Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Uncertainty in Central Pa Racing

When has Central PA ever seen times like these? 

As we head to the end of the 2015 racing season here in Central PA we are faced with a lot of questions which is starting to leave a lot of folks uncertain about what is ahead for the future. A lot of rumors and stories are flying around at our local race tracks and I for one and very worried about all of it. Lets take a few minutes to look at everything that is flying around about local racing.

First, we have seen the sale of Susquehanna Speedway to Scott Gobrecht which can't be seen as anything but a positive for Susquehanna Speedway. Scott has already talked about the improvements that he hopes to make in the coming off season. Every race fan that has been to a race at that track knows how run down the situation has become: The surface is in bad shape, the stands are in even worse shape, car counts have continued to drop since the start of the 2015 racing season. But lets be honest folks, both have been bad for years, I would never attempt to walk across that race track in my bare feet (yeah I know why would I right?) in fear of loosing all of the skin off my feet. We have seen many races where car after car suffered blown tires from the lack of good clay, and all the stones in the surface, but as much as that needs to be addressed; the number one thing that needs fixed are the stands first and for most in my eyes. The stands are an accident waiting to happen and I will sit here right now and pledge my help to Scott in putting new boards down to make the stands a safer place for all of us to sit in in 2016. Now get those darn bathrooms fixed.

With Susquehanna Speedway being sold, rumors have already started to flare up about what divisions he will run in 2016 and I have heard he was going to go head to head with Williams Grove Speedway on Friday nights with 410's and 358's. Don't see that happening....yet, but don't be surprised if it doesn't at some point. The news broke last night  about the Saturday night series being moved back to the track in 2016 and that should happen. That will be a win win for both the track and the division.It will give the Sportsman teams a solid home track to race on every Saturday night, on a race track that is similar to Silver Springs Speedway in terms of size. The Sportsman division has seen lower car counts because of the toll the motors take racing at Williams Grove Speedway's long straights. Put them back on a smaller track and watch the teams come back to race weekly.

And I will go on record right now, IF and WHEN Susquehanna Speedway decides to make the switch to 410's and 358's it will be the home for a lot of teams. I will also go on record as saying if they challenged Williams Grove on Friday nights, they would win the fight. Race teams have been looking for a place to run on Friday nights other then the Grove for years, and nobody would take the challenge. Fisher couldn't do it because the surface was bad and nobody would want to run there weekly, but if they add new clay and get the track back to where it was in the 1980's, look out folks.

Now lets move to Williams Grove Speedway. Rumors have been floating around about the tracks plans for 2016, and not everything involves another race track. Hearing a lot of chatter from people saying the track would love to forgo weekly racing at the historic half mile and go to a "special only" race track holding maybe 15 events in 2016. Possibly just leading way for the Diamond series and  Outlaw, All Star races. That would be 20 races which from the sounds of it is being tossed around. The question I have is would Williams Grove Speedway still be Williams Grove Speedway if the track didn't hold racing on a weekly basis? There is no doubt the race track is not what it used to be when it comes to field of cars, or fans in the stands. Can you tell me the last time a normal weekly show at Williams Grove had a full field? Hell even some of the more special races had a hard time pulling more then 24 cars. Only All Star and Outlaw races pull in the big car counts, along with Speed Week. Would the race track seem so special and be held in such regard in racing circles if they didn't run every week?

Now lets look at the track that has seen the biggest fall off of any local race track as far as car counts go....Trail Way Speedway. The little bullring just outside of Hanover has had a real hard time pulling in 10 cars some weeks. This week they had a $2,000 to win race and they only managed 14 cars. The best they did all season was 18 on a few separate occasions. There is no question they are suffering for not only cars but respect from race fans and race teams in Central PA. Way to many rumors like they don't have insurance, they have no safety team to help if a driver gets injured, or they wont pay out a full purse if they don't get a full field. Hell I still hear the BS about them being the lowest paying 358 track in the area, yet two years ago they upped their purse to match what Lincoln Speedway pays, and they host two of the biggest paying shows in the division.

I'm never going to BS any of you fans who take the time to read my stuff on here and I cried when leaving the track for the final time in 2015 this past Friday night. You know how you go hangout with friends and you just have a feeling in your gut something isn't right? I walked around that track on Friday night talking to the race teams, drivers, and car owners that I have been seeing on Friday nights for the past 11 years, since 2005 when I started going over there to watch Gerard when he started as a rookie in the 358 division. I had that feeling that I was saying goodbye to my friends for the last time. Would I blame the track if they throw in the towel and give up? Absolutely not. The past 2 years have seen them lose a lot of teams and nobody has come to replace them. They have to be losing money as no division has to run a consi. How can a track stay in business when the car counts remain so low? Hell their best 358 driver just announced he is retiring at the end of the season. Hope I'm wrong, but it would not surprise me if they close their gates to the 358 division in 2016.

Selinsgrove Speedway is another track that has a very uncertain future ahead of itself. They made the switch to 360's last season in hopes of gaining more cars but car counts have stayed stagnate and the low attendance has hurt the speedway as well. Add in the fact they have no promoter in 2016 and nothing as far as rumors to whom might take over the track in 2016 is not helping. Now stories are starting to fly around the racing circles of lawsuits pertaining to different things, which are not going to help the tracks feature. Talking to Phil Walter last week at Williams Grove and listening to his interview on Slicks and Sticks he brought up a very interesting point. Selinsgrove is in a spot where they don't have a lot of places to draw fans from like other race tracks, and they have lost a few of their hometown drivers to Port Royal the past few years. Stars like Blane Heimbach moved to the 410 division, and his large, local fan base has followed him. Add in stars like Pat Cannon and before that Chad Layton who have left the track, makes it hard to get locals to the track. Hope something can be done to rectify the situation, quickly, because just like Trail Way Speedway, how long can they keep the gates open when they are losing money most weeks?

Now the lone bright spots in Central PA are both Lincoln and Port Royal Speedway's. Both have seen full fields most weeks, and have seen packed grandstands as well. They are both in a great place moving forward in 2016 to continue to improve upon their success and continue to move forward with bigger shows for the fans, and the race teams in 2016.

I don't know about the rest of you fans, but the end of the 2015 racing season has me scared and worried as to what might and could happen. I'm going to spend the winter months dreading the press releases coming from race tracks, as to what might happen. Just hope for everyone's sake, every bad thing I am hearing is nothing but rumors, and that in 2016 we see 6 race tracks in Central PA racing just like we have for....well since I became a fan one cold spring Saturday when my father took me to Lincoln Speedway in 1980.

© William McIntyre and Central PA Racing Scene 2015

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