Monday, October 3, 2011

A Few End Of The Season Observations

I know it's hard to run a race track these days. Heck, it's hard to run a track in any era, but times have changed. There are too many things out there to take the race fan's money before they even have a chance to decide to go to a race. There are too many bills for the race car driver to pay before they even get a chance to decide to build or race that car. Antioch Speedway seems to be in the 50's for the average five division show these days. Go back 25 years, and you'll see they did that with two divisions.

Can you even run a two or three division show in California these days? Well, maybe you can, but it's gonna take lots of effort to get a car count. Plus, what about those divisions you shut out? Do you think those drivers are magically gonna decide to build cars for the divisions the track will run? Not likely. So, basically, you run them all X amount of (not too many) times per season in hopes of getting the best count possible. You do what you can, and it is better than nothing.

I've been watching quietly from the sidelines all season, taking note of some of the things going on. I give ALL of the promoters credit for keeping the tracks open to allow the racers to put on a show. This is not the 50's or 60's, where Midgets, Hardtops or Super Modifieds put on one division shows with huge fields. This is not the 70's or 80's, where two divisions put on those entertaining shows of the day. Nor is it the declining, but still solid, car counts of the 90's that still entertained.

It dwindled gradually in the last decade to a point where most tracks are lucky to have one B Main where drivers earn Main Event starts not just by showing up, but by racing. It's a good bet that with all the divisions tracks are running there are divisions the fans really don't care for, but they put up with them for the cars they do want to see.

What is the Next Big Thing in racing. Hardtops and Supers were king in the 60's. Supers, Sportsmans and Stock Cars ruled in the 70's. Don't want to forget Sprint Cars. The Sportsmans gave way to Late Models in the 80's while Street Stocks were added to the mix. Sprint Cars took over for Supers. In the 90's, as Late Models became a tour, Dirt Modifieds were added to the mix. This was perhaps the last "big thing" in racing, but at the risk of offending some, the racing sucked pretty bad at times. There were good drivers in the mix, but this was not Late Models.

Still cars showed up in droves, and fans and promoters want to see that. Thank you Mr. Soares for having he foresight to bring this to California. It took NASCAR three years to get on board with this and IMCA came to California two years after the Petaluma debut. A lot of people swear by IMCA, 25 years after John Soares Sr. brought the class to the state, IMCA still promotes here. John's son Jim will crown the track's 25th Dirt Modified champion next season if he keeps the class there, as I'm guessing he will. Word is Jim will add Sport Mods next season, which I'll get into later.

For those wondering where I've been hiding, I'm here, just being quiet. I never left. I actually wrote something a week before Antioch started the season, but I opted not to post it. I didn't want to rope myself into a weekly thing. Too much effort for no money. This column is supposed to be a fun thing. I was greatly relieved to see Mike take over publicity. He was needed. Still hoping to see the track get coverage in The Times, but it will take work.

I'm also happy to see John Meyers announcing. He has become part of the tradition, and I know he loves what he's doing. I respect that about him. He's also able to distance himself from the politics and enjoy himself. I take that stress home with me and it eats me up. Now, announcing, writing, doing a web page and restarting Racing Wheels were all tempting, but even if I had said yes, I don't think I could have done it long term. And there are reasons I won't get into here why I couldn't come back. I'm not the same person I was.

John did one thing I was skeptical of this year. He started Super Hobby Stocks. How about a name change to Street Stocks next season? The reason I had my doubts was Hobbys were only getting 10-12 cars per race down the stretch last year. It worked out though. Drivers moved up, new drivers came in and car count grew in the Hobbys. The Super Hobbys have a shot at double digits next year. The other thing I liked was several drivers moved up from Four Bangers, yet that car count grew. This was a positive step, and perhaps Four Bangers could be a 20 plus car show next year.

If there was a Next Big Thing of the last 15 years, it may be Wingless Spec Sprints. Car count has gone into the 20's this year, but was generally low to mid teens. This is a division I would have liked to see John book a big race for, but the Dirt Mods get all the love. Not that they don't deserve it, but the Spec Sprints could have had a big show somewhere and produced car counts. Either that or getting into the Hunt Series would have been nice.

