News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports Columns

July 18, 2012

TRACKSIDE: Late models may have no long-term future in Indiana

Reflecting on what was billed as the biggest week of the summer for dirt-track stock-car racing … while preparing to shift gears for the busiest week of the year for non-wing sprint-car racing in the Wabash Valley.

The UMP Summer Nationals tour has made its annual visit and now it’s time for the USAC sprints to take center stage for the popular Indiana Sprints Week extravaganza.

The “Hell Tour” of the Summer Nationals, while offering its share of exciting and competitive racing, once again, unfortunately, revealed the lack of fan support the area has for late-model stock-car racing.

While UMP shows at Lincoln Park Speedway and Terre Haute Action Track drew sizable crowds, the attendance figures fell shy of making it a profitable venture for promoters at the two area venues.

Not surprising, considering the low number of late-model competitors and fans that exist locally.

So what does this mean for the future of the stockers locally and at Putnamville? If you are a fan of the late models, the news is not all that encouraging.

If you talk to those in charge of making the decision on whether the late models will appear on the 2013 Action Track slate, the response is a maybe, at Lincoln Park a no thank you.

Attempts by the late models to win over area fans have been an ongoing struggle for years and the stockers don’t appear to be gaining much ground.

Simply put, the area is a hot bed of non-wing sprint car racing and time may have run out for the stockers to get many more opportunities to win over new fans in their direction.

The odds appear better for an Action Track date in 2013 simply because local promoters what to provide fans a variety of racing rather than a crowded sprint schedule.

“If we can expose the Action Track fan base to different shows, that is all positive,” voiced Reece O’Connor, co-promoter of the Action Track. “I’m almost certain that we’ll try it again next year, but it’s something that will be decided over the winter.”

Even as optimistic as O’Connor tried to sound, one could detect that his prediction may have been more that of a fan than businessman.

“At the end of the day do we (Bob Sargent and O’Connor) want to put $25,000 into these [late model] guys and not fill stands yet know what we can do with the sprints?” cautioned O’Connor. “I like the late models, grew up with them. My dad raced them when I was a kid so they have always been special to me. At the same time, it’s a business. We’ll see.”

Joe Spiker at Lincoln Park Speedway was neither as supporting nor optimistic regarding the future of the late models at his oval.

“We don’t plan on having them [late models] again,” he said. “We’ve had them three years and we haven’t had much luck with them. I haven’t talked to the UMP guys yet, but we’re definitely leaning toward not having them back.”

Spiker says there’s simply not a strong enough fan or racer base to support the late models in Indiana.

“There might be 800 die-hard late model fans, but we can get 1,500 for a sprint-car special. You might as well have the sprints in Indiana and let the late models run in Kentucky and Illinois,” he said.

Like many around him, veteran car builder Bob Franklin finds the lack of support for late model racing in the Hoosier state puzzling.

“Its bafflying to figure out the dynamics, why you can go to Kentucky and Tennessee and not see sprint cars,” he said. “Go to Ohio and somehow there’s a mixture of support for both the sprints and late models. Yet [late models] don’t draw here.”

Franklin blames the lack of tracks in Indiana with weekly late model shows for the small Summer Nationals fields.

“Every race track you go to with the Nationals, you’ll have the 15-17 regulars that follow the circuit,” said Franklin, who serves as a track official at LPS. “The rest of the field is made up with your locals. We don’t have a late-model track around here until you get 21⁄2 hours away. The car count numbers just aren’t there for us and Terre Haute.”

Franklin’s assessment for the late models future locally is an ominous one.

“We have a very successful program with our regular Saturday night shows. Sometimes it only makes good business sense to stay on the proven path and not venture out and do specials.” he said.



Joe Buckles can be reached by e-mail at jbuckles4@frontier.com.

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