Whelen Modified News & Notes: Seekonk

Whelen Modified News & Notes: Seekonk

Coby Hitting His Stride At The Right Time

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour enters the final six races of the 2017 season, four-time champion Doug Coby has yet to visit Victory Lane. And that would come as a surprise to most.

seekonk150The Milford, Connecticut, driver had three finishes outside the top 10 in the first four races and dug himself a deep whole in the championship standings in his search for a fourth consecutive championship. However, as the tour rolls into Massachusetts’ only oval, Seekonk Speedway, Coby could be hitting his stride at exactly the right time. The 38-year-old has finished second in the last three races and has been inside the top five in five of the last six. The runs inside the podium have allowed Coby to crawl his way back to just 19 points from the championship lead in fourth place. 

“It’s game on, these guys are letting us back into it,” Coby said following his podium run at Bristol. “I’m just chipping away and trying to win races. We have three second places in a row and we have been in contention to win every week since the Icebreaker and that’s really all you can ask for.”

Heading for Seekonk, Coby has plenty of expeirence to lean on around the third-mile oval. He is a two-time winner of Seekonk’s “Open Wheel Wednesday” Tour-Type Modified show and he finished second in last year’s Tour race at the third-mile. A win at Seekonk could put him right in a position to taste another title heading for the final stretch. 

Following the Seekonk 150, the series will visit Oswego, Riverhead, New Hampshire, Stafford and Thompson before the champion is crowned. Coby has victories at four of those five tracks. 

RACE CENTRAL LIVE: EVENT SCHEDULE & ENTRY LIST

Fast Facts:

The Race: The Seekonk 150 will mark the 11th of 16 championship events on the 2017 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule. It is the first and only appearance at the Massachusetts oval this season. 

The Procedure: The maximum starting field per the entry blank is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 22 positions will be determined through the qualifying process, while there will also be six provisionals available. The race is scheduled for 150 laps (49.99 miles).

The Track: A 0.333-mile asphalt oval, Seekonk has operated continuosly since its opening in 1946 and original builder and owner D. Anthony Venditti ran the speedway untll his passing in 1991. For the next 14 years, it was operated by his wife, Irene, and now it operates under the guidance of Francis and David Alburn. Billed as the “Action Track of the East,” the track runs as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series with the Pro Stocks as the top class each Saturday night. 

Race Winners: There have been seven different winners in the seven previous NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races at Seekonk . Reggie Ruggiero won the inaugural stop at the third-mile in 1987. Last season, Timmy Solomito drove into Victory Lane.

Pole Winners: Much like the race winners, there have been seven different drivers to capture a pole award in the seven races. Last season, Doug Coby scored the Coors Light Pole Award. Tommy Cravenho holds the one-lap qualifying record with a time of 102.121 mph, which was set in June of 2000.

Seekonk 150 Notes:

Tight Points Battle: Entering the Seekonk 150, the fight for the Whelen Modified Tour championship continues to heat up. After his lap 68 crash at Bristol, Timmy Solomito holds just a two-point advantage in the standings over Rowan Pennink. Ryan Preece sits third, just 10 from the lead, while Coby and Justin Bonsignore round out the top five. The top six drivers in the championship chase are seperated by just 31 points with six races left on the schedule. Just two of them (Preece and Coby) are former champions. 

Zachem’s Time To Shine: Preston, Connecticut driver Max Zachem has yet to visit Victory Lane in his career on the Whelen Modified Tour. Even though he has a best finish of second at Thompson last June, Zachem has put together some of his best efforts on the smaller tracks thus far. With a new car this season, he has six top 10s in nine starts. Even though he finished 13th at Seekonk last season, watch for Zachem to be in contention in the final laps. He has plenty of track-time at Seekonk in Tour-Type Modifieds and even tested there over the last few weeks.  

Solomito Looking To Rebound: Last Wednesday, the Bush’s Beans 150 didn’t go exactly the way Timmy Solomito was hoping it would. When the Islip, New York driver crashed, he was forced to a finish outside the top 10, losing some crucial points. Entering Seekonk, Solomito will be looking to gain back some lost points. Luckily for him, the Massachusetts third-mile oval is a great place to get that job done. Solomito has found success on tracks under a half-mile in his career, winning at his hometown Riverhead, Monadnock and even Seekonk last year. The Seekonk 150 is a great place for Solomito to get back on track and solidify himself as the title favorite.

