Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Banquets, TV Racing, Capped Entries & More....

I hope all racing banquets this offseason are as upbeat as what we experienced on Saturday night at the Lee County Speedway banquet in Fort Madison. Promoters Terry and Jenni Hoenig do a great job with their awards presentations and I must say that the speeches delivered by the five track champions were as entertaining as I have ever heard at a racing banquet. IMCA Modified track champion Josh Foster set the bar high delivering about a ten minute routine that would rival any mini-set by a professional standup comedian, but Jason Cook, Jim Gillenwater, Dean Kratzer and Rob Hammel did just fine for themselves as well.

For me at least Gillenwater delivered the most interesting “news item” of the night when he stated that he would step up from the Sport Mods and pair up with Michael Long for the 2009 season. The new team will make their debut in just a couple of weeks in Florida and it will be interesting to see how Long does in the IMCA Modified ranks at Donnellson. He has been virtually unstoppable the last couple of years at Quincy.

My wife Christine and I would like to thank the Hoenig’s for including us at their party and we really enjoyed our tablemates Dennis & Leslye Krieger and Dewain Hulett. Christine enjoys going to the races when she knows some of the people competing and after Saturday night I have a feeling that she will now be a Josh Foster fan! Keep in mind that Foster purchased Tony Fraise’s modified at the end of 2008.

While at the banquet Saturday night we had the DVR set for the NASCAR All Star Showdown live on SPEED from Irwindale California. The finish of the 250-lap event was dramatic to say the least as eighteen-year-old soon to be Sprint Cup rookie competitor Joey Logano drove Peyton Sellers into the turn four wall on the final lap. Logano appeared to be happy with his methods as he pumped his fist in jubilation after crossing the line first, but NASCAR penalized his rough driving by placing him last in the forty-car rundown. Sellers showed amazing restraint as he marched to Logano’s car and had a non-physical conversation with the youngster. Then, only a few minutes later, Sellers delivered a very classy interview after being crashed out of a certain victory and the $34,500 check that went with it. Instead he finished 13th and made $9,500. Needless to say, I am now a Peyton Sellers fan!

The newly formed Late Model team of Steve Rushin and Eric Turner made another January trip down south when they traveled to Ringgold Georgia for the Mid-Nite Oil Racing Fuels 50 at Boyd’s Speedway. Turner, who was the runner up in the 2008 All Missouri Modified points, impressed the locals by running fourth in the main event behind Ray Cook (who also won the Ice Bowl three weeks earlier), Ronnie Johnson and Anthony White. Mike Collins of Council Bluffs IA finished 17th in the 32-car Super Late Model field.

With the number of entries being capped at sixty for the Deery Brother Summer Series event at the Knoxville Raceway it is my hope that the folks at IMCA will consider the possibility that a regular point contender may get shut out of the event. It is not new for the Knoxville Raceway to limit entries as they have done it the last two years for the Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals, so it was not a surprise when they announced that only the first 120 IMCA Modified entries, the first 60 IMCA SportMod entries and the first 60 IMCA Late Model entries would be accepted for the expanded 2009 edition of the Harris Clash. But here is the potential problem. Only one of the events mentioned above is part of a points-paying traveling series and it is very possible that one or more of the drivers who are chasing points could be forced to watch from the grandstands simply because they didn’t get their entry postmarked early enough. Granted this scenario is a long shot as there are much fewer IMCA late models out there, but the lure of racing at Knoxville on Wednesday July 8th will likely bring them out of the woodwork. In my opinion IMCA should state right now that any driver who has perfect attendance up to that point on the 2009 Deery Series will be guaranteed the opportunity to compete that night at Knoxville regardless of when their entry was received.

I have mixed emotions regarding the announcement today that Lebanon’s I-44 Speedway will return to an asphalt surface in 2009. As a dirt track I have included the facility as one of my five favorites since the surface switch in 2003, but I must admit that before that I considered it to be one of the raciest asphalt short tracks that I have ever been to. With two new beautiful dirt track facilities (Lake Ozark Speedway and Lucas Oil Speedway) within sixty miles of Lebanon I-44 it now makes sense for it to return to an asphalt surface and we wish them the best in 2009 and beyond.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Another New Racing Website....Why?

