By T.J. Buffenbarger
The Sprint Bandits are back in action this weekend. Don’t adjust your computer monitors or check the date on your system, it isn’t August. For the first time since 2006 the Bandits will venture outside of their normal time period of the traditional TNT tour to hold races over the next two weekends at Golden Triangle Raceway Park, Houston Raceway Park, Devils Bowl Speedway, and I-30 Speedway.
When the Bandits first came onto the scene in 2004 visions of spec heads, top wing changes, a mix of winged and non-winged racing, and returning 410 sprint car racing to the heart of ASCS country were among the various agendas. While that first season had mixed results it laid the groundwork for a mini-series in 2005 anchored by two successful events, the Ultimate Challenge at Southern Iowa Speedway and the two day event at Lakeside Speedway that was sanctioned by the defunct SCRA series.
Since that first mini-series that Bandits have been a staple of late summer racing, but have not ventured outside of that time frame other than a 2006 trip to East Bay Raceway for Florida Speedweeks. That all changed this season when dates mentioned above were released on the 2010 Sprint Bandits schedule.
Over the past five years non-wing sprint car racing has expanded into markets that traditional have not hosted such events. USAC currently has the only national non-wing sprint car series, but the handful of pavement races keep several teams for contending with for the point championship. There are several teams that could race at a National level if it were not for the pavement racing, and with the right growth the Bandits are in the best position to offer an alternative. A new startup series might be considered too risky and have a difficult time gaining trust among competitors and promoters. The people behind the Sprint Bandit series that help run the Chili Bowl Nationals and American Sprint Car Series already have strong reputations and some inroads with tracks to book races.
While national expansion for the Bandits has been a slow process, the races this weekend and in June could go a long way to generating interest from promoters in other regions to book a Bandit show. The key will be how many cars show up for these events and what non-wing sprint car stars many of the fans in these regions have only read about are following the tour. If the Sprint Bandits can hit on the right combination more growth could occur next season.
Hopefully all goes well and the Sprint Bandits can strike while the iron is hot in creating a National all dirt non-wing sprint car series.
• After several weeks of impeccable spring weather Mother Nature was the biggest winner last weekend as most of the major events scheduled were washed out. Hopefully tracks can rally with some good weather this weekend.
• One thing the watch carefully this weekend is the start of Knoxville Raceway’s experiment of having restricted 440 cubic inch engines competing with industry standard 410 cubic inch models begins this Saturday. How many teams will take advantage of the larger, but more restricted displacement and which formula will find an advantage. The fact the new 440 cubic inch engines will not be allowed during World of Outlaws or Knoxville Nationals competition shows there is some uncertainty on how the engines will perform. Look for one of these engines to win a feature early in the season and to make some big headlines once it happens.
• After being very critical of double file restarts I am coming around to supporting them. The biggest reason is the restart cone. Even with the lapped cars removed the cone provides the leader with a larger advantage than even being in the lead under green flag conditions. Under green the leader might run into traffic, where the cone limits what competitors from second back through the field can do. If the lapped cars are not sent around anyone behind the leader hardly stands a prayer of challenging for the top spot. Do I feel the double file restarts are still a bit gimmicky? Absolutely! Do they work, I believe so.
• Eldora Speedway has company in tracks that had surface issues during their season opener. Skagit Speedway had mixed results with a new racing surface during their first event of the 2010 season, and twitter pictures two days later showed much of the new surface being removed. Eldora’s situation has improved dramatically even though the track prep crew is still working to make further improvement. Skagit was rained out last week, with this week being the first event on new surface 2.0.
• Victory lane is often times the vessel drivers and teams will make new announcements, even if they do not intend on doing so. I found it unusual Tyler Walker announced after winning the feature Saturday at Port Royal he would be moving to the Keen Transport #17 car recently vacated by Daryn Pittman. Who is the replacement for Walker in the Heffner #27 car? None other than Pittman!
• National Speed Sport News has a story on Emmet Hahn this week conducted by Keith Waltz. The interview covers ASCS topics, cost control, and the new midget series powered by the Chevrolet Ecotech Engine.