-Mains and you have six feature races that have around 15 cars each in them. If you think about it, those feature races are the only events that really mean anything all night long as those races determine the point distribution and the purse payout. Your heat races are really nothing more than small sets of organized hot laps as even if you are inverting based upon track points for the feature a driver only needs to finish in the top five out of seven or eight to make the feature invert.

What would happen if you reduced your number of divisions to four, or even three, making sure that you maintain an appropriate mix that allows your 80 drivers to find the division that meets their budget? With three divisions your average car count would be just under 27 per class resulting in heat races that requires a driver to finish in the top five or six to make the A-Main and a "last chance" race that may include the drama of your point leader having to race his way into the feature or risk losing that point lead. Now each and every race that you run during the evening means something and that creates more excitement for your fans. Sure, your top division might still only have 15 cars in it and you might even lose some of your original 80 drivers, but even at 70 you are going to at least have one or two divisions that will require a driver to "make the show".

I recently saw a track announce that it will be re-opening in 2009 and that, as of right now, they are only planning on running three divisions. One of the forum comments was a sarcastic one stating that with only three divisions the races would be completed in less than two hours. Is that really a bad thing? I would love to see a well-run competitive race program presented in two hours or less! How many more "casual fans" would keep coming back, likely with kids in tow, to see that same quick program week after week?

Promoters who currently run five, six or seven divisions on their weekly show would have a tough decision to make as to what class or classes to drop and, of course, whatever division does get the axe would find those ten or twelve drivers and their supporters predicting the end of the world given the decision. But those same drivers would likely be back in one of the remaining divisions within a year or two, unless they are just ready to quit racing. For tracks that have shut down over the past season or two it would be much easier for a new promoter to step in and say "we’re bringing back racing to Good Ole’ Speedway in 2009 and here are the three divisions that we will be running." Of course the guys in the area who have a racecar in their garage that doesn’t fall into one of those three divisions will pitch a fit, but hey, it wasn’t like he was going to get to race that car at a closed Good Ole’ Speedway anyway. Might as well sell the beast at an off season auction or on eBay and get to work on a car that you can run in 2009 at GOS and support the new promoter. Just a thought…..

We made it to forty-seven events during 2008 at nineteen different tracks located in six different states (Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina and Wisconsin). Once again we spent the most time, fourteen nights, at the Knoxville Raceway and we spent five evenings at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson. We went to the Lake Ozark Speedway near Eldon Missouri and to 34 Raceway near Burlington four times this year. We spent two nights at each of the following tracks; West Liberty, Quincy, Oskaloosa, Tri-City Speedway (Pontoon Beach IL) and Lowe’s Dirt Track in Concord North Carolina. We attended one event each at Lebanon’s (MO) I-44 Speedway, Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland MO, Charter Raceway Park near Beaver Dam WI, Des Moines, Memphis MO, Eldon IA, Spoon River Speedway near Canton IL and Farley. Our only two first-time tracks this year were Columbus Speedway in Mississippi to kick off the year and the Macomb Speedway just 80 miles from home in Illinois. I definitely need to get to some more new tracks in 2009!

As far as series were concerned we saw the Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models, the USAC Midgets and the World of Outlaw Sprints three times each, and the USMTS Modifieds, the World of Outlaw Late Models, the ASCS Sprints on Tour and the UMP Summer Nationals twice. We caught one show each of the MLRA Late Models, the Sprint Invaders, the IRA Sprints, the Badger Midgets, and the Winged Outlaw Warriors. We started the year with a March 1st road trip with Barry Johnson and Terry Hoenig to Mississippi and ended it with another great November weekend in North Carolina with my sprint car guru Kurt Moon. Along the way we saw some great racing with solid car counts and good crowds despite the gloom and doom predicted with the then high prices for fuel and the total devastation faced by many due to the tornado and floods. Here’s hoping that the 2009 season will be a good one for all of us both at, and away from the racetrack.

Have a safe and wonderful Holiday season from Jeff, Christine, Ashley, Kyle and Morgan out here on the Back Stretch!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let's Go Back "To The Year 2000".....

