"Something to Think About"
October 24th, 2012

"Is The Problem Really Under the Hood?"

As you guys know, I do not allow bashing of any track on our Message Board or on our main website (never have/never will) and have always suggested that if anyone has an issue with a particular speedway to simply "call the track"...  So with that being said, this thread will not be about bashing any specific track or any particular individuals.

One local speedway here in NJ has announced (as per a track press release and as per AARN) that they are doing away with the Big Blocks effective immediately, and that their headlining division will run 358's.  Another NJ speedway has announced that they will be running big blocks in their headlining class again in 2013 as they had in 2012 (having done away with them temporarily for the 2011 season.)

I understand the logic of moving away from the big blocks, and it is being presented as a way to save race teams $ and eventually allow for stronger fields.  I understand the goal and I understand the costs involved in fielding a big block, however I won't say that I agree with the timing of this decision, and/or the roll out period.

Some agree... some disagree... some feel it would be better if phased in over a 3 year period....  some feel that there might be other reasons behind the decision (easier on the frame/easier on other driveline components/easier on the track surface)...  Some have suggested other reasons, but we'll leave the speculation to others.

My point is:  "Is the problem really "what's under the hood?" 

I understand that if a track doesn't have enough cars to make up "full fields" then the "product" becomes less marketable to the average or even the occasional fan.  However, if there were approx 28 - 32 cars that ran the headlining class in 2012, and about 20 - 25 of them only have big blocks... An immediate changeover cannot be viewed as a "team cost savings measure", and rather than cause the headlining class to increase, it may actually cause some of the core "headliners" to race elsewhere in 2013.  Yes the field will eventually grow, but to do it at the expense of guys who only have big block power at this point seems to be an unnecessary step backward to possibly/eventually take two steps forward.

The most important problems can be identified by sitting in the stands.

Well-meaning fans often say, "Local tracks need to advertise.... They need to give out coupons.... They need to lower the admission price.... They need to get out to community events and promote their upcoming shows...."  I say, really?... Really? 

Did you ever get a coupon, or maybe hear an ad for a restaurant and decide to give them a try only to find when you got there that the service was slow... the meal wasn't that great, and overall, it was not an enjoyable experience?  How many more commercials and/or coupons would it take for you to go back and give that restaurant another chance?  (My guess is that you'll never go back...)

I've sat at many shows at various tracks the last few years and I was glad that I had not brought a "new fan" because I know that they would have never come back... (And it's not because of what size engines are/aren't under the hood....)

Here's a few "non under the hood" reasons that I think have caused our sport to stop growing:

  • Unexplained peaks and valleys in the show... "Warm Ups... and then a few races... then more warm ups for another divisions... then a few exciting races...  then a few stinker consi's (where by the time they do this provisional and that provisional, everybody's in the show anyway....)  and then stop and fix the track... and then the features... but then maybe a break for some reason or another between one feature in the next...  There's no flow... there's no build up.  The show just kinda drags on until the final checkered flag waves... usually with less than 1/3rd of the fans still left to see it.

  • Shows where there's an obvious "Let's not let them get out to early or they won't think they got their money's worth" agenda....   A 3 hour show should take 3 hours... not 6.  When things are moving quickly why do most tracks feel compelled to take an extra-long intermission and or other "breaks"?  (If you advertise that you are having 5 features only, run 5 features back to back to back... then get all warm ups out of the way early before the posted first race start time, and save any "extra stuff" for the end of the night.)  Is there a reason why the races can't be over by 9:30pm sometimes...?  Sorry to say, but at many tracks I attended this year, by the time the headlining class rolled out for their feature, dad and the kids were already headed for home. 

  • Extreme dusty conditions. As a dirt track race fan, I always expect some dust, and always bring a pair of clear safety glasses.  When the wind is blowing toward the stands, no matter where I am, I expect dust. But to be covered in dust when there's no wind, and to see those "occasional fans" squinting and covering their faces and trying to protect their kids (again, when there's no wind)... Do you really think they'll ever be back?

  • Slow motion response by the track crew when responding to cars that need to be pushed/towed... or addressing other on track issues.  Is it too much to show some hustle?  Folks won't mind the delay as long as they see that people are moving quickly to get conditions ready to go back to green.  Some tracks do a great job with this but some have a lot of work to do here.  (NES and Oswego - RoC Show this summer - did a great job with this.)

  • Taking "Another lap before we go green,….again, and again, and again…..."  'Nuff said.