So why did we do this? Why is there now a website called PositivelyRacing.com? Why not? After all, everybody else now has a racing website, right? Yes, that could be a very small part of our motivation, but there were many, many more reasons that you can now find the writings of myself, Barry Johnson, Dick & Joyce Eisele (coming soon!) and maybe more at this site. Allow me now to give you just a couple of those reasons.

First and foremost is the reason behind the name of the website itself, and that is the fact that all of us involved with this site, including our talented webmaster Sue McDaniel, are frustrated with, tired of, disappointed in and even sometimes completely disgusted with how our sport is treated on the internet. This foul treatment occurs primarily on the forums and message boards where anonymous “experts” make bold statements, call out drivers, promoters and officials by name, start rumors based on little or no information, or just state outright lies that do nothing but damage our sport in the eyes of the drivers, fans, promoters and sponsors. Former Sunset Speedway owner/promoter Craig Kelley dubbed these internet jockeys as “Anonymous Weasel Posters”, or AWP’s, as nearly all of them hide behind screen names that do not reveal their true identity. Whenever somebody makes a case for limiting or eliminating the ramblings of the AWP’s they always seem to invoke their “Right to Free Speech”, although it is my belief that this constitutional right does not actually apply and here is why. When our founding fathers established this right I feel that it went along with the fact that the speaker would always be identified so that those hearing his or her words could then decide, based upon what they knew about the speaker, whether or not to put much stock into those words. The reputation of the speaker and any potential biases could be weighed and you could then decide whether or not you should trust those words. And that is the problem with the internet forums, you are not given the opportunity to weigh the credentials of the AWP delivering the message and therefore you have no good way to filter out the few truthful posts from the rest of the…..well, insert your own descriptive word here.

I can give you two specific examples, the first that I can recall and the most recent, of how this process directly affected racing projects that I was involved with. The first one came during the 2000 season when I was running the NKF Heartland Tour for a Cure. We had a mid-week race scheduled at the Crawford County Speedway in Denison and the forecast called for scattered thunderstorms during the day and clearing conditions during the evening. As we made the four and a half hour drive west we encountered some of those storms, but with each storm we called promoter Howard Mellinger and he assured us that Denison had escaped the rain. When we arrived at the track around five o’clock it was obvious that the few sprinkles that had fallen had now passed on to the east and that we were ready for a great night of racing. The cars checked in at a slow pace that night and while we still had a respectable car count I was surprised that at least six of the drivers who were chasing the points championship on the Tour failed to ever show. The crowd was okay, but nothing close to what the Tour had drawn to Denison before and the racing was great on the high-speed half-mile oval. The next morning when I posted the results on the internet, within minutes I started fielding calls from those point-chasing drivers. “You guys ran that show last night?? I thought that it was rained out.” When I asked the first caller why he thought that, his response was that his wife saw it on the internet and called him on his cell phone to tell him to turn around and come home. The story was the same for the other callers, some even called each other once they got the “news” from an internet forum post that the race in Denison had been cancelled due to rain. So I went to the primary internet forum at the time and under the Modified section, sure enough there was a thread started by an AWP who was making just his/her second post ever on this forum stating that he/she had just returned home from the track and that the races were cancelled due to rain. No sense of “speculation” that they “might” be cancelled, just a point blank statement of “fact” backed up by the “evidence” that this person had actually been there and witnessed the rainout.

Today, after years of seeing how the internet forums work, most people wouldn’t have taken that rainout report as fact without backing it up with a check of the track’s website, a phone call to the track, or even a phone call to the Tour director. But back in 2000, we were apparently a little too trusting of the AWP’s. I added a response to that post the next morning stating what a blatant lie it was and pointing out how this misinformation might have an effect on the outcome of the points for the Tour not to mention the money that it had cost Mr. Mellinger for those drivers, and fans, who stayed home that night. You know I never did see another post from that username, but of course that doesn’t mean that he or she didn’t just assume another username in order to continue their AWP ways.

