The race season has arrived and I'm sitting here in my den watching "The Clash" on the TV. I see the new teams and paint schemes; and, I hear about the changes for this season, but I can't help but think, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." When they came up with the playoffs, and declared the last ten races "The Chase," this seemed to be NASCAR's desperate attempt to save their sport. This was a "big change", be it good or bad, and we continued to follow the series each week. At first it was entertaining. Some drivers made unorthodox moves in order to stay in "The Chase", but as years passed by, new tweaks to the rules came from NASCAR. More and more changes followed and eventually led them to tweak their rules week to week. Where some got away with innovation or a creative move on the track , others would be punished in the weeks that followed. This became more and more aggravating for the race fan.
As I write this, a big wreck and rain once again put Jimmy Johnson in victory lane. Something is missing. I just can't get excited over NASCAR as I once did. The time has come to make NASCAR more entertaining and here are some "big changes" I would like to see:
1. Make the car bodies different depending on the manufacturer. Aerodynamics are important, but different makes should have their own unique body lines. Currently, they all look the same. This would help promote car sales (People don't even buy cars anymore, they all drive mini station wagons).
2. Have the drivers compete in pre-main-event heats (maybe four 20 lap heats) the same day as the big race. Fans like to see drivers race their way into the feature. And then shorten the main events to 2 hours of racing. Track vendors will make more with short breaks in between races.
3. Schedule one weekend to rotate between four different venues year to year, meaning NASCAR returns there every four years. This would give an advantage to the more experienced drivers where rookies would be rookies for four years on this race weekend.
4. Dirt tracks are where many of the drivers make their start in racing. Let's look at a dirt track event for the Cup Series. They did it for the trucks, why not try it for the big boys. Again, heats and shorter races would be way to go.
What changes might you suggest?
So I'm sitting here waiting for spring and getting antsy to head on out to my local tracks. Asphalt or dirt, late models or sprint cars, legends or street stocks. I'm ready for the 2019 race season to begin. I'll be at some track, sometime in April, with my winter coat on if need be. Let's all be thankful we have an alternative to sitting at home staring at the TV. Join me in supporting our local tracks early this year
The race track up in Plymouth, at the Sheboygan County Fair Park, has been on my list for a long time. It was the perfect time to check out this unique speedway as it was “Past Champions Night” and the Badgerland Vintage Racers were scheduled to race. First of all, the grandstand seating is the most comfortable I’ve seen at a local track. Everyone gets a backrest therefore, no need for a stadium seat. When there’s a rain delay, the roof over the stands keeps everyone dry. Umbrellas also not needed. This grandstand design seems to keep the dust away from the fans as back pressure must make it blow on down the way and not up into the seating area. No need for goggles. What makes this track quite different, is that cars entering the track pass by the grandstand in a lane outside the oval and enter the track at turn one. This allows the fans to watch the push starts as they go by the stands and one can keep an eye on the cars lining up for the next race. I enjoy being able to see who’s “on deck”. The racing was excellent with MSA 360 sprint cars swapping the lead and the Grand National race having a three way battle for the lead. I forget sometimes how much fun a dirt track can be. It was also nice to see the vintage looking modifies traverse the dirt. Walking the pits was an enormous task as it is a fair park and they have more than enough space for drivers to park their haulers. I will definitely be attending Plymouth Dirt Track Racing on a more regular basis.
This year I’ve added two more tracks to the dirt side of my speedway list. It is, and always will be, my mission to seek out a new place to enjoy auto racing in Wisconsin. So take my advice before the winter woes set in and attend an auto racing track, one that’s new and completely different
We’re always looking to explore new speedways. Please share your track experiences with us so that we can keep adding to our list.
Getting right to the topic: Dad drove Chevrolets. Hence, he was a Chevy guy. Kids grew up emulating their father and would drive whatever was given to them. So, I drive Chevrolets. Not sure what the young people of today are inclined to do, but that’s what we did in my generation. There were other dads who drove other makes of cars and I had friends who liked Fords or Mopar products, but MY dad was a Chevy guy. Chevrolets were indeed very practical as they were affordable, and made in America. Many were used for short track racing because of this practicality. Even today you will see Chevys at most race venues.
