I’ve been to both weekends of racing at the Fairgrounds Speedway this year, and by all accounts the turnout has been incredible. I daresay that more people have attended these two races than attended all weekly races last year.
Tony Formosa is certainly drawing the crowds. But I’m concerned that continued mistakes during the running of the show will start to have a detrimental effect. No, I’ve never promoted a race in my life, but I’ve attended racing at the Fairgrounds for almost 20 years as a fan, a reporter, a webmaster, and again as a fan. I’ve seen races put on by seven different leaseholders in that time. Some of them were promoters and some of them were just track operators.
First of, let me say that I do appreciate Mr. Formosa stepping up to the plate and taking on this responsibility. But I feel that if the mistakes he’s making aren’t pointed out to him, the instant goodwill he’s had with the fans will disappear and by the time the last race weekend rolls around, fan interest will have dissipated.
With that being said, here are some things I think that need improvement (in no particular order of importance):
– I got to the track Saturday about 15 minutes before the races were scheduled to start. Imagine my surprise when I saw that qualifying was still going on. If you advertise a green flag time of 5 pm, then you need to start the race on time. Qualify the 5/8 mile divisions, and then if you have any time left, qualify the 1/4 mile divisions. But whatever happens, qualifying must be done by 30 minutes before race time. Divisions that don’t qualify can draw for starting positions.
– More is not better. Last year the main problem was that there were just too many divisions. Fans want to see the action on the big track. In the track’s prime in the mid- to late-nineties, they only ran five divisions: Legends and Pure Stocks on the 1/4 mile, and Street Modified, SuperTrucks, and Late Models on the 5/8 mile. Legends and Street Modified ran two features each. Now I realize that there are only three race weekends left, with one of those being the All American 400. So in reality, just to “normal” weekends remain. Get rid of the Dwarf and Frontrunners. If you must keep the Open Wheel division, put them on the 1/4 mile track. As far as race length, 125 laps for the Late Models is fine, but unless you have more SuperTrucks, I’d say to only have 25 or 30 laps for them. Cut the Sportsman (I still think of them as Street Modified) to 25 laps (or do what Bob Harmon did and run 20.5 laps), the Legends and the Super Streets to 25. All of these suggestions should give you about two hours of green-flag racing time…figure about three hours overall.
– Speed. Speed. Speed. I’m not talking about the cars on the track going fast; I’m talking about eliminating the 20 minutes between each race. The next race should be staged before the currently running race is at the halfway point. As soon as the winner has finished his interview, move the next race to pit road. The cars should keep their engines fired, and the pace car should lead them out (on each division, not just the 5/8 mile divisions). Let the winner get his car to the inspection area, and then start the race.
– It shouldn’t take 20 minutes to clean up a single car wreck. It’s painfully obvious that the current towing company is, to be charitable, slow. I get the impression that they don’t have much experience with moving race cars. There should be two wreckers and one rollback (I saw two wreckers there Saturday night, but one never moved). When there’s a red flag, have one of those wreckers behind the field in case a car can’t re-fire after the red flag. The Open Wheel race ran so many caution laps that two cars ran out of gas. The eventual winner had time to go to the pits (not pit road, but where he was parked in the garage area), get gas and come back out. The leader ran out of gas and was unable to finish. That’s just unacceptable.
– For divisions that require spotters, have the spotters cross the track before the race before their division. In other words, the spotters for race 4 should be in their positions before race 3 starts. Waiting on missing spotters before starting a race just slows down the show. If a spotter is not in place by the time the race starts, black flag that car and park them.
– This is show business. The fans want to be entertained. From what I could tell, if inversions were used at all, they were small inversions. Perhaps Mr. Formosa, as a former racer, doesn’t like inversions. If so, he needs to stop thinking like a racer and start thinking like a promoter. I’m not sure any of the local divisions had a pass for the lead. It seemed as if the fastest car started on the pole, and there was no more suspense after that. The formula that worked great before was inversions of 5, 7, 9 and 11. Anything less than 5 is really not effective. If the racers don’t like it, ask them how they’d like to race in front of no people at a track that doesn’t exist.
– Why Joe Williams is not in the booth is beyond me. There was at least one division that didn’t get their starting lineup introduced at all Saturday night. And we had no idea of the qualifying times of those that were introduced. Put Joe in the booth and the current guy in the infield. Or better yet, put Malcolm West in the infield.
– The All American 400 should be one race that’s 400 laps. Don’t play numbers games like previous promoters did and call it a 400 when it’s not. Run the 400-lap race on Sunday with the supporting races (and last chance races) on Saturday.
– Why do 125 lap races need a break? The answer is, they don’t. Late models have run as many as 200 laps, at the speedway. Adam Petty ran a 125 lap race one time without pitting at all; I believe he finished second to Andy Kirby.
– Scoreboard issues. That scoreboard needed to be replaced 20 years ago, so I understand that it’s going to be flaky every now and then, and the lightning strike last month didn’t help things. So here’s an idea the next time it goes out: fans can pretty much keep up with who the leader is, but it’s harder keeping up with the lap count. At the very least, get a bunch of copy paper and a Sharpie and write the lap in large numbers and hold it up next to the window. Fans can turn around and see what lap is being run. Or pre-print three sets of 0-9 numbers and have them ready to hold up.
There were several times during Saturday night’s races that the fans got restless between races. There’s no better way to make sure those folks don’t come back than to waste their time. I actually left at 11 pm when the 125-lap Late Model race was stopped for the 10 minute break. I understand that the race was called after about 20 minutes.
There’s also no better way to keep the fairgrounds neighbors on the warpath than to run races past 11 pm. The future of the track is still very uncertain, and you can bet that any ammunition you give the anti-fairgrounds folks will be used to make the case against the fairgrounds.
I know a lot of folks who are working at the track, and I hope they don’t think I’m picking on them. I think everyone wants to see this be a great season that will give the Metro government pause when they finally make the decision about the future of the fairgrounds, and this is written in that spirit.