With my 2008 season wrap up column hitting the mailbox of Hawkeye Racing News subscribers this weekend, I thought that it would be fun to pull up the column that I wrote in December of 2000.....

Here’s wishing all of you a great Christmas and Holiday season and I hope that you enjoyed the 2000 racing season as much as I did. We witnessed a lot of great racing this year and we visited a few more new tracks, but most importantly we made some new friends along the way.

Our 2000 season got off to a cold and rainy start during the Ice Bowl at Talladega Short Track in January. The year before, the Ice Bowl crew overcame severe thunderstorms that dropped nearly three inches of rain, but this year it was a persistent rainfall that eventually turned to snow that did everything but put an end to the show. Somehow the races went on with Terry English taking the win in the Late Models while Jeff Anderson wrapped up the event by taking the Stock Car checkers amidst the flurries. We’ll start the new year out with the Ice Bowl once again, more on that later.

Speedweeks 2000 was another great trip watching the Late Models and the Modifieds at one of our favorite tracks anywhere, East Bay Raceway. If you ever get the chance to make the trip to the Sunshine state in February, you must visit the west side of the state and East Bay. We are already counting the days to our return this February. After a rather mild winter we were amazed to be able to go racing in March in north central Iowa as the NKF Tour kicked off on March 26th at the Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City. Dan Chapman and Jim Mitchell were the best of a large field of cars in both divisions and it was obvious by the crowd count that us "northerners" were more than ready to go racing.

We made first time visits to several tracks during the 2000 season. The first one was the Adrian Speedway just south of Kansas City. No, it is not a high dollar facility, but promoter Glenn Portzen takes great pride in giving the drivers and the fans the best dirt track possible for the show as he worked the surface the entire afternoon and during breaks in the program. When the checkered flag flew on the Modified main event it was Danny Scrogham in victory lane for his first time ever. His big win came only hours after he had discovered that someone had burglarized his race shop earlier that day. Two weeks later we visited Missouri’s I-35 Speedway for their regular season opener that featured a huge field of cars in front of a standing room only crowd. Dean Wray nipped Gene Claxton in a photo finish of the Modified main event.

During the first week of June we were a part of the largest crowd ever to watch a dirt late model race when the Hav-A-Tampa late models attacked the Bristol Motor Speedway. The facility was awesome and the qualifying action was intense, but come feature time the high-banked high-speed half-mile won the war when several cars had wheels break and fly off. The race turned into one of survival that Dale McDowell prevailed in. The late models are slated to return to Bristol again in 2001 and I sure hope that some wheel manufacturers have come up with a design that will withstand more than 100 laps at speed.

Our first-ever trip to the Echo Valley Speedway came in late July and we were very impressed with the quality of the facility. Track owners Lee and Sue Hansmeier were excited to welcome the National Kidney Foundation Tour to West Union, but as Lee prepared the track for the night’s events he began to feel ill. The pain gradually increased as the night went on so, the next day, he visited a doctor who informed him that he was suffering from kidney stones. A coincidence? I guess I’ll find out if Lee and Sue still blame me for the stones when we try to schedule a return date at Echo Valley for the NKF Tour in 2001.

We visited two more Iowa tracks for the first time over the next two weeks when we made it to Rapids Speedway in Rock Rapids and I-35 Speedway in Mason City. Both facilities put on great racing program in front of large enthusiastic crowds. While at Mason City I was told by several drivers and fans that they were thrilled with the job that Joe and Marian Ringsdorf had done during their first year at the facility.

Those were my "first-time" tracks, but all of the following also helped make my 2000 racing season a great one: Talladega Short Track, East Bay Raceway, Hamilton County Speedway, 34 Raceway, East Moline Speedway, Davenport Speedway, Lee County Speedway, Southern Iowa Speedway, Farley Speedway, Hawkeye Raceway, Hancock County Speedway, Nordic Speedway, Park Jefferson Speedway, Eldon Raceway, Independence Motor Speedway, Cresco Speedway, Benton County Speedway, CJ Raceway, Knoxville Raceway, Stuart Speedway, Crawford County Speedway, Buena Vista Raceway, Greenbelt Speedway, Algona Raceway, Fairmont Raceway, Nebraska State Fair Speedway, Iowa State Fair Speedway, Tipton Speedway, Spoon River Speedway, Missouri State Fair Speedway, LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway, Scotland County Speedway and Boone Speedway.

