A Trail Of Dirt Becoming Dust in the Wind

A Trail Of Dirt Becoming Dust in the Wind

Whether growing up in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or even early 90’s the dirt racing scene was nothing more than sure magic. Before you were even at the track the excitement mounted as you could see the race cars on their open trailers being towed to the track. In your mind, you were counting each race car passed as you knew would be there. When you saw a new car following the same way to the track your patience was gone and you just had to be at the track. As a kid growing up in the 80’s I was very fortunate enough that my family had a camper at a campground which was right next to a race track. Each Saturday morning, we would all go to breakfast then come back and I was not going anywhere else that day. My family tried to persuade me to go shopping, to yard sales, or just a nice Saturday drive, but I insisted I could not leave the campground. I had to get to my favorite tree to climb by two o’clock so I can watch all the race cars drive down the access road. With the gates not opening until three o’clock the access road would get back logged with cars. With my pen and paper, I would write down the car number and if I knew the driver write that down with spelling errors of course.

After the gate were open and cars were moving and my hand hurting I would get the next level of excitement. The race cars found their spot in the pit area I could hear them fire up the engine to take off the trailer. A sound so pure that just gets your heart racing and time just stops. Sitting in the tree usually until five o’clock I have my list complete then I climbed down and headed back to the camper to get ready for the races. Making sure my grandparents had money and they making sure I had a sweatshirt and glasses for the dust, we walked over to the track at six o’clock. The racing action did not start until seven but I just had to be there to get my program, a picture or two, see all the cars in the pits getting ready, and track crew prepping the racing surface. My grandparents did not mind going so early as they enjoyed the food so it was a win win for everyone. Placing our blanket to save our seats in turn 4 as I felt that was the best spot to see all the action we were all set and ready. The cars would come out on the track and help run the track in which gave them a chance to warm up their engines and pack the track for the best possible racing surface. After the track was packed they would give them the green for some hot lap action. The smell of the racing fuel, the sound of the engines full throttle and seeing the cars slide through the turns is a feeling that is indescribable to a fan. After hot laps we would all honor the great country we live in with the National Anthem and then the announcer would start announcing the heat race lineups. The time has finally come for the action to start. An excitement that started at breakfast is now burst into joy as the racing action begins. Side by side action in the heats. Cars spinning out, seeing the flagger give the halfway sign, then the 3 to go followed by the white flag and then checkers to the winner. Intermission was my grandparents second favorite part as it was time to use the bathroom and get more food. This time I would watch crews work hard on their cars and seeing crews and other drivers from other race teams help other drivers get their cars ready for the main events. The sound of the air guns putting on the new tires for the feature just echoed through the pit area. Hustling back to my seat eagerly awaiting the cars to roll back onto a freshly manicured track with the grader working out the kinks and the water truck adding water to keep down the dust. The announcer gets the crowd ready and roles through the lineup. Just before the start of the race you hear the announcer says, “Who’s it going to be” and roles through some top drivers and the crowd cheers for their favorite driver. It’s time for the drop of the green flag. Cheering our favorites on lap after lap seeing side by side battles clean fun racing, last lap passes for the win. We all have our favorite drivers and even if they did not win on that night we all said what a great time we had. However, that was not the end of the night. After the racing concluded many drivers would stick around and have a cold beverage and food and chat with fans and other drivers. I have many programs with drivers autographs on it that I got after the races and I got to share that moment. They were like heroes to me and the whole racing atmosphere was a second family to me and many during this time period. The next day of the races after I woke up in the camper and scoured the pit area to see if I could find items left behind. There was the occasional screw driver and one day even found a watch on the ground.

As I got older I became more involved with the race working there now building lasting friendships with drivers and officials and really understanding what goes on during the race. I helped write articles for the programs, did track maintenance, and victory lane interviews. As technology took over I created a website for the track to help spread the word about the race track to attract a bigger audience. Sadly, the track did not make it as politics and disagreements shut the gates on the track near and dear to my heart.

That was the experience many of dirt race fans got during that era of growing up. If you grew up after that era here is a taste of what you may have encountered. The open trailer concept was slowly disappearing in the mid 90’s and many of the youth would miss out on racing. Enclosed trailers were the start of the demise of the sport in my eyes. People on the highway would see an enclosed trailer and not know what was inside of it. It could be boxes, landscape equipment or a race car.

The part with people would see the open trailers on the road and follow them to the speedway was gone. Technological advances in the late 90’s and early 2000’s paved the way for more expensive racing equipment which led them to want to protect it more with enclosed trailers. With no fault to them wanted to do this is did not attract new fans to the race track. Fans then did not know who was going to be racing until they got there and saw the cars outside the trailers. Another issue is with the expensive equipment drivers were hoping it would result in higher purses from the race tracks. Without that drivers were force to go where the money was. Weekly regulars were declining at the track putting more pressure on the race track.

The social media boom was a way track could get either well known or destroyed but what people comment about. It allowed the message of if the races were cancelled drivers could make the trip to another track so drivers were not wasting travel time going to a track not racing. Race results would be posted online as well as photos and even live feeds from the racetrack of the events so people now feel they get the whole experience for free at home from a variety of different tracks. Souvenir programs are also now becoming obsolete as the Internet shows all that information. Fans of drivers that had a rough night can bash that track and give it a bad reputation turning new race teams off from attending.

So what is actually attracting fans now? Well if you head to the races its usually comprised of family and friends of the drivers and sponsors. The excitement of getting to the track is all but lost and the only think attracting racers to tracks is the money. The expense of racing to the money made from racing is so high people are getting out of it. The relics and souvenirs of racetracks are becoming obsolete so what will the race fan of tomorrow remember? Race tracks are closing and tracks that are open have very small support in car counts unless they have a strong purse. Travelling series are hurting the weekly tracks as people do not want to risk racing weekly and damage the car so rather opt out and just race the travelling series where more money is on the line. Fans follow the travelling series because the know the big names in racing will be there. Can dirt racing be saved? That is a debatable question with many opinions from some dirt historians and fans alike. I do believe it can be saved but for that to happen the dirt racing scene must take a step backwards. Racing is not all about how fast you can go. We need to build smaller tracks so people can afford to race again. If you talk to many of the great dirt drivers from the past they will all say they learned how to drive and understand their car on the smaller tracks which then propelled them to success on the big tracks.

 Support from local municipalities and the local communities. Build the fan base and provide a safe and race friendly track to attract drivers. Have drivers commit to after the races meet and greets and autograph sessions.  It will help the fans grow and when the attendance grows the purse grows. Feld entertainment which is Monster Jam has a free autograph session after each show for the kids to get something autographed and have a picture taken. The fans feel more a part of the experience then. Not everyone has the money to race but they all have the ability to enjoy the race.

Where dirt racing ends up is up to us to figure out whether we want to continue to leave that trail of dirt to the next generation or just have it become dust in the wind.

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