TERRE HAUTE —
It was a day of firsts at Crossroads Dragway this past weekend.
No, not because the sun actually made its first all-day appearance of the season at the drag-racing facility, but for the unveiling of a new racing format that just might alter the looks of 1/8-mile member track NHRA bracket racing.
Yes, Robbie Freels of Island, Ky., may have carried off the big prize in the Inaugural Crossroads 500 Jegs Super Quick 32 program, but race promoter Randy Peters and his hard-working staff may have scored a win of their own.
Like most Wabash Valley tracks, whether it be on the ovals or dragstrips, it’s been a tough season thus far. The weather and resulting cancellations and postponements have taken a toll on racers, fans and promoters alike.
“This unquestionably has been the toughest year in the five years we’ve been here because of the weather,” Peters said during a brief lull in activities at the strip Sunday afternoon. “We had our share of problems with the rain and heat last year, but we’ve been trying since April to get just one weekend in with without the rain and now here it is, [the] end of June.”
Rain again interrupted racing at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds with the rescheduled Tony Hulman Classic for USAC sprint cars washed out Friday night and racing at Crossroads pushed back a day Saturday.
The Hulman Classic will now share the card with the Jim Hurtubise Classic at the track Aug. 31, meaning fans have lost a race on what is already an abbreviated schedule at the oval.
No promoter has felt the sting of the weather more than Peters and his racers at Crossroads. The early setbacks may have costly consequences regarding the future of racing at the strip.
Peters has no intention on throwing in the towel at Crossroads, but he is facing his share of obstacles in an effort to turn a profit and keep drag racing a viable venture at the Fairgrounds.
Doing his best to forge ahead despite his bouts with the weather, the Indiana State University professor couldn’t conceal his excitement for the potential of his newly created 500-foot racing format. It’s one that he thinks could make a major impact at the many 1/8-mile dragstrips spread across the country.
In essence, from a safety standpoint, 1/8-mile racing may have out grown or got too fast for itself. The tracks simply don’t have the space to deal with the tremendous speeds that the racers and fans crave.
“Drag racing is all about the speed. About lapsed time. The lower times. That launch. That’s what the fans want to see,” explained Peters.
With the speed comes the safety element which has become a growing concern at many tracks like Crossroads, which simply doesn’t have the adequate shutdown space needed for the higher speeds and more popular cars of today.
“You can go to Google Earth and you look at our land at Crossroads and you see we are locked in. We have no place to go. We can’t extend our track. To continue to do what we do and still have fast cars and make it better for everybody who wants to race, we’re going with the 500 concept. Not completely away for the 660 [1/8-mile distance], but slowly toward the 500 format.”
Peters is counting on the attraction of the 500 marquee to spark more attention to racing at his strip.
“This is the first day of the very first Crossroads 500. There’s a great legacy for the 500 around here, what with the traditions of the Hulman and Smith families’ involvement in racing. To have the support of Jeff Smith of the 500 Automotive Group is a natural for what we are trying to do down here,” Peters said.
“The face of drag is changing. Will continue to change. You will see more electronics. More front-wheel-drive cars. It’s not bad. It’s just change. It’s the evolution of our sport. We hope to be a part of that.”
Visitors to the Fairgrounds in recent weeks can’t help but notice the newest addition to the southside facility. Construction of the new Chick-Fil-A restaurant is well underway and borders within feet of the dragstrip’s staging and starting line.
The addition has generated its share of speculation on what it will mean to the future of racing at the Fairgrounds.
Peters has heard all the talk of pending gloom for racing at the Fairgrounds and he does his best to silence the fears and concerns of his racers.
“We’re suppose to sit down with the people at Chick-Fil-A and see how we can work together. I can’t believe it will be the doom of racing here. All I know is I still have one year left on my contract.”
Peters concedes the track surface is in need of repair if it hopes to attract bigger and potentially more profitable shows.
“Sections of the surface are the same as it was when it was built back in 1972,” he noted. “We had a local quote of a $100,000 to resurface. If we could make the repairs, I’m sure we would attract more cars, more special events. The bottom line: This is a business for my family. Like everybody down here, I work for a living. There comes a point where you have to start bringing in more than you’re paying out.
“There’s a lot of things we’d like to do, but it’s difficult to make any major investment when you’re working with a lease.”
As for the future of drag racing at the Fairgrounds, Peters offers a less-than-glowing endorsement.
“That’s a tough question to answer. At this point, I would say the future of drag racing at Crossroads is a big question mark,” Peters said. “When I’m at the race track, I have three people I have to please. I have the racers, the spectators and our sponsors. The trouble is you can’t please all three at the same time. It takes a magical act, but we’re working on it.”
Joe Buckles can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.