*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.
Richard: Within the span of one week, we ran stories on two separate 14-year-old racers who compete in our region. Kyle Courtney races Mini Stocks at 411 Motor Speedway, I-75 Raceway and various other tracks while Ahnna Parkhurst drives a Crate Late Model at Boyd’s Speedway. And these are certainly not the only young racers in our area.
For that reason, I am not terribly worried about where the driving talent is going to come from in the future. There will always be folks of all ages out there who want to drive race cars and compete at all levels in the sport.
If there is an area of concern regarding youth in racing, it is in the grandstands rather than on the track. I go to a lot of races at a number of speedways throughout each racing season, and I’ve begun to notice that the average age of the spectators seems to be trending upward. That’s worrisome in that fans are what make this whole racing thing work, and without new ones coming along, the sport could face a real problem in the next few years.
As a high school teacher, I feel as if I have a pretty good view of the modern-day youngster and I see a general move away from sports all together, not just racing. When I was a kid, being a sports fan was just a given, among young boys especially. Now, many kids don’t have favorite teams and athletes.
Is this something the dirt racing industry should be concerned about or am I just looking in the wrong places?
Michael: No, your concerns are valid. I have had this same discussion with a number of folks in racing over the last several years. The average age of race fans is getting higher with each passing season. I feel there are a number of reasons for this.
One, kids aren’t into the same things as we were when we were kids. Sports, and racing, was something to bring communities together and something kids did to pass the time and eventually participate in. Most kids today are more likely to play a sports game on a video console than actually play that sport.
Two, most tracks just have racing and nothing else. While some people may ask what is wrong with that, they need to check out an Knoxville Ice Bears hockey game or a Tennessee Smokies baseball game and see all the extra activities they have, mostly for kids.
Three, the length of many of these programs just makes it difficult for parents to bring their children or to keep the attention of the children that do come to the races. Race programs from the start of hot laps to the end of the last feature should be about 4 hours. Accidents and unexpected problems can’t be helped and things like that happen from time to time. But a smooth running program should be within a 4-hour window. If a program goes longer than 4 hours each week, they’re either not efficient enough with running their program or run too many classes.
Richard: I couldn’t agree more on the length of shows. Being a dad who sometimes brings my two young sons to the track with me, I can testify first hand that kids get tired and restless when the show isn’t moving along in an efficient manner. And yes, all other sports, including racing, could learn from minor league baseball and hockey when it comes to fan involvement and activities for the youngest in the crowd.
I know it’s easy for someone like myself, who has no money invested, to sit and offer suggestions as to how the people who have taken the risk of investing their money should run their businesses, but if there isn’t something done to bring in more young people, there will be no business to run in the near future.
Now, to completely change the topic, it has been an interesting off-season for Scott Bloomquist. After the passing of longtime supporter Don Miller, the Mooresburg driver has landed two pretty big sponsors. Former Jimmy Owens car owner Mike Reece has come on board the zero machine to offer assistance by placing his Reece Monuments backing on that car.
And just a few days ago, it was announced that Bloomquist will receive financial support from the Mark Martin Automotive Group in a loose alliance with fellow Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series driver Jared Landers.
I didn’t really see either of these things coming. Is Bloomquist now set for another championship run?
Michael: It certainly looks that way. We had a discussion in a recent blog about some of the NASCAR people coming into the sport and how that will affect the sport. It’s brought a lot of attention and added sponsors to the sport. But it’s also raised the bar as far as the financial backing it takes to remain competitive. If Bloomquist was going to remain competitive with the Clint Bowyer-backed team and some of the other high profile teams, he needed to align himself with new people that can offer him the dollars to remain in the mix of title contenders.
This past season, we’ve heard a lot about special shocks and shock dynos. Teams have been spending big bucks just on shocks. There have been a few teams to actually take cars to a wind tunnel. All of that takes a lot of money.
If Bloomquist is getting extra backing, people better look out this season.
Richard: As the old saying in racing goes, ‘money buys speed’. Bloomquist would be a threat no matter what the circumstances, but with potentially big money behind his operation, the 51-year-old Hall of Fame member could put up big numbers in 2015.
And once again to completely changes gears here, the last couple of weeks have seen details revealed of the new United Crate Racing Alliance. Six tracks from around the region have formulated a new series for Crate Late Models that will have them racing in 12 scheduled events throughout the year along with an “invitational race” at the end of the season.
The $2,500-to-win race payouts look pretty good and the $5000 first prize for the season championship as well as a fund that pays all the way through 15th place ought to draw a good number of cars and drivers.
Are we approaching a point where there will be fewer and fewer true “Super Late Model” races and series and more Crate Late Model events taking their place, or can both survive and thrive?
Michael: I believe both can survive. As you mentioned earlier, money buys speed and the same applies for crate racing. The original idea of crate racing was a good one. But as time as passed, drivers have figured out other areas to spend money on and get more speed from their cars. I can only think that goes up as the payouts go up.
There’s no doubt super late model numbers have dwindled over the last several years. As long as the big money races are there and the crowds are there, the super late models will always be around.