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In the Ď50s and Ď60s, traffic often backed up for miles as fans headed for Saturday night races at the quarter-mile Pines Speedway near where I live. As time went on, for many reasons the crowds became smaller and as they did, the track fell into disrepair. It closed over 20 years ago. More people showed up on the property for a recent reunion than attended some of the final races at the Pines.
People who packed the stands during those glory days would never imagine what has happened to the place. If they could talk to some of todayís track operators theyíd understand how difficult keeping a short track alive has become and how trecherous an enterprise operating a speedway can be.
In the Ď50s and Ď60s, a guy could earn a living racing three or four nights each week, even after paying all of the expenses of his race operation with nothing but prize money. Sponsors or personal wealth keep todayís racers financially fit because it costs more to race than a guy (or gal) can win.
Plenty is being done to cut racersí costs. But, not much is happening to benefit track operators who are struggling to break even running weekly or lower level tour events.
These are the hardest of times for many of Americaís short track operators. In todayís America, local speedways compete with so much other entertainment, putting butts on the boards is more challenging now than ever before.
In California, Cajon Speedway didnít open for racing in Ď05. Mesa Marin, Watsonville and Kings Speedways closed, potentially for good, at the end of the Ď05 season. In Pennsylvania, the once strong Big Diamond Speedway cancelled itís year-end super show and track operators announced that they were throwing in the towel. In New York, Chemung and Shangri-La concluded operations. In Nebraska, the owner/operator of Eagle Raceway decided to not continue. In August Floridaís Hialeah Speedway closed after 51 years.
Track operators all over America have told me how tough it is out there.
To fix a problem, itís first necessary to realize there is a problem. Houston, we have a problem.
The biggest issue local-level racers face today is not the high cost of engines, gear rules or their tire bill. Itís that the track where they (you?) race may not be around much longer. The brutal reality is that your local race track just might become a shopping mall or a condo complex. It could happen in 2006.(07, 08...?)
Iím not ready to give up on track operators even though they have for decades been their own worst enemies. I explain to them that the current fad of building the back gate while ignoring the show produces an inevitable and well documented downward economic spiral. In speeches at track operator conventions, in one-on-one conversations and in these pages Iíve complained to them about draggy shows, too many classes, announcers who donít know what is going on, inaudible PA systems, and the rest of what needs to be fixed.
Iím doing my best, but I need you to help me.
First and most important, if youíre a racer, air your trackís dirty laundry in private. An especially sore point are web site postings that attack local tracks. Irwindale California track manager Bob DeFazio has told his competitors that ugly postings can cost them sponsors. Eagle Racewayís promoter.
Itís winter, car show time. When your track needs cars for a show, do your part and participate. Help promote your speedway.
Itíll be tempting to draw a yellow when you want one next summer, but given fansí lack of tolerance for delays itís better to sacrifice your night for the greater good.
When they call your division to line up, roll that machine because fans wonít tolerate delay.
Understand this: The special interests of any individual competitor are less important than the interests of the fans sitting in the stands. The fans are more important than you because without them the party ends. The party can go on without even the trackís champion.
So, the most important job of every local level racer is to help keep their track open. That means ending the war with the promoter. Join him/her in the effort to make the speedway a viable business.
We are in this together. We need to help keep race tracks racing. Neither you nor I need another shopping mall on property that was once a speedway.