Turn 2 Blog: Hot Lap/Qualifying and Driver Chassis Changes

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Richard: I want to start this edition of the Turn 2 Blog off with a compliment for some of the tracks I have visited this season. In most of the races I have attended so far, the use of transponders has sped up the whole qualifying process. As a matter of fact, qualifying and hot laps have been combined for some classes so that one step in the whole process has been eliminated. The result of which, of course, is that less time is spent watching one or two cars at a time drive around the track and actual racing of some sort can begin.

As we have discussed in this forum several times, we live in a culture that doesn’t have the patience it once did. People aren’t as willing to sit and wait for things to happen. If there isn’t action where they are at the time, they will seek it somewhere else. And for many, single car qualifying runs are not the thing to generate excitement.

Granted, there is added expense involved. But it seems as if some tracks are finding that spending a little more up front may pay off in the long run if it results in fans returning to a place that offers them more excitement and less of what they may consider to be wasted time.

Michael: I have been a proponent of combining hot laps and qualifying for some classes for a long time. One thing you learn about racing in east Tennessee is people here love their qualifying. But it can get quite boring at times, especially when it’s one car at a time. Do that for 3 or 4 classes a night and it’s time to find a heavy shot of some caffeine.

Seriously, one thing we have discussed a number of times on here is promoters have to look at their programs based on the average person on the street, not the die-hard race fan. The average person does not want to sit through 90 minutes or more of hot laps and qualifying. My wife is not a race fan in any way but she does come with me to the track a couple of times a year. One thing she does is sit in the car during hot laps and qualifying. She said she finds it boring. Until promoters realize this, they will have a tough time attracting new fans.

Another bonus to combining hot laps and qualifying is cutting down on the number of total laps on the track’s surface. The fewer laps on a track’s surface before actual racing begins is a positive.

Richard: That’s a great point regarding the number of laps on the track during the night. The fewer laps put on the racing surface early in the night, the better the racing ought to be later in the night. And yes, there are some who do enjoy time-trials, but the promoter has to take more into consideration than the die-hard fans because there aren’t enough of them to fill the grandstands.

I did have one track owner tell me that the complaint that comes from some racers, particularly those in the so-called support classes, is that they feel as if they are not getting their fair share of laps. Some tracks may add a few extra laps onto the feature to make up the difference or just have one or two divisions use the hot lap/qualifying format per night. But as was said earlier, more feature racing is better than any preliminaries.

Again, though, I’m glad to see the use of transponders during hot laps and qualifying to simply get the show moving along.

On another topic, after us discussing the difficulty for the promoter of whether a race should or should not be called off due to weather, another topic to consider is whether or not to schedule races in the late winter or early spring at all.

As we saw this past weekend, there is a very narrow window for getting these early season races in. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, the Ultimate Super Late Model Series, Carolina Clash and Southern Nationals Bonus Series were among those to be impacted by weather. The shame of that is that the events planned for these various touring series are often among the biggest a particular track will host all year… if the weather cooperates.

Once the race has been postponed, a tremendous amount of pressure falls on the track, the series, and the racers to find a make-up date that is suitable for everyone, and most importantly, the fans.

I’ve heard people say that tracks should not even bother with scheduling races this early in the year. But the simple fact of the matter is that those facilities are not doing anyone any good when they sit idle. The tracks have to be put to use, and again, there are only so many available openings on the schedules of the series in question.

It makes for a tough dilemma, doesn’t it?

Michael: It certainly is. But what makes matters worse is the weather can be different from one year to the next on the same weekends. And it changes over periods of time. For a number of years, March tended to be a bit warmer and it was easy to get events scheduled and in at the scheduled times. I have noticed the last few years it has been hit or miss on the number of good weekends in March.

Personally, I’d like to see the schedule lighten up in March. But the thing is if tracks A, B, and C decide not to schedule any events until late March or early April, then tracks X, Y, and Z will schedule races during that time hoping to get a jump on their season.

Not that anyone wants to see races impacted by weather, but I think the unpredictable March weather is why there are more regional series races scheduled in March than Lucas or World of Outlaws. The purses are much less and it can be easier to reschedule those races or not miss out too much if one of those races get cancelled outright. The regional shows aren’t make-or-break like a Lucas or WoO show.

Richard: A final aspect I wanted to touch on in this piece is that of drivers and their choices of chassis brands. This is one of the most fascinating parts of dirt racing to me as there is so much movement among the teams and manufacturers.

We saw Tim McCreadie pick up a win in the Southern Nationals Bonus Series race at Boyd’s this past weekend. The New York driver has moved from one brand of race car to another over the years with varying degrees of success in each. He is just one example of drivers who have a similar story.

While there may very well be differences in the technology among these cars, I have come to believe that personal relationships and the driver’s comfort level with the people he/she is working with may very well have as much to do with the type of chassis a team chooses to use as anything. McCreadie himself admitted in an article on this site that he has never been one to think like others involved in Late Model racing and that the fact the folks at Longhorn allowed for more independent thinking played a role in his decision to race that brand.

Also, there tend to be ‘hot brands’ that drivers will switch to for a period of time and then the next car will become the hot ride.

This is a fascinating aspect of this sport, isn’t it?

Michael: It is, and that’s what makes Dirt Late Model racing more unique that some of the other forms of racing. There used to be some of that in NASCAR, even as recently as 20 years ago. Now, they’re all made by the same 3 or 4 places. Whereas Dirt Late Model racing can have 20 or more chassis at one time. A person can go to one race and see as many as 8-10 of them at one event.

Each driver has their own reason for chassis jumping. As you said, sometimes it boils down to relationships and sometimes it comes down to a feel of a particular one. But there are those that jump when another brand will give them a better deal.

You look on social media and on message boards, drivers changing chassis can be its own game. That itself can be fun.

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