  • Announcers that only announce at one volume... TOO LOUD.... When is the last time anyone at a short track speedway did a live sound check during race night? - Who checks on stuff like this?  Can't the announcer realize that they don't need to be as loud when the green is NOT out?  Why is it like this all night?... All season???  I've experienced the PA to be SO LOUD that people are actually covering their ears... "Headache loud....", not from the roar of the engines, but from the constant assault from a over loud PA system,  It's absolutely unbearable when the yellow is out and/or when there are no cars are on the track.... to the point where the announcers voice is so ear piercing that it's not possible to just enjoy what should be a pleasant experience of sitting in the stands and/or having conversation with those seated near you.  I've even tried earplugs and headsets and it's still too loud when the caution is out...  plus then you can't talk to the folks around you because you all have headphones on! 

  • Announcers that think their job begins when the green comes out.  Too often when the yellow comes out, there are long dead air periods, or sometimes "music filler"... instead of a knowledgeable, interesting "host" or "hosts" to provide a little color... a little background information on the competitors and their accomplishments, or what new changes they've made in their racing program/car setup... Under yellow... and/or while the cars are taking their pace lap, give the fans something to think about (at the appropriate volume)... Suggest something they might anticipate... so that when the green comes back out, the fans will be more engaged.  (Penn Can and Brewerton were EXCELLENT at this.) 

Look, I understand that going to a short track will never be like a night at the opera, and that's great.  I don't want it to be and neither does anyone reading this.  However, I do think that it's time that all short tracks take a critical look at the overall program... the overall "fan experience" and really ask themselves, "Can I honestly expect "the fan" to pay an admission fee, and by the end of the night, feel that the show was so unpredictable, so compelling and so much fun that they will want to return? 

Sadly, many tracks have gotten to the point where a majority of the fans are only there because their brother... or uncle... or husband is racing that night...  Will there ever be enough competitors to guarantee  that enough of their relatives and immediate friends will be there night after night to fill the stands?  I don't think so.  The answer is to make the show more enjoyable so that even us "not related" or "nonaffiliated" fans will want to come back.

Having enough cars to have a full headlining division is critical to the success of any small track.  However, looking to fix what's wrong with the sport by going under the hood first, especially in a way that will cause dissention amongst many long-time supporters, forcing many to go elsewhere, and others to question their loyalty to any particular speedway...is not the first place I would look to fix the sport that I love.  


Visitor's Comments To add your comments  - Click Here or email us at:  maincontact@3wide@optonline.net
Date: Visitor's  Name:


10.25.12 TC Your post about what's  under the hood was the best post about racing I have ever seen . Every point you made was dead on I really think you should put it back up maybe just maybe someone will listen and save racing for our kids. 
10.25.12 Mark

Are racers really that concerned about saving money? I don't think so. How is making everyone change their engine program saving anyone money if their big blocks are now obsolete? Obviously the weight break offered at NES this past season was not enough to entice many teams to switch to the Pa. style small blocks. I hope things work out next season for both the tracks and their competitors.

10.26.12 Don S

My opinion is the racing could be a lot better if these tracks would have the same rules like if a track runs 358's have the same motor rule as another track that runs the and tires the same way.  that way if a driver wants to go to other tracks he doesn't have to spend a lot of money to do it.

10.26.12 3-Wide I don't disagree that some type of a long range, consistent, potentially lower cost engine program is needed Don - I just disagree on how such a change should be implemented, especially if a significant amount of your loyal drivers will have to change their program in a matter of a few months to accommodate such change.  Maybe give the guys a 2 or 3 year window to change over to different power plants, or better yet, ask them what would they would recommend...  Be firm that a transition has to happen, but work with the drivers/owners to make the transition easier, giving them a chance to use up their equipment rather than causing them to have to fire sale it at the upcoming flea markets and swap meets at a devalued rate. 

...But here we go again... looking to fix the sport by figuring out what's the best engine to run... what's the best tire deal to have... whether to have sail panels or not....  (you know what I mean....) 

NOT ONE OF THOSE THINGS addresses the ideas that I was trying to convey above, and that is that if someone doesn't get their head out from under the hood and fix what's wrong in the grandstands, then none of this matters. 

In NJ you'll end up with multiple classes of cars that nobody will pay to see "compete" which means that the pit fees will have to double or triple for the a speedway to be able to justify turning on the lights....  It will become:  "You pay to play" rather than "Put on a great show and get others to pay to watch you play..."

