Jason Bowles (number 5) and Kyle Larson battle for position during a qualifying race at Eldora Speedway.
What retirement? I never used the r-word. OK, maybe I “retired” from taking notes on every IndyCar race, but still, there are burning issues of world consequence to discuss, like dirt track racing, a beer-accompanied chat I had with my friend Erin Crocker, and fendered vehicles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So let me pour my second cup of extremely dark roast and let’s discuss.
ANYWHO, I’m no dirt track expert by any stretch, but I did grow up watching all things dirt at the Jackson Speedway in Jackson, MN. AND I live about 45 minutes (ish) from Knoxville Raceway, which is the shit when it comes to dirt tracks, AND I want to learn much more about this less bullshitty form of racing (I’ll get to that in a minute). SO it was fun/funny to have seemingly so many NASCAR fans who had never or rarely seen a race on dirt tuning in to watch the truck-like vehicles last night.
To paraphrase many of the tweets: “ZOMG, this is awesome!!” I felt like the caveman who first discovered fire and came back and shared it with the cave posse. INCREDIBLE. Like giving out newly invented penicillin to people with here-to-for deadly infections. Bringing food to the starving. Showing an audience the first talking movie. Kind of a mixture of excitement at sharing the discovery and a “Well, of course it’s awesome. Duh.”
Mostly I was happy that people peed themselves over the kind of racing that Eldora (and dirt tracks in general) put on. Here’s the best part: whether it’s winged sprints, non-winged sprints, midgets, modifieds, truck-like vehicles, whatever, dirt track racing is all pretty similar. The great news is there’s probably a dirt track not far from you. All you gotta do is Google “dirt track racing in (your state)” and you’ll likely see many.
It’s relatively cheap, very family friendly, good for the short attention span people (races are typically between eight and 20 minutes long). You’ll find bizarre things like $2 cans of beer and $3 tenderloins the side of your head. After the races, very likely you’ll be able to go into the pits, see the drivers, probably sit in (beat on, lean against) their cars. No big thing. Go this weekend.
Take a Lap with Erin Crocker — Here’s why I, personally, increasingly prefer to watch dirt-track racing, in my case winged sprints. (Let’s not get sidetracked into the raging debate over if wings are evil. Stay focused… ) Dirt track racing just cuts a lot of the crap.
The races are like 8 to 25 laps long (something like 10 races a night), so nobody’s going to fuel setting two, there’s no goddamn fuel knob, you don’t have to save tires, you don’t save anything. You just go like hell. That’s why they call them “sprint” cars. It’s 15 minutes of mayhem; racing’s version of bull riding.
OK, a caveat. Maybe you save your car if you are in a comfortable position in a heat race. race. If you’re P1 in a heat, maybe you don’t go completely wide open because you don’t want to fry your engine before the feature race. But that’s about as much of a “save your” whatever you get at a dirt track. Even then, you use your heat to try new lines on the track, etc.
Simmer down … there’s nothing wrong with all the strategy stuff and longer racing, but my personal preferences increasingly ranges toward just GO LIKE HELL for 20 laps and see what happens. Oh, and yellow flags SUCK at dirt tracks — nobody ever hopes for a yellow. At a dirt track that’s like asking for someone to please uninvent beer. And yellow laps do not count. You get eight to 25 GREEN laps every race.
Also, it’s a whole different mentality, because when you drive a sprint car, you have no mirrors and no radio communication with the pit. No spotters. It’s just you out there in the mayhem. But that’s not to say it’s just a festival of randomness. There’s a ton of mental activity.
Here’s how Woman of pressdog® and two-time Knoxville Nationals A-Main qualifier Erin Crocker described it to me over beverages at Knoxville in June:
Erin: “People (other drivers) know that you don’t have radios. You don’t have mirrors. So they’re being respectful of each other because you could do that to them the same way, but then it’s going to wreck them too. So if you get a good run on someone, coming off the corner on the outside, but you don’t think they know you’re there, you’re not going to keep sticking your nose there, because it’s going to destroy both your cars. It’s not like a stock car where you just bounce off each other. You both are probably going to end up doing this (tumbling motion with her hands). Drivers, in general, are respectful of that, but not always.
But I feel like that was a big challenge for me, too (during Erin’s brief career in NASCAR). You can race sprint cars a little bit dirty, and there’s guys that will race you dirty, but there’s only a certain extent they can go to without hurting themselves. For stock cars, you can race dirty all the time and I didn’t like that. I’m like, “What the hell? I don’t like this.” I want to just race. I don’t want to worry about … you know, it’s the cheap way of racing, hit someone and knock him out of the way.”