Owner’s Battle Shaping Up: Though Timmy Solomito leads the driver’s point standings, there is an owner’s championship battle that is heating up as the series hits the final six races. Even though Ryan Preece missed a race at Langley, George Brunnhoelzl III sat behind the wheel of the No. 6 and got the car the points it needed to stay in the chase. Right now, the Ed Partridge owned machine sits 17 points ahead of the No. 16. Preece will miss a second race at New Hampshire in September, but Partridge tabbed Jon McKennedy to drive for him.

Winning: In the first 11 races, just five drivers have been able to roll into Victory Lane. Ryan Preece and Timmy Solomito are the only two drivers will multiple wins. Bobby Santos, Rowan Pennink and Patrick Emerling have also graced the winner’s circle. 

NASCAR Home Tracks: Late Models On Racing Card

Although the Division I Pro Stocks will have the night off, the Seekonk Speedway Everett’s Auto Parts Late Models will take center stage with a 35 lap feature as part of the NASCAR Whelen All American Series. The Sports Trucks and Sportsman will also join the action. 

Irwin Vences conquista la Chedraui 120 en Querétaro tras una emocionante carrera

Irwin Vences conquista la Chedraui 120 en Querétaro tras una emocionante carrera

Querétaro, Qro., 20 de agosto de 2017.- Irwin Vences, del auto #46 Vences JV Motorsport, se llevó la victoria este domingo en la Chedraui 120, octava fecha de Telcel Presenta NASCAR PEAK México Series, realizada en el Autódromo Ecocentro de Querétaro.

Vences dejó en el segundo puesto al auto #19 Canel’s- Gama Elite de Héctor Aguirre y a Abraham Calderón, en el auto #2 de ARRIS Telcel, quienes completaron el podio.

Tras partir en séptimo lugar y ante las diferentes contingencias presentadas en la pista, Irwin mantuvo su ritmo desde la arrancada y faltando dos vueltas para el final, despojó al piloto del auto #19 Canel’s- Gama Élite de la punta para así adjudicarse la victoria.

“Cuando regresé en la sexta fecha, después de mi retiro en 2015, mi ingeniero me dijo que en las dos primeras carreras no ganaría, pero en Querétaro será la victoria y así sucedió. Estoy muy contento por mi regreso y por el trabajo logrado del equipo. Dedico este triunfo a mi padre que hoy cumple años y a mi familia que son mi motivación por continuar con mi carrera”, declaró Irwin Vences.

Héctor Aguirre, de Canel’s Gama Élite, dijo estar feliz por su segundo lugar de la temporada. “Fue una emocionante carrera y tuvimos la posibilidad de ganarla, sin embargo, en las últimas vueltas Irwin me rebasó. Estoy satisfecho por el resultado y vamos a trabajar para llevarme el triunfo en Guadalajara”.

El regiomontano Abraham Calderón señaló que su objetivo será buscar el campeonato y acercarse en Guadalajara a sus rivales.

“Querétaro es una pista difícil y muy competitiva , a mitad de carrera nos complicamos ya que tuvimos una pinchadura en la llanta trasera derecha, al caer la bandera amarilla. Afortunadamente nos recuperamos con una tercera posición y a pensar en Guadalajara”, afirmó Calderón.

Rodrigo Rejón ganó en el óvalo queretano de la categoría NASCAR PEAK Challenge, seguido del actual líder Fabián Welter, con el auto #3 del ARRIS Infinitum y en tercero el auto #25 de Grupo Jurado. Welter continúa con su racha como líder del campeonato de la categoría.

La siguiente parada de NASCAR PEAK México Series se llevará a cabo el próximo 10 de septiembre en Guadalajara.

Battle of the Beach: IndyCar Wins Long Beach Grand Prix

2017 LBGP Winner James Hinchcliffe

2017 LBGP Winner James Hinchcliffe (image credit: Gary Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

With Formula 1, as well as IndyCar, ready to return from their mid-season breaks, the silly season news continues to flow.  Instead of drivers, the latest bulletin revolves around the signature Long Beach Grand Prix that has been a staple of the IndyCar schedule since 1984.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach remains the longest running street race in America, having sustained 43 consecutive years.  While the inaugural Long Beach GP featured Formula 5000, F1 arrived in 1976 and stayed until 1983, when IndyCar took over.