During the years I introduced my son Rich to short track racing at Slinger, we developed favorites to follow when we attended a Sunday night of racing. We enjoyed tacking the qualifying times, watching the heat races, and trying to pick who would win the feature events. But it didn’t seem to matter to us whether they were driving a Chevy or a Ford. We just enjoyed the colorful paint schemes, the tipping numbers with vapor trails streaming off of them, the driver’s nicknames, and the side by side racing at the finish line. Yet there were still the fans that followed the manufacturers… I guess. This was and still is especially true when it comes to NASCAR.
When I exchange views about a recent NASCAR race winner, some fans will say, “…as long as a Chevrolet wins.” This is perplexing to me and for some reason I don’t quite understand: why limit your favorites to drivers who only drive a certain make of car? These race machines only resemble the cars we drive on the streets these days. Although there are different technologies offered by each of the manufacturers and NASCAR still has the manufacturer standings, I’m still not going to stop following my favorite driver because he no longer drives a Chevy. You could even take this a step further and say, “I’m not going to follow this or that team anymore because they switched to Toyota.”
There seems to be a larger variety of car makes at the local tracks now compared to when I was mentoring my son. Even Fords used to be quite rare compared to Chevys but now along with Fords you will see Toyotas making their mark at Wisconsin short tracks. This change is most welcome if it helps keep auto racing alive and well here in our state. With this said, it doesn’t matter to me for I’m going to follow the underdogs, the track champions, the ladies and gentlemen of the sport.
So who are you going to choose when making your fantasy racing picks this year? Only Chevrolets? Fords or Toyotas? Or are you like me? I’ll be ignoring the car manufacturer and we’ll be picking either my favorite drivers or closing my eyes and letting the pen make the decision.
How much money does one spend on racing T-shirts, caps, flags, bobbleheads, diecast cars, coffee cups, drink coasters, can holders, Christmas ornaments, key rings, posters, lamps, clocks…? The list goes on and on. How many of these things do you feel are collectible? We’ve all purchased some of these items through the years, but for me personally, I have worn out the T-shirts, let the grandkids play with the diecast cars; and I’ve either lost, broken or thrown out the coffee cups, can holders and key rings. If you take a closer look, the racing souvenirs we’ve all purchased through the years are probably not all that collectible. The moments of getting that favorite driver’s signature and watching them compete side by side, these memories of attending race tracks, are the collectibles.
My grandkids love going into the pits after a night of racing. They look for the bowls of candy sitting on the trunks of the cars. They also like getting the race-driver-cards, some with signatures, and if they’re lucky, from the drivers themselves as they stand by their car talking with the race fans. URFWI members #003 and #004 already have quite the collection of these cool looking handouts. They like to show Grandpa the new ones they collect every time Dad takes them to a night of fun at the track. That’s what these souvenir things are meant for: fun. It is fun to wear a shirt or a cap with your favorite driver to a race, and it is fun to let people know who you will be following lap after lap. When the race season is over, the following year will bring new drivers and paint schemes. Therefore, new souvenirs are again available to be bought and collected. But what are the real collectibles here?
My personal race adventures have tempted me through the years to buy a new cap at least every other year. I’m a Matt Kenseth fan so I have a collection of old worn out #17 and #20 racing caps. The memories I have of Matt: when he would be leading the pack at Slinger and at Madison International Speedway, watching him pay his dues in NASCAR’s stepping stone series, and working his way up to the top of his field in the Cup Series; are some of my most valuable recollections. I can’t put a price on this. In my home, I have a driver-card of the Hooter’s #7 hanging up that was autographed by Alan Kulwicki at, where else but Slinger Speedway. I will never forget him signing cards for all of his fans, one of which was my son Rich. His eyes were fixed on seeing his favorite driver up close. Again, I can’t put a price on this. Every time I look at this framed piece or put on my cap, a collection of memories return to my mind. I see Kulwicki’s #7 car with the colorful Zerex paint scheme turning laps on the high banks of our favorite speedway. I remember vividly, as if it were last weekend, the driver of the #8 Kenseth being introduced as “Matt the Brat” before the start of a feature event. The cards and hats are only cardboard and cloth; the collectibles are the memories. These items are fun to have, but they have a much more meaningful purpose: they trigger the memories you’ve collected.