Do you know why so many golfers in this country pay thousands and thousands of dollars a year to belong to a golf club and to pay for greens fees?  It's because they love to golf, and because there's not 1000 spectators willing to pay admission to watch them do what they love.  Whether folks want to admit it or not, sadly here in NJ, we're only a few years away from that being the only model left for a guy to have a venue that really just wants to race at a short track.  ...Pay some place 10k+ a year membership... and then pay "greens fees" to run laps and or to have you and a few buddies go out there and mix it up....

Track owners, car owners, drivers, track employees and dopes like me that some 45 years later just have it in their hearts that they want this sport to survive need to wake up and fix what needs to be fixed, and to work together to fix it from all sides not just under the hood, because I've got news for us all:  The rest of the world doesn't give a flying fruck about us,... about our sport..  There's no lobby that's going to lean on the government to keep short track racing alive....  There's no huge corporations that stands to lose millions of $'s if short track racing dies in NJ that's going to take the lead on this... 

In fact, the opposite is true.  You've got thousands of folks that would love nothing more than to see that nuisance of a noisy/dusty racetrack shut down, and eventually become a Lowes... or a housing development.... or a vacant lot where folks like us can drive by for the next few decades and tell anybody who'll listen... "I remember when...."
10.26.12 George Perkins

As I read your article I kept asking myself "when did Joe visit the mid south" as every thing you touched on was taking place down here for years.

I moved from Jersey over forty years ago and I'm always confusing place with time in place. I always assumed racing was still the way it was forty years ago up there. I've seen a ton of tracks come and go over the years around here and they all seem to suffer the same problems, that is, except one track. The track I'm talking about is called Crowley's Ridge Raceway.

It's located a few miles south of Paragould, Arkansas. Paragould is your typical small southern town, maybe 25,000. It's a little north of Jonesboro, population maybe 65,000, not exactly a heavily populated area. CRR has operated since the mid to late eighties. It's a throwback to racing in years past. They run five classes,  limited late model, IMCA type modified, street stock, mini stock and two person cruiser. Most cars run there and there only as the rules are pretty one off, plus they have to run a track tire in just about every class. Most of the cars would be classified as junk by people from other tracks, the payout is weak compared to other tracks too. The field of cars is nothing extra yet not weak either.

The track is a tiny 1/4 mile with 33+ banking. The racing is hammer down and quite exciting. The biggest thing one notices though, is the fact that the stands are packed!  I raced there one season in 1989. I left for better pay at a track 30 miles closer. I was always treated nicely while at CRR.

My son decided to build a street stock ten years after I raced there. I got rule books from all the local tracks so I could build a car that could run anywhere and still be legal. It required a few compromises but worked well. When I called CRR for a set of rules, the promoter asked me if I still had the rule book from when I raced (printed in 1987) I said I did, he told me "we're still running off those rules!" I checked the rule book off their website before I wrote this and the mini stock class is unchanged from 1987. The place isn't for everybody but it sure is fun and it's definitely a success! 

Joe, I know you don't like links but I included this one with a story written by a guy that announces around the mid south and who runs a racing bb/message board similar to yours. I think you will find the comments the promoter makes near the end of the story very interesting.  http://www.powerperformancenews.com/features-cat/its-all-about-the-racing/

10.27.12 Scott Ely 3Wide-  Great points.  Speaking in terms of NJ dirt track racing,  I think it would help both track's car counts if you had a Friday, Saturday schedule like days gone by at Windsor and Flemington.  Probably not going to happen since NES is going small block while B'Port remains big block. 

I know its impossible to turn back the clock when you got a motor from the junk yard so how about having claimer motors.  Whether you won or ran last, someone comes up with claim amount stated in the rulebook, its their motor.  Amount has to reasonable to make the racing more affordable.  I know some people will say that there will always be someone that can beat the system.  If NJ continues the path its going down, I don't see 2 dirt tracks in NJ in 5 or less years. Just my opinion and I hope I'm wrong. 
10.28.12 AF-IV

Joe, first let me say that your opening comments were right on the mark.  The very easy answer to your question is NO the problem isn’t under the hood. I’m not sure why the track in question thinks it is. History has answered this question many times but people just don’t pay attention to it. In the early 70’s we had 523 and 482 cubic inch motors with fuel injection in the car on most weekends. In the late 70’s DIRT mandated 467 with carburetor on gas. In order to squeeze the most horse power out of these smaller gas powered motors components had to be lightened as well as other things. The motors required much more labor from the engine guy which made the price go way up. The lighter “tricker” parts cost way more. All of this so that we could get back to the kind of power that the larger less expensive motors had.