For IndyCar, the Long Beach Grand Prix has been a bonanza, boasting crowds of more than 180,000 over the extended weekend, remaining the 2nd most popular IndyCar race on the circuit, and providing a giant April precursor to the pageantry of the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Given its 2018 contract expiration with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach (GPALB), the Long Beach City Council apparently felt compelled to bestow a $150,000 project to accountancy KPMG for an assessment of competing proposals to host the street race in 2019 and beyond, given an expressed overture to bring F1 racing back to the Beach.

John Watson of McLaren won the last Formula 1 race at Long Beach in 1983

John Watson of McLaren won the last Formula 1 race at Long Beach in 1983

Two primary motives caused the Long Beach City Council to open the bidding process: 1) F1 exudes worldwide prestige, and 2) the insider beating F1 drum was none other than Christopher Pook, the visionary founder of the original race back in 1975.

Fortunately, the KPMG report reached the conclusion that the current GPALB is the “most qualified” firm to run the race, snubbing Chris Pook and his World Automobile Championship of California.  The report left no doubt that the WACC proposal was truly wacked.

Bluntly, the entire undertaking seemed ludicrous and hollow from the beginning.

First, the exorbitant investment required to accommodate F1 racing would never have made economic sense for a city of Long Beach’s prominence.  Hosting F1 would have necessitated construction of a semi-permanent garage and pit complex.  Additionally, a reconfigured circuit would require costly expansion for the widened track and safety runoff areas that are necessary to host F1.  It would be insanely expensive, impacting the City with dramatic venue changes.

At the end of the day, what costs the city money…costs the taxpayers money, and most of its citizens are currently stretched.

Secondly, the reason the Long Beach Grand Prix is so successful is the assortment of events and activities, which feature a casual, laid-back vibe.  Many of its attendees are not hard-core race fanatics, but are destination entertainment seekers.

These thrill seekers come for the evening concerts, variety of concessions, and spectrum of races, such as IMSA, Stadium Super Trucks, Pirelli World Challenge, and Formula Drift.  The Long Beach race is a tepid melting pot, and offers something that everyone can partake and find enjoyment in.  And the ticket prices are affordable enough to attract the broad masses.

Chris Pook, founder of the original Long Beach Grand Prix

Chris Pook, founder of the original Long Beach Grand Prix

More basic, the WACC bid raised more questions than answers around broadcast rights, sanction fees, etc.  It just seemed unfeasible that WACC could negotiate all of that, honestly.  The death knell was the acknowledgement by WACC that they could not mobilize to host a race until 2020, which would have left the city with a schedule gap and no race calendared for 2019.

And yet, Pook expressed dismay, saying “We’re disappointed.  I don’t understand; apparently the financials weren’t taken into consideration.”  Perhaps that because no realistic numbers were truly on the table.

With the selection committee’s recommendation firmly in hand, we anticipate the full Long Beach City Council will bless these findings when they meet this week and begin negotiations in earnest with the GPALB for a new 2019 contract extension, assuring IndyCar’s leading role in this signature series.

However, one thing is certain: The City Council, having played poker with the best of them, can be expected to seek a more alluring deal with the GPALB, including perhaps a higher rights fee associated with rents for Convention Center and ancillary facilities, as well as neglected road infrastructure repairs and improvements.

Perhaps if we are blessed, this increased cash flow will provide the City of Long Beach with payback of its $150,000 study cost.

By Ron Bottano

Give your take: Should Long Beach have stayed with IndyCar or pursued F1? Take our Twitter poll at @rbottano

Labbe Uses Bumper For Riverside Win

Labbe Uses Bumper For Riverside Win

Makes Last Corner Pass On Lacroix for Pinty’s Victory

ANTIGONISH, N.S — It was fitting, perhaps, that the Bumper To Bumper 300 was determined by a bumper Sunday.

Alex Labbe culminated a late charge to the finish with a bump-and-run pass on Kevin Lacroix, on the final corner of the final lap at Riverside International Speedway. This win is the fourth of the season for the Victoriaville, Quebec driver, and his first win on the high-banked third-mile oval.

Lacroix, who led the most laps and dominated throughout the entire race, still managed to finish second. In a post-race act of displeasure, Kevin Lacroix slammed into the driver’s side door of Labbe’s No.32 Can-Am/ Kappa Ford sending Labbe spinning and Lacroix airbourne. Following the incident, Lacroix went back to his hauler and declined to comment. 

