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Small market tracks, local tracks -- call them what you want but can they SURVIVE in these tough economic times?

I just read the new IHRA Drag Review and noticed Cordova Dragway Park had "given up" on its Amalie Nationals. The main comment was the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois was just too "small of a market" to support the costs of the National Event. That hurt me more than some other announcements. I just won my first-ever National Event "Iron Man" at the 2002 Amalie Nationals in Quick Rod. The bleachers were packed Friday and Saturday but Sunday looked down. Track owner Scott Gardner has done a tremendous job there over the past several years but he is no fool. If the event is costing him more than he takes in it has to go.

My local track, Cedar Falls Raceway, has been through some major changes and since I live only four miles away and owned it for 12 of the last 17 years I still feel pretty attached to it. The new owners spent over $600,000 on total renovation of the facility. The economy around here has been pretty weak with a lot of companies reducing payroll, laying off employees, etc. Even out in the "country" we feel the effects of the economic downturn. The promoter of Cedar Falls Raceway has been looking for a "hook" that would bring in new racers and a different crowd. They tried several things, Funny Car shows, jets, Friday night Test and Tunes every week but nothing really changed. I am sure a lot of other tracks have the same problems.

Then Travis, the promoter, talked to as many young "gearheads" as he could find. The kids with the spoilers on their Hondas, cold air kits on their Supras, the 5.0 Mustang clubs, etc. Well, here is what he came up with: "All Night Drags - Fast and Furious Style."

They open the gates at 11:00 PM and race until 5:00 AM! I said to myself, are they nuts...this will never work. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! They had about 500 cars in the pits and about 1,000 people for the first one and did not buy any advertising. The next one had the same car count but about 1,400 people and the third one was a smash, more cars and nearly 2,000 people. Believe me when I tell you 2,000 young people at the drags in Iowa is UNHEARD OF -- Period! They found a way to make the track some needed profits and at the same time make the facility more popular to more people.

This isn't a story just about Cedar Falls Raceway but probably about every small dragstrip in the country. The owners cannot profit on 100 to 125 cars on race days and make enough money to continue with improvements, make better payouts, pay the mortgage, etc. It takes a "niche" market for most of them. Some tracks have concerts, mud drags, stunt shows, huge auctions on weekends that used to be bracket racing, etc.

I guess what I am saying is that I have changed my mind on what a dragstrip should both BE and DO to survive. WHAT EVER IT TAKES to remain open and still offer some bracket racing -- that is what I want to see more of.

I realize a lot of you readers are racing at tracks where there are 300 to 500 cars showing up for a regular bracket race. That is a good thing for the track and for you. Where there is a lot of population that is possible. In Iowa we are blessed (maybe cursed) with five extremely nice dragstrips. Two are within 65 miles of my home and the other is only 120 miles away. Then in Illinois there is Cordova Dragway that is only 150 miles away and Byron Dragway is about 180 miles. The problem is Iowa has a population of only 2.5 million people and more circle tracks per capita than any state in the nation. That means fewer drag racers per track than most places in the nation too!

If your local track is struggling and you think the owner is just lazy or not trying, you might be wrong. He might be searching for that one promotion that really hits a "home run." Whatever it is, I hope you support their efforts. You may have to race somewhere else a few weekends a year due to the "special events" that might save the track but it will be worth it. RIGHT! I hope you agree.

There is a Wisconsin track that has had some ideas that flat out make a ton of money. Import drags was one but since he is located about a hundred miles from a metro area he found racers, street racers, car club racers, etc would pay $60-$80 just for a Saturday test and tune! Because the track was so jammed with racers on Sunday the guys were willing to pay a lot of money for test and tune days to get more passes down the track. The track profits and the racers seem happier. The problem with this scenario is the bracket racers have almost been forgotten. Limited to about eight Sunday race days and tolerating a track surface that has been decimated by street tires does not make for a fast or safe starting line for fast bracket cars. At least they have a place to race, as the next closest track is about three and a half hours away.

My final view of all this is pretty basic. Not all tracks can look or operate like National Event facilities. Not all tracks are owned by guys looking for a tax shelter to spend money on either. Some owners are just guys that decided they loved the sport and are working hard to make it work. The small market tracks need to survive if the sport is to survive. When your local track tries something different, why not go support it? I actually had a great time at 12:30 AM a couple weeks ago watching hundreds of new racers try out my favorite hobby, drag racing. They were enthusiastic, tuning their computerized fuel injection, getting their under-car neons lit up, slammin' Mountain Dews, and there had to be 500 cell phones constantly ringing. Was it DIFFERENT? OH YES!!! But it is GOOD FOR THE SPORT and I support it whole-heartedly.

The next one is this Saturday night so I better go rest up. Not easy on an "Old Guy" like me to go to the track at midnight and hang around for a while. It is fun, though, and isn't that what this REALLY ALL ABOUT!

Good Luck and have a great Fall racing season!

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