"Something to Think About"
This Time, It's an Inside Job....
August 8th, 2013

Destroying the Sport from the Inside

For years, whenever a speedway’s future was threatened, we would all trip over each other with cries of “It’s those damn no good neighbors again complaining about the noise or the dust…."  Or “It’s those freakin’ yuppies and/or dinks (dual income no kids) moving into those McMansions after the track was built…  Or maybe ”It’s the EPA with all their rules and regulations that making it more and more difficult to operate a speedway…." And let’s not forget "It's the damn politicians…" Yup… it’s their fault too…

That’s a pretty impressive list, but if you take a good look, you’ll find that somebody is missing….


Here’s a Few Clues:

Who makes hasty rule changes (under the hood) that causes 1/2 of the headlining division to either stop racing altogether or find another track to compete at even though they didn’t want to leave in the first place?  Who makes these changes so that now for the same spectator admission price, instead of getting  3 very competitive heats and at least one consolation in their top division (all of which meant something because a few were going home…) to now having only 2 heats and no consi’s and where it seems like everybody gets a trophy… because, yes, now everyone makes the feature?  By the way… in many cases, the support divisions have dropped to levels where 2 heats and no consi’s are also the norm?  Does anyone else miss the drama that was inherent in watching a consi where guys drove their nuts off trying to earn a qualified spot with 15 or more cars and 6 to qualify... (You know, back in the day before there were "fans provisionals".... and  "high points provisionals"  or "friends with the right people provisionals"....?  Back when you either qualified in your heat... in your consi... or you loaded up and watched the feature from the stands, no matter who you were?)

Who decided that fans should be excited to watch heat races that now consist of drivers that are not likely to make daring moves (making a pass from7th to 6th… or from 6th to 5th…. or whatever) all just so they can be in the “coveted” redraw for the feature (where usually only 15 - 19 cars start the feature anyhow?).  So much for conventional handicapping where the show was once watching the best guys starting 16th, 17th and 18th… and frantically working their way to the front somehow before the checkered flag fell…  (Man do I miss those days of watching Billy… and Kenny… and Doug coming from deep in the field week after week because that was what they had to do…. No “redraw” needed then.)

Who is it that chooses to drag out a show to the point where instead of running things in the most efficient manner possible (like if the show was being broadcast live on TV and they had to get it all in before a set time), they appear to be looking for reasons to slow things down…to drag things out….   to  s t r e t c h - o u t  - t h e - s h o w  as if somehow, those running the show have some kind of unspoken mission that even though the show isn’t that good, at least fans won’t be able to say that they weren’t there for a long time… (as if a long show means a good show!)  It’s kinda like going to a terrible all you can eat buffet restaurant where the food is lousy, but at least there’s plenty of it….  I guess that’s supposed to be a good thing too, right? 

Who decides to cut the track even though it’s already 9:20 and folks have been sitting in the stands since 7pm… and nobody… NOBODY is in line at the concession stands, or even headed to the concession stands? 

Who chooses to run heats and consi’s that don’t even need to be run (18 cars so they run 3 heats with 6 cars in each and everybody qualifies… First 3 “redraw?”… Wow… They’ll be a couple of real barnburners for sure…. NOT.

Who decides after every single yellow to hold up each restart waiting for the all mighty “OK” from the tower, even though all the drivers are in their proper starting spots, and no one is contesting their spot… but we’ll all wait an extra couple of laps under yellow waiting for the tower just to say, “Yup.. they’re in order.”  (Or better yet, you wait an extra 5 or 6 laps of cars circling the track under yellow only to have them tell the guy that is in 15th that he belongs in 14th…..Glad we waited for that to get straightened out.) 

Who decides that it makes for a good fan show to allow the competitors at will to slow down at any point during an event to intentionally bring out a caution so that they can duck into the pits under yellow to make an adjustment or to change a tire… while everyone sits and waits as the cars slowly pace the track until magically, the car makes its way back onto the track to continue so eventually the green might be able to fly once again.... at which point often somebody else now decides they want to pit too… at which point we all sit and wait a couple more laps for them too.?

When did it become OK to interupt the build up of excitement from race to race with interuptions of nothingness like delays in getting the next race onto the track, or uninteresting spectator novelties like 2 seater rides, or letting a car or two come up for a few warm up laps, right in the middle of a show?

