RaceChaser Editorial on Car Counts, the Black Flag, and Start of Races
I decided to write an editorial — all my own opinion — one some racing things on my mind.
One is on car counts. They are done at almost every track around. The exceptions being Red River Valley Speedway, which has been pretty good all year, and River Cities Speedway, which has had good car counts in the late models and sprints in spite of the travel ban between the US and and Canada. The one class that down, it seems everywhere, is the A mods, with Red River Valley Speedway being one of the few holding its own. IMCA tracks in southern Minnesota struggle to get to 10 cars, and many Wissota Mod tracks are down, too.
Here are my thoughts on car counts.
1. People are racing less. Several drivers that used to race at three nights per week have cut back to two or less, and several who’ve raced two nights a week previously are down to one. Yes, you have some who race 3-4 nights a week regularly — Tyler Peterson, Justin Vogel, Parker Anderson, Brock Gronwold, Scott Bintz come to mind — but that number has shrunk. It’s a lot of work and time to invest to race that much and I admire the drivers who do.
There are several factors here. One, there are other things to do, especially if you have children who are involved in youth sports and other activities. When it’s 90 degrees on a Saturday, being at the lake is pretty appealing.
Second, money. It’s expensive. I’ve talked to several drivers who lost sponsors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, some up to 30 percent from the previous year. Especially if you had a bar or restaurant as a sponsor, those were very hard hit.
Third, lack of pit help. Some people, like my good friend Tom Corcoran of East Grand Forks, for example, are one-person outfits and don’t have a crew. They do all of the work and prep on the cars during the week and at the track. He’s not the only one — and it’s hard to race 2-3 nights a week without a pit crew. It burns yourself out quickly.
2. Few are chasing track points. Unless you have a point fund for winning your track points title, there’s not a lot of incentive to run for weekly points besides pride. I’ve talked to many drivers who don’t chase track points anymore. They like to take a weekend off here or there, or go to a special event somewhere, which takes them out of point contention. If you look at most myracepass point standings, you won’t see a lot of drivers in the points who’ve been to every show — maybe 4-5 per class.
I’m a big fan of the Steffes Street Stock Tour, the Advantage RV Mod Tour and Rebel Midwest Mod Tour. But when those events, which pay good purses, are taking place, you lose some cars for weekly shows. That becomes more noticeable when the car counts are less.
3. People retiring/quitting. Guys like Jason Thoennes, Shaun Peterson and Jeff Wildung have retired in recent years. So for every driver that steps away or retires, you need another new one to start to take that place, if that makes sense.
4. Too many tracks?. The more tracks there are, the more you are splitting the pie of race cars. I’ll use an example. Let’s say I’m a Wissota Midwest Modified driver in Willmar, Minn. On Saturday nights, I could go to Viking Speedway in Alexandria (about an hour), Madison Speedway (a little over an hour), or even to Ogilvie (about 105 miles away). I have options. Even on Fridays, if I lived in Glenwood, let’s say, I could race at I-94 Sure Step Speedway in Fergus Falls or Fiesta City Speedway in Montevideo.
I don’t want to see racetracks close. Not at all. But there are only so many cars to go around right now, and as a result, car counts will be down weekly.
I don’t have the answers to this other than getting more people into racing. That would mean making it easier and more affordable just to get into racing, whether you are coming from go-karts or deciding to hop into a car after being a fan or crew person for years.
Black Flag Debate
I wrote about the black flag last year. It isn’t used much, if at all for rough driving anymore.
I’m of the school of thought that it should be used more for rough driving. We’re seeing too much equipment torn up because of that kind of driving, and some driving that borders on dirty. The car in front of you is not meant to serve as your brakes.
I think part of the reason it is not used, honestly, is that tracks fear they will lose cars if the black flag a driver for rough driving. I’ll come at it another way. If you allow rough driving consistently, you will lose other cars because they don’t want to come back and race in situations like that every week where their cars could get destroyed.
Look, I like good, hard racing as much as anyone, and I don’t mind some sparks flying and some fenders rubbing. But there is a line there, and I think as an educated fan, you can see when it’s crossed.
It might not hurt to see it waved for rough driving and might save some equipment in the long haul.
Start of Races
I’m getting kind of annoyed at how some (and I repeat some) of the races start once the green flag flies especially on restarts. Starts are messy, cars are get bottled up and it leads to way too many cautions.
But there’s another issue that I want to talk about that happened at one of the tracks I was at this weekend. During a heat race, the inside pole car, for whatever reason, didn’t fire or go at the starting cone (like they are told to do at most tracks). The outside pole car did what they were supposed to do, and that was go. However, initially it looked like the outside pole car was going to be penalized for jumping the start. I don’t know why the inside pole car didn’t go (spun tires, or car just wouldn’t go), or was sitting back on purpose trying to sandbag the start. But the right call was made and the outside pole car wasn’t penalized.
I am of the school of thought the inside pole car sets the pace on starts, but I also think that once they are at the firing cone, it’s time to go. And if they don’t go, it’s on them and not worth penalizing others who followed the rules and went at the cone.