*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.
The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American All-Star Pro Late Models Presented by PPM Racing Products
Could the Peach State Classic at Senoia Raceway develop into a Southeastern crown jewel event?
Richard: Over the past couple of years, I have had to redefine what I consider to be a crown jewel race. I am still pretty generous in giving out that title but I used to give much more credit to the amount of money being paid to win a race as the key ingredient. I used to consider just about any event that paid more than $30,000-to-win as a crown jewel but there are now so many such races paying that kind of a purse that other qualifications have to be brought in. Now, I rate the history of the race and the prestige of the track to be just as important as the purse.
That said, the Castrol FloRacing Night in America-sanctioned Peach State Classic certainly meets the purse qualification after having paid winner Ricky Thornton Jr. $53,053 this past Saturday night. However, the 2022 version of this race was only the second annual offering of this event. As a result, I would not yet call this race a crown jewel.
But the question is, can it develop into such?
After seeing how hard Bubba Pollard, Clint Smith, and the entire crew at Senoia Raceway worked to get that race in despite the fact that a tropical storm blew through the area dumping heavy amounts of rain, I have no doubt that they will work every bit as hard to continue growing the Peach State Classic.
Although there are big races in this part of the country, the Southeast does not really have a particular event that can be considered a crown jewel unless it is considered that the North-South 100 at Kentucky’s Florence Speedway or the Topless 100 at Batesville(AR) Motor Speedway take place in the Southeast.
There are several high paying races in the Southeast. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tennessee paid $50,000 last year and will do so again in 2023. The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series race at the Talladega(AL) Short Track will offer that amount next season. But like the Peach State Classic, those races don’t yet have the element of tradition in their column.
Ultimately, my answer that is the Peach State Classic is not yet a crown jewel but if the race continues to grow in importance over the next few years, it could be.
Michael: I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to using the term “crown jewel” in Dirt Late Model racing. I think that term is thrown around too loosely. I think we have a ways to go before the Peach State Classic could be given that term.
It’s a shame the Southeast is left out of what is considered a crown jewel race. The area used to have some of the biggest races in the sport. And you look at the recent schedule releases by the World of Outlaws and Lucas Oil series’, the Southeast is void of races with a few exceptions. But a lot of this is self-inflicted. Some of the tracks that used to hold these prestigious events are no longer around or have been terribly mismanaged. And the facilities at some of these tracks are nothing to brag about. It’s time for some of the owners to start investing in their facilities or the area will be left further behind.
Back to the Peach State Classic, I think the race could benefit from being a few weeks earlier on the calendar. Both races were held when the temperatures were cold. I’m sure that hindered the crowd some. I applaud the effort of the management to get this race in with the rain and cold temperatures in the area.
Considering that the two national tours have now concluded their seasons, were you surprised at the car counts this weekend at Senoia and Las Vegas?
Richard: There’s an old saying that states “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”. My experience in dealing with virtually all of the racers I have talked with is that they not only do what they do to make a living but they have a passion for it. For many, whether it be drivers or crew members, it’s a dream life although a sometimes difficult one. So if that is in fact the case, the love for the sport drives them to do what they do.
As we have said on here many times, there is no off-season anymore in Dirt Late Model racing. With the amount of money available at both of the venues mentioned in the question, I was not surprised that the Castrol FloRacing Night in America race at Senoia and the XR Super Series event in Las Vegas each drew more than 40 cars.
Consider too that the weather gave competitors and fans alike every reason to not go to Senoia but they showed up anyway. Racers race, it’s what they do just like other people have jobs they go to on a regular basis. And with the money now available, it’s hard not to take advantage of the opportunities.
And as far as the XR Super Series was concerned, who wouldn’t enjoy a “working vacation” to Las Vegas? And one thing is for sure, the other classes showed up in droves with over 100 Modifieds signed in in ‘Sin City’.
Michael: A number of fans were giving XR owner Barry Braun grief on social media for scheduling his race in Vegas on the same weekend as Senoia. His response was it gave two groups of drivers a chance to race for a lot of money instead of having everyone at the same venue. He turned out to be right. Both events drew good car counts, it seemed like a win for all those involved.
Has the reach of dirt racing broadened over the past year or so?
Richard: In recent conversations I have had over the past few weeks with drivers a common theme that has come up has been that dirt racing and dirt racers are more known now than they ever have been. Both Dale McDowell and Mike Marlar each told me that they find themselves being approached at grocery stores and other places of business, even when they are away from their hometowns.
I believe there are several reasons why that is true.
First, the amount of money being offered in purses this season has drawn attention. One of the highest payouts to any race car driver in 2022 went to a Dirt Late Model driver. We are now seeing dirt racers earn hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. And that’s not just true of a select few as several are collecting big paychecks as a large number of $40,000 and $50,000 races are popping up on the schedule.
And besides the purses, streaming has put dirt racing in front of lots of eyes. More people are watching this form of motorsports than ever before.
As I was leaving my church service on Sunday morning, I overheard two people in the lobby area talking about the Peach State Classic that had taken place on Saturday night in Senoia, Georgia. Neither of those fans had actually attended the race but had the ability to talk about it because of the stream.
And lastly, dirt racing has been able to broaden its reach because of the involvement of Kyle Larson and other stars from other forms of racing. Many people who would have never paid attention to dirt racing have been enticed to go to a dirt track or to order a stream because they wanted to keep tabs on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion or teams owned by(and sometimes driven) NASCAR stars.
And it isn’t just NASCAR. IndyCar star Will Power attended the World of Outlaws World Finals last weekend at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. There is no doubt more people know about dirt racing than ever before.
Michael: A lot of forms of dirt racing have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. And I do think NASCAR drivers either competing, being car owners, or just attending have given dirt racing some credibility from those that think dirt racing is nothing but rednecks.
While the debate continues whether race tracks benefit from streaming, there’s no doubt the drivers are benefiting. Between the higher purses and just being visible to more people, the drivers are getting more opportunities to race for a living. Let’s hope all involved are reaping the benefits of this new-found opportunities.
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