So keep on supporting your favorite drivers and race tracks by collecting the collectibles. Some may end up in the trash someday, or maybe given away or sold to another collector, but everyone has special souvenirs they hang on to, the ones you won’t part with. These are the keepers. The most meaningful collectibles are those with the memories attached.
Where’s the best seat at the track?
In my early years of attending auto racing, my father’s rule was: Sit at the top of the grandstands, at the end of a row. The reason being it was safer the higher you were, and it would be easier to get in and out if you sat near the aisle. As I gained more freedom and headed to nearby speedways with my friends, my experiences along with improved track seating and layouts, has made me reform Dad’s seating doctrine for attending an auto race.
For many years I would sit near or at the top of the grandstand. This usually ensured me of being able to see the backstretch without the catch fence obstructing my view, but not always. I’ve seen some tracks now with front stretch fencing so high that it blocks your view of the far side of the oval no matter where you choose to sit. There are raceways now that have stands constructed farther away from the track, so if you don’t mind a view from behind the fence, you will be at a somewhat safer distance even if you sit in the bottom row. Warning: car numbers can become extremely unreadable at this distance! Personally, I like to see the numbers on the doors as they pass by. So the time came to rethink Dad’s philosophy. My son Rich and I will sit down low for qualifying to get our taste of blurred cars and the increased decibels of race car engines. But when the show begins, our favorite seats are usually just past the start-finish line at a number readable height. More recently, we have ventured into the seats between turns one and two, where we have found a clearer view of the entire track. A grassy hillside is sometimes an option where families can stake out a place on a blanket and let the kids (grandkids in my case) run around to play during lulls in the action. Depending on the track, there are more choices from sitting in your camping chairs or upgrading to seats with a back. Some tracks even have reserved table seating and servers that will bring you beverages.
Concerning aisle seats: I’ve concluded that although they are convenient, they can be extremely annoying. Very often someone will want to step on your toes to visit the restroom or get some concessions right at the moment a car is challenging the leader of the race. There are certain individuals who can’t sit for more than one heat race and they repeatedly come and go to wander the racetrack grounds. Even with today’s decrease in track attendance aisle seating can still be tight; particularly at special events. My solution to this annoyance: sit in the middle of the row. Here you will find the seats that get less traffic. And yes, I am now one of those people annoying the patrons at the end of the row when nature calls or when I take the grandkids to get a burger and soda pop. So be it. The time had come for me to abandon Dad’s rule of sitting at the end of the row.
On future outings to explore new race venues, I will continue my hunt for my favorite place to sit at a weeknight show. But I can assure you my experiences at the track have become more enjoyable by surveying the track for the most comfortable seat. I may eventually find a raceway that has new and better seating options, and I may become a member of the folding chair club or even join the fans in the infield or pit; but for now, you will find me sitting not at the top nor at the bottom, but about halfway up, and in the middle of the row.
Becoming a race fan is a process.
When people ask me if I have kids I tell them, ‘Yes. I have a son and a daughter’ one of each. If others have two children like me, I ask them if they have (a boy and a girl) or (a girl and a boy). The oldest comes first; that’s my rule. Let me extend this analogy to the process of becoming an auto racing fan.
My first live experience came at a dirt track. I sat in the stands with Dad watching race competitors, wearing only open face helmets and in their T-shirts and jeans, drive what is now considered vintage: modified stocks and sportsmen with white wheel rims and bumper bars, sporting fancy hand painted numbers and sponsors. They would fly around the short track, so fast, only three tires were ever in contact with the dirt, lap after lap. Flagmen were some of the bravest of the brave. They would stand down on the track with such persona, maintaining control of the heat-race or feature event. At times they would get so close to the action I would hold onto my seat with anxiety as the cars just missed them waving the checkered flag at the start finish line. After an action packed night of racing, in the pits you would see the cars being loaded onto open haulers to be trailered home. Eventually, we attended races on asphalt at the legendary Milwaukee Mile. We saw the front engine Offenhausers and what used to be real “stock” cars hit fantastic speeds around the mile oval. Slinger Speedway was still my favorite track, for one must be true to their nature; dirt track racing was in my blood. Unfortunately, after we attended the last dirt event ever at Slinger we stopped going to that local track and I didn’t discover the fastest quarter-mile in the world until years later. Since my earliest days of becoming an auto racing fan started at the dirt tracks, this would make me a “Dirt-Asphalt” guy (oldest memory comes first).