There were two things that I didn’t like about the past season. First, the World of Outlaws need to make an adjustment to their rule that allows a driver to re-join the field if a yellow flag comes out before a lap is completed. There were two glaring instances where this rule was applied during the latter stages of the 2000 season and both of them involved Steve Kinser. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Steve Kinser, so my concern with this rule has absolutely nothing to do with who it was applied to, but rather how it can be manipulated by "somebody" with a radio. In both cases Kinser’s crew was not finished working on his car before the pace car pulled in so he was not allowed to restart. However, in both cases, the restart was given the yellow flag for "a pace that was too fast" and Kinser was then allowed to push off and re-join the field. Many have questioned whether or not the same "courtesy yellow" would have been ordered had it been a lesser-name Outlaw, or even a poor local boy, and that it is exactly the problem with the rule as it stands now. Make it be a legitimate yellow for a spin or a crash that would allow whoever it is waiting in the push off area to rejoin the field and eliminate the image of favortism.

My second gripe is actually one that has gone on for years and years. There seems to be an opinion amongst some drivers and fans that promoters are not supposed to make any money. Whenever I hear somebody complaining about a promoter making some money on an event it makes me wonder if that same person also feels sorry for that promoter when an event is busted by bad weather or other competition. Let’s face it, being a short-track race promoter is not the most glamorous job in the world, and that’s the point, it is a job and it deserves compensation. In fact, in a lot of cases, it deserves more compensation than it currently provides. If a promoter doesn’t make money, then there won’t be a racetrack to race at. That fact unfortunately played out at a few facilities this past year. During the twenty years that I have been involved in this sport I have been on both sides of the proverbial fence and I have even seen it from different angles as a fan, a pit official, a car owner, a promoter and a travelling series director. One thing that has always held true is that you will find the happiest drivers and fans at a track where the promoter makes money, because the good promoters put some of that profit back into their operation.

Well that will do it for this year. Once again we wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. We’ll see you on the Back Stretch.

Friday, December 5, 2008

November 2008 – The Tenth Annual Shiverfest at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson came real close to not happening as a slow moving weather system provided rain and cold temperatures the five days preceding the event including nearly an inch on Friday and that same system then produced forty to fifty mile per hour winds on Sunday. The one and only day of the week that was decent was Saturday October 25th and thanks to the hard work of promoters Terry and Jenni Hoenig plus their dedicated staff, the show went on with only a minor delay.

Just over 170 cars in five divisions made the trip and even though this was a count that was forty fewer than 2007’s pit buster, it was more than enough to produce plenty of action for the nice crowd that gathered for one last racing fix before the off season. One of the likely reasons for the reduced car count was the fact that quick change rear ends were not allowed in the Modified division this year. That did not stop Bruce Hanford though. A former NKF Heartland Tour for a Cure champion and one of the few drivers who has competed in every “Shiverfest”, Hanford and his crew made the extra effort to change rear ends and it paid off as he fought off the challenges of Todd Shute and Jeremy Mills to take the win in the Modifieds. For Hanford it was just another example of the focus that he puts on his family. A few years back he arrived late at the track after all Modified heat races had been run as he made sure that he attended his daughter Kirsten’s swim meet in Cedar Rapids. Bruce started at the back of the C-Main that day, advanced up to the B-Main where again he raced his way to the front to make the Shiverfest finale. Hanford topped off a successful day where he put family first by finishing fifth in the feature race. Back to the present, Bruce wasn’t about to miss this show as his son Kyle loves the event and all of the extra fun that goes with it. The extra efforts paid off handsomely as Kyle proudly hoisted the trophy won by his father in victory lane.

