Check Out These Other Pages At Hoseheads
Bill W's Knoxville News Bill Wright
KO's Indiana Bullring Scene Kevin Oldham
From the Grandstand Ron Rodda
Tri-State Outlook Duane HancockHoosier Race Report Danny Burton
Dirt Divas Camisha MillerCentral PA
From Spurs To Slide Jobs
by Ashley Zimmerman
Little off season remains, and as 2023 chimes a bell, we’re at the apex point of the beginning of the end in off season terms. Outside of schedule announcements, ride changes, prep and test for teams, reflection is least talked about, and done albeit quietly occurs often. While most off season activities don’t necessarily include fan participation, when it comes to reflecting upon the previous season the participating parties encompass all of motorsports.
Where has your reflection taken you?
As we closed on the 2022 season, one of the reoccuring moments of my travels this year has taken me back to Knoxville Raceway July 16th. While Knoxville is my hometrack and I’m spotted there often, it is a priority on my schedule when the Midwest Power Series is scheduled. For those not aware, my best friend James Broty, happens to race the MPS, so you can imagine when your Minnesota located pal gets to your home track, you make it happen. (It’s the shortest travel distance of my whole summer!) For Broty Racing thanks to car issues, and other unforeseen circumstances, this was their return to Knoxville in quite some time and in typical Knoxville fashion, she was unforgiving, and full of attitude.
James would wreck during qualifying, and as traumatic experiences do, it would be right in front of us in turn three, with all of the worst sights and sounds no one wants to accompany a wreck in racing. As sprint car fans, we all know if you’re going to wreck in spectacular fashion, it’s Knoxville you want to be at, with the best in safety crews paired with incredible on car safety equipment, James managed to walk away unscathed.
You would think the story ends there, right? Failed steering box, horrible wreck, no injuries?
Prior to the start of the races, through my own klutzy behavior, I managed to trip and fall catching myself with my arm. While it was sore, visually there weren’t any reasons for alarm. Throughout the night helping to carry things, push cars out to staging, and other things I started to notice just how much more painful things were getting. Brushing it off, I drove home that night without really lodging much complaint about the issue, and in the morning when I couldn’t even raise my arm, I headed to urgent care who sent me onward to the ER. In room 3-3 of the ER, with a nurse who could have been my father’s doppelganger, also named Joe just like my father, I was diagnosed with a broken radial head in my elbow and splinted. (For those not aware, Broty Race Team is the #33.)
To top it all off, in 2021 James was taken out in a wreck at Jackson Motorplex on July 16th. I swear we don’t plan to make tradition out of any of these things going forward.
At any rate, you can imagine I’ve spent a great deal of time looking back toward this moment in the season with a lot of varying emotions. With a recent event in the news, I found myself this morning coming back to it even more.
As a race fan, I’ve seen many wrecks I wish I hadn’t in 36 years of racing, and while it is a component of our sport that will never be eliminated, I’ve grown many strong emotions toward how I view each and every one of them.
As children I know that wrecks can be fascinating and exciting, sometimes it's the only thing that holds the attention of a young child in the stands for a long period of time. Wrecks are a key component of what can make this sport appealing. However, there is a rather large gap in that we need to be more educational to the youngest generation on expressing excitement and the truth behind racing wrecks. Even as fans I think we often forget that the person on the track could very well have friends, family, and even sponsors in the grandstands and while we know that children often don’t know any better, the celebration of a horrible wreck can leave a lasting impact on those around you without even knowing. Looking back on the feelings of what happened before my eyes, I wish more now than ever we closed the gap on celebrating during a red flag period.
I’ve suffered loss due to racing wrecks, and as a race fan, I feel we all ache and mourn the loss of anyone who strapped into a car on Saturday night, we are reminded often of the fragility of life and are found celebrating the legends all too soon. I’ve held my breath often, and even more in the races following July in fear of something worse, in reflecting I’m reminded more so of one thing.
Two things are inevitable, wrecking a sprint car, and death. As drivers make the decision to pursue their dreams strapping into race cars and pushing the limit of the high side through adrenaline, it is an unspoken acceptance they have succumbed to. The day will come that a track crew is picking up the pieces as they are assisted from the carnage. They are far too aware that the day they might leave this world may happen to take place strapped into this very car. It is their innate ability to push away those facts, focusing solely on the goals they spent dreaming about in a kindergarten classroom, that allows for the experience of winning to become reality. While we spend laps holding our breath and race endings cheering in excitement, our place is not to bring energy to the daunting facts that hang over a driver’s head.
Our fact as friends, fans, and family is this; our fears can never become theirs. To have the outcome they so dream and desire, to go out of this world having lived the fairy tale that lives inside every little boy on the playground, our fears do not chance an opportunity of resonating inside of them.
This I feel is the reflection best shared as we look to the beginning of a new race season.
The revelation of what I was allowed to witness in August will very likely be a controversial statement that will arguably rub a large number of individuals the wrong way, but after sitting on this experience for over a month, I’m rubbed the wrong way having witnessed the behavior.
I’ve not always been a member of the media, in fact, I spent a large majority of my adult life as a race fan. I had a unique perspective being connected to drivers and crews, but at the start and end of every race I was a fan first and foremost. As I’ve grown as a writer over the last two years something that I’ve held close to is that a large portion of my love for racing is closely rooted in sitting in the grandstands as a race fan, and while the advantages and freedom of media credentials offer a whole new world and atmosphere, there are some nights you will still find me quietly tucked away in the grandstands enjoying racing as simply a fan. While it is easy to sometimes look across the fence at the multitude of options, to me, having experienced the variation, there is still a very unique story in being a race fan just the same.
