Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Less Knoxville Is More & Kokomo Drops Droop

1. Droop Rule Experiment at Kokomo

The unified rules of super late model racing didn’t last one season, as the XR Super Series announced it would be dropping the controversial droop rule at Monday night’s Kokomo Nationals event and beyond.

The droop rule, which limits travel in the rear of a late model, has been criticized in dirt racing circles for its perceived lack of competitive racing in the top ranks of super late models. Jonathan Davenport has dominated the year with an Eldora Million victory and a handful of crown-jewel late model races in August, while Chris Madden and Mike Marlar are right behind him. The 2022 season has seen the trio prove to be leagues above all competitors in super late model racing.

Now, will this rule change make a difference? There are some doubts, and Kokomo Speedway is hardly the place to test it. There is no issue with XR and Kokomo opting to try something different with rules, but the reality is Kokomo is a tight bullring of a racetrack. If the change is truly going to impact super late model racing, it’ll take a race being run on a half-mile to know if the droop rule change is actually capable of slowing down 2022’s “big three.” 

And whatever the result of this experiment ends up being, I sincerely hope the unified rules stay unified for the 2023 season. It does super late model racing no favors to have major tours return to 2021, when different cars had to be utilized on different tours to deal with droop rules.

2. Knoxville/Pittsburgh Get Race Distances Right

Another rule change that surfaced this week was the announcement that two major Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series races had their feature distances shortened, with the Knoxville Late Model Nationals and the Pittsburgher A-mains cut from 100 to 75 laps.

Those that have read this site back in my NASCAR days know that I have a real problem with race distances being cut without a corresponding reduction in ticket prices. But in dirt racing land, where there are no live pit stops and thus no race strategy that gets reduced by cutting the distance, this is absolutely the right decision to make. Namely because these distance cuts mean both races will no longer have scheduled mid-race cautions for fueling.

It’s hard to understand any race on any surface that bills itself as a 100-lapper or a 50-lapper if there’s a scheduled break in the middle of it. At that point, you’re running a 50-lap qualifier for a 50-lap feature. It makes no sense on a number of levels. Not to mention that for two years running, this scheduled caution nonsense has derailed furious battles for the race lead in the Knoxville Nationals sprint car feature.

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Knoxville Nationals

To quote James Essex, “please stay green.” Seventy-five-lap features make that possible.

3. Knoxville Schedule with No NASCAR Feels Just Right

No, the 2022 edition of NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series race at Knoxville Raceway didn’t turn into the demolition derby that 2021 was. Nevertheless, it’s best for both parties that NASCAR isn’t returning to the sprint car capital for 2023.

It never was a glove fit, as Knoxville is a sprint car track far less suited to NASCAR’s heavy stock vehicles than Eldora Speedway ever was. The Truck race was likely contested due the quality of its facilities, and Knoxville is premier when it comes to that.

But dirt racing should breathe a sigh of relief that the Truck Series is confining its clay antics to the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track moving forward. The reality is the quality of talent in the Truck field — or at least the on-track behavior of the Truck field — has declined to a point where it can reduce one of the top-three dirt tracks in the country to a race that would embarrass county fair demolition derby participants like it did last summer.

The ARCA Menards Series is a stern reminder of this, where — again — a decline in the quality of talent on the track has reduced the stature and quality of the tour’s beloved dirt mile races to a frustration point for those that follow ARCA racing. 

Knoxville deserves better, and the track is fortunately getting it for 2023.

4. Smoky Mountain Streaming Woes

The most viral post dirt racing has seen on any forum this week came courtesy of the promoter at Smoky Mountain Speedway, who absolutely lambasted dirt streaming partners for failing to adequately share revenue with the racetracks themselves.

There are some concerning things this post brings to light. The fact that there are touring series out there that have contracts with streaming partners that allow them to broadcast races without paying any sort of access fee to the track actually hosting the event is a ridiculous business model that absolutely needs to be stopped. And yes, streaming does pose a risk to the gate revenue that track absolutely need to be viable businesses, especially on nights where the weather is iffy. 

