Six big races will be held within a couple hundred miles of each other on Saturday night – and this poses a problem for racers, fans and tracks alike.
The second race of the CARS Tour will be held on Saturday at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina. A little over 30 miles to the north, South Boston Speedway in Virginia, which has had strong car counts all season, will continue its 2016 season. 75 miles to the east of Orange County, PASS will be running a Super Late Model race. Meanwhile, a little over 140 miles away from South Boston, Motor Mile Speedway will host their 2016 season opener.
This is combined with the inaugural race being held at Dominion Raceway, which is located just off I-95 about halfway between Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC. Dominion Raceway will be opening up on the same night as East Carolina Motor Speedway in Robersonville, North Carolina and, while those two tracks are not close to each other in proximity, they both sit about two hours driving distance away from the Hampton Roads, Virginia area – where both tracks will attract cars from with Langley Speedway being dormant.
The Mid-Atlantic region has already been suffering from low car counts over the past five years, but the inability for tracks to be more flexible only exacerbates the problem.
Drivers all across the region who hoped to compete at South Boston and Motor Mile, or at Motor Mile and in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour, or in the CARS Super Late Model Tour and the PASS South Super Late Model Series, or at Dominion Raceway and East Carolina Motor Speedway – those drivers all have to pick one now.
The single biggest cause of this problem in the Carolinas and Virginia: 17 of the region’s 23 racetracks compete only on Saturday nights. This leaves drivers having to choose which race to run and leaves die-hard fans having to choose which race to go to and only once a week. Contrast this to the Northeast or the Midwest where races are held throughout the week.
The Carolinas, Virginia and Eastern Tennessee have some of the most die-hard fans and racers in short track racing. These fans and racers are robbed during the summer months of opportunities to attend more races and support more area racetracks by the very racetracks they hope to visit.
In 2015, Southern National Motorsports Park ran races on Sunday afternoon three times. Those three Sunday races resulted in their highest car counts of the season and a surprising turnout in the stands from fans. Many of the drivers who competed in those races were drivers who traveled to do so, such as Lee Pulliam, Matt McCall and Kate Dallenbach.
This season, Southern National Motorsports Park runs on Saturday nights, opposite of weeks nearby East Carolina Motor Speedway runs. However, the recently opened Carteret County Speedway now complicates things. Carteret will also race on Saturday nights and will stay off of East Carolina’s schedule, putting them against Southern National. The two hour distance between those two tracks will result in both tracks splitting car counts instead of sharing the same fields throughout the season.
Friday races at Wake County Speedway, Saturday races rotating between Carteret and East Carolina and Sunday races at Southern National result in four tracks in the same region staying off each other. More importantly, it allows drivers to compete at all of those venues instead of just one or two. That would strengthen the state of racing in Eastern North Carolina, a region that has struggled immensely with car counts in recent years.
Motor Mile and South Boston running against each other could also result in both tracks splitting car counts in a way that will undermine Late Model Stock Car racing as a whole. Motor Mile Speedway often attracts the heavy hitters in Late Model Stock Car racing, but most of their cars travel between Motor Mile and South Boston.
Factor in the CARS Tour and the split becomes three-way. Never before have Motor Mile Speedway and the CARS Tour run against each other. This weekend, they will – forcing drivers to make a decision whether to chase big money at Motor Mile or chase big money in the CARS Tour instead of being able to run both.
On the Super Late Model side, CARS and PASS will run against each other for the first time in history – a move that could hurt the car counts in both series as racers who have run both will now have to choose whether to run one or the other.
As spring turns into summer and the days start getting longer, fans in the Northeast and Midwest will attend races three, four or five times a week. Drivers chasing the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship will get multiple chances each week to collect points in their pursuit of glory.
In the Southeast, fans and racers in the Carolinas and Virginia will sit around from Sunday through Thursday itching to see a race or go to a race. And if it rains on Saturday night, it’s another wait. Which brings up another complication of Saturday-only racing.
Rainouts on Saturday nights force tracks to cancel races altogether and condense their schedule. Instead of 18 races, a track might only get 10 races in. Rescheduling races that are rained out creates a scenario where racetracks who don’t want to run against another track are forced to do so.
Late Model Stock Car racing is exclusive to the Carolinas, Eastern Tennessee and Virginia. The 23 tracks that run on a regular basis all get their proverbial candy from the same proverbial jar. 17 of these tracks, all located within five hours of each other, all elect to run on Saturday nights. Five tracks run on Friday nights and, of those five, Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway often sports some of the strongest car counts in all of Late Model Stock Car racing.
Recently, Franklin County Speedway promoter Langley Austin made the decision to race on Sunday afternoons – a move that bucked conventional wisdom. While it’s unclear how strong the car counts at the Callaway, Virginia racetrack will be, Austin does not have to worry about losing cars by running against South Boston and Motor Mile on Sunday afternoons.
The region needs more promoters to come in and buck conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom is not working in the Southeast.