I’m not sure racing can be fixed in our area. Back in the glory days families didn’t have so much to do in life. Today it seems like the kids have so much activities between sports (many different ones), school functions, and tons of home work that there really isn’t much time for a less mainstream activity like racing.

Also there is a lack of star power if you will, with the majority of the young racers that are the future of our sport. I don’t mean lately either because it’s been lacking for some time now. This isn’t a knock on anyone because a lot of it is just a product of the cookie cutter cars and the inability of the tracks to get together on the rules that would let drivers move around more and become more well known. An example would be Billy Pouch and Brett Hearn. I’m positive both of these guys were known coast to coast by the time they reached their early 20’s. 

I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is how many times during the season do we get truly excited to go to the Saturday night race. We need that number to go up.

10.28.12 3-Wide I hear you AF-IV.  Your experience as first a race fan in the 60's & 70's, then involved as a crew member in the early to mid 70's, and as part of a family that fielded racecars for over for many years... as a competitor in the sportsman and modified divisions at many speedways, and now as a vintage car owner you've seen the sport from angles that most of us never will.

Regarding "change", we've all seen the end results of somebody implementing changes all in the name of saving race teams $'s and improving car counts, yet always cause current race teams to spend money and often the end result being some guys finding a new place to race... some long time competitors being forced out of the sport entirely...and those that are still in the game end up spending more than they would have because they lose $'s on their inventory of current equipment and like you said, spending additional $'s on other areas of a car trying to gain an advantage.

As for comparing racing today versus "back in the day", it takes so much more to get fans to sit in the stands than ever before, yet on some levels it looks like less is being done to get them there!

The fans (and I'm not talking about those that are there because their brother or uncle is racing - I'm referring to those "non race team affiliated" fans that paid their money to see "Stock Car Racing" and expect to be "wowed" at some level.    A lack of "star power" as you refer to absolutely hurts the front gate.  This site is living proof that this was once a sport of "stars" and locally (NJ/Eastern PA) there are only a handful of star drivers competing today that have dedicated fans that follow them to wherever they race.

Add things like "cookie cutter cars", long programs to support back gate divisions, and the fact that when we were kids, we sat in the stands... We begged dad to take us to the races...  Now kids beg dad to get them a 1/4 midget or Kart and the last thing that kid wants to do after spending all day "as a competitor" is to go sit in the stands for 3 hours 5 hours watching others race.  Left to its own, it's just not a compelling, unpredictable fun "enough" experience based on today's entertainment standards...

Let's think about this for a second:
Question:  On race night, who at any short track speedway management's team is in charge of "The Show"... the overall "wow" factor, (you know, the "you bet your azz I'll be back to watch again next week factor!")...

(The tracks closest to me are listed in alphabetical order)

Bridgeport:  _____________________ ?
Grandview: ______________________?
Middletown: _____________________ ?
New Egypt: _____________________ ?
Wall: _______________________ ?
(Your local speedway?: _____________________ ?

Again I ask, who is the person that has the responsibility and the authority to manage this critical piece?

Isn't it strange that for the tracks listed above, we could all easily name who is the tech inspector... or the race director... or the head of security...  but would have to take a guess on who is the "Manager of Fan Experience" (that's assuming that the position/person even exists), potentially the most important position at the speedway?

Answer:  I think in most cases, the answer is NOBODY.  The owner might think the GM or promoter is responsible.... the GM or promoter might think that as long there weren't any or many complaints from the fans or competitors, then it must have been a good night and surely the fans were "wow'd and will all be back next week...  Yea,... right.

I think you'd find that in most cases you'd find that the "overall experience" is being left to chance.  And what a terrible gamble that has proven to be over these last few years at most short tracks.... The fact is, that any person on staff at the speedway that wears a headset or has a radio at their side the entire night, cannot evaluate the "fan experience."  They are too busy managing their individual "silo."  They don't get to sit and watch a race from beginning to end.  They don't get to experience what it's like to sit in the stands for hours "watching"... and "waiting"... and watching and waiting some more...  They don't feel the air whether cold, dusty or perfect... They don't hear the announcers whether too loud, too soft or just right... They don't get to feel the vibe of the other fans around them whether it be fun or excitement or suspense... or whether it is boring and lifeless.  They are insulated from the true fan experience. 

From the guy that points to you where to park, or the person taking your $20 at the ticket window... the folks doing the handicapping to get the events lined up.... to the race director making sure the next the track is clear so they can go green... the announcer(s)... the flagger... the corner workers, the photographers, the wrecker crews... the office staff... to the folks at the concession stand... the security guys...   all have their individual "departments" but from what I've seen, from the fans point of view, nobody is stepping back and evaluation the quality of the "overall entertainment experience for the fan." 

