For the third straight event, the ARCA Menards Series East will have 15 drivers compete in its event. Fifteen — that means two-thirds of the field will end up with a top-10 result. The last two East events there featured fewer than 15 entrants.
When the main series visited the 0.596-mile short track from 2015-19, the car count declined for four straight years, with only 20 in the 2019 event.
Meanwhile, the short track’s marquee super late model event, the All American 400, draws healthy car counts and packed grandstands.
With the few East participants, should the Music City 200 be moved to be a part of the late model race weekend?
For race fans, the answer is both yes and no according to ARCA communications manager Charles Krall.
“Selfishly, it would be great if we were a part of that weekend,” he tells Frontstretch. “It’s one of the crown jewel races of the country. Selfishly, it would be a wonderful idea; I just don’t know logistically and schedule-wise how you would fit in an event like that onto their calendar.”
However, another race, one of a series owned by NASCAR, extends the amount of time the track would need to pay bills as well as pay the teams. Even though the winning driver of the Music City 200 only earns a base purse of $5,000, as per the entry form on the competitor site of the ARCA website, it’s still an added cost. In total, the payout for the East race is $36,200. That means the racetrack would need to pony up that additional money from the late model weekend.
“The question is they’ve already got a lot going that weekend,” Krall adds. “It’s a premium event so the ticket price is already going to be that of a premium event. So an ARCA race there means either another ticket or an increased price. That’s the challenge that you have there.”
The short track has hosted marquee events before, including the Camping World SRX Series, but up to 30 East teams means more space for teams and the series alike.
“It’d be pretty tight [for space],” Krall says. “Not only would you have up to 30 more rigs that you’d have to park, but you’d also have more passenger cars. We’ve got a tire truck because [the late model field] run Hoosier tires. It’s the same tire company, but we’d need a General Tire truck to bring in the tires and get all that taken care of. For our Sunoco fuel, we’d need to have a separate fueling station. So logistically you’re running out of space. I’m not saying it’s impossible, there’s just a lot of other aspects to it to factor into the discussion before you add our race onto that weekend.”
In the 2022 All American 400, Daniel Dye, Luke Fenhaus, Jake Finch, Conner Jones and William Sawalich competed. Of the five, only Finch competed in the 2022 East race there. Three of the five — Fenhaus, Finch and Sawalich — will compete in the 2023 East race.
But the super late model field drew 37 entrants. Combined, the 2021 and 2022 Nashville races drew 27 entrants. So would adding the East race to the late model weekend boost the East car count?
“It might,” Krall says. “They’d obviously have to speak to their intentions on that. It might make it easier for someone like a Cole Butcher, strictly a late model driver. It’d make it more tempting for them to acquire an East ride or racecar.”
Runner up in the 2022 All American 400, Giovanni Ruggiero will make his East series debut on Saturday (May 13) in the Music City 200. He’ll drive the No. 20 Venturini Motorsports Toyota, so he should be a contender for the victory.
But Ruggiero’s participation in both events deals more with his desire to advance his career as a racecar driver rather than merely the opportunity to compete in another Nashville race, Krall argues.
“The realistic view is that someone like Ruggiero, who is a very young man who would like to someday progress up from super late models into the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. So he’s looking to gain some experience in an ARCA East car at a track he’s familiar with a team that he’s going to have a shot to win the race.
“That’s what you have to look at is who is on that developmental track. Then you have to look at which professional racers would like to come race at a place like Nashville. There’s a lot that goes into attracting race teams in a series. We’ve seen some growth in all three ARCA series; it might not be as big as we want it week in and week out, but we have seen growth. Part of the reason you see this growth, I believe, is that we do go to these racetracks out West and East that these folks want to race at. We’ve seen a lot of interest in Flat Rock, we’ve seen a lot of interest in Nashville and at Five Flags. These are racetracks that over the years are some of the most significant racetracks in the country. These folks want to race at the best possible racetracks that we can bring them to and Nashville certainly fits that bill.”
Another short track on the ARCA Menards Series schedule that hosts premier events is Berlin Raceway. The Marne, Mich., racetrack hosts two marquee super late model events, one that NASCAR Cup Series star William Byron won in 2022. The track will also host SRX in 2023. In addition to its weekly racing program, Berlin has four major events. The Nashville Fairgrounds staff is trying to emulate that model. Unfortunately, like the Berlin ARCA field, which had 20 or less competitors in its last three races, the challenge for Nashville is to attract more teams and drivers.
“On their side of things, that weekend is really established and they don’t need to add to it to attract more spectators,” Krall continues. “But what they would like to do is find a way to take that existing weekend, take it and build that up into a second solid race weekend. I think we’re establishing that date equity, we just need to get back to where the car counts are a little more solid. It’s a worthy record of conversation particularly when you look at the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds. While it’s staying open as a racetrack, the question is how many race weekends are going to be there and who has the managerial contract.”
Indeed, the car count hasn’t solely been an East race at Nashville problem. Over the last five years, a whopping 80.5% of the East races (29 of the 36) have featured 20 or less competitors. While the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects can be partly blamed for the decreased number, the low car count is a problem of which series officials are aware.
Part of it, Krall notes, is due to the series’ transition from a northeast-based series to a more southern one.
“The East series has transitioned from a series that was in the northeast and had a solid competitor base to the southeast part of the country. As it did that, those northeast team owners eventually faded off into the distance which thinned the herd quite a bit. We’re trying to rebuild this thing from the ground up. It doesn’t happen overnight and we came into this knowing it was going to be a challenge. Then the COVID-19 pandemic came in and shut things down. For whatever reason, it has been slower going in the East series.”
Meanwhile, the ARCA Menards Series West has reliably solid fields. The main series also has slowly gained more teams and drivers.
So if two of the three ARCA series fields are strengthening, what’s the problem with the East? The closure of the ARCA Menards Series Sioux Chief Showdown was supposed to boost car counts. If series officials knew an immediate fix, they would implement it. Krall assures Frontstretch that Chris Wright, the series director of the East and West series, has been working hard to raise the East field. For the record, the Nashville car count rose from 14 in 2022 to 15 in 2023.
Still, only two races into the season, there are 10 full-time drivers. And of those 10, only five have a top-five finish.
So would moving the East race to the late model weekend boost the Music City 200 as a whole? Considering half of the East season is combination races with the main ARCA series, it might be worth trying.
About the author
Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.
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