But, come on. If you think I'm gonna get down on John for the few things I'm not thrilled with, forget it. He booked three big money Modified races at Antioch, the biggie in August hitting into the 50's, brought the Late Models back and continued to support the King Of The West Series. Oh, I'm almost forgetting something. He brought in the World Of Outlaws. The freaken Outlaws. At Merced too. John did that. Last year I said I'd probably give the Top Promoter award to John Prentice, but this year it's John Soares Jr. Maybe things aren't perfect, but damn, he did some good things this year.

John is taking the risk at two tracks this season. Lots of little things being done too. An Antioch racer will benefit some for the UMP Modified sanctioning. Things like that. If it fails, he loses money on the risk. I don't know if anybody is looking these days, but tracks are still being threatened. Watsonville is the latest under attack, but they'd love to close them all. This is why I say it's better to have something than nothing. The WoO thing still blows me away. I doubt the previous management would have done that.

Now, John started 2011 with Kenny Shepherd at Chowchilla supporting UMP at his track too. I think I posted that Chow should join IMCA, not that I'm a big IMCA supporter. The reason I said that is because that area has IMCA supporters and Merced has left that building. It would have been the perfect opportunity. I know Johnnie Baptista would echo that sentiment. What disappointed me was Chowchilla didn't give UMP a full season. I'm sure the situation was pretty dire, but you weren't going to see an increase in cars that quickly.

By the way, Johnnie likes to say another thing that I don't always agree with, but it makes sense at one track I noticed. He claims that tracks go to IMCA to get a car count and then drop them when they do. When Watsonville went IMCA, car count was low. By last season, B Mains were the norm. They dropped IMCA and then what happened? What was the reasoning again? Why do promoters mess with divisions with car counts? More often than not, they lose cars when they do. If a driver starts claiming to want more if they are going to race, tell them to go race elsewhere. When you have a car count, just open the gates and run the race. You don't need to tweak it.

The "Evil" Chuck Griffin had a good IMCA Mod count not too many years ago. Generally in the high teens and even needing B Mains. But, he saw the need to try and get older cars out there and budget racers. So, he added Sport Mods. I didn't think it was needed, and I know I was not alone in that. But, he'd been around long enough to see the cycle of divisions play out. He was one of the last Sportsman drivers at Merced when Jim Soares dropped that class due to low car count in favor of Late Models. This is probably why Chuck eventually brought the Sportsman class back to Merced.

By the way, look at the numbers at Merced a couple years before Chuck held up the checkered flag on his promotional effect. It wasn't that bad. What did him in was loss of big sponsorship due to poor economy. Merced Speedway up until that time had some of the best sponsors you would find anywhere in the state. A bank, a car dealership and a grocery store chain, all gone. If not for that, the man might have still retired, but his hand picked successor would have been there, which I know is what he was hoping to accomplish. That's not a shot at Anybody, because I think John is dong a heck of a job at Merced now.

When Kenny came to Chowchilla, he got on Merced's Sport Mod bandwagon as well as the Sportsman division. In that area, you have to take your cars where you can get them. Now, for a few years, Merced and Chowchilla seemed to be wasting their time. Last year, the roster grew to double digits. Victorville had a slightly bigger count. Suddenly, people were looking at this new Modified class. I saw comparisons to Spec Sprints. Well, yes and no. Everything in Sprint Cars in Nor Cal to the point where Don and I came in were winged and injected. We really created a new class that even Stock Car people could get into.

But, the fact is there are lots of old cars out there. What concerns me is that people think this is a real low dollar alternative to get away from the "big boys" and the fact is that this can divide the Modified count. That may be happening in the Merced-Chowchilla area now. Bakersfield was next to get on board with this class, and I've already seen some rumblings from people about cars being brought by some of the front runners. This is where it starts folks. If you've been around the sport for a while and you have a brain, you know this.

If you keep a tight grip on the rules and don't pay too much, decent starting money and not too much to win, you might have a chance. Now, other tracks are at least looking and IMCA may even get a sanction on one of them. I'm hearing Petaluma, Watsonville and Hanford are looking. My concern is car count being divided. I've noticed a few names at Chowchilla who ran regular Mods within the last couple years. Chowchilla has in fact given up on the full Modifieds and Merced can't seem to get over ten on a regular night.

That may cause some people to wonder why John insisted on a ten car minimum for a Sport Mod show he wanted to run Sunday. But, I can see the argument on one front. It is effecting the Modifieds, so if you want dates, you'd better have a bigger car count. As far as the thought that Merced would be stealing Chowchilla's cars. I reject that notion as whole heartedly as I did when people accused Chowchilla of stealing Merced's cars when Chowchilla opened. They are the driver's cars, and it's up to promoters to make the drivers want to race there.