Who looks at the clock and says, “Man, things are moving along pretty quickly tonight…so let’s take an extra intermission which is then always sold by the announcer as a “brief intermission", but not to be confused with the full bore/all out "official intermission" that is still to come later in the night.”   (Hey, why not… you guys already paid… It’s not like you’re gonna get up and leave… you are at the track… we’ll all suck it up and sit there or maybe even get up and buy something at the concession stand out of sheer bordedom…  In their eyes, they’ve got nothing to lose and maybe a burger or two to sell….  What they don’t realize is that it’s crap like this that causes folks to never come back so even if they did get up and get a burger, it’ll probably be the last time since they’ll find something else to do next Saturday.)

Who is it exactly that allows the track announcers to not talk when they should (dead air), or the opposite, talk when they shouldn’t?  How many times have you sat at a track and thought, wow… did the PA break?  There is a race lining up and there’s nothing but silence…. "Sure wish I knew who was in some of the cars….."  Often the silence is broken just as the cars are headed down the backstretch… headed to the 3rd turn moments away from the green flag, when then suddenly the announcer jumps it with “Here we go with the next heat… Starting on the pole is…. Alongside of him is …..  Starting 3rd is….." and at just about that time, he's still talking but you can’t hear the guys in the last few rows because the green is out……

Who decides that it’s fine to have a sound system where the announcer has the volume set on “11” all night long with no regard for if there are cars on the track… if the yellow is out…. If the green is out…  if there are no cars at all?  How many nights have you sat in the stands when there was nothing on the track…. Maybe during intermission, and all you’re trying to do is have a conversation with the folks sitting near you… and you find yourself  trying to sneak a few words in before the ear piercing noise of the announcer interrupts your attempt at simple, enjoyable conversation?   Doesn’t matter… the guy with the mic is behind glass or has a set of headphones on and the volume sounds just fine to him…. They’ve got it cranked up as high as to make sure that they’re being heard…. Our ears might be bleeding, but it doesn’t matter I guess…  Seems the therory, "Louder is better", is the name of the game, even when there is no background noise.

Speaking of announcers, who allows their announcers to vamp about non-racing related things? (Health issues, world events, what people are wearing, inside stuff where only the folks in the vicinity of the person talking has any idea what is being blared out over the PA to the other 95% of the folks)?  Some tracks sound like it’s open mic night – especially during intermission…  Does anyone ever poll the fans to see if they’re enjoying it?  (If vamping and “open mic” is such a good idea, why aren’t they doing it at other paid admission sporting events?)  Never seen or heard that kinda stuff at Lincoln Financial Field or at Citizen’s Bank Park…. 

Speaking of sound systems, who is it that decides to never do sound checks (on the actual race night, when background noise is present and race conditions exist) to address speakers that are way too loud, speakers that aren’t loud enough, and speakers that sound like the announcer is talking into a blanket all night?  I’m sure everybody is impressed with how it sounds up in the tower….  Problem is, that’s only about 5 people….  Who’s job is it to make sure that what is being said sounds good to the fans in the stands?  (That is of course assuming that there are still any fans that sit in the stands…)

Who decided that at the 4 month point of the season that it is still ok to have a track surface that is so unpredictable and so unmanageable that if and when there is a night that the track doesn’t turn to dust, or doesn’t develop belly pan ripping ruts they are applauded for a job well done?  Talk about lowering our expectations….  Why is it that one of the first questions you’ll get these days “the morning after” attending a local dirt track is “How was the track?”  (I go to a bunch of Phillies games, Trenton Thunder games and a few Eagles games… yet not once has somebody asked me the next day, “How was the field….  Did anyone twist an ankle trying to run the bases or trying to score a touchdown?”… “Did they have to stop play for 50 minutes during the middle of the game and re-grade the base lines?”)

Who’s to blame for those tracks that are so poorly lit along their homestretch that once the sun goes down you can’t tell if there is a driver in the car or not?  Forget reading the sponsors names or helping to build excitement that a brightly lit stock car, heading out for battle should evoke, with the gladiator suited up under helmet, inside his chariot…  No, just leave it so dark that folks have to really work to see the cars and make it tough to be interested and or excited by them.  (Even the best written novel is hard to enjoy if you don’t turn on the light….  Same with a poorly lit movie…. Or trying to watch your favorite TV show on a crappy TV.)

Whew…. Let me come up for air for a second…  There’s plenty more, but I don’t think it’ll help anything if I keep on typing so I think I’ll wrap up the specifics for now….

I’ve probably pissed off more folks with this one post in less than 10 minutes than I have in 12 years of running a website and that’s a shame, but you know what?  It was time.  The racing papers won’t say it  and I can’t blame them since they  rely on advertising $’s to keep their wheels turning….  The main stream media won’t say anything because our sport's not even on their radar… at least not until a tragedy occurs or Tony Stewart breaks a leg


Who Done It?

