Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Friendship, ARCA Make for a Week of Dirt Racing Ugliness

1. Friendship Motor Speedway closure cause for caution

By now, there may not be a dirt track more viral in the United States than Friendship Motor Speedway in Elkin, N.C., and for the second year in a row (for those that don’t remember, Friendship made headlines last year after enduring a shooting in the track infield after an on-track dispute). The headlines were less dangerous but every bit as disappointing this year, as the track issued a lengthy statement describing its decision to close for the rest of 2022. 

The tweet below includes a link to the statement, as the track Facebook page will not allow for a direct embed:

Now look, some of the items listed in this statement are indefensible. Destruction of public bathrooms is unacceptable in any forum, as is leaving the grandstands or pit areas trashed after a race event. And yes, verbally abusing employees in any forum, be they a school teacher, a doctor or a drive-thru cashier is going to eventually wear them down to a point where enough is enough. Just look how hard it is to hire anyone these days.

But a word of caution here as the FMS decision has taken a life of its own, with race fans claiming indignation and outrage that fellow race fans could treat a promoter so bad that it resulted in closure. And it’s also worth noting that the track shut off comments on said post on their Facebook page, along with the setting that prevented the actual Facebook post from being embedded.

The word of caution? Absolutism has no place in this type of racing dispute. The staff at Friendship had a very powerful list of grievances here. But the reaction of many race fans and commentators, be they Facebook junkies or national media members covering big-league NASCAR, is to say stop being critical or it’ll go away. There’s been no shortage of “see what happens, shut up and support your local short track” posts in response to FMS’s statement.

That’s every bit as destructive as the issues that FMS had to deal with. Fans need to be able to criticize, comment, vent, etc., be it about the big leagues of racing or the grassroots short track. After all, it’s the money they’re putting into the coffers that make race promotion, competition, etc., exist as a profession and hobby. And this industry, for all the great promoters that are involved in it, has had no shortage of misfires among its ranks as well.

What’s more, unlike NASCAR, dirt racing fans actually can expect their venting to mean something, because there is no perceived monopoly. There are more than 600 active dirt tracks in America. If they don’t like one track, they can (and will) find another.

Friendship Motor Speedway’s closure is a disappointment and a disservice to the racing community, sadly one of three track closures that hit in the last week (Penton Raceway in Alabama cited similar concerns in announcing their closure). 

So is the approach of “shut up and support tracks.” 

2. Sunday’s ARCA race does dirt racing a disservice

ARCA’s Sunday (Aug. 21) race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds went viral for all the wrong reasons on Sunday. First, the race length was cut in the middle of a green-flag run because the fair officials stated they needed time to set up the stage for a Sammy Hagar concert. That was bad enough, but then the race came to an end in one of the ugliest wrecks motorsports has seen in 2022.

I’m not inclined to blame ARCA officials for this incident as some have. Buddy Kofoid (who, let’s be clear, is as skilled a dirt racer as there is) was dead on in his assessment, noting that the combination of glare from the sun in a race that was scheduled to be over two hours prior, dust and driving a car that has a windshield, led to disaster. 

See also
Jesse Love Leads Every Lap at Springfield Mile, Wins Abbreviated ARCA Race

It’s a damn shame that Kofoid was the driver to get collected in that wreck, because while he came up one spot short, he was clearly the class of the field behind the wheel. Just go back and watch his laps; the control he had of his car, both in terms of being smooth on the throttle and straight on corner exit was visibly apparent. It was also apparent that he was employing a lay-in-wait strategy, only being forced to charge after eventual race winner Jesse Love when the Hagar situation was announced.

All of that was lost, however, because that violent wreck was just a microcosm of what ARCA has disintegrated into in recent years. 

Two days prior to the race Sunday, the series had to throw a yellow flag at Watkins Glen because Rita Thomason, a driver who made the jump from racing 4-cylinders at the Buckshot Speedway in Alabama directly to ARCA, pulled into a chicane in moving traffic trying to re-fire her car. And let’s not forget about Toni Breidinger having to be told mid-race not to lift in the corners at Daytona.