D.J Kennington who started the race from the pole after rain washed out qualifying Saturday and postponed the race a day, finished third picking up his fourth podium finish of the season.

Mark Dilley scored his best finish of 2017 in fourth. Andrew Ranger rounded out the top five finishers.

Alex Tagliani and J.F Dumoulin finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Adam Martin, Cayden Lapcevich and Donald Theetge completed the top ten. 

The Bumper To Bumper 300 will air on TSN on Sunday, Aug. 27 at 1:30 p.m. ET, and on RDS on Friday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series will be back in action Sunday, September 3rd for the Total Quartz 200 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. 

RESULTS | RACE CENTRAL LIVE REPLAY

Alex Labbe (32) leads D.J Kennington (17) in the Bumper to Bumper 300 at Riverside International Speedway Matthew Murnaghan/NASCAR

POSTPONED: Pinty’s To Race Sunday

POSTPONED: Pinty’s To Race Sunday

Bumper To Bumper 300 at Riverside Washed Out

ANTIGONISH, Nova Scotia — Persistent inclement weather prompted NASCAR officials to postpone Saturday’s Bumper To Bumper 300 at Riverside International Speedway.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series race will be held Sunday, Aug. 20 at 1 p.m. AT.

Weather had previously washed out qualifying Saturday afternoon. DJ Kennington, who posted the fastest time in practice, will start on the pole and Kevin Lacroix will join him on the front row.

The Bumper To Bumper 300 is the 10th of 13 races on the NASCAR Pinty’s Series schedule. The Bumper To Bumper 300 will air on TSN on Sunday, AUg. 27 at 1:30 p.m. ET, and on RDS on Friday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Following Sunday’s race, the series will return to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Sunday, Sept. 3, for the Total Quartz 200.

STARTING LINEUP

QUALIFYING: Kennington To Start On Pole

QUALIFYING: Kennington To Start On Pole

Field Set Per Rulebook Because Of Weather At Riverside

ANTIGONISH, N.S — DJ Kennington’s fast time in practice will mean he’ll start on the pole for Saturday night’s Bumper to Bumper 300 at Riverside International Speedway after weather washed out qualifying.

Because the series got in a practice session, the rule book dictates the starting lineup is set by practice speeds. That means Kennington, who has two previos wins at Riveside in 2010 and 2012, will lead the field to green. 

Kevin Lacroix will lineup second. Championship points leader Alex Labbe and local favorite Donald Chisholm will make up the second row.

Defending race winner Cayden Lapcevich will start fifth. 

Donald Theetge, Mark Dilley, LP Dumoulin, Adam Martin and Alex Tagliani round out the top 10. 

Pending weather, the green flag for the Bumper to Bumper 300 is set for 7:30 p.m. 

STARTING LINEUP

PRACTICE: Kennington Fast At Riverside

PRACTICE: Kennington Fast At Riverside

Sets Quick Time in Pinty’s Prep Session

ANTIGONISH, N.S — D.J Kennington was quickest during Saturday’s NASCAR Pinty’s Series practice session for the Bumper to Bumper 300 at Riverside International Speedway.

The 40-year-old driver from St. Thomas, Ontario set a blistering lap time of 14.385 seconds (83.337mph) around the .333 mile oval to top the speed charts. 

Kennington’s No.17 Castrol Edge Dodge has visited Victory Lane twice on the high banks at Riverside, it was very clear that he brought the same fast pace with him this weekend. 

Kevin Lacroix finished the 70 minute session in second with a 14.450 (82.962), while series points leader Alex Labbe was third. 

Local favorite Donald Chisholm and defending race winner Cayden Lapcevich rounded out the top five. 

Donald Theetge, Mark Dilley, LP Dumoulin, Adam Martin and Alex Tagliani completed the top ten. 

Group qualifying for the Bumper to Bumper 300 will start at 3 p.m, while the green flag is set to drop at 7:30 p.m. 

PRACTICE RESULTS 

FRIDAY FEATURE: Virginia’s Glory Road

FRIDAY FEATURE: Virginia’s Glory Road

South Boston Celebrates Six Decades of Making History

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Virginia’s South Boston Speedway has come a long way since it opened for the first time on Aug. 10, 1957.

