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Thursday, June 19, 2014

RACING VACATION 2014: Playing the Rain Game



With my flight set to leave Columbus tonight at 7:15pm, the stalking of the weather forecast for the racing trip is in full force.  It never fails...every time I plan some sort of racing vacation, I'm always trying to dodge wet weather.

Friday night's show at Fairgrounds Speedway in Cortez, CO should have no problems with a predicted high in the upper 80's and cooler temps once the sun goes down.  This is a huge plus considering Fairgrounds is the only track in a four-state region racing tomorrow night.  Saturday's CDM Late Model show at Arizona Speedway should have no problems either, with a sweltering high of nearly 110 degrees predicted.

The Tuesday and Wednesday USMTS Modified shows in Texas are my biggest concern right now with scattered thunderstorms predicted in the area of both events.  With temps in the 90's and high humidity, the chance of a t-storm is always there...but I'm hoping at least one of these shows is able to get in.  Both the Tuesday race at Heart O'Texas and the Wednesday show at Devil's Bowl are currently staring at a 30% chance of rain.

Looking on ahead just a little, the final two races at Diamond Mountain, UT and Aztec, NM look good with no chance of rain, at least for now.  That having been said, I never put too much stock in a forecast more than a few days out.

We'll see what happens with the midweek Texas racing.  Obviously, given the fact those races are on a Tuesday and Wednesday, a rainout at both venues would be devastating to say the least.


Monday, June 16, 2014

RACE REVIEW: Plymouth (IN) Speedway 6/14/14

When an asphalt track makes the decision to go dirt, there's almost always a long and somewhat slow transitional period.  It can often take years to fine-tune the track prep, to get fans interested, and to build a solid following of drivers.  Plymouth Speedway in Plymouth, IN seems to have mastered almost everything in the few short years they have been a full-fledged dirt track racing facility.



With my schedule at Eldora, it's often tough to get out and visit new tracks. So Saturday's trip to Plymouth was a long time coming and it didn't disappoint.  The entire establishment is well-groomed and easy to navigate around.  The track itself is a small 3/8-mile...probably closer to a semi-banked 1/3-mile with tight corners.  The pits are located back off turns one and two with general admission parking directly behind the frontstretch.  

The facilities are very nice with a wide variety of seating from a concrete terrace with benches to a pavilion in turn four to the standard bleachers.  The speakers are excellent with announcer Andrew Hayn - an outstanding and well-spoken track voice - coming across the airwaves loud and clear even when the cars are running.  The lighting is very good and the scoreboard sitting outside turn two is informative, displaying laps, times, and the top ten cars.  With Hot Laps scheduled to roll out at 6:00pm, Plymouth again did not disappoint as the first group of 600cc Midgets rolled onto the track right on time. 



That's when I got my first surprise of the night.  The 600cc's began parading around an inner, 1/6-mile oval.  I was like a kid at Christmas because I knew right then I would have a chance to seeing racing on two different, countable tracks on this night.

When Plymouth first dabbled with dirt, they had a 1/5-mile track on the inside of their asphalt oval.  However, when they covered the asphalt and went fulltime dirt racing, I assumed the inner oval was no more.  I was wrong and was able to officially count the Plymouth inner and outer ovals as Career Tracks #174 and #175.



Car counts were 14 600cc Sprints, 30 UMP Modifieds, 11 Super Streets, and 14 Thunder Stocks. Racing itself was advertised for 7:00pm and, sure enough, the invocation and national anthem were presented right on time.  The heats themselves were pretty good with the track slicking off, but offering a sizable cushion about halfway up the racing surface. 

A 35 minute intermission was taken to do a little track prep and to allows the big crowd on hand to get autographs of NASCAR drivers Justin Allgaier and David Stremme, who were racing their UMP Modifieds.

The 600cc Open division ran their A-Main first with Aaron Davis winning a decent race from 3rd.  After two so-so features for the Super Streets and Thunder Stocks, the headlining UMP Modifieds came out for their 30-lap, $1000 to win main event. Normally, I'd be upset that they waited to run the top division last but, with it only being 10:15pm and with my four year being wide awake, I didn't mind as much.



