A significant change could be looming on the horizon for the CARS Tour next season.
When it launched from the ashes of the old Pro Cup Series back in 2015, the Championship Auto Racing Series set out to draw big fields for both the Late Model Stock and Super Late Model divisions. But two-plus years into the new endeavor, Super Late Model participation has tapered off tremendously.
Only one driver, Nolan Pope, has competed in every single event – and he’s in third in the championship standings behind Brandon Setzer and Cole Rouse.
Certainly, the U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway scared off several full-time contenders from each participating series, but the CARS Super Late Model Tour has experienced paltry attendance all year. The season opener at Concord featured a season-high 19 cars, but the long trip to Dominion for the second and third races produced just eight and seven respectively. The next race at Hickory produced 11 entries while last weekend at Tri-County welcomed 12.
Diminishing entries aren’t exclusive to CARS by any means, but single digit entries are neither a draw nor a sustainable business model. This is even further complicated by the existence of the Pro All Star Series which has promoted SLM events in the same region since 2006.
(For the sake of comparison, the Southern Super Series has drawn an average of 20 cars for standalone races at Opp, Pensacola, Mobile and Montgomery. The CRA has drawn an average of 20 cars in standalone races at Toledo, Anderson and Baer Field. CARS Tour officials would likely point to their lack of marquee events as part of the challenge)
Attempting to pull from the same pool of cars in a region already mostly fixated on LMSCs doesn’t seem practical on paper, so would CARS Tour officials consider dropping Super Late Models and doubling-down on Late Model Stocks?
It’s been discussed.
Director Chris Ragle confirmed those conversations had taken place but owner Jack McNelly wants to exhaust every attempt to bolster their SLM numbers before giving up on them entirely.
“Obviously, we wish we had more Supers,” Ragle said two weeks ago at Tri-County. “We don’t want to see guys possibly winning a championship just because they participated. We want competition. Is it possible that we become just a Late Model Stock series? Sure, but we would rather find more ways to get the Supers involved with loyalty programs or something new on our end.
“I think we had a good thing going at Anderson with the Southern Super Series, and we would like to do more co-promotions like we had at Bristol too.”
He’s referencing, of course, the two co-promoted events that drew 39 and 29 SLMs respectively. However, co-promoting with sanctioning bodies based in Indiana and Florida respectively provides a logistical hurdle.
This weekend at Orange County could be a viewed as a big test for the future of the Super Late portion of the North Carolina based series. The Mid-Atlantic Classic at Orange County Speedway this weekend will pay $10,000 to win, $5,000 for second and $1,000 to start. It’s a genuine effort by McNelly and Co. to draw Supers to their show.
If this fails, McNelly may have no other choice but to go all-in with the Late Model Stocks.
That could mean 250-lap races paying upwards of $8,000 to win for drivers accustomed to racing for well under half that amount. These could be must-see events for a discipline that has only four true majors in the SoBo 200, Hampton Heat, Martinsville 300 and Myrtle Beach 400.
After all, Late Model Stock teams have been loyal and deserve additional marquee events anyway.
Eight drivers have run all nine events, with four others running at least seven. The races average 20 entries per green flag. This is the marquee car in the Carolinas and Virginias and everyone has fond memories from the old UARA-STARS tour.
But would drivers support it in waves?
Unfortunately, reigning CARS Late Model Stock champion Deac McCaskill says the Tour is unlikely to draw any additional drivers with such a move. In other words, don’t expect the likes of Lee Pulliam, Peyton Sellers or Philip Morris.
“I mean, that would be huge, but I don’t think you’d necessarily draw more cars than what they are getting now,” McCaskill said. “These guys like staying close to their home tracks. If you’re near Langley, for example, that’s where you’re going to race because of the costs of it all.
“I think it would be great to be a part of, because we all want to race big shows for big money.”
JR Motorsports veteran Josh Berry agrees.
“Obviously, I’d like to race for more money with bigger car counts, but Super guys need a place to race too,” Berry said. “But with how much the Late Model Stock guys have suported this, I understand wanting to reward that too.
“This is obviously the primary car in the region, but that’s something better left up to Jack and Chris.”
But if the Tour could find someway to feature each of the stars and cars of Late Model Stock racing at every event, that could easily make up for the absence of a Super Late Model division.