Originally a quarter-mile dirt track when it first opened for racing in 1957, the track is now a four-tenths-mile paved oval that plays host to NASCAR sanctioned weekly racing from late March through the middle of September.

South Boston’s General Manager Cathy Rice, who has worked at the speedway since 1989, says the facility plays an important role in the small local community that is void of major attractions.

“I think its special for everybody here and everybody in the community just seem to be real pleased because most of our fans do come from within a 50 or 75 mile radius,” Rice explained. “We get a lot of locals, the same people each week that we have coming in. They’re just real happy. There is not a lot to do in this little town of South Boston unless you drive maybe 45 minutes or an hour to Raleigh/Durham or to Chapel Hill or somewhere like that.

“We’re the best of the best,” Rice continued. “I’m very prejudice when it comes to South Boston because it’s my home track. I’ve been here all my life.”

blount-wilkinsOriginally built by Buck Wilkins and Dave Blount, the track spent the first five years of its existence as a dirt track before being paved in 1962. The facility became NASCAR sanctioned for the first time in 1960, with Baltimore’s Johnny Roberts winning the first NASCAR Modified event at the track on April 16 of the same season.

PHOTO RIGHT: The late Dave Blount (left) and the late Edward B. “Buck” Wilkins (right) constructed and opened South Boston Speedway in August of 1957 in Halifax County on what was formerly known as the McRae Farm. (Joe Chandler/Gazette-Virginian Photo)

For a time Wilkins and Blount stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the speedway, opting instead to lease the facility C.C. Chandler. In 1972 South Boston left the NASCAR fold and raced independently, but that didn’t last for very long.

In 1977 Wilkins and Blount returned to South Boston and with them came NASCAR, who returned as the sanctioning body of the facility once again. They continued to operate the facility through the 1984 season before selling the track to local businessman Mason C. Day Sr. and his son, Mike Day, prior to the start of the 1985 season.

The Day family made many changes to the track, including changing the configuration of the track to its current four-tenths-mile shape. Fifteen years after purchasing the track, the Day family sold the track to Joe Mattioli III. In 2004 the track changed hands once again, but it stayed within the Mattioli family when Drs. Rose and Joe Mattioli Jr., the owners of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway, purchased the track from their son.

According to Rice, the Mattioli family have brought nothing but good things to the South Boston oval. 

“With the Mattioli family coming on board in 2000, it was a tremendous change for us. I was here before with the previous owners and it has just been really good,” Rice said. “For a family not to live here in this area, to be nine or 10 hours away, and to have the feeling that they do about the short tracks, we have just had so many different opportunities since they came on board.”

Rice pointed out that it was thanks to the Mattioli family that South Boston was able to announce a $1 million capital improvement project in January of 2016. The project, which called for the repaving of the racing surface and a renovation of the grandstands, was meant to be completed in three years, but instead was finished in just a year and a half.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for the Mattioli family,” Rice said. “The community, the chamber of commerce, the tourism (department), everybody here is so pleased and so happy to have them associated and keeping this facility open.”

Throughout the years South Boston has played host to some of NASCAR’s greatest stars. From 1960 through 1971 the facility played host to what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on 10 occasions, with each event being won by a future NASCAR Hall of Famer. 

TRACK HISTORY: NASCAR TOURING & NATIONAL SERIES

The first two races in 1960 and ’61 were won by Junior Johnson, with Rex White capturing the 1962 event. Richard Petty would visit victory lane five times at South Boston Speedway, with Bobby Isaac and Benny Parsons also capturing Cup Series victories at South Boston

The track has also played host to many other future stars of NASCAR as well as local stars. Ward and Jeff Burton spent many years racing at South Boston in their youth, as did Elliott Sadler and his brother, Hermie. Denny Hamlin spent time at South Boston early in his career as well. 

The track has also played host to many legendary short trackers, including four-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion Philip Morris. Morris is so legendary at South Boston Speedway that the track actually named its Victory Lane after him, christening it “Philip Morris Victory Lane” in 2012.

“When people mention South Boston, they think of South Boston because of the history,” Rice said. “We go back to the Benny Parsons and the Cale Yarborugh days, back when it was the Grand National Series that is now known as the Monster Energy Cup, we’ve had the drivers come through here like your legendary drivers that are retired now.

