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Auto Racing

August 10, 2011

Stock cars: ‘backbones’ of short tracks

PUTNAMVILLE — It was a familiar scene played out every Saturday night throughout the summer at hundreds of short tracks scattered across the country.

Drivers and crews were busy going about the task of fine-tuning their engines while dialing in final chassis adjustments to meet the ever-changing track conditions.

Fans were settling into their favorite viewing spots for the night. The promoter was scurrying from location to location to see that his program goes on without a hitch.

Such was the scene Saturday night at Lincoln Park Speedway, where a sizable crowd had gathered on the hillside overlooking a crowded pit area despite the sweltering heat and threatening skies.

The pits were a beehive of activity with a full field of sprint cars and three classes of stocks cars waiting their turn to take to the 5/16-mile dirt oval.

Your typical short-track show that is tightly regimented and seldom subject to change. Whereas a  weekly stock-car competitor on the Indiana short-track scene where sprint cars rule, you face an uphill struggle to gain acceptance and a measure of respect from the fans and your fellow racers.

The stockers are often uncomplementary labeled as grass roots racers, their machines as “tin tops” or “taxi cabs”.

They race for smaller purses, shorter events and on racing surfaces that are well spent by night’s end.

Still, they remain the backbone of American short racing.

A number of the stockers welcomed the opportunity expressed their views on the subject at LPS Saturday night. Knowing full well their pleas for a fairer playing field will most likely be met with deaf ears and closed minds.

Paul Wright comes from a racing family that has a long history of supporting area short tracks. He knows his sportsmans division will never have top billing on the night,that his class payout will be a fraction of that what goes to the sprinters.

Still, his brother Mike and son Jacob make the short haul from Terre Haute to do what they like most on Saturday nights — go short-track racing.

“We know it’s going to costs us as much to run the night as does any other class once we get to the track. we will run for less. We don’t think it fair, but it’s what we choose to do.” Wright said.

“Without the support the lower classes the tracks wouldn’t be able to make it. They [the tracks] couldn’t survive on sprints or late models alone.”

Fellow racer Bob Farris shares Wright’s frustration and doesn’t see improvements coming anytime soon. ”It’s always been that way. It really hasn’t changed since day one,” voiced the Terre Haute racer who competes in the bombers weekly.

“Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. We keep coming back. I know what I’m paying and what I’m running for when I sign in. Still it would be nice to make a little,” said the veteran short-track racer.

Not everyone is as sympathetic to the stocks, even those who run the bombers or super stocks.

They say the sprints and late models are a bigger finanical investment. That the higher classes are entitled to bigger paydays and top billing. That the fans come to the race track to see the faster and more exotic sprints.

Thats a feeling shared by local driver Kenny Carmichael. There’s probably no person more qualified to speak on the topic than the Terre Haute businessman who has won in all forms of racing at LPS.

While he acknowleges the concerns of the stock contingent hes says one has to look at the big picture.”It’s all relevant,” says the defending Super Stock champion. “It’s what the guys want to spend to go racing. There’s always been those descripancies when it comes to the payoff,” said Carmichael.

“A sprint car runs you $5000 just for a roller, The engine’s another $20,000. They deserve the top billing. The fans want to see the premier division,” he noted.

As a former bomber class champion, C.J. Bryan is well aware of the plight of lower class stocks. But he too, knows the dilemma race track promoters face when it comes to pleasing the racers and fans. It can be a tough and winless task.

“I can see both sides of the argument,” Bryan said. “At the same time I know that the sprint car are always going to run first and for more money. Being in the modifieds I don’t have a problem with that. Every track is going to have their headliners.”

He says being classified at the race track is nothing new. It’s part of the sport.

“Even NASCAR has their classes. There’s Cup, the Nationwide and trucks. There’s a pecking order even at that level. It’s just a way of life in racing,” he added.

If conditions are ever going to improve for the stocks, it will have to come at the hands of the promoters who benefit the most from the stocks numbers. As history spells out, short-track promoters have little incentive to raise purses or make conditions better for the “entry level” racer who will show each night despite the conditions.

Lincoln Park promoter Joe Spiker knows the value of his two stock-car division and vows to make things better for the lower classes at his track. “We’re stepping up to the plate, trying to give them more,” said the third-year promoter.

“They are the bread and butter of our operation. We love the bombers. They are truly the grass-roots racers of our sport. The fans stick around to watch them run. The racing is so close and you never know what’s going to happen when they are on the track.”

Joe Buckles can be reached at jbuckles4@frontier.com.

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