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April 29, 2014

Trackside: Track promoters realize rainy weather is part of territory

TERRE HAUTE — The life and times of a race-track operator or promoter is sure to test the patience and character of any individual adventurous enough to journey into such a risky profession.

Especially if your name is Bob Sargent or Reece O’Connor and your race dates are at the Terre Haute Action Track.

The veteran and highly respected pair have encountered all the pitfalls associated with the elements over the past two seasons at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds. A year ago, their first five attempts to stage a race fell victim to rain.

Move ahead to this past weekend where rain once again dampened the Fairgrounds, forcing the postponement of their scheduled Midwest Sprint Car Series-UMP Modified doubleheader.

With threatening clouds closing in on the southside racing facility shortly before the cars were take to the half-mile clay oval, the pair knew their fate was all but sealed once again.

Still they were gracious enough to grant an interview on the topic they least wanted to discuss — rainouts.

With their years of experience in battling such days, the pair took their latest setback in stride. They knew full well the approaching washout wasn’t their first they’ve had to deal with and certainly wouldn’t be their last if they continue to promote races at dirt track ovals throughout the Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky region.

Strangely enough, those who had the most to lose Sunday — Sargent and O’Connor — did their best to downplay yet another bad day at the track. That’s an approach they must accept if they hope to survive in a sport where their biggest challenge comes from constant battles with unpredictable Midwestern weather.

Both agreed they are all too often at the mercy of Mother Nature, maybe more so at Terre Haute than most venues they operate. They must have the mindset to still go about the task of prepping their track days in advance, regardless of threatening forecasts.

“I’ve been at it long enough that I’ve learned not to worry about the weather. There’s not much you can do about it,” Sargent explained.

“The bottom line: You go forward in preparing your track to go racing. You have to be prepared — be ready to go racing.”

O’Connor shared his fellow promoter’s view on weather forecasts when preparing for an upcoming race date.

“I don’t care if it’s a bright, sunny day or if it’s cloudy. I still put water into the race track. If you don’t and it doesn’t rain, you end up with dust,” said O’Connor, who along with his family owns and operates Kokomo Speedway.

“If there’s a strong threat of rain, we will seal off the surface by packing it in so the water will run off [and] make it more like pavement. Race day, you open it back up and put more water into it,” mentioned the Illinois native.

The pair concur their biggest challenge these days may come from modern technology and present-day lifestyles.

“Everybody has the Weather Channel on their cell phones. Forecasts will scare a lot of fans away. It’s not like the old days when they would take their chances and still go to the race track,” O’Connor noted.

Sargent says it’s a rare exception when he options for a make-up date following a postponement of one of his shows.

“We live in times when families have tight schedules,” he said. “There’s the kids in Little League [baseball] or soccer. It makes it hard for them to make it back to the race track. Unless you have a strong gate already at the track, you call it a loss and move on.”

Race promoters do have a potential bailout to weather-related postponements and cancellations — rain insurance. Neither Sargent nor O’Connor are strong proponents of the process.

“I’ve used it quite a bit and never collected a dime. I’m not a big fan of it,’’ offered Sargent. “It’s just a big gamble. You can go to Las Vegas and do the same thing. The computer is not dumb. They [insurers] are going to win. That’s why they sell it.”

O’Connor has shied away from the opportunities to take out rain insurance.

“We’ve never used it. It can be very expensive and quite risky. I’m sure if we bought if for this place the sun would be sure to shine, what with the luck we have here,” jested O’Connor.

The pair will give it another go May 21 with the scheduled running of the Tony Hulman Classic. Weather permitting, of course.

 

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


 

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