“We’ve had Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr., Denny Hamlin came through here, Stacy Compton, the Burtons (Ward and Jeff), Hermie and Elliott Sadler. I can go on and name so many because I see them on TV and I say hey, they ran with us.”

Rice said the track plans to celebrate its 60th anniversary on Aug. 26 with twin 60-lap late model stock car features headlining the card. She said don’t be surprised if a few legendary race cars also show up for the event.

“We want to kind of focus on 60. We’re going to run twin 60s for a our late models, 60 laps for our limiteds and we’re going to do some things with concessions and do $6 items. We’re going to try to do a lot of things with the 60 years.

“Something we’re still working on, I want a car from every era to come in. I’ve got that in the works. You’ve got your modified, your Grand National, even today’s cars. We’ll have those on display. I’m going to reach out and hopefully get some retired gentleman like some of the drivers that use to race here to be our Grand Marshal or just be here to sign autographs. We’re looking at some different things for that day.”

The battle for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I track championship at South Boston will continue when the facility celebrates its 60th anniversary. Former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion Peyton Sellers holds a 57-point lead over Bobby McCarty with two nights of racing left on the South Boston calendar. 

nwaas_sobo_anniversary_old_late-models_081717

The field of NASCAR Grand National Division cars (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars) speeds down the frontstretch at South Boston Speedway for the start of one of the NASCAR Grand National Division races at South Boston Speedway in the early 1960’s. Photo Courtesy The Gazette-Virginian, South Boston, Va.

NASCAR: Winning Isn’t Everything, Growth Is

Bubba Wallace captured the Camping Series Truck win at Michigan

Bubba Wallace captured the Camping Series Truck win at Michigan

NASCAR’s top three race series delivered action-packed finishes in Michigan and Ohio, yet the meter continues to stall on NASCAR’s growth quandary.

Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, made a brilliant, daring set of moves, splitting the front row on a restart in the Pure Michigan 400, to seize the race win, where drivers soared into the oval banks at entry speeds of 215 MPH.

Also at Michigan, The Camping World Truck Series put on a showcase of drafting and passing over the final ten laps, with almost foregone, but not forgotten, Bubba Wallace capturing the victory with a gutsy inside dive into the corner in the final laps.

And another “super-sub” driver, Sam Hornish Jr. delivered a precision driving clinic to win on the highly technical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Despite superb finishes and surprise winners, there’s unfortunate irony that these three drivers currently lack full-time sponsorship to fund their 2018 racing careers.

Earlier this year, Wallace knew his NASCAR XFINITY Series ride with Roush Fenway Racing was ending because sponsorship dollars weren’t available to sustain it. He’s been in limbo, a young potential star trying to stay relevant, taking a one-off ride in the Truck Series where he last raced full-time in 2014.

Hornish is primarily a substitute Penske Racing driver for the XFINITY #22 team when full-time Cup drivers Joey Logano or Brad Keselowksi can’t cover the ride.

Hornish, a NASCAR regular whose had mixed success, captured a strong win at Mid-Ohio

Hornish, a NASCAR regular whose had mixed success, captured a strong win at Mid-Ohio

Kyle Larson, while sitting solid in the Chip Ganassi Racing Team stable, recently had sponsor Target Corp announce a complete bailout on auto racing after this season. Larson’s success in the Monster Cup Series wasn’t enough to keep Target committed to motorsports. The Minneapolis-based superstore left Ganassi’s IndyCar team last season after a 27-year run, and now departs NASCAR after 16 years at the end of this season.

No doubt that Larson, one of NASCAR’s most promising future hotshoes, will secure a new sponsor (or set of sponsors); yet, it’s still disappointing to see a major long-time sponsor like Target step away from the sport’s future stars.

Underscoring the challenges, Kevin Harvick, 2014 Cup Champion, attacked Dale Earnhardt Jr’s reputation, claiming that Junior’s popularity “has stunted the growth of NASCAR.” Basically, Harvick’s contention is that NASCAR’s most popular driver doesn’t win enough.

For a driver that leads his fan base with both class and humility, Earnhardt Jr admitted the words were hurtful in his final racing season.