The Mods didn't disappoint as 7th-starting Jamie Lomax passed 6th-starting David Stremme with about ten to go to get the win.  The highlight of this race was 18th-starting Frank Marshall charging up to the 4th spot, missing a podium finish by inches at the checkered flag.

The entire show was finished by 10:45pm and we were out of the packed parking lot quickly and easily.  In all, this was a more than enjoyable night at the track.  Plymouth does nearly everything right (including a BARGAIN of a kid's meal consisting of a hot dog, fries, fruit snacks, and a juice drink for just $3) and they get my highest recommendation.  Although a little dusty, this was an efficiently run show with great racing, nice facilities, and an extremely friendly staff.  Job well done!


5 WEEKEND AFTER-THOUGHTS: Limaland, Plymouth, and more

At 8:55pm, the first feature of the night was going green at Limaland.

1.  Chase and I went to Limaland Friday night and, as usual, saw an absolutely outstanding show.  The final checkered flag of the night waved at 9:48pm which, when you have to work the following day AND have a 4-year-old with you, is absolutely perfect.  The racing was superb with the UMP Modified feature coming right down to the closing laps with 7th-starting Randy Lines narrowly getting the win over 9th-starting Todd Sherman.

2.  Speaking of Randy Lines, his banner season continued as he doubled down by grabbing the victory at Montpelier Saturday night.  

3.  On Saturday, we made our first ever trip to the Plymouth Speedway in Plymouth, IN.  I'll have a full report on Plymouth later, but let me say this.  A good time was had by all.  They started on time, ran an efficient program, provided great racing, and had everyone on their way home by 10:45pm. As a bonus, we got to see racing on their inner oval with the Open 600cc class, which boosted my career track total up to 175.

4.  Nice to see Rick Eckert grab a couple wins on the Hell Tour. 

5.  Racing Vacation 2014 begins Friday.  Six races in five states.  If you haven't done so yet, check out my overview of the upcoming trip.  Early weather models are showing warm temps with virtually no chance of rain for the beginning of this adventure.  We'll see what happens!


Friday, June 13, 2014

RACING VACATION 2014: Part 2

In less than a week, I'll be 1200 miles from home on my long await summer vacation.  The trip will span nine days and will include six races at six tracks in five different states.  To say I'm excited would be a huge understatement.

The first stop will be Fairgrounds Speedway in Cortez, CO on Friday, June 20th.  A regular racing program is scheduled with IMCA Modifieds headlining the card.  Little info is available on Fairgrounds, but they're the only track racing in a four-state region so they get the nod for the opening night of my trip.

Fairgrounds Speedway in Cortez, Colorado.  (track photo)
Saturday, June 21st I'll hope across the Four Corners state lines to Arizona.  A CDM Late Model show is on tap at ET Motopark's Arizona Speedway in Queen Creek.  With daytime highs well about 100 degrees for the Phoenix-area 3/8-mile track, you'll likely find me hanging out in the air-conditioned car as long as possible.  "Oh, it's a dry heat", every says.  Doesn't matter.  100+ degrees is HOT any way you slice it.

After a few days off, I'll make the trek to the Lonestar State for a pair of USMTS Modifieds show at Heart O'Texas Speedway in Elm Mott on Tuesday, June 24th and the historic Devil's Bowl Speedway in Mesquite on Wednesday, June 25th.  Heart O'Texas is a 1/4-mile bullring which, from everything I've seen, provides some absolutely outstanding racing.  On the contrast, Devil's Bowl is a big, D-shaped half-mile, but is also the home to some fantastic side-by-side action.  I've been asked to help with some post-race coverage of the USMTS shows, in which I'm extremely honored to do.

The impressive grandstands at Devil's Bowl Speedway.  (track photo)
From there, it's a long journey northwest for a Wild West Tour Modified race at Diamond Mountain Speedway in Vernal, UT.  A scenic, 3/8-mile facility located in the northeast part of the state, Diamond Mountain only races five weekends out of the year and is one of only two tracks racing in the "four corners" states on Friday, June 27th.

The trip wraps up on Saturday, June 28th with a regular racing program at Aztec Speedway in Aztec, NM.  Aztec rose to fame after being included on the original Dirt Track Racing game for the computer.  The 1/3-mile oval is hosting a regular show featuring Late Models and Modifieds among other classes.  

