T.J’s Notebook: Risk vs. Reward

Attica Raceway Park. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

In parts of the country with less than tropical environments where racing starts very early in the season it has the potential to create frustration for everyone involved. Unpredictable weather in the early portion of spring makes racing early in the year a real crap-shoot. A majority of race tracks wait until later in the year when weather is more predictable to start racing, often holding practice days early in the season or no events at all. For those that do schedule early brings the question of why they would race so early in the year.

The obvious reason is to be one of the first tracks to give fans and teams with “cabin fever” the first opportunity to see racing for the year. Imagine if you couldn’t have pizza for six months of the year. If you were the owner of a pizza parlor and could open before everyone else to start serving pizza, that’s a huge advantage. There is some risk involved with the weather, booking that early show, but often when I’ve attended Midwest races in March with good weather the crowds can often be as large as some of the specials later in the season.

There are more factors than just giving people their first taste of racing for the year. For tracks that race on Friday nights, the crowd drop off when High School sports start up often shortens their season. Attica Raceway Park is in this position.

High School Football has an extremely passionate following and impacts Attica’s crowd. With the season ending at Attica on Labor Day weekend the early part of the season gives them the opportunity to schedule more races.

“If the weather is good it’s great, but if the weather is bad you just cancel and move on to the next one. Typically we open early because we close early because we are a Friday night track. With football in the fall and school starting combined with all the other specials at other tracks there just isn’t enough time to schedule any races past that point.”

Area race teams I spoke to have a wide range of opinions on the topic. Drivers, owners, and crew member’s opinions ranged from wanting to start and race later into the season to seeing value in the early start to the year. Even with the varied opinions every person we spoke I’ve seen in line before the gates opened to an early season opener from warm to near freezing weather conditions.

The topic of early season races is a great example of the complexity of the racing business, particularly from the promoter side balancing the desires of two completely different customer bases in race teams and race fans.

Where racing took place, it was wild…

  • Since weather relegated me to spectating from the couch over the weekend I witnessed two different drivers spin or crash while leading in two different feature events. Sheldon Haudenschild was poised to contend for another World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series before ending up backwards on track while navigating slower traffic.Earlier in the night at the Dirt Track at Texas Motor Speedway Sam Hafertepe Jr. went over Tony Bruce Jr.’s wheel while trying to avoid a spun car and ended up upside down into the fence while leading the ASCS Lucas Oil National Tour program. It was a particularly rough night for the Hill’s Racing Team as Hafertepe’s teammate Alex Hill tumbled down the front stretch earlier in the night.
  • Saturday night’s World of Outlaws event could be chalked up to Donny Schatz doing “Donny Schatz-like things” coming from deep in the field to win the feature. While I was not initially in favor of double file restarts when the World of Outlaws mandated them, it has improved the on track product in my opinion. Since Florida all of the races I’ve managed to catch on Dirtvision have been highly entertaining.
  • In route to his win on Saturday Brady Bacon looked solid in the Cooper Motorsports car in what is now a rare 360 sprint car start for Bacon. After a brief period of getting acquainted on Friday, Bacon looked solid all night in the Cooper entry.
  • Tony Stewart and Texas Motor Speedway put a lot of promotional effort into the ASCS event at Texas. I felt bad for them and NASCAR in general for such abysmal weather on a major race weekend. Hopefully the weather is better for a 2019 edition.
  • While the weather was bad across the country, Central Pennsylvania managed to race three nights in a row once a heat wave of 40 degree weather hit the area. Hopefully some of that sunshine, even if the weather is cold, shines over more of the country this week as things really pick up with tracks starting to open their gates for the 2018 season.