But that excuse only goes so far. Case in point, last weekend’s Tuscarora 50 race at Port Royal. That race was streamed nightly on Flo Racing, yet the infield and grandstands were both jam-packed Saturday night for the feature. Port Royal has a well-earned reputation nationally for putting continual investment into its facilities, and I can speak firsthand as to how fan-friendly a racetrack it is. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house, which is an accomplishment at a half-mile.

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Tuscarora 50 at Port Royal

The tenor of the Smoky Mountain tirade is where there is an issue. Yes, streaming is a relatively new development in dirt racing, and the pressures of COVID-19 restrictions have led it to proliferate very quickly without long-term planning for how it would impact the business of hosting racing. That also makes streaming a very convenient scapegoat at which promoters can point. 

There are ample issues facing dirt racing that streaming is not responsible for (dilapidated facilities and race programs with excessive downtime that run into the wee hours of the morning come to mind), and there are many promoters in the sport who conveniently gloss over these issues. 

The tenor of us vs. them is what absolutely has to stop. With no racetracks, streamers can’t make money. With no streamers, racetracks and touring series alike are going to run into real trouble because the cost of racing only goes up. And this isn’t NASCAR; tracks like Smoky Mountain Speedway aren’t going to build luxury boxes and taller grandstands. Additional eyeballs and revenue have to come from somewhere.

5. Make Weekday Qualifying Extinct

Speaking of streaming, I utilized my RaceXR subscription on Wednesday night to catch the Scorcher at Volunteer Speedway in Tennessee. Volunteer is more than five hours from home for me, so had it not been on a streaming service I’d have not seen the race at all. That doesn’t do the track, the competitors or the Iron-Man Late Model Series any good.

I bring this up though because the Wednesday program had some examples of why streaming is becoming so attractive for race fans as opposed to hauling to the track, especially on a weeknight. Between hot laps and qualifying for the Iron-Man divisions, the first actual side-by-side racing didn’t take to the track until almost two hours after the racing program’s advertised start time. 

And with the track opting to run the two touring divisions plus a local support class, a caution-filled limited late model feature meant the headliner of the evening didn’t go green until well after 10 p.m.

Speaking as die-hard a race fan as they come (I’ve attended races in person 48 times thus far in 2022 and paid admission for all of those, no media credentials here), that’s really pushing it on a weeknight. The actual late model feature didn’t finish until roughly 11:15 in the evening, thanks in no small part to two red flags. 

Do the math on driving home after the race and then getting up for work the next day.

There are ways to get around this. Skipping qualifying, or using hot laps as qualifying, would move the program along faster. Sticking with two classes as opposed to three would move the program along faster. It is possible to do; the best-run program I’ve been to this summer was a weeknight Super DIRTcar Series feature at Big Diamond Speedway, where the 75-lap headline feature took the checkered flag at 10 p.m. on the dot.

Yes, going with two classes instead of three is a revenue limiter on tracks, as the pit passes sold for bringing some 20-odd limited late models to the track last night was undoubtedly welcome revenue for Volunteer Speedway. But if running a quick, concise program that gets in, gets out and gets both racers and fans home isn’t possible, restraint needs to be exercised on behalf of racetracks when it comes to weeknight racing.

If race fans are left with that impression on a weeknight, chances are they’re going to end up streaming on a weekend. And see above for what that leads to.

6. 4-Crown Bonus Lacking

Yes, it’s great to see that there’s a $40,000 bonus waiting for any driver that can become the first since 1998 to sweep all four features of the 4-Crown Nationals, which will be contested at Eldora next weekend. 

But just like so much relating to USAC racing and payouts, this feels a bit dated, especially when considering that winning the two ARCA races on dirt would have netted more money ($50,000) this season.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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