It may not be much, but I’ll say it here:

It’s not the neighbors…. It’s not the yuppies… or the EPA… No, not even the politicians. 

No… This year, more than any other year we have proven that we don’t need any outside help…  We’re doing fine destroying the sport of short track racing all by ourselves – All  from the inside.

It may not be popular, but I put the blame on those involved with speedway ownership, speedway management, and speedway operations.  It’s those that are in positions of authority at the local tracks that are delinquent in their duties (not insisting the show is run with a sense of urgency, allowing the track surface to dictate whether the show is over in 3 hours or in 5+ hours...  Those who NEVER sit in the stands and “sample their own cooking”, who instead spend most of race night riding around in a golf kart coddling drivers that need someone to talk to because they feel they got jumped on the start… or put back for rough riding when it wasn’t their fault.  These same folks that should be keeping an eye on the show from a fans perspective often are too preoccupied to even notice that the PA is way too loud or way too soft…or too muffled… Or that the announcer seems busy doing something else in the booth, leaving folks wondering why so much dead air as the next heat rolls onto the track..  Do they ever insist that the announcer hit his marks and provide professional “host” type of informing, providing the spectators with event, or related racing information appropriate to the moment?  Do they ever go up to the tower and tell the announcer(s) to adjust the volume to the changing conditions outside of their glass booth?  (I’d have my announcer sitting in the top row with no glass so that he would be more in touch with what the spectators are seeing rather than the isolated/disconnected approach that many seem to have fallen into.)

Yup… Many won’t agree, but I put the blame at those that are in a position to make changes… and who either don’t take the time to see the show as a fan and/or who either don’t notice what’s wrong, or maybe they know what’s wrong and see it night after night, but don’t do anything about it.


Cool Down Lap (That means I’m almost done typing….):

I read the other day in Lenny Sammon’s column in AARN that Fred Rahmer will be retiring at the end of this season and that he said “He’s tired and doesn’t care when a race is rained out…”.   Turns out that when faced with a rainout last a while back... Fred rethought his original position and hopped in the truck and drove to another speedway in hopes of racing there... only to be rained out once again.  Fred noted, "I'm 55 years old and I should of known better.  I should of taken the family out for a nice dinner."

At first I kinda laughed at his comment, but then I got to thinking as a fan, about how I feel when there is a rain out...  And then I compared it to how I used to feel when there was a rainout...   And somewhere around there I realized that for a racer or a diehard racefan to not care when a race is rained out, it's a sad, sad day....  It’s sad to hear that coming from someone like Fred who has thrilled folks for decades with his driving skills in modified and open wheel competition... but I think I get it.  But more selfishly, it’s also sad because with the current state of short track racing in NJ, for the first time ever, I feel exactly the same way. 

For the past 4 decades, if my Saturday night racing was rained out, I was miserable for not only the entire weekend, but a good part of the following week too!  I felt like I had been cheated…  Why…why…why… why… did it have to rain on a Saturday?. Why didn’t it rain some other stupid day of the week when it didn’t matter… like on a Thursday?… Why…why why…. 

But after reading that quote… and thinking about many of the shows I’ve seen this year so far, in a strange way I almost feel somewhat relieved when there is a rainout…  How messed up is that?

I thought I had at least another decade left in me… maybe even two, but I find it harder and harder to go to a short track race in NJ and feel that my expectations as a fan are in sync with the show that I am held hostage to and expected to enjoy and want to return to.

It’s not the cars… It’s not the body styles…. For me, it’s not any of that.  It is the way the show is being run and the lack of concern for it being a compelling, unpredictable, fun event.  Today’s local short track show more resembles something closer to just making sure that guys from multiple divisions get plenty of track time (warm up, heat that means very little and a feature) rather than it being a contest where only the best survive through the preliminary events to eventually earn the right to take part in the grand finale of the night….

There are some great folks out there… There are some great drivers and great crew guys.  I have respect for them all and feel bad for the circumstances that others have put them in.  There are a lot of volunteers and track workers that loyally show up week after week, who put the rest of their life on hold so that they can help the show “go on”, week after week from April till October….

There are owners and promoters that have put their money where their mouth is and have taken the risks of speedway ownership and management and I respect that.  What I cannot respect any longer is when those owners and those promoters continue to run the show week after week with the same deficiencies… with the same issues… with little to no progress being made on the things that matter most...things that matter most to the fans that is.

For those that read this that are associated with a speedway in state or out of state, I hope you can read what I’ve written from top to bottom and honestly say, “We don’t have any of those issues at our track….”