The more recent instance had much less of a financial affect, but to me was every bit as annoying and perfectly illustrates the role that many AWP’s take on today as a pot-stirrer, instigator or gossiper. We were just a few weeks ahead of our annual “Shiverfest” event at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson and the rules for the event had been posted on the track’s website. On one of the regional message boards somebody had posted a question asking what tires would be allowed on the Hobby Stocks. Now of course the first question is this. Why would somebody who wants to know what tires could be run on the Hobby Stocks get on line and go to an internet message board to ask the question when he could have just as easily went to the track’s website to find the rules? But it was the response that he received from an AWP that really made me laugh. “I was told that they will be able to run the same tires as the Stock Cars.” Now of course that information was totally inaccurate, so I replied, “Really? Who told you that?” And then I posted the accurate information in regard to the tires and referred any other questions on the rules to the track’s website. Of course the AWP never did respond as to who gave him the bad information, but I will credit that exchange as being the last push that I needed to move ahead with PositivelyRacing.com.

As you have guessed by now, there is no forum or message board on this site, nor will there ever be one! No AWP’s allowed! We know that this fact will keep up us from capturing some of the traffic looking for racing information on the internet, but that’s fine, we can live with that and sleep at night. I’ll admit that I myself will still go look at those forums from time to time, but primarily for entertainment purposes only and we hope that the regular visitors to this site will view those forums in the same light. On our Links page you will find a couple of sites operated by friends of ours that do have forums/message boards, but it is the information that they provide in the main body of their site, not the forums that rate our approval. The bottom line is this, we feel that the AWP’s are detrimental to the sport and we hope that we can provide an alternative going forward.

The second big reason why this site now exists has to do with the constraints that were put upon us in print. Now don’t get me wrong, both Barry and I love to write for Hawkeye Racing News and we both plan on continuing to contribute to the best regional racing paper out there. However, when the racing season is in full swing and there are stories and results from all over the Midwest to include in the paper, there is just not much space left for us columnists and we are asked to keep our efforts to one thousand words or less. That is a very reasonable request and we completely understand why it is made, heck as former editor, Barry was the one making those rules a few years back. The problem is though that if you go to more than one race in a week it is virtually impossible to keep our columns to a thousand words or less. Then consider early August when both of us spend ten or twelve straight nights at Knoxville and, in my case at least, I only use about 10% of my notes for my column. This site will allow us to write as many words as we want and hopefully you will find them to be informative and entertaining.

So there you have it, that is why we are here and we hope that you will check back often to see what we have to say and to see what is new. If you have never checked them out before, take a look at the All Iowa and the Missouri Points (the final 2008 standings are currently listed) and once the season starts check back regularly to see how your favorites are doing. We have some big plans for this site, but we are going to start slow and try to build momentum. Bookmark it now, PositivelyRacing.com, and help us get that ball rolling!

And more thing…..don’t be an AWP! :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Quick Stop at the Ice Bowl and more....

Welcome to 2009, and most of all good riddance to 2008! Hopefully the New Year will be good to us all! We started ours off in great fashion by watching the Iowa Hawkeyes trounce South Cackalacka in the Outback Bowl and on the way home we made a stop at the Talladega Short Track for a taste of the 2009 Ice Bowl.

The growth of this event over the years is incredible to say the least and although this year’s car counts were not record setting, they still topped 360 across the five divisions, including nearly 90 Super Late Models. At the first Ice Bowl that I went to back in the early 1990’s they parked everybody in the infield of the 3/8th-mile oval and while it was tight, they were all in there, haulers and all. Nobody parks in the infield now, but there are race haulers absolutely everywhere else on the property and with rain falling both Friday and Saturday night the red clay was a soupy mess!

We arrived just before noon on Saturday and only the four wheelers could stay up on the slick surface. It wasn’t long before the wide-tired southern-style Bombers were called to the track and they were able to push even more of that moisture into the red clay. And by one o’clock the first set of Super Late Model hot laps were on the track it wasn’t long before they were up to speed. Trust me, if this amount of moisture would have been spread across the racing surfaces of the Midwest, everybody would have been sent home a long time ago. Iowa driver Jeremy Grady was among that first set of hot laps to be put under the green and he caught the eye of the locals by aggressively passing others on the still slick surface. The hot laps continued, and continued and, well you know it takes a long time to hot lap 360 cars, so with rain approaching the track from the south and with freezing precipitation forecasted overnight for our route home, we decided to hit the road just before SLM qualifying got underway.