I’d like to think that part of the reason that Todd Shute and Jeremy Mills made their first-ever appearances at Shiverfest was due to the All Iowa Points bonus money that was being offered for feature winners in all five divisions. The two drivers were ranked first and third in the Modified standings and if either of them had won the feature they would have collected the “Gold” bonus of $350 on top of the $500 feature winners check. Hopefully they enjoyed their first experience at Lee County Speedway and perhaps they will be back for next July’s Liberty Cup and of course next October’s “Shiverfest”. With Hanford ranked twentieth in the standings he picked up the “Silver” bonus of $250. I know that Four Cylinder winner Brannon Bechen was there because of the bonus as he said so in victory lane as he collected the $175 “Gold” bonus sponsored by YMH-Torrance. Bechen’s win officially earned him the All Iowa Points championship as he edged out Steve Schueller by one point. Doug Fenton collected an extra $100 “Bronze” bonus in the Hobby Stocks and Boles Auto Sales handed over an extra $250 to Stock Car winner Matt Greiner who was ranked eighth in the standings. When Tony Dunker, who was not in the top 100 of the Limited Modified standings, won the Sport Mod feature, Paul Boles donated the unclaimed bonus money of $200 to the Southeast Renal Dialysis Units bringing the total for the day up to $1,550 for individuals and families fighting kidney disease in the area. If any promoters are interested in the many different ways that you could work with the All Iowa Points Bonus program, please feel free to contact me during the off season.

Shiverfest was once again a great way to close out the season at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson, but an announcement on October 22nd already has fans of the speedway buzzing for 2009. The Pilot Grove Savings Bank/Ideal Ready Mix “Drive for Five” will bring the IMCA Late Models to the track for eleven Friday night shows paying $1,000 to win and $150 to start each night. Then, on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend the Deery Brothers Summer Series will return to Lee County for the first time in a few years and if the race winner of that event has competed in ten of the eleven late model shows in Donnellson he will win $5,000 instead of the customary $2,000. Word is that there are several area drivers who are planning on returning to Late Model racing once again, plus there is one prominent Modified driver looking to move to Late Models as a result of this program. Should be very entertaining!

At eighty-five miles the Macomb Raceway was the track closest from home that I had never been to before, but that changed on Sunday October 19th when I attended their Halloween Hoe Down event. The facilities will take you back to the good old days when somebody decided to convert some of their property into a racetrack as you are not greeted with shiny aluminum bleachers, Musco light towers and modern out buildings for tickets, concessions and restrooms. But put that aside and I’m sure that you will be impressed with the 1/5th-mile racing surface that produced two, three and in a couple hair-raising instances four-wide bullring-style action!

Eighteen Modifieds were on hand and it was Donovan Lodge, who had five victories in seven appearances at Macomb this year, earning the pole position for the main event. As Lodge opened a lead in the early laps the racing was intense just behind him where J.D Beal, Bill Parks and Shane Lewis tussled for second and further back you had hard chargers such as David Wietholder and Scott Keith trying to make their way to the front after starting on the ninth and final row. Beal caused the first caution when he clipped a track tire in turn four on lap four and just two laps later the yellow appeared again when the leader Lodge slowed on the backstretch with a broken axle. This handed the lead over to LaHarpe’s Shane Lewis who then fought off the challenges of Wendell Zulauf over the final laps to take a popular victory. Parks finished in the third spot ahead of Russ Coultas and Scott Keith made it up to fifth at the checkers.

Shane Kelly went the distance for the win in the Four Cylinder feature and then earned an extra $50 when he emerged from his car in victory lane wearing a Halloween costume. The track was trying out the B-Mods for the first time and Quad City area driver Perry Gellerstadt took the win while the Street Stock checkers went to a driver who has one of those classic short track dirt racing names, Cletus Coats. This year’s track promoter Rob Gyles was entertaining on the microphone and he introduced the 2009 promoter Darin Weisinger to the crowd on hand. Check this place out sometime if you get the chance.

With Macomb now crossed off my list, the Mineral City Speedway in Fort Dodge is now the track closest to home that I have not yet visited, and it is the only weekly race track in Iowa that I have not been to. I haven’t seen a race at the track in Sioux Center either, but they are not running weekly there at this point in time.
That’s it for the 2008 racing season! I will have a few thoughts on the World Finals in Charlotte as well as my annual wrap up in the December issue right here in the best regional racing paper in the nation, Hawkeye Racing News. If you do not have your subscription purchased yet, now is the time.