The reality is, Sunday’s race made all involved look bad. The treacherous rain-soaked track ripped fenders to shreds off the asphalt-purposed racecars, the delayed start led to yet another ARCA race being shortened for distance, and the Kofoid wreck was a truly dangerous situation. And it didn’t help that series PR guru Charlie Krall tried to choose violence with NASCAR fans gushing over Kimi Raikkonen’s second shot at NASCAR.

Anyone that read my column last week knows how highly I think of dirt racing on the Illinois mile tracks. It’s a rare treat that race fans only get a few times a year. Yet, with rain postponing the Silver Crown Series to October, all that dirt fans are going to remember of the Illinois State Fair this year was mud and a wreck caused by a driver that apparently couldn’t go even 55 mph on a racetrack.

Springfield, and dirt racing, deserve better.

3. Hell Tour lessons learned

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it was nice to see another realm of dirt racing learning lessons from mistakes made. Let’s get the news out of the way. The Midwest Sprint Car Series announced that they would not be racing at Red Hill as scheduled in 2022, owing to improvements needed for the racing surface to actually be able to handle sprint cars.

This is GOOD NEWS and a credit to both track and series alike. Red Hill Raceway is one of several newly-rejuvenated racetracks in the Midwest this year, having hosted the Hell Tour earlier in the summer. 

And it’s good to see them learn a lesson from that tour. Because one of the ill-fated headlines of the 2022 Hell Tour was seeing the super late model tour event at Benton Speedway canceled after the program started because so many late model teams withdrew over concerns about the racing surface.

Losing a scheduled race date is disappointing. But better to do it weeks in advance than after hot laps.

4. Car count a valid reason to cancel?

On a similar note, Sunday night I ventured down to the Page Valley Fair in Luray, Va., hoping to catch a figure 8 race at a track I hadn’t visited before. That didn’t happen. As I was walking to the ticket booth, it was announced that the race was canceled, as only four cars had showed for the event.

Now, I will admit that I had a unique motivation for being there. Had the race gone off, it would have marked lifetime track number 142 for me. That’s the only reason I was there. Figure 8 racing is not my cup of tea, especially on extremely tight temporary fairgrounds layouts. So I was disappointed and irritated that I made the drive only to not get to see a race on the track.

But, for fans that were there looking to see figure 8 racing and a demolition derby, I can only imagine that they’d feel ripped off if they had paid for tickets only to see four cars contest the event. It’d have been over in less than an hour, assuming the four cars are actually survived long enough to contest the full program.

What’s the right call? Tell the competitors that did show up sorry, we don’t have enough? Or tell the fans sorry, our promotion efforts fell short and the product is going to suffer? Tough call.

5. Trackside parking/viewing options must continue

One of the most welcome developments I’ve seen in all racing, from dirt bullrings to even Watkins Glen, is the growing amount of options provided for race fans to pull up their vehicles, tents, etc. close to the catchfences to watch racing action. No grandstand will ever beat being able to put a stadium chair and cooler in the back of the F150 to catch a race.

So we’ll keep this one simple. Don’t let an unfortunate incident (which, fortunately, no one was injured in) slow down the growth of this viewing option at racetracks across the country. Please?

6. Downside of dirt racing surface

Yes, dirt racing surfaces are more vulnerable to race-canceling conditions than asphalt. They’re harder to dry when wet, impossible to race on when they’re too dry … and they’re sensitive to weight. Fans at New Egypt Speedway in New Jersey are learning that the hard way.

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Mr. Keith. Enjoy your columns. Maybe you have already been to Port Royal Speedway in Port Royal, Pennsylvania. If you have great, I hope you enjoyed it. But if you haven’t been there yet or want to come back. You need to come to Port Royal Speedway during the Juniata County Fair. The fair starts the Saturday before Labor Day and goes till the next Saturday night. That is when the $56,000 to win Tuscarora 50 takes place. The 410s race 5 times during the fair. To me it is the greatest week and atmosphere for racing with the smell of the race cars and carnival food. The place is electric with all the people.

Mike Kalasnik

Wall Speedway only had 2 cars show up for their 4 cyl demo derby, and they still had it. If I was the prompter, I wouldn’t of ran it with just 2. I could see how 4 cars for a figure 8 race would be a snoozer.

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