By T.J. Buffenbarger
(May 11, 2021) — Reading through the race results and reports from around the country every week racing appears to be making strong comeback from the COVID situation that decimated the 2020 season. While many things are starting to trend toward being normal in the racing world, new issues from the COVID shutdowns are starting to pop up in 2021.
One of the biggest of these issues involves availability and price of certain parts teams need to keep their teams going. Over the past week I have spoken to a variety of race teams, manufacturers, and distributors. Everyone I spoke to has seen some sort of delay in product or materials or has seen dramatic price increases in consumables.
The manufacturers and distributors I visited with cited a variety of reasons for this happening. Everything from problems in supply chains that have always been there and were magnified by the COVID situation, delays in getting raw materials, shipping delays domestically and overseas, and some have even cited a lack of labor. For example, some custom engine parts that had a wait time of two or three weeks now are six weeks or longer.
Parts availability is not the only thing impacted by some of these delays. Co-op money that was used to sponsor race series and tracks starting to dry up. Distributors would often use these funds to help market the products they sell through various sponsorships. That money being reduced or in some cases disappearing all together could have impact this season and beyond.
The race teams I spoke to this week were managing at this point with what they had. One local based team in Texas I spoke with had to alter the start of their 2021 season due to a 360 sprint car engine that was not available and had to race in a different class, but the rest were doing business as unusual with what they have.
As more tracks and series start their 2021 seasons it will be interesting if the increase in participating teams needing parts for crash repairs, maintenance, and upgrades could end up having a team unable to participate later in the year.
Hopefully racing can avoid a situation like the dramatic price increases of lumber and other goods, hopefully racing can avoid price increases that large. All throughout the process of talking with various parties involved it seems that some price increases were already starting to take effect or were going to soon.
The good news is racers are generally resilient and helpful. If there is a way to make, find, or borrow what is needed they likely will find someone willing to help. Hopefully the racing world doesn’t have to experience any large-scale shortages and the sport can continue to rebound after a season of uncertainty.
- The best thing I watched from last weekend was the final five laps of the USAC sprint car feature with Robert Ballou and Tyler Courtney racing for the lead. Both drivers raced each other hard, greeted each other after the checkered flag, with Ballou coming out on top.
A close second would be the USAC heat races during the daytime portion of the Eldora program. Often overlooked, I feel USAC has the best heat races of any series on a consistent basis. Level of talent vs. invert seems to make for great preliminaries.
Eldora deserved sneaking that show in before the rain on Saturday. There was a lot of grumbling about Friday’s program and how only qualifying was held. I do not blame Eldora officials for trying run the track in even though a long rain delay in early May in cold conditions is nothing like one on a steamy July or August day. After the long layoff I could see where ambition takes over and the desire to just get a program in could be overwhelming, and I do sympathize with teams having to deal with a quick turnaround after 2:00 a.m. only to complete qualifying.
The decision to get qualifying completed was huge for the quality of the entire weekend. Had Eldora attempted to run single car qualifying for the day program on Saturday afternoon it likely would have needed another complete track rework and delayed the show further. Getting qualifying completed helped the quality of both programs in the end.
Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart greeting patrons upon the gates opening at Eldora was also a nice touch.
- The one grumble I did not understand was the difficulty to flip between Floracing and DIRTvision for the two programs. If you are only a subscriber to one, I can sympathize, but flipping between the pair for me as just a click of a browser tab (along with the three other races I had open at the time). The app flipping on an iPhone is about the same level of difficulty.
Having multiple competitors in the streaming market is good for business. Having just one entity manage it does not produce competition.
- Attica Raceway Park has the Eric Phillips Classic on tap this week for the Attica/Fremont Challenge Series 410 and 305 sprint cars. Every time you see praise or grumbling about how efficient a track or series conducts their racing program, you can blame Phillips. The level of efficiency Attica achieved with Phillips was amazing.
One weekly program I attended in the early-90’s at Attica started right on time at 8:00 p.m. and had a three-division program with B-Mains in all classes, two of which had to be pushed off, by 9:45 p.m. That left plenty of time to visit the pit area, get a good night, sleep, and be well rested on the way to nearby Fremont Speedway the following day.
- The World of Outlaws visit Central Pennsylvania this week, and I am all about the friendly banter between the Outlaws and the PA Posse. Between the World of Outlaws, Williams Grove, and Danny Dietrich social media accounts this should be a fun week.
- On the not so much fun scale is the banter about the USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series finish Saturday at Bakersfield Speedway. While I am all for hands off officiating and letting the racers handle things themselves to a degree, the last lap bump and run by Chase Johnson on Damion Gardner is an interesting situation. You have Johnson who initiated the bump and run on a straightaway, which is not the best look. Gardner, who evokes strong emotions among the west coast crowd that are favorable and unfavorable for similar actions.
Johnson owned the move completely and was not shy about it being intentional, which even drug in Eldora winner Ballou into the conversation that apparently continued on Midget Monday on twitter.
The unfortunate thing is the move overshadows a great charge by Johnson from near the back of the field driving a 360 powered car against 410 sprint cars. Past USAC regimes have penalized drivers for lesser actions, but the newer management seems quieter or less hands on with this sort of officiating. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in weeks to come.
- Sunday night featured the return of weekly racing to Huset’s Speedway with a great 410 sprint car race between Austin McCarl and Dominic Scelzi with McCarl coming out on top. Ironically both drivers will match up again this weekend during the two day Peter Murphy Classic Friday at Keller Auto Speedway at Kings Fairgrounds and Saturday at Thunderbowl Raceway.
- Memorial Day weekend this year will have two high paying winged 360 sprint car programs taking place.
Long time friends of our website, Peter and Daryl Turford, are promoting a two day program at Lake Ozark Speedway featuring the ASCS National Tour with the Warrior Region along with the POWRi National and Western Midgets Saturday and Sunday May 29-30.
Many of you will remenmber Peter as the former president of the Southern Ontario Sprints while Daryl is a team manager for Hills Racing Team along with being a co-owner of the Drivers Project website.
Saturday’s finale will pay $10,000 to win for the 360’s and $5,000 to win for the midget cars at one of the best facilities in the Midwest.
For more information visit The Drivers Project.
Closer to TJSlideways.com headquarters the National Racing Alliance and Patriot Sprint Tour square off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend during the Ron Kahle Jr. Memorial. Friday’s program at Limaland Motorsports Park pays $2,500 to win and $400 to start, Saturday’s program at Wayne County Speedway features the same payout as Lima, and the Sunday’s finale at Waynesfield Raceway Park now pays $12,000 to win and $500 to start.
More information is available on the National Racing Alliance Facebook page.
- The entry list for the 2021 Pay Less Little 500 presented by UAW at Anderson Speedway continues to grow. As of Saturday, the list has 37 entries contesting for the 33 starting positions. Currently seven rookies are entered led by defending USAC National Sprint Car Series champion Brady Bacon. Qualifying is slated to begin May 27th with the race taking place Saturday May 29th.