Cars in the staging lane at Diamond Mountain.  (track photo)
If all goes as planned, this epic trip bring my Track Chasing totals up to 180 tracks and 42 states ... leaving just Connecticut, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Louisiana, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and Hawaii as the only states I will not have seen a race in.

Let's just hope Mother Nature cooperates...




Wednesday, June 11, 2014

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Limaland & Plymouth

With Father's Day on Sunday, this weekend will feature a couple of father-son trips to the track.  Friday night, Chase and I will make our first visit of the season to one of our longtime favorites, Limaland Motorsports Park.  On Saturday, it'll be a long-awaited maiden voyage to Plymouth Speedway.

Friday's show at Limaland is the 13th Annual running of the Keysor Memorial for the Thunderstocks paying a cool $1000 to win.  Also on tap will be a regular show for the 360 Sprints and the UMP DirtCar Modifieds.  With Gas City having the night off, Limaland may benefit with a few extra cars in the Mods and Stocks.


I've been trying for a while to get to Indiana's Plymouth Speedway, but things just never worked out until this weekend.  A few years ago, the track made switch from asphalt to dirt and the recent reviews have been nothing but positive.  This Saturday, they play host to NASCAR night with former dirt standout Justin Allgaier, David Stremme, and others participating in the special event that pays $1000 to win for the UMP Modifieds. So, after a half-day at the office Saturday morning, Chase and I are going to make the trip to check out Plymouth's program.

Barring an major curveballs thrown at us by Mother Nature, the Plymouth visit would be Career Track #174.  Despite the 2.5 hour drive, it's always fun to see racing at a new track, so we're certainly looking forward to the trip.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RACING VACATION 2014: Part 1

It's hard to believe it's almost here, but my 2014 Racing Vacation is just over a week away.  If all goes as planned, the trip will afford me the opportunity to see six races in nine days covering five different states.  Of course, the key phrase there is "if all goes as planned".  It seems like, thanks to Mother Nature, my racing vacations never go as planned.

Three years ago, a four-day weekend road trip to the plain states was washed out on the second day forcing us to call an audible and drive six hours out of the way.  With a USMTS Modified show at Muskogee, OK's Thunderbird Speedway rained out early in the morning, I was able to find RPM Speedway in Hays, KS...the only race track in a four-state region running that night.  An MLRA Late Model rainout in Mayetta, KS the following night forced us to venture north to Eagle, NE to see one of the best weekly program I have ever witnessed.

RPM Speedway in Hays, KS.
Then, in 2012, a perfectly laid-out plan to hit the northeast would cover six days of racing in six different states.  The roadtrip started off well, with visits to Brewerton, NY, Bear Ridge, VT,  went sour halfway through when Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway narrowly missed beating the rain (the first heat of the night was in the lineup chute). The rainout meant we had to go back the following evening, which also meant the planned trip to hit a race in Connecticut wasn't going to happen on this adventure.

Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, VT
Last year, I was fortunate enough to combine a work-related presentation with a racing trip and visit the Pacific Northwest.  This trip was practically doomed from the get-go when a second day rainout at Grays Harbor, WA detoured my plans to a remotely-located grassroots facility some six hours away.  To top it all off, my planned destinations in Montana and Idaho also looked grim, so I had to reroute my final destinations to sunny California and Nevada.

Fernley 95A Speedway in Fernley, NV
I'm holding out hope that this year's trip will buck the trend of past years, knowing full well an unplanned rainout could happen at any given time.  Nevertheless, it's full steam ahead and, starting tomorrow, I'll preview the six tracks on the upcoming agenda.

Lookout southwest...DJ's coming your way!


Monday, June 9, 2014

5 WEEKEND AFTER-THOUGHTS: Dreamin'



Dale McDowell celebrates after his $100,000 payday.  (Eldora Speedway photo)

1.  Saturday night's 20th Annual Dirt Late Model Dream was one of the best races in the history of the event with Dale McDowell winning from 22nd, John Blankenship second (from 24th), and Jimmy Owens fourth (from 25th)...in a race that saw only two cautions.