So what actions (aside from tweaking playoff formats and aero package rules) might be ways to ramp the next wave of NASCAR growth. Game changers are hard to find, but let’s start with a few far-reaching ideas:

New Tracks: For starters, more road courses. As a minimum tweak, add one more road course to NASCAR’s premier Cup Series, and put it somewhere in the ten-race playoff season. Road courses, like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen, have been among the best attended and most exciting races over the past several years. These challenging circuits put the driver’s skill to the “eye test”, where the course dynamics really showcase racers being on the edge of grip and performance,

The Next Manufacturer Entering NASCAR: Still pending, yet adding a new partner beyond Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota would validate that investing in NASCAR is worth the return. The auto industry is global, and NASCAR continues to stress that “conversations with other manufacturers” are ongoing. A recent NASCAR Fan survey sought out opinions on several auto makes, likely gathering intelligence to share with potential new partners.

Kevin Harvick claims that Earnhardt's departure is stunning the growth of NASCAR.

Kevin Harvick claims that Earnhardt’s departure is stunting the growth of NASCAR.

NASCAR’s acknowledgement that they are aggressively pursuing new manufacturers leads to rampant speculation, but getting a European powerhouse like VW, or a brand known for its racing prowess among enthusiasts like Mazda, could go a long way to stimulating new interest in the series. The long-standing rumor that Dodge is eyeing a comeback continue to persist as well. Any of these would be welcome and broaden the series appeal.

Team Headquarters: Virtually all Cup teams are based in North Carolina. That leads to a provincial view of the sport. Yet, a satellite team like Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, with a successful, affable driver like Martin Truex Jr., is a platform for stimulating new fan interest in the local community.

In other sports, many fans affiliate with their local sports teams. Yes, having drivers from other regions and countries builds interest, but seeing a few teams mimic the FRR model in other parts of the country, particularly in the Western US, could generate additional attention and coverage of the sport. Surely, there are logistical challenges, but it can be done.

Future Stars: Highlighting the fresh up and coming drivers that connect with the next generation of fans in unconventional ways. Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Bubba Wallace have not only showcased their driving talents, but have ability to connect with fans in newfangled ways through social media that share their interests beyond the core racing experience.

Adding diversity to the equation, Daniel Suarez, 2016 XFINITY Champion (who hails from Monterrey, Mexico) is currently leading the Monster Cup rookie of the year stats, having quickly made the jump to the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota when Carl Edwards abruptly retired. Suarez continues to improve every race, amassing four straight top 10 finishes until being unceremoniously being taken out at Michigan in a wreck. Suarez is young hotshoe who exhibits the infectious enthusiasm that Helio Castroneves inspires in the Verizon IndyCar series.

Sure, these ideas need prioritization, and require collaboration among all of NASCAR’s stakeholders, including sponsors, competitors, the sanctioning body, track operators, and fans. But it’s a better place to start than pointing fingers at NASCAR’s most popular driver.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano

 

FRIDAY FEATURE: Virginia’s Glory Road

FRIDAY FEATURE: Virginia’s Glory Road

South Boston Celebrates Six Decades of Making History

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Virginia’s South Boston Speedway has come a long way since it opened for the first time on Aug. 10, 1957.

Originally a quarter-mile dirt track when it first opened for racing in 1957, the track is now a four-tenths-mile paved oval that plays host to NASCAR sanctioned weekly racing from late March through the middle of September.

South Boston’s General Manager Cathy Rice, who has worked at the speedway since 1989, says the facility plays an important role in the small local community that is void of major attractions.

“I think its special for everybody here and everybody in the community just seem to be real pleased because most of our fans do come from within a 50 or 75 mile radius,” Rice explained. “We get a lot of locals, the same people each week that we have coming in. They’re just real happy. There is not a lot to do in this little town of South Boston unless you drive maybe 45 minutes or an hour to Raleigh/Durham or to Chapel Hill or somewhere like that.

“We’re the best of the best,” Rice continued. “I’m very prejudice when it comes to South Boston because it’s my home track. I’ve been here all my life.”

blount-wilkinsOriginally built by Buck Wilkins and Dave Blount, the track spent the first five years of its existence as a dirt track before being paved in 1962. The facility became NASCAR sanctioned for the first time in 1960, with Baltimore’s Johnny Roberts winning the first NASCAR Modified event at the track on April 16 of the same season.

PHOTO RIGHT: The late Dave Blount (left) and the late Edward B. “Buck” Wilkins (right) constructed and opened South Boston Speedway in August of 1957 in Halifax County on what was formerly known as the McRae Farm. (Joe Chandler/Gazette-Virginian Photo)

For a time Wilkins and Blount stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the speedway, opting instead to lease the facility C.C. Chandler. In 1972 South Boston left the NASCAR fold and raced independently, but that didn’t last for very long.