My bet is that you do.  The question is are you going to do anything about it, or as the sport continues to decline… and eventually we lose another speedway, are we going to blame everything on the yuppies and their McMansions once again?

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08.12.13 George Pavlisko You are 100% right on target.

I do not OWN a race track - ALMOST - but common sense kicked in. I bought a vintage car instead and decided to promote racing for these cars.  CAARA is not as big as anything you have up there. We have a couple of regular guys that come out to to support racing. But your article was so on target even down in SC and GA that I had to say something.

Our HOME track is Sumter S.C., where we run once a month, the Duke family bust there buns and wallet to put on a show every Saturday for the 300 fans that show up. Yes that was 300 NOT 3000. There big class is KIDS, running in 4 cyl and 6 cyl cars. They TRY to keep the show moving, WORK HARD to be nice to ALL and even when the kitty is poor they STILL try to help out the drivers and fans. I HOPE they survive this season.

Now here is a track that did EVERYTHING you stated WRONG. Gordon Park had 90 to 100 cars with up to 24 in one class. THEN all went to heck from the promoter NOT honoring rain checks for the drivers at a BIG RACE.  Intermission that were so long that it gave me enough time to drive home , 18 miles, have a sandwich, DRIVE BACK 18 miles and they where JUST finishing intermission. This track is now CLOSED, WONDER WHY???

Wake up track owners and look at the stands and see if they are smiling or looking at their watch waiting to LEAVE.

Keep up the GOOD WORK or all we will have is TV AND DW!
08.31.13 Howard Stern

Most of us fans and former and present day racers could write a book of why we feel short track stock car racing, both asphalt and dirt is dying. I believe it's just a natural evolution in changes in technology, culture, demographics the economy and government laws. What happened when transportation technology changed from the horse to the automobile, what saved horse racing? Legal betting at the track. Even though personally I'm not a gambler this may be the answer to saving short track stock car racing. What do you think?

08.31.13 3Wide Thanks for you comments Howard.  (For those that don't know, this Howard is a former competitor at the Pleasantville Speedway, not the guy on the radio...)  I'm not a Gambler either and while I could see it bringing in a new element to the sport, I really would like to think that we don't need to go there yet. 

I think even if gambling were available, it would still fail for the same reasons that it is failing now, and that programs that don't start on time, shows that drag out too long, ....no sense of urgency (which is easily interpreted as lack of concern for the fan experience),... and in some cases, an overall attitude of the track not really having the best interest of their fans and their participants.  If you give away chips to a bad casino, might come once.. and that'd be it.

I also am reluctant to make changes that will leave us with very little left resembling what we think of as "short track racing."  I realize that PA is not NJ, but as long as I can drive to Grandview and to Lincoln and see a well run show that absolutely looks and feels like what I want to see at a night at the dirt track, then I still hold out hope that the fix is really not that far away.  It's just a matter of the few folks that hold the future of NJ short track racing in their hands doing all the little things right, and in where appropriate, stop the the implosion.

I think NJ is a very, very difficult place to run a successful short track for a variety of reasons.  I do think change is on the horizon.  I don't have a crystal ball, but I do think that at this time next year, we will have one track that will have figured it out... and will make the changes necessary, and will be rewarded for their efforts by those who still want a place to call home on a Saturday night.
01.03.14 Skip McPherson

Your thoughts are right on. No one could have said it better!  But you know what ?   I would give anything to experience  that one more time especially at Flemington !!! 
Skip McPherson
Reedville, Va.  (Formally Chester & Gladstone, N.J.)

11.24.14 George Thode Amen Joe... To add to the problems of racing that I've seen in my 60+ years of going is the cost of racing... "Speed Racer"... who thinks he's the next coming of Brett Hearn, has to shell out $100,000 for a car($50,000 for a motor)... You gotta be kidding. I remember a lot of racers used to build there motors from a junk yard, in there 1 car garage and not "race to the bank". Case in point... Brett Hearn, Billy Pauch, Alan and Danny Johnson, Jimmy Horton, would not be in the position they are by spending that amount of money on race cars.. all of them are "low buckers" when they started out, now days you need a "sugar daddy"... Case in point is "The Master" Frankie Schneider, built his own car, motor, towed it in his open trailer, and MADE A LIVING off of it

Another problem with the racing nowadays is too many classes of race cars, the reason you see less cars in a feature is there off running another obscure class of race car... "Back in the day" tracks like Flemington had Novice, sportsman, (who raced with the modifieds) and the modifieds... that's it, other than a special show of sprints or midgets..(Not Rico Abreu)

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?"

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