The fact is, and short track race fans have spoken, there hasn't been a whole lot of wow'ng going on .  On any given night at a local short track you're likely to have a few moments of excitement... (a fierce battle for the lead... a scary accident... maybe even a few tempers flare...) but "just a few wow moments" won't carry a whole 3 hours 5 hour show.  At some point, folks will start to look at the admission price paid... the $'s put out for gas... the time invested (getting there, sitting through the entire show, and then the ride home) and will justify whether they are seeing enough to want to take that ride again next week...  If they weren't truly "wow'd", all of a sudden that forecast of 30% chance of rain... or that extra divisionon tonight's card that might cause the admission price to go up and the show to drag on even longer might be just enough "justification" for why they'll stay home and watch Richmond instead....

I understand that right about now is where many driver's/car owners tune out...  They might think that I'm saying that it's only about the fans... and the spectator side of the track.... and that the technical part of the program (rules, racing procedures, etc don't matter.  That's not what I'm saying at all.  The car owners/drivers focus should be on engines... and tires... and handicapping... and whether or not they get an extra lap to fix a flat...  and whether their division is running last tonight...  And I agree... If I had 5k or 50k (or more) invested in my racing operations, you can bet I'd be focused on those things too.  Rules of competition have to be managed properly, and managed in a way that makes the most sense for the good of the overall sport.  This includes sweeping changes that potentially can cause a driver to ask himself, have I had enough "fun" yet?

All I am saying is, as a fan... and as a fan that would like to see more fans enjoy the sport of short track racing, someone at each speedway needs to take ownership of the fan experience, and speedway management/ownership needs to have a process where this is managed each week and "lessons learned discussions" are followed up with changes that are then implemented to benefit the very next show.  

The only thing... THE ONLY THING that will fix this sport for the long haul is more unaffiliated fans feeling justified in the value/excitement/fun they receive by plunking down their $'s and enjoying a night with their friends/family in the stands at their local short track.  More folks in the stands means a more profitable model for all involved, which should positively impact the purse structure and will help to maintain a strong field of competitors.

...and that's why I continue to ask:  "Is the problem really under the hood?"

It's time for those involved with speedway ownership/management to focus on "the overall show."  If they don't, it won't matter which engine's under the hood... or which division got to run their feature first 'cause there won't be anybody in the stands to see it.

Robert Cuthbertson

I was completely devastated when NES left the main tradition of “Modifieds” and went to 358.  When I returned to the stands after many years I want to see “Modifieds” not “Sportsman Modifieds”, I stuck with NES for years, now I go to Bridgeport and will not return to NES, because I want to see big lumbering powerful cars run. Bring back the fuel injection and really have powerful cars and more excitement. I can go to Grandview or Big Diamond for sportsman racing, and so can the owners/drivers that want to run small block mods.  New Jersey has always been “Big Block” territory and its guys like me that find NES after all this time and made it our weekly track, and want it to be to bring our kids in and show them something awesome.

Like 3wide says, the answer is not under the hood.

We have been involved in the sport since my grandfather was in the pits at Yellow Jacket in Philly. And when we raced modifieds always pushed to stay with the big motors. That’s the “big time” around here. We could have easily put a sportsman motor in, but what fun is not pushing for the pinnacle.  And there is a difference big time to fans.

NASCAR dumbed down racing at the top, and now its happening here. The only ones making money are the NASCAR teams cause they have someone to unload their equipment on.

How many teams were at NES last year in BB?  They easily ran 3 heats and a consi in bb and sb. Like the guy says here, the announcer starts to give the line up, when the cars are lined up and you cannot hear it.  At Reading I could write the whole line up by Ruffner's announcing, not at NES. What about having a list after warmups ready with what teams and drivers signed in and their heat lineups? Some tracks did that and it’s cheap and the kids can see who the guys are that showed.

NES is a good track. They were preparing it nicely , no dust, good eats ,etc. but I am sorry, Big Blocks are the reason for “modified country”



All Previous Editions of: "Something to Think About..."
"Putting Competition Back into Qualifying - The "Top Half Advance" Qualifying Method"
"This Time, It's an Inside Job"
"What Are We They Expecting?"
"Is The Problem Really Under the Hood?"
"The Best View..."
"Local Boys Have at It?"
'Are You Going to the Races Tonight?"
"The Bigger The Bodies, The Smaller The Attendance?"

Back to Message Vault

Back to Vault Index