Man, it was awful.
Regular readers of my columns know how much of a proponent I am of the grassroots level of auto racing. At the end of my weekly radio show I encourage listeners to get out and support their local racetrack.
My family and I went to a short track this past weekend and a regional touring series was the featured division. And I am sad to say it was one of the worst presented programs in my recent memory.
Allow me to omit the name of the speedway and sanctioning body for reasons I will explain later.
Upon first entry, one immediately notices the grandstands are built facing due west. The late summer sunset is directly into the eyes of the entire crowd, which makes August heat just a little more uncomfortable.
According to the track’s website the seating capacity is 8,000. And the stands were roughly three-quarters full, supporting a tremendous crowd. The catch was the admission was free. A promotion allowed everyone in for no money but with a parking charge. The plan worked and the gate size was great.
But in all honesty I still feel like I didn’t get my moneys worth for the racing I saw. It was presented so poorly I felt someone owed me the money for my gas and my time. The show was that bad.
A three-division program began at 5pm. The first undercard feature had only 9 cars take the green flag. A mere three finished. The high heat necessitated a break from being a fan.
We took shelter in a hospitality pavilion during another division’s support race. I counted only 13 cars starting that event and did not watch it, preferring the cooler shade.
Following the first two features time trials took place for the headlining race. In other words “We interrupt the racing to bring you more qualifying that should have taken place before any racing should have started.” A weak total of 15 cars set time for the 250 lap main event.
The initial division ran a second feature that was shortened from 50 to 30 laps after only five cars answered the call to line up. Three finished that race also.
A scheduled 7:30pm green flag for the touring series feature actually occurred at 8:43pm. The final support race mercifully got its checkered flag around 7pm. It took 30 minutes to push all 19 of the headlining class cars to the frontstretch for the pre-race autograph session. These meet and greets are nice but not when you for some reason are running so far behind schedule.
The autographs ended about 8pm and then we sat in limbo for 15 minutes before the track PA system started introducing local officials and dignitaries. Then we proceeded with driver introductions.
My five-year-old daughter who thoroughly enjoyed Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, NC earlier this summer offered her commentary about this particular speedway. “This is a stupid track. They sit here and don’t do anything.” This is the honest impression left on a potential life long customer.
Taking the green flag were 19 cars. The spare four cars were start-and-park rides. By lap eight we were back down to 15 cars for the remaining 242 circuits. We were on our way home before lap 100 and so were other families.
I defend auto racing to the fullest extent to its critics who do not understand the sport. Inevitably I hear the sarcastic question “Isn’t it just cars going around in a circle?”
Sadly to report that is how I would describe the program I witnessed. And I have a passion for racing.
I offer my assessment for specific reasons. I do not bash just to bash. I love this sport and always want to see it improve and get better. If the problems and shortcomings are not pointed out then they cannot be overcome and fixed. For as long as I have followed it, motorsports has always fought an uphill battle to be recognized in the mainstream world as a legitimate sport alongside the stick-and-ball games. Nights like this do nothing but take auto racing steps backward in professionalism.
I won’t slam the track or series’ by name because I don’t want potential fans of either turned off. Will I boycott this speedway or type of car? No. I will give them another chance. And I hope all the other fans do too.
It is my hope track operators from this speedway and any others recognize the problems that are unacceptable to the paying customer. Loyal racing fans are some of the most tolerant and patient in all of sports. But why should they have to be?
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts “Motorweek Live” Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)