By T.J. Buffenbarger
At times in motorsports people tend to look back on certain moments fondly and at times can let some of the not so nice details slip away. Every year around 4-Crown time I listen to people remark how they miss certain aspects of the two and three day all USAC program. While there are certain things I miss from it as well I enjoy the way the program is structured now.
For me the new format works better for me as an adult. Back when I was in in school without things like a job, family, and responsibility the three day format was great. Other than the mad dash from school to make the Friday program three days camping at Eldora was pure bliss. If the 4-Crown was still using that format I would have to forgo the Friday or Sunday portion of the event just due to the way my life is now. For myself and others the way the old format was run if cannot attend on Sunday you only get to see the heat races on Friday and Saturday. Now you can see a full World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series program on Friday and all three USAC divisions on Saturday and still be home to spent time with the family (weather permitting) on Sunday.
The other downfall for me with the three day format was the Sunday afternoon features. I have never been enamored with daytime dirt track racing and can only remember a couple of instances of memorable daytime races in my lifetime. With the old format one would see a halfway decent track for the midget race, but by the time the sprint cars finished off the surface there really was not much left for a race track. This was solved once the 4-Crown went to a two day format and I never missed Sunday afternoon features.
While many USAC traditionalists do not like the idea of the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series taking over the Friday night portion it gives the potential to expose non-wing sprint car fans to the Outlaws program, which I believe the on track product is better than it was 10 years ago. This season in addition to seeing the better on track product the battle for the World of Outlaws point championship is tight between Daryn Pittmand and Donny Schatz. Towards the end of the season full time racers are looking for another paycheck and you never know who might show up at a good paying late season winged sprint car program. At the same time people camping at Eldora for the Outlaw show are more likely to hang around and check out the USAC program than truck over to Lernerville on Saturday. This gives a USAC program that needs more exposure to fans some new audience members to perform in front of.
The one aspect I do miss about the old format is having the Late Models or Modifieds as part of the USAC program. Not only did you get to see several USAC stars race late models and modifieds over the years that normally did not participate in that discipline, you would see drivers show up at places like Gas City with whatever modified they were running just to get some laps in. One year at Gas City there were upwards of 7-8 different drivers getting in sprint cars and modifieds before the 4-Crown.
Another thing that has changed over the years that makes the new format viable is the way USAC is structured. It used to be the national midget car and sprint car series did not race together often on the same program and frequently staged races on the same night at different venues with Silver Crown races standing alone. When 4-Crown would come along you would see midget drivers looking for sprint car ride and midget car teams recruiting sprint car drivers. Now none of the USAC National Series stage races against each other and you see a lot of the same drivers in all three divisions throughout the season.
From the race aspect they now only have to buy one pit pass on Saturday to compete at the 4-Crown where before they were paying for three to essentially get paid for one feature. Although it might see minor it that second day in general becomes another expense in an era where expenses become a larger issue with every passing season.
I’m looking forward to the 2013 edition of the 4-Crown just as much as any previous year. Two days of watching one of the greatest collection of open wheel drivers and teams in the world and visiting with racing friends one last time before the snow files is more than enough to look forward to.