As human beings, we are all very, very flawed, which is part of the deepest foundation of our existence. In motorsports, the flaws range from one aspect to another, from issue-to-issue and take up our daily lives with a certain team shutting down, track conditions not being up to our perceived standards or a driver being disqualified for a rules infraction. We have become so numb to the negative story-lines and endless debates on what needs to be changed to make the future of our sport better than it is today, that we have simply lost track of the present and the real issues we face in 2019 auto racing.
There are various forms of motorsports around the world, but most people reading this are passionate about the dirt track racing scene, whether it may be sprint car events, late model races or a local modified venue that caught your attention in your youth, so let's focus on the dirt track discipline.
The date is September 1st, 2018, and I found myself in the heat of a track championship battle, as part of the Scottie Williams and Williams Motorsports team, taking on their public relations, social media, and marketing needs. In March of the same year, after losing my first paying job in auto racing due to budget cuts, at the extremely young age of nineteen, I decided to take a leap off of the deep-end, starting an auto racing marketing business with the hopes of beginning a long-lasting second-wind career in the sport. With the help of my first three clients, Josh Morton, DarkHorse Motorsports (Tom Treon) and Scottie Williams, we were off-and-running, and I was finally making a name for myself in racing, after spending years in the shadow of my families on-track successes, struggles, and reputation.
The first night on the job, with a stomach-turning with nerves, I introduced myself to the driver's family and crew, hoping to be accepted and given the chance to do the job I knew I would be able to, and help in anyway possible, even if it was in the smallest of ways, to adjust to the digital age of auto racing. What followed exceeded any-and-every expectation I could have had, not only was I accepted, but the friendships and memories made, will last a lifetime, including my first trip to victory-lane, track championship title and actually feeling like a part of a team, for by far the first time in my life.
Now, with that lengthy detail out of the way, lets flashback to that late-summer, Labor Day weekend, Saturday night that would become a day I will never forget. As part of the Scottie Williams/Williams Motorsports team, we entered the night within reaching distance of the 2018 Waynesfield Raceway Park UMP DIRTcar Modified Track Championship title, and if you are familiar at all with Ohio dirt track racing, you know that the competition level in the modified class at Waynesfield and surrounding tracks has become fierce, with thirty cars each night with the ability to make the feature event, and nearly twenty of those with a shot to find victory-lane, if the circumstances presented themselves. As the evening went on, the electricity at the track and in-the-pits was at an all-time high, and something I had not ever felt before in my fifteen years of attending races. Unfortunately, we were unable to win the title that night, coming just a few points short, as part of a number of close championship battles across many different divisions, at one small local racetrack in the middle of fly-over, Ohio.
I say all of that, to say this; there are hundreds, if not thousands of stories like mine, scattered across the lower-forty-eight, Canada, Australia and the dirt tracks of New Zealand, that will never have the platform or chance to be told and have the notoriety they deserve. Even with that being the case, these stories are more important than any mainstream motorsports story across the world. Without the story of Scottie Williams, a name that most of you may have never heard of, battling for a track championship at a track you'll never visit; we would not have the ability to sit back and watch Jonathan Davenport win the World 100 at Eldora Speedway, see Lewis Hamilton take-home another Formula One Worlds Drivers Championship, witness Simon Pagenaud become victorious at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or complain about how much you hate the NASCAR Playoff system. Without Tom Treon and Josh Morton spending every last dime to chase a dream covered in dirt, at a track on the verge of closing because of a lackluster business-model, you wouldn't have the chance to raise hell about irrelevant racing issues.
The point of all of this is to shine a light on the fact that local tracks and drivers are closing up shop because the focus of our sport lies with the mainstream, crown jewel events across the country and the drivers with hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in sponsorship funding competing at them. Remember that unforgettable night I had at Waynesfield Raceway Park last year around this time? They haven't raced a weekly show since that memorable evening, with track ownership deciding to change focus and lease out the facility to a promoter only interested in putting on "crown-jewel events," but not having the advertising or marketing presence to make those races a success. If we are going to succeed in today's world and the ever-changing climate of dirt track racing, we as a sport have to make a REAL effort to shine-a-light on the local racer and the tracks they compete on each-and-every week, and before you ask, no I do not mean blame NASCAR for our issues.
Our issues were created by people in executive positions within the sport of dirt track racing, making the decision to cut weekly races in favor of big events. Case-in-point, Eldora Speedway has cut their UMP DIRTcar Modifieds and Eldora Stock Car events by 75-100% over the last decade, going from a solid schedule in the double-digit range, to only six points-paying races on the 2019 calendar for each class, with three of those being canceled due to rain. Along with cutting the local drivers out of the foundation that played a huge part in making Eldora the track it is today, the facilities staff also made the decision to increase their Kings Royal and Dirt Late Model Dream event's winner's payout by a combined $150,000, from $50,000 and $100,000-to-win, to $175,000 and $125,000-to-win, respectively. As much as those increase payouts made for a few exciting races, we can all make the argument that throwing that kind of money at a few $10,000-to-win modified or stock car races may leave more of a lasting impact with the local competitors, as well as their fans, families and teams, which are the same people filling the stands to watch those major events take place, when they are off from competing themselves.
As a businessman myself, I understand the dollars-and-cents reasoning behind cutting local events out, to put more focus into crown jewel or big money opportunities, to increase your profit and thus help take your business to the next level, but the way track's like Eldora go about it turns this all into a short-term-gain, long-term-loss situation.
Local drivers, teams, and fans will always be the backbone of every dirt track across America, and with a limited sponsorship funding pot to dip into, these down-home racing facilities, like Waynesfield Raceway Park, live-and-die by the money made at the front-gate and pit-gate. If we want this to change and want our form of local dirt track racing to be around a decade from now or two decades from now, in the capacity it is today or even improved from its current status, we have to come together and not only support your local track, but put the pressure on bigger tracks, media companies and overall powerful figures in the industry to shine the light on and value local drivers and track on the same level as they do the national touring individuals.
The sport of dirt track racing is at the crossroads, and as much as people like Chaz Thompson think our enemy is NASCAR and mainstream America, it's not, our enemy and the people we need to blame are ourselves. If there is no weekly racing at the small tracks of fly-over states across America, or a driver working hours of overtime simply to put a set of tires on his car or fuel in his truck to make his racing dreams come true, there will eventually be no World 100, Dirt Million or Knoxville Nationals, and our sport will become a footnote of American sports, made into a laughing stock episode on ESPN's 30-For-30, because the backbone and foundation of dirt track racing will be gone.
Support, fight for and admire YOUR local drivers, teams, fans, families, and tracks, because, without them, our sport will die a slow-but-steady death.