Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Thoughts On Car Counts And Where Things Are Going

I do the Over/Under number for Antioch Speedway's car count in my preview stories every week. What's the point of these numbers? I'm just trying to keep track of the current trends and who is doing what. In all cases, these divisions have a much bigger potential. The two divisions that have me the most concerned right now are Super Stocks and Four Bangers. More so the Super Stocks, because I like this class and it is a crowd pleaser.

Of concern with the Four Bangers is not just the fact that car count is low, but racing hasn't been that competitive in two of the three features. Five cars started last week, but one finished. It's hard to call for the plug to be pulled on a class. I'm still disappointed at the cancellation of the Sportsman class in 1982 and the Late Models in 1994.

At some point, questions have to be asked. Is a division becoming a drag on the program? The Four Bangers should be fielding more cars. Even with the decision to drop the class a few years back, it is in its second season now. Five cars is really unacceptable. I don't understand why a class of this caliber is struggling so badly. So, what to do? Drop it? Run them with the trucks? I doubt anything will change now on the schedule, but a car count increase is needed to justify this class in the future.

Fact is, we really have too many divisions. Perhaps the time has come to start focusing on building car count in the classes that are at least getting some support. It's hard to say, because this isn't the 1980's or the 1990's anymore. We're lucky to have this form of racing anymore.

I've really been out of the loop over the past couple years, occasionally checking on the numbers. I was aware of the merger of Limited Late Models and Modified Street Stocks. The Street Stocks officially ended at the end of 2008 at Antioch as far as I'm concerned, but it was a heck of a 30 year run. Pure Stocks carry on that tradition now.

The track had been doing a Late Model effort, which was pretty cool. Unfortunately, car count never quite took off, though fans still enjoy an eight car division when it's Late Models we're talking about. A promoter must look at the numbers and justify the purse. Late Models don't come for free, so a decision was made top drop the class.

Problem was, the Limited Late Models took a serious turn for the worse during that two year span. This was a class a few years before that that could deliver 16-18 car fields and had Watsonville and Chowchilla joining the party. So, another decision needed to be made. This decision was to merge this class with the Modified Street Stocks, creating Super Stocks. Seemed like a good decision at the time.

When you look at the numbers back in 2008, though, Street Stocks were getting 12-14 cars some nights. It could get low, but drivers were supporting this class much more than the Limited Late Models. I have to wonder, and this is just me thinking out loud. Did the merger kill both divisions and should it have happened in the first place? Almost all of the Street Stock drivers from two years ago are gone.

What's done is done. You can't go back and change it, but it is important to look at decisions and the results of those choices so we can learn from them. Eight drivers have raced in the first four Super Stock shows. I'm not sure if two of those drivers shared the same car, but I'll call it eight cars. It's a six car per race show. What do we do about it? This class does get paid, though it ranks fourth, I think, in the pecking order. Could those resources be put to better use in another division?

The real concern is what is the next big thing for the track? We are down to one Stock Car class if the Super Stocks go down, and my friend Joe Martinez brought up an interesting point. This is a class using 30 and 40 year old cars. I never really thought about that, but he has a point. The class still puts up an acceptable car count, but it's better days are a few years behind it too. What do you do? Take the Super Stock resources (increased purse) and put them towards the Pure Stocks in the hopes of attracting some cars out of the garages and back yards? Will they come?

I have also heard the concerns about the Dirt Modifieds. People are worried it may be next, but the class still looks viable for the next 3-5 years, and it is over 20 years old now. It's had a good run. How long of a run did the Sportsman class have before it ended? How about the run of the Stock Cars when they were headlining the show at so many tracks? No doubt about it. 20 years is a good run.

One thing being proposed by some is bringing the Sport Mod class to the track, but this seems like something that will simply divide car count. Merced did it when they were at 16-20 IMCA Modifieds, and the IMCA Modifieds slowly faded there. No, the thing is to nurture the Dirt Modifieds and keep them going for as long as possible and support it. As long as it's double digits, it's acceptable. More cars would be better, but I can't help but wonder if those regular counts in the 20's can happen these days with all of the things going on in the world today.

This is the type of concern promoters have to deal with in this day and age. I think the belief is now that you can't go back to a three division show with a shorter season and everybody having open shows at the end, but I'm of the opinion we have too many divisions. This isn't something unique to Antioch.

I ask what the next big thing in racing is? We had the Hardtops, Sportsman class, Stock Cars, Dirt Modifieds and even the Wingless Spec Sprints made a splash. What's next? Is there anything next? Add the growing problem that some people are having even being able to work on their cars in their own garages. Some places are worse than others for that.

Let's face it, all of these tracks are in this together. I was called "too political" ten years ago when I was talking about this track unity stuff and warning of declining car counts, but take a look around. It's time for promoters to check the ego at the door and start working on reestablishing the sort of thing we had with NASCAR from the 60's through the 80's. Not only universal rules, but universal points too. Share the cars during the season to create bigger shows.

And, really focus on building and maintaining two or three divisions between the tracks. Every track is unique and has their own thing. Petaluma and Watsonville, for instance, run Late Models. Antioch runs Mini Trucks. Chowchilla has the Sportsman class. If it works at one track, let them do their thing. When the NASCAR "Barky Legacy" tracks began to fall, one of the problems was Merced had a class that worked for them (Cal Mods) that NASCAR didn't particularly care for. If it works for them, let them have it.

But, between the area tracks, (Petaluma, Antioch, Watsonville, Chowchilla and Merced) there are Hobby Stocks, Dirt Modifieds and Wingless Spec Sprints. All even have a four cylinder class of one type or another. Start there. It's up to the powers that be to make it happen. Guys like Barkhimer, Moreland, Soares Sr. and Piper aren't here to do it, and there is no NASCAR for these tracks. NASCAR doesn't care about these tracks. IMCA? Um, I don't think so.

No, this will take promoters working together and forming their own group. Okay, you can stop laughing, I'm being serious. Really. I know what people will say. You can't get them to work together, and I understand the concern. I have a hunch, though, that seven years after the last time I brought this up, promoters are seeing the signs and may be more receptive. I also don't believe they should wait until Reno in December to start having informal discussions, and perhaps the first formal meeting should not happen in Reno. I name the five tracks, but if others want in, why not?

Fact is, some in the racing community view California as a joke. It's not. It has a great tradition in racing and one worth standing up for. So, why couldn't promoters create their own sanctioning body? It worked in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It's something to think about while we're contemplating the future.