2.  Friday night's preliminary features were as good as any 25-lappers I've seen this season.  The first one included a wild, lead-swapping photo finish between Rick Eckert and Brian Birkhofer with Birky edging out Scrub by inches.

3.  If nothing else, the Dream weekend proved (once again) that car counts are vastly overrated.   Most folks already know this but, with the weekend we just saw at the Big E, it certainly bears repeating.

4.  Locally lost in the Dream hype was Matt Westfall's double down Saturday night at Waynesfield, as he won both the UMP Modified and Non-Wing Sprint features.

5.  The SummerNationals are already upon us.  Good Lord, where has the season gone?!  Brownstown kicks off the 2014 version of the Hell Tour Wednesday night. 


Thursday, June 5, 2014

I HAVE A "DREAM"

This story I wrote appeared in the 2012 Dream program but, with the 2014 version of Dirt Late Model racing's highest paying event getting underway this evening, I felt it was a relevant way to kick off the weekend.  Enjoy!

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You’ve heard the story before, and you probably know how it ends.  A kid goes to Eldora for the first time.  He falls in love with the track, with the cars, and with racing in general.  He dreams of someday standing on the famed Eldora Speedway stage.  

Yep, we’ve all heard that story before.  Mine isn’t much different.  It just has a slightly different spin.  My first dirt Late Model race at the hallowed half-mile high-banked oval was the 1997 Dream.  The race itself left a lasting impression on everyone, but especially a 17 year-old from southeast Ohio.

I mean, who could forget the ’97 Dream?  Scott Bloomquist and Billy Frye.  Oh yeah, my first Dream was THAT one.  Jimmy Mars, who was just beginning to establish himself in the dirt Late Model ranks, would be the winner that day.  I watched in awe as he stood in victory lane and held high the giant cardboard check for $100,000.



When we left the following day, I swore that I would someday stand on the stage at Eldora Speedway.  That was my dream.

But my dream was different.  You see, I wasn’t a race car driver.  Heck, at age 17, I was doing my best to keep a ’78 Camaro between the yellow lines driving to school and back.  The thought of wheeling a 2300 pound dirt Late Model around ANY track, let alone one as famous as Eldora, scared the bejesus out of me.

Nope, that wasn’t my idea of a dream at all.  As an inspiring announcer calling weekly shows at (the now dormant) R&R Speedway in Zanesville, Ohio, my dream was to someday be the announcer at Eldora Speedway.  THAT was my dream.



Fast forward 15 years and here I am.  Now in my third year as the house announcer at the world’s most famous dirt track, I’m living my dream.  And I get to stand on the stage at Eldora Speedway.  Interviewing the race winner, feeling the excitement of the crowd, watching the fireworks go off… I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

But it’s not all glitz and glory and glamour. There’s hours of homework that needs to be done in preparation for the highest paying dirt Late Model race in the country.  There’s a ton of research that has to be sought out for the 18th Annual Dirt Late Model Dream.  The race’s history, driver info, sponsor updates… it all has to be perfect.  The vendor booths, concession stands, t-shirt trailers… none can be left out.  The daily reminders, the track sponsors, the upcoming events… I have to hit it all.

There’s a lot to do when you’re the Eldora Speedway announcer.  The pressure is as high as the expectation.  So much to do, so much to remember, so much to learn.  No excuses for error, no forgiveness for mistakes, no justification for inaccuracies.



But remember, this is MY dream. I love chatting with the drivers before the races, getting updated as much on their lives outside of racing as much as their world behind the wheel.  I love standing in the staging lane just before the first heat race rolls onto the track.  I love the atmosphere of 20,000 fans cheering for their favorite driver. 

At the end of the night Saturday, one lucky dirt Late Model driver will have his dream fulfilled as he climbs from his car, sweat pouring from his helmet, and raises his fist in victory.  The pyros going off, the fans screaming, the crew members hugging and high-fiving.  No doubt, a dream come true.

And, for the third year in a row, on the other end of that victory lane interview will be someone living out his dream as well.  Perfectly happy am I to be lost in the shuffle of the chaos on that platform.  Why?  Because, for me, being on the stage at Eldora is also a dream come true.