John has a vested interest in Modifieds right now. He's running big races for the class at both tracks, and it's important to let the racers know they have a home. But, the economy may dictate he get into Sport Mods, at least at Merced. I've no doubt there are a few racers already wanting this class at Antioch, but with 15-20 cars showing up in Modifieds, I can see where he wouldn't want to go there. With Spec Sprints and Four Bangers, John has already been at the front of some trends, so he doesn't have to be a leader in the Sport Mod movement.

However, Jim Soares is looking. Jim took a huge risk last week with a Sport Mod show for $750 to win. First, other than Ford Cook, there are no cars in the area for this class. Second, Chowchilla was booked for a race. Four cars showed up, which seems to be the norm for many new divisions not named Spec Sprints, and Jim did something real crazy. He paid as advertised. Combining the three classes that night, he may have had 20 total cars, so this one hurt. I can see why Jim would look at Sport Mods, given the low Dirt Mod counts. Promoters have to do things like this when there is a car count concern. I also hear IMCA could be sanctioning this. May not be a bad idea to put the sanction on the full Mods too if they return.

Now, if Sport Mods take off at Petaluma, I won't be a bit surprised to see Antioch join in. What I'd really like to see is the brothers working together the way I've no doubt Pops would have wanted. There's plenty of opportunity and it should happen. More importantly, there should be a big race remembering John Soares Sr. So, which one of the brothers wants to book it first?

And Now For Something Completely Different

Now, I'm going to throw something radical out there. You may know that last year I was offered a job at Antioch as announcer, publicity, web master, reviving Racing Wheels. A lot of things. I was unclear on what it would have been worth financially for all the work, but I don't know that I could have gone back again anyway. However, It was nice to be remembered.

I am happy that an Antioch Speedway icon, and yes I said icon, John Myers, returned to announce. The man loves that race track, and I respect his dedication to the sport. We have different styles, but so what? Keep on rocking John, and feeling the need for speed.

I'm also pleased Mike is doing publicity both tracks now. I believe John still announcing at Merced too. It's a lot of effort working at two tracks, and it can be very stressful. That Mike is giving the same effort at both tracks is awesome in my book.

One of the radical ideas I had was to make more use of the internet in selling the track. For one thing, there should be a store selling Antioch Speedway merchandise, extensive history, a track history book and that sort of stuff. An archive for people to look back on. Anywhere that is willing to print information on the track should be sent information. Local community forums would be joined as a way to get information out there.

Another thing I'd use the internet for is video and audio. Having watched the Texas Dirt Network and Ventura Raceway on the internet, I have to say it would be very cool to have that for Antioch. The problem is that it takes money to do this, and the other outlets do it for free. I enjoy the Ventura broadcast. It's pretty amazing to see a California track broadcasting, and I have a lot of respect for Jim Naylor in the way he promotes that track. Now, Jim did attempt to charge one week for video before going back to free. My guess is people didn't really want to pay. It was $20 for the broadcast, so I can understand that.

I'd set it at $10 to start with. Some money is better than none. Ventura has over 200 people watching the main event most weeks. There's profit to be had. What I would consider is showing heats for free to start with and charging for the Main Events. Another possibility would be a monthly fee and access to archives. This way racers have videos to watch when they get home.

With a live broadcast, you can attract viewers from all over the world, family members of racers who can't be there and other fans. It's a whole new audience. With this being a somewhat new idea, I'm not sure where it fits into the deal at the fairgrounds, which could be a good thing. This could put another couple hundred fans in the stands, or more. This means more money to work with. It doesn't have to end here. You can do a weekly show with interviews and that sort of stuff too.

It's a crazy idea, I know, but I think there is potential. You need a good camera and cameraman to work it, a line to the PA for clear audio and a good internet connection and computer to run it. Another thing to consider in this day and age is the NASCAR TV broadcasts at night where fans just stay home. With the new TV's and everything, you can hook it up to your TV and there you go, Antioch Speedway on your TV. I also think that as people see this on TV, the people close enough to the track will show up and watch. It's an idea anyway.

I could ramble on some more, but I'm gonna end it here. Until next time.