Monday, June 28, 2010

Is Another Modified Division Really Needed?

Okay, I am seeing some talk about Sport Mods or Limited Mods being added at Antioch and even Petaluma. This isn't coming from management at either track as far as I know, just to be clear, but there are racers talking about it. So, I figured I'd put my 2 cents in on the subject.

Do we really need another division? NO! Let me say it again. We have too many divisions as it is. How about we get more cars in the divisions we have now and maybe trim the fat while we're at it?

How many more ways do we need to divide our already shrinking car count? Is it better to have an 18 car class or divide it into a 12 and 6 car class? I guess if you want the one guy who never won a championship to win one, that six division class can work. I know it has at Antioch in the past.

The Dirt Modifieds did what the Sportsman division and Late Models did before that. They let the cost get carried away. The two times before at Antioch, managements answer was kill the class rather than make any adjustments to try and save it. At Antioch this year, John Soares Jr. raised the starting money to $100 for the Dirt Modifieds. People were asking for that in the Late Models back in 1993, but of course, management was too cheap to do it. And back then, they didn't have as many divisions competing for money.

Petaluma took the cue and Jim Soares raised the starting money to $100 for Dirt Modifieds there as well.

Antioch gets probably 18 cars per race. Not as great as I'd like to see it, but solid enough for a full Main Event and the best car count going there. I don't see the need for a Sport Mod division there at the moment. Just keep the drivers happy and they'll race.

Petaluma is averaging 8 cars per race there, so there is a crisis of sorts. Jim didn't raise the to start money until the season had started and racers had committed to other tracks.

But the road is littered with divisions killed by cost. Maybe some of them could have been saved. Some, maybe not. Top drivers wanted to spend more, and car builders were all to willing to go that way with them. Heck, some car builders were instigators through the years. Not naming names, but it's a fact. Get a car builder involved in writing the rules, and he might just add things designed to make him money that aren't in the best interest of the division. Do you think? Nah, they wouldn't do that, would they?

I was sad to see the Street Stock division die at Watsonville and then at Antioch. I don't really consider Super Stocks a continuation of Street Stocks as much as Limited Late Models. Just my opinion, and I know people will disagree with me, but the Street Stock division ended at Antioch in 2008. The merger never should have happened, in my opinion, but what the hell. It had a 30 year run. Track management did what they thought was best for car count, and 2009 wasn't too bad, all things considered.

But back to Dirt Modifieds. I read somebody evoked the name Spec Sprints in talking about the Sport Mods. Since I was there at the start, putting it together for John with my friend Don O'Keefe Jr., I know a few things about the Spec Sprints. Yes, we had the NCMA, but the class needed some adjusting to get it where it is now. Had it just been the NCMA,. do you really think Spec Sprints would be a regular class at all of these tracks now? Be honest.

What's different about this is the Sprint Car scene was just fine back then. 360's were very strong and the 410's were still hanging in there. But you did have all of those chassis sitting out there looking for a second chance. You had all of those racers wanting to go Sprint Car racing that couldn't afford to. With the motor rule and that all important 2 barrel carburetor, plus the weight rule and the fact that the cars self start, if fit in perfectly. The motor rule is the great equalizer, and the fact that it's not being messed with now is the reason the class is still going strong over a decade later.

I never liked the claim rule with the Modifieds. It's stupid. IMCA can preach on and on about affordability because of the rule, but if it's such a great rule, why did they start Sport Mods? Well, anyway...

So, a couple years after Spec Sprints, we get Limited Late Models. Personally, I never saw the need for this class and it contributed to the fall of Street Stocks, but John was there first pushing this class. It probably would have benefited from having a good set of rules that ALL TRACKS went by and a car builder turning out some new cars every year. Problem was, other tracks got in and decided they knew better than John. Yeah, there were times it seemed like it would work, but what happened? Lesson learned, all the area tracks need to agree on rules or it's doomed.

Now we come to Sport Mods. I just don't see the point. Merced tried it and it never got off the ground. Chowchilla has taken on the cause, and it's still struggling. Another 5-6 car show. Is that what the fans want to see? Look around at the declining attendance and ask yourself, is another small division going to get the fans back? Is it going to get the parked cars back? Should we maybe just work on getting the Modified class under control and getting those drivers back out there?

My problem at Antioch is, yes I can see 4-6 drivers being interested in this class and going racing. Then, you'll have 2-6 drivers dropping down for the better chance to win, but not being replaced. Then you have maybe 4-8 cars showing in Sport Mods and 12-14 in Dirt Mods. I'd much rather see the 18 Modifieds that are showing now. This whole new division nonsense has to stop, and we need to get back to a more traditional program with fewer divisions. Car count will hardly allow a 2 or 3 division show now, but back in 2000 it would have been very possible while rotating divisions so everybody had a break.

At that time, a Dirt Mod, Street Stock and Hobby Stock show would have been good for 70-80 cars, but in the ten years since switching Street Stocks for Super Stocks, that is about a 40 car show. If there is something really big on the horizon that will deliver the cars, I'd love to see it. In the meantime, the issues need to be addressed differently.

We need to look at car count and ways to increase it. Not only do we need to get the count up in the divisions, but keeping the racers active for a full season so there is some drama in the championship battle. Not every point race will be close, but we shouldn't just have racers bailing out on the points while in contention. So this is an area that can be handled in a multitude of ways, such as purse, scheduling, race procedure, the treatment of racers and that sort of thing. Unhappy racers don't come back.

We need to look at attendance numbers and how to increase it. Local media should be pursued. Newspapers still exist and should be pursued, internet and fliers and posters around town. Nightclubs use those little cards to get the word out, why not racing? Community involvement. Is there a fund raising cause that can help the community? Get the track involved. If there is a newspaper that spent years covering the track and doesn't any more, reestablish the ties. Use the internet to your advantage by posting on forums, timely updates, internet broadcasts, merchandise sales and that sort of thing.

But, the thing is that fans won't come watch if they don't know it's there. They won't come back if the program isn't entertaining or if conditions aren't that great. They'll go see a movie. Real problem with all of this. It takes effort, and the promoter can only do so much without help. Then, you starting hearing the word "can't" all the time.

This all ties in with the Sport Mod idea, because I understand the reason it gets mentioned is people want a division with cars in it, and they believe that could be Sport Mods. I just don't see this division as the way right now, but there are ways to get racers back.

When we started Spec Sprints, for instance, I organized heat races with only drivers who hadn't won. The idea was encouragement of racers for their first win, and this race was possible because we didn't have B Mains the first season. That came the second season. Even if you do have enough cars, you can still run special races for those drivers once in a while, and if you really want to be nice, pay a small purse or offer a plaque to the winner. Also, this idea can be used in all divisions, and it's one way to let the racers know they are appreciated.

So, this new division talk is nothing new. Before they killed Late Models, there was talk for a few years about starting a Limited Stock class that allowed Street Stocks a little more. The Dirt Modified came instead. Limited Stock talk resurfaced in the mid 1990's. The Sport Mod talk will be listened to a little more closely because there are places in other states where they get cars. I won't be surprised if they are added to Antioch or Petaluma eventually. I just doubt car count will ever be that significant.

Anybody up for a new 8-10 car division? You never know. It may be coming soon. Just don't be surprised if/when it really does nothing for the overall show. That's just my opinion. I could be wrong.