Richard: Over the past couple of weeks our area has seen some very interesting track news. It has been announced that Mitch McCarter and his team will once again be at the helm of the Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap. The owner of 411 Motor Speedway took on the promotion role at Volunteer at the beginning of the 2017 season and have by all accounts achieved excellent results. That has been particularly true in the area of their weekly shows in terms of both car counts and attendance.
It seems as if the combination of Volunteer and 411 has been a hit with both competitors and fans in the first year of this effort for the McCarter family.
Conversely, Smoky Mountain Speedway announced that it would forgo what was meant to be its final event of the season – a $10,000-to-win Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series feature race. After a highly successful year in 2016, the track seemingly never recovered from the first scheduled race of the 2018 season – a $15,000-to-win Spring Nationals affair – that was cancelled due to weather. Further, the Maryville, Tenn. facility struggled to build its numbers in its support classes.
With schedules for next season about to come out soon, there is bound to be some interesting news on the horizon.
Michael: I would think so. If a track has a particularly tough year, it is usually accompanied with some sort of changes and tweaks to try to re-gain the lost momentum. I expect some shuffling of the schedule at SMS when their 2018 schedule comes out.
In your piece on the Volunteer-411 connection for 2018, McCarter indicated some bigger events could be coming to Volunteer. I will be curious to see what those are and when they are. Sometimes timing is everything on a schedule.
I feel like these two situations are tied together, as far as one success story and one tough year. Back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Volunteer was a favorite track to many drivers across the area. It certainly seems like the McCarters getting Volunteer and getting it back to that time period has impacted the support classes at SMS. Volunteer would be racing on nights that SMS was racing. Instead of taking a break from 411 to go somewhere else like SMS, they get a break and go to Volunteer. Instead of typically going to SMS, many of them stayed with their regular group and headed for Volunteer. Since SMS only runs about a dozen times a year, I don’t know what else can be done to attract more drivers in the so-called support classes.
Richard: With Volunteer planning to run a “full schedule” in 2018, it will be interesting to see what special events they have and what classes they run. Further, there is the question of what exactly will happen with 411. That Seymour, Tenn. track has been a weekly fixture for a number of years. According to McCarter in the piece we ran last week, it looks as if that track will see a reduced role in the coming season and will serve as somewhat of a partner, or even supporter, of the Volunteer Speedway.
I have said for sometime that the track in Bulls Gap sits in a great location right off I-81 about halfway between Knoxville and the Tri-Cities. As you say, it looks as if that could be coming to fruition.
Smoky Mountain has proven itself to be an excellent host of big events. I expect the leadership of that facility to develop a plan that will take advantage of the track’s strengths and look to offer a schedule that will position it for more success.
At the same time, other tracks in the area still have much to offer. I-75 Raceway in Sweetwater and Tazewell Speedway have both had solid weekly car counts and fan support. Tazewell is one of those places that is a bucket-list type destination for many dirt racing fans and it will always have that draw. It is one of the few venues that consistently mixes big races with weekly shows successfully. And the people who run I-75 are among some of the finest folks around and are likely to always have the loyalty of many of the competitors and fans who regularly turn out.
The real challenge for all of these tracks, as we have discussed before, is to find a way to work together in such a way that will not split up classes and dates to the detriment of all.
Michael: I agree with that. One thing that annoys me is a track will hit on a new class and another track decides to add it too. But all they end up doing is dividing the class in half. Cooperation has been pretty good the last couple of years. I hope it stays that way.
One thing I’d like to see for 2018 is more variety with some of the special events. I had one track owner tell me he thought there are too many special events. I actually think there are too many of basically the same show. The formats are similar and basically the same drivers are competing in most of these races. If fans think they’re seeing the same show, but at a different venue, they start to pick and choose where and when to go.
Richard: Good point. There are only so many Super Late Models, Crate Late Models or Limited Late Models in this region so many of the special events offer essentially the same drivers as all the others.
To shift gears a bit, the season ending race for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series runs this weekend in Portsmouth, OH. That series is currently in the midst of a tight three-way points battle between Tim McCreadie, Scott Bloomquist and Josh Richards. And not only that but the feature race pays a tidy $100,000 to the winner.
It sets up as quite a show. McCreadie has been incredibly consistent this season with a few big wins and a lot of podium finishes. Bloomquist started fast, struggled with some inconsistency in the middle, and now appears to be closing strong. Richards had a red hot summer to put himself in contention but has had issues late in the going.
Although McCreadie has a bit of a lead going into the weekend, this just seems like a situation taylor made for Bloomquist. He has always had a knack for coming up big in big situations. And there is no bigger situation than a $100,000-to-win event with a championship hanging in the balance.
How do you see this one playing out?
Michael: It was no surprise to see Richards and Bloomquist fight it out for the championship. Many didn’t figure on McCreadie being a part of it. While he doesn’t have the number of wins the other two have, he has been very consistent, especially in the 100-lap races. Even though I picked Richards at the start of the season, it just looks like McCreadie is having one of those magical seasons.