EXACTLY, Erin. The design of a sprint car car itself, with open wheels, greatly limits the amount of bullshit you can pull without screwing yourself. You also can’t “defend” and drive in your rear-view mirror because you don’t have one.
Oh, for sure, guys do their own kind of defending on dirt tracks, but it’s because they anticipate stuff. If you’re racing Bob Smith, and you know Bob Smith either loves the bottom of the track OR he has been using the bottom of the track this race, well maybe you come off the corner and dive down to the bottom in anticipation of Bob trying to be there just to screw him. Maybe Bob anticipates your anticipation and WHAM, heads for the top for the track instead. We get to watch this dirt-track dog fight from the stands. Glorious, glorious.
Then there’s the track. It’s made of dirt (duh). There’s a serious art to preparing a dirt track for racing. It starts off damp, unusually ends up much dryer but it changes pretty much minute by minute … and the great drivers are plugged into those ever-changing conditions. Again, Erin ..
Erin: Another thing about sprint cars, almost any track you go to, there’s seems to be a way, as a driver, to make yourself better. Now, a lot of times I feel like in a stock car, yeah, I drive around and it is important, but you kind of get what you get with cars. But in the dirt, you can try new lines, you can try something really crazy. Your car might not work here but you can try something else over here. It seems like there’s a bigger range for that.
pressdog: So you’re doing that during a race sometimes? You’re trying different lines ...
Erin: Yeah. Absolutely. And sometimes the worst time is to be leading, because you’re like, “Run at the top, run at the top,” and then what do you know, all of a sudden someone comes by you on the bottom and you’re like, “Crap! The bottom must be good,” so you’ve got to go try it. It’s crazy.
pressdog: You must have to be kind of a quick thinker, because you only have 20 laps.
Erin: Yeah. You do analyze the track the whole night. When (Crocker’s husband) Ray (Evernham) first started coming to the dirt races with me, we were like, “What do you mean we have to watch the track all night?” Because you know when you have pavement, you get to keep it just like it is. Yeah, the track will change in the sun and clouds, but over all, it doesn’t change that much. But with a dirt track, you could run the same track four nights in a row and have a completely different track every night. Whether how much water they put in, how much it rains, how much they tore it up, whatever.
I plan to do some posts leading up to the Knoxville Nationals which are August 7 through 10, so you’ll hear more from Erin then. I also interviewed Brian Stickel, General Manager of Knoxville Raceway, so stay tuned for that.
GO TO A DIRT TRACK SOON. Google it right now. The in-person experience is even more awesome than the on-TV show.
NASCAR at Indy — I can tell the NASCAR race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is coming up when the frothing over NASCAR at the Brickyard starts. There are a lot of people (not the majority, but a lot) out there actively hoping this race fails. DON’T DENY IT. A lot of the umbrage comes down to 1) stock cars on hallowed open-wheeled ground and 2) Hatfields (IndyCar loyalists) vs. McCoys (NASCAR loyalists). Think “we don’t want THOSE PEOPLE in our sacred place.”
Again, this is not the majority by any means, but the vocal minority.
My take: get over it. Couple things. First, the revenue from the Brickyard race propped up IndyCar for a long time. So, if there was no Brickyard race, there may not be an IndyCar series right now. Not allowing NASCAR in out of principal would have been IndyCar’s version of self-immolation (setting yourself on fire in protest).
I suspect some of the thinking goes … if NASCAR draws flies at IMS, they leave, and we are rid of the contagion. OR, at least IndyCar outdraws NASCAR at IMS, so let’s make fun of NASCAR’s attendance!! OR we just like to see NASCAR suffer because we hate ‘em.
Also, since 2012 the Nationwide cars have also run at IMS. They used to be at Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR), a .686-mile oval with a 30,000 seat capacity located about seven miles from IMS. NASCAR said they were moving the Nationwide race to Indy to make it a double-dip weekend there for fans. Lot of umbrage still hangs in there air over that one, as you can imagine.
I’m just at a low umbrage stage in life, I guess. NASCAR gets to make their decision on where to race, what TV network to be on and I get to make my decision if I care and if it will get my attention. Same with IndyCar. It does sucks for the LOR operators, for sure. I feel bad for the fans who dug the race there. The wheels of market and economic forces are impossible to stop. Being bitter about such things is a waste of limited energy.
It would be kind of interesting to go to Indy for a Brickyard race, just to see such an unusual sight (for me) as stock cars on IMS. For someone like Sam Hornish who has driven an IndyCar at IMS, going down the straight in a Nationwide car probably feels like he has time to check his text messages, make a few calls, mix a cocktail inside his car.
So, your “next steps” are: get to a dirt track sometime soon. Make your own decisions on how you spend your time and money re: race viewing and in every other way and, of course … DRINK, ye BASTARDS.