In 1977 Wilkins and Blount returned to South Boston and with them came NASCAR, who returned as the sanctioning body of the facility once again. They continued to operate the facility through the 1984 season before selling the track to local businessman Mason C. Day Sr. and his son, Mike Day, prior to the start of the 1985 season.

The Day family made many changes to the track, including changing the configuration of the track to its current four-tenths-mile shape. Fifteen years after purchasing the track, the Day family sold the track to Joe Mattioli III. In 2004 the track changed hands once again, but it stayed within the Mattioli family when Drs. Rose and Joe Mattioli Jr., the owners of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway, purchased the track from their son.

According to Rice, the Mattioli family have brought nothing but good things to the South Boston oval. 

“With the Mattioli family coming on board in 2000, it was a tremendous change for us. I was here before with the previous owners and it has just been really good,” Rice said. “For a family not to live here in this area, to be nine or 10 hours away, and to have the feeling that they do about the short tracks, we have just had so many different opportunities since they came on board.”

Rice pointed out that it was thanks to the Mattioli family that South Boston was able to announce a $1 million capital improvement project in January of 2016. The project, which called for the repaving of the racing surface and a renovation of the grandstands, was meant to be completed in three years, but instead was finished in just a year and a half.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for the Mattioli family,” Rice said. “The community, the chamber of commerce, the tourism (department), everybody here is so pleased and so happy to have them associated and keeping this facility open.”

Throughout the years South Boston has played host to some of NASCAR’s greatest stars. From 1960 through 1971 the facility played host to what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on 10 occasions, with each event being won by a future NASCAR Hall of Famer. 

TRACK HISTORY: NASCAR TOURING & NATIONAL SERIES

The first two races in 1960 and ’61 were won by Junior Johnson, with Rex White capturing the 1962 event. Richard Petty would visit victory lane five times at South Boston Speedway, with Bobby Isaac and Benny Parsons also capturing Cup Series victories at South Boston

The track has also played host to many other future stars of NASCAR as well as local stars. Ward and Jeff Burton spent many years racing at South Boston in their youth, as did Elliott Sadler and his brother, Hermie. Denny Hamlin spent time at South Boston early in his career as well. 

The track has also played host to many legendary short trackers, including four-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion Philip Morris. Morris is so legendary at South Boston Speedway that the track actually named its Victory Lane after him, christening it “Philip Morris Victory Lane” in 2012.

“When people mention South Boston, they think of South Boston because of the history,” Rice said. “We go back to the Benny Parsons and the Cale Yarborugh days, back when it was the Grand National Series that is now known as the Monster Energy Cup, we’ve had the drivers come through here like your legendary drivers that are retired now.

“We’ve had Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr., Denny Hamlin came through here, Stacy Compton, the Burtons (Ward and Jeff), Hermie and Elliott Sadler. I can go on and name so many because I see them on TV and I say hey, they ran with us.”

Rice said the track plans to celebrate its 60th anniversary on Aug. 26 with twin 60-lap late model stock car features headlining the card. She said don’t be surprised if a few legendary race cars also show up for the event.

“We want to kind of focus on 60. We’re going to run twin 60s for a our late models, 60 laps for our limiteds and we’re going to do some things with concessions and do $6 items. We’re going to try to do a lot of things with the 60 years.

“Something we’re still working on, I want a car from every era to come in. I’ve got that in the works. You’ve got your modified, your Grand National, even today’s cars. We’ll have those on display. I’m going to reach out and hopefully get some retired gentleman like some of the drivers that use to race here to be our Grand Marshal or just be here to sign autographs. We’re looking at some different things for that day.”

The battle for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I track championship at South Boston will continue when the facility celebrates its 60th anniversary. Former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion Peyton Sellers holds a 57-point lead over Bobby McCarty with two nights of racing left on the South Boston calendar. 

nwaas_sobo_anniversary_old_late-models_081717

The field of NASCAR Grand National Division cars (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars) speeds down the frontstretch at South Boston Speedway for the start of one of the NASCAR Grand National Division races at South Boston Speedway in the early 1960’s. Photo Courtesy The Gazette-Virginian, South Boston, Va.

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