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  • tombergie01

NLRA Late Models Provide a Good Blueprint to Follow

Bryce Sward (1-2) and Donny Schatz (15) battle during an NLRA heat race at Buffalo River Speedway in June.

The NLRA Late Models are at Norman County Raceway this Thursday as part of the Norman County Fair celebration. I, as long-time late model fan dating back to when I was a kid, am excited to see the class at the 3/8-mile oval.

The tour, which began in 1998, has been a Godsend for late model racing in Grand Forks and in the surrounding area. In fact, I’ve talked to a few long-time drivers in the area who said there wouldn’t be late model racing today in Grand Forks and River Cities Speedway and the surrounding area without the series.

Why does this tour do well? First it pays a fair purse. Each NLRA show is a minimum of $1,200 to win, and $250 to start the A feature. Driver/car entry is only $50.

Secondly, there is a point fund available at the end of each season — which provides incentive to follow the series throughout the region. NLRA drivers sell calendars to provide a point fund and everyone who joins gets paid. The point fund pays a minimum of 20 drivers per year, according to late model veteran Brad Seng of Grand Forks.

In five shows this season, the NLRA is averaging 24.2 cars per night (one show at River Cities Speedway was rained out which I think which had 26 cars signed in). Let’s contrast that with the Wissota Late Model Challenge Series, which began in 1999 and for many years, piled in late models for events. The challenge series, through seven shows, the challenge series is averaging 22.7. The challenge series, for a $10,000 to win event at Huron, got 27 cars. Not bad, but nothing like it was 10 years ago.

This speaks to two things, in my opinion. First, it shows what a positive impact the NLRA has been in the region for late model racing. Its purse, which has increased over the years, low entry fees and season-ending point fund are all enticing for drivers to follow. Not to mention, most tracks that host the that NLRA are within 100 miles of the "home base" in Grand Forks — Norman County Raceway, Greenbush Race Park, Devils Lake Speedway, Buffalo River Speedway, Red River Valley Speedway. So if you live in Grand Forks, or even Fargo, the travel isn’t bad.

It also speaks to how the challenge series has declined, sadly. I remember the days the series would attract 40-50 cars for a show. I remember a swing that would go from Viking Speedway in Alexandria to Madison to Casino in Watertown and then to the $10,000 to win Dacotah Rumble in Aberdeen. There’d be 40-50 cars per night from all over Wissota, and the racing was outstanding. Now if the tour gets to 24 cars it’s considered a good night. There are still quality drivers who race the tour, but the depth isn't there any more.

This year, for a four-night swing in South Dakota, which included the $10,000 to win race in Huron on June 5, the average was just under 24 cars per night. At the June 5 special at Huron, only six of the 27 cars were from outside South Dakota.

Wissota needs to overhaul or do some major tweaking to the Challenge Series, in my opinion, to make it most enticing for drivers to travel and follow it. Otherwise it’s not going to be around much longer, I fear. I think that starts with a better point fund that pays deeper, and frankly, better purses. Wissota may need to find a sponsor or sponsor(s) to supplement the purse to help small-town tracks that have smaller grandstands. Because one of the reason the tracks don’t host them anymore is low car counts — which leads to smaller crowds — and still having to pay $2,000 to win (or more in a few cases). Fi

The challenge series used to go to Viking, Madison, Fiesta City — and none are on the schedule this year or have been for a few years. In fact Madison and Fiesta City have Tri-State Late Model schedules planned, which a series that pays $1,000 to win a regular tour race, but has a point fund that pays $18,750 at the end, with the top 10 drivers being paid. That series races in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and northwest Iowa.

It’s time Wissota takes a hard look at the challenge series to make it viable for the future. I don't think the situation is beyond repair, but it's going to take some looking at different options going forward.

Maybe take a look at some of the things that has made the NLRA Late Models successful. Here is a quote from Seng from an article I did last year:

“It’s an honest purse,” Seng said. “Every place that we race at, you drive into the pit gate, it normally says ‘county fair.’ For us to come out and ask them for $2,000 to win, $300 to start — we aren’t going to have anything. We’ve always modeled it sort of, that we need 10 through 20, more than 1 through 5. Our purses kinda run backwards — we take care of the guys at the backside so the guys up front have a place to race. Ours are $1,200 (to win)/$250 (to start) versus $2,000/$75.”

You also could look at the Steffes Street Stock Tour, which isn’t run by Wissota but is run by Sheyenne Speedway co-promoter Benji Froemke, and take a few lessons from that. The tour is averaging 37 cars a night, drawing cars from four different states, and producing high quality racing. Maybe find out what is working there and learn from it. Or the Advantage RV Mod Tour, which despite a downswing in A mod counts at most tracks, averaged 25 cars on its first three stops — with several cars traveling to follow it. I was at two of the shows with very good racing.

I’m thankful that a group of drivers formed the NLRA Late Models years ago. Wissota could take a lesson and model some of the things that have made it successful.

Steffes Street Stock Tour Flourishes

The Steffes Street Stock Tour, which is averaging 37 cars a night, is maybe the best thing to ever happen to Wissota Street Stock racing in this region. It provides good purses, a nice point fund, and a chance for the street stocks to take center stage. The racing has been very good.

There's even been some sparks flying, as between Parker Anderson and Kyle Genett Friday at River Cities and Anderson and Billie Christ on Saturday at Devils Lake. Anderson is learly going for wins, and he isn't afraid to bump his way to the lead if he needs to -- almost a kind of old-school approach. He's immensely talented -- 17 years old -- but won't make a lot of friends that way, either. Like I said, that kind of racing is popular with fans,, and I enjoy it when drivers race hard for wins, but some drivers might not prefer it.

I enjoy visiting with many of these drivers, too.

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