Growing up, this blogger’s first experience with auto racing started at the short tracks. The drivers who competed at those tracks became household names than the Darrell Waltrip’s, Bobby Allison’s and Richard Petty’s back in the early 80’s. Those short track drivers were on the same level as those names.
Those short track drivers were not 16-18 year old drivers hoping to make it to the big time, they were veterans who competed at those tracks for ten years or more. Nobody really knew what they did during the week, but on a weekend night or afternoon, they were the big names in racing.
Those drivers would come back year after year. Many would have the same paint scheme and actually the same car. If someone changed the color scheme slightly, the fans recognized it right away.
Promoters would make his regulars their local stars. They would put the racers' names in the ads as if they were the show and why you had to come out and see them race.
Regional touring series would see the same thing. Series officials would have their share of drivers who traveled around and it became a visitor versus local hero event. In the Midwest, it was a battle of the local hero owning his/her turf against the likes of Dick Trickle, Joe Shear, Larry Detjens, Mike Miller, Tom Reffner and more.
I think the word used a lot back then was “rivalry.”
But now, the number of weekly competitors is less and the new stars don’t hang around. They justifiably go and try their skills at the higher levels of racing.
Oh yes, it was the same with the local and regional stars back when many would just find a ride for the Daytona 500 and then come back and race their home area throughout the year.
But, if they didn’t get a full-time ride, they didn’t quit…they returned home and became a local hero. They became the teachers and mentors for the next generation of drivers.
Today’s short track racing landscape is different.
Promoters are afraid to advertise their weekly racers with the fear that they may be gone by next week and not sticking around.
Egos are not just shining with the drivers but also with track announcers, public relations/writers, officials and others who also think that their work there is just a quick step to getting into the higher levels of the sport.
They are more worried about how they look rather than who they talk or write about in their jobs.
Like the great Ken Squier once said, we need to make these drivers the local heroes. We need to announce what they do and where they are from causing fans to perk up and go hey he is from my hometown, we should root for him.
Writers need to help tell driver stories, give the fans something to relate with who they see race every week. Not go on social media and use the platform and talk about “me.”
We are also begging drivers, who try to make it in the higher levels and touring series, if it doesn’t work, don’t sit and wait for the phone to ring. Find a way to get back to your home track and compete every weekend.
There is absolutely no shame in doing that; in fact, the local racing community will respect it. Be friendly, hang around after the race to meet them, and most of all thank them.
Yes, the money won’t be there like it is on the higher level. But you are participating in something you enjoy doing and can show your talents. Even Tony Stewart once said that if given a choice, he would rather race locally then where he is today. He may be retiring from the Cup level, but never said retiring overall.
The track promoters need to start promoting those dedicated weekly drivers.
Announcers need to introduce them as a big part of the show like the ringmaster introduces an act in the circus, with enthusiasm and excitement.
Writers need to stop worrying on what the next bad story that needs to be reported will be and focus more on the good side like the human interest side of tracks, fans, drivers, crew, sponsors, etc. Most of all, paint that picture of what they missed in race reports to cause someone to say we need to go and see this ourselves.
Agree or disagree, the job you select is helping to promote this sport. If you want to argue that as a reporter, it is not your job to do that, then why are you even writing about it? It is because you are writing to an audience who reads your story with the interest in auto racing and at the same time, creating interest with a new audience who skims across your article. Ultimately, it is promotion…negative or positive.
Short tracks are hurting because there is more competition for the almighty entertainment dollar in a tough economy. We can compete and be successful.
All we need to do is change our attitudes and focus on the goal. There is a lot more good than negative in short track racing. It’s time for the good to speak louder than the negative.