Grady qualified in the lower half of the order and then scratched out of the sixth heat race and another “northern” driver that caught our eye was Hermitage Missouri’s Eric Turner. Always a threat to win in his Modified, Turner will be driving a team car to Poplar Bluff’s Steve Rushin in 2009 and it will be interesting to see if he can be as successful in the transition as fellow Missouri Mod hotshoe Jesse Stovall has been. Like Grady, Turner’s Ice Bowl will be one to forget as he finished last in his heat and scratched out of the consi.

Ray Cook took the win in the Super Late Model feature edging out James Ward and Billy Mayo. In the IMCA Modifieds it was Wisconsin driver Benji LaCrosse taking the win after east Alabama driver Terrance Nowell was disqualified. Several drivers from the PositivelyRacing.com coverage area made the show as Jason Pursley finished 7th, Jordan Grabouski was 9th, John Fellers was 14th, Jeremiah Asher 16th, Chris Tonoli 17th, Alex Hanson 18th and Randy Havlik was 19th. There were over fifty Modifieds in attendance.

We kept an eye on the Alabama radar as we drove home and I find it amazing that the TST crew, headed up by Lynn Phillips and Alfred Gurley, were able to come back on Sunday after another night of rain and get this show in the books. Quite a feat year after year with a ton of racecars and facing the uncertain weather in the dead of winter! The Ice Bowl is one of those events that every dirt track fan should experience at least once.

Closer to home things seem relatively quiet as promoters and competitors prepare for the upcoming season. With little or no scuttlebutt going around at this point things do not look good for weekly racing to happen this year at either Eldon IA or Memphis MO. These two tracks, separated by just forty miles, both raced weekly on Saturday nights and both closed early in 2008. I thought that it would be interesting to see if one of them could be successful while the other sat idle, but as of right now it doesn’t look like that will happen. If they cannot run weekly I at least hope that each facility can host a special or two along with a racing event during their respective county fairs.

Central Missouri Speedway promoter Earl Walls reversed course on January 10th and announced that, yes, his track would continue to run their weekly Saturday night show in Warrensburg. Just two months earlier he announced that the track was for sale and that, if it he still owned it in 2009, he would only run his big three special events. Shortly after that announcement was made nearby Valley Speedway announced that they would move their weekly program from Friday to Saturday, and soon after that Butler Speedway announced that they would move their weekly program from Sunday nights to Fridays. It will be interesting to see how all of this shuffling at these Kansas City area tracks effects car counts and the fans of each.

News from the IMCA Late Model ranks has been hot starting back in October when the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson rolled out the details for the Pilot Grove Savings Bank/Ideal Ready Mix “Drive for Five” schedule and it continued in December when a very solid Deery Brothers Summer Series schedule was released. With more Deery races scheduled up in the northeast quadrant Iowa, look for more of the Independence area drivers to chase the series in 2009. In southeast Iowa you will see Thad Trump and Rob Kirchner return to the Late Model ranks next season and popular Modified driver Tony Fraise has acquired a Rocket chassis and could be a threat to win a few in his “rookie” campaign. Matt Strassheim, who won the 2008 Pepsi USA Nationals at 34 Raceway in his final ride for car owner Lynn Richard, will be driving a second car out of Tom Darbyshire’s stable this year while Richard has joined forces with Keokuk driver Tommy Elston in what should be a formidable team. There is also mumblings that a high profile name out of the open Late Model ranks will be driving an R&D car testing a new aero package with a spec motor on Friday nights in Donnellson this year. More on that when it is confirmed.

Here’s an interesting event that you might want to check out this summer. Elko Speedway located about thirty miles straight south of the Minneapolis suburbs will be covering the asphalt with dirt for four nights of action July 22nd through the 25th. Included in that will be the IRA Sprint cars and the USMTS Modifieds. While I have not yet attended a race at Elko, I have stopped to look at it a couple of times and it is a beautiful facility. I’m going to do my best to make it up to at least one night of their dirt track presentation.

Johnny Herrera will return to the Knoxville Raceway on a weekly basis in 2009 driving Larry Woodward's #2 car that had previously been driven by Craig Dollansky of the World of Outlaw series.