Rich and I began going to Slinger Super Speedway when he was just a toddler. We found the speeds to be unbelievable and I enjoyed many Sunday nights molding my son into the hard core short track fan he is today. Years later, we began taking the trip up to Unity once per year to see my cousin race his modified on a Friday night at what used to be called Monster Hall Speedway. At the time, this was the longest trip we would take to see a short track. Eventually, we stayed up North an extra night and attended the Saturday night show at Marshfield Motor Speedway. Excluding our trips to see the big-dogs race at Bristol and Chicagoland, we’ve made the trek to LaCrosse Speedway, State Park Speedway in Wausau and many others throughout Wisconsin in recent years. Today Rich’s indoctrination to local track racing is complete. His enjoyment of racing on both asphalt and dirt has fulfilled my son’s destiny of becoming an “Asphalt-Dirt” guy.
So allow me to ask, ‘Are you a “Dirt-Asphalt” or “Asphalt-Dirt” racing fan?’ This peculiar question may be misleading in that one might think I’m asking for a favorite. In that case the levelheaded question would be, ‘asphalt or dirt?’ I’m without a doubt a race fan with the proper balance of both dirt and asphalt. Where was your first auto racing short track memory?
Kids can’t see. Good or bad?
Being a relatively new member of the old timer’s league, I find it quite enjoyable enlightening (boring) my younger friends with stories of past times. At work I am the old guy. I’m accepting it more and more every day that I am out of touch with the younger generation; but with every full moon or so, I relate to them a story that actually seems to interest them. So being a race fan, I wanted to spread my joy of storytelling to the URFWI community.
As with most of us, we all had a parent who introduced us to racing, and my mentor was none other than my father. He worked as a heat treater and was a second shifter which made it very difficult to become close with my dad. Fortunately, we frequently patronized Hales Corner’s Speedway, State Fair Park, and Slinger Speedway in its dirt track days. I was a smaller kid and besides having to inhale cigarette smoke from those sitting next to us, I always had a rough time seeing the action on the track. I would have to standup on the bleacher and even then it was an obstructed view for a short guy like myself. The stands were filled to the point that this was a problem no matter where you chose to sit. People came weekly to the tracks in those days.
And those days did continue to the time of myself mentoring my own children. That brings us up to the anecdote of going to Slinger and my son Rich having trouble seeing. I have always enjoyed making stuff in my basement woodworking shop and one could find me solving any problem with plywood, screws, nails, hinges, glue, clamps, etc. I wanted to give my son a better experience when we attended the racetrack so I made him a booster seat out of wood. When we would walk into the stands, people would see me unfold the contraption and clamp it to the bleacher seat. My race buddy would climb up and take his seat which allowed him and myself to look eye to eye; this compelled neighboring fans to give me a thumbs up and a smile. The best part is that Richie COULD SEE all the action on the track! This was necessary until he grew up and we became regulars in section B at Slinger.
Today my grandsons are traveling with us to tracks throughout Wisconsin. But things have definitely changed; booster seats don’t seem to be necessary in these present times. This must be related to track attendance. Our lives have too many other entertainment options these days. Technology, among other things, have improved racing in general, but they have also taken away interest in the sport my son and I love so much.
Let’s all promote the sport of racing at the local level and get those stands full again to the point where the KIDS CAN’T SEE. This is without a doubt a GOOD thing that can happen to the sport of auto racing in this state and elsewhere as well. If your children can’t see, build or get them booster seats; and if they can see, ask your family and friends to join you in taking the time to enjoy our freedom of attending a local short track venue. Too BAD kids can see when they attend auto racing events. This trend can be reversed if we all include on our calendars time to be AT THE TRACK.