This last month when the World of Outlaws Late Models and the Xtreme Series midgets with POWRi came to the racetrack just twenty miles from my home, I decided it was a great opportunity to hang out in the grandstands and just be a fan. By doing so paired with my experience now in the media, you become very adept at recognizing those who come and go from the grandstands that are crew members, parents of drivers, and even drivers themselves. More so this skill allows you to watch the interaction with fans and through the behavior I witnessed, I’ve grown a great disappointment in race fans.
During hot laps, a Xtreme Series midget driver’s father was videoing his son on the track, he was toward the top of the grandstands (general admission mind you) and at the end of the row. By this point race fans had begun to file in but by no means were the grandstands sold out, standing room only, nor was the spot where the father was sitting covered in a blanket or had any apparent reservation upon the area. There were a few fans sitting in this general area around the man filming, but again, this area wasn’t packed, and had I been in his shoes needing to catch quality video of my driver to review at a later time, I too would have chosen this specific place to sit and felt I wasn’t intruding upon anyone’s space. It was about half way through hot laps that a race fan whom had clearly been drinking, and was in fact carrying a few beers approached the man filming and while he could have politely requested this father move so that he could join his friends in a spot he felt was reserved for him, the fan rather chose to rudely, belligerently, make a scene to force the father out of his seat and then also celebrate the scene he caused. Worse yet, he and his friends would reminisce and celebrate this very scene multiple times later throughout the night.
I know from just simply perusing social media that this behavior of race fans is not just a one off experience, I have cited multiple times throughout the last few years where others have witnessed similar behavior and been equally as disgusted as I currently am.
As race fans we are the first impression to anyone outside of the sport of dirt tracking racing, and are likely the decision maker in whether they choose to love, hate, or if they even return to watch another race. But yet, this is how we choose to treat the individuals whose contribution enables us to even be race fans to begin with! Let’s be even more real, it didn’t matter if he was the father of someone racing and trying to video or if he was another race fan, he was going to receive the same treatment regardless. As race fans we hold a power that is very unique in that if we don’t exist, our sport likely does not exist either; meaning if we don’t purchase from sponsors that support our drivers, if we don’t purchase tickets to go to races, and if we don’t purchase merchandise to support our favorites, we do not facilitate the life blood of our sport and not only will driver’s as well as series not be able to race, but racetracks especially those of the grassroots variety will cease to operate and the sport we know and love will be nothing but a story to tell to a stranger.
I’m not bold enough to think that the majority of race fans realize the weight they carry by identifying as a race fan and supporting this industry, but when will we realize that not only mistreating those whose involvement in dirt track racing is their livelihood but pushing out new or even current race fans by using degrading behavior will be what contributes to the suffocation and extinction of dirt track racing? While race fans use their hard earned dollars to purchase tickets this can give the impression to fans that they are entitled to some level of entertainment and control over a venue and it’s “entertainers” but as a retired rodeo athlete, here’s a secret, if you mistreat and verbally abuse those who pour their blood, sweat, and tears into risking their lives for your smiles and contentment, the entertainment we create you is no longer an enjoyable process and we will no longer contribute.
When will race fans realize that they not only contribute to being the best part of racing but also the worst part of racing? The behavior where we act like spoiled children to those either making a living in this sport or those who want to spend their hard earned money just like us is the number one factor that hurls race fans into the list of some of the worst things involved in racing. As a race fan in my heart, bearing witness to this behavior, all night I contemplated the opportunity to find the gentleman who had been so rudely handled and embarrassed for purely loving this sport passionately enough to want to share it with his son and apologize. While it’s not my cross to bear, as someone who started as a race fan we do all carry the burden to highlight the best of our sport and sportsmanship and this behavior is not it.
The off season is approaching, and while drivers are returning back to their home bases to wash the slate clean to prepare for a new season, as race fans we should take a page from the playbook. It’s time during the offseason that we work on ourselves as fans, how we interact with one another, how we invite and draw new fans to experience the atmosphere of our sport. More importantly, it’s time as race fans we consider how our role affects the future of grassroots racing. It’s time we make changes to our interactions and behaviors that reflect the truth behind how incredible of a family the racing community really is and how close and kind we all are.
We can talk vaguely of supply chain issues, tire shortages, fuel costs for rigs, safety equipment, and track conditions and feel as though we’re touching the depths of a conversation that makes a change. The fact of the matter is, nothing without the numbers shows the impact that the aforementioned issues bear on the drivers and teams we see the most - grassroots, Saturday night teams, who work the majority of their week to fund a passion that is chasing their dreams. As we close out on a weekend that an extended holiday enables tracks and series to capitalize on the ability to pack in an extra race for fans, let’s examine just what happens to a race team throughout this weekend.
As a sprint car person, I’m going to refer to dollar amounts and scenarios that could have been witnessed if you happened to be following a 360 race team here in my home area of the Midwest.
Now we can argue whichever way you want to look at the current epidemic caused by the monopoly that is Hoosier tires, or if you want to really just point the finger, we’re talking about Continental Tire the German based conglomerate that actually holds ownership of the Hoosier racing tire that race teams are currently without choice locked into the usage of, or the reality of, lack of usage due to the “shortage” of nylon they lay claim to being the cause of not being able to stay on top of production of race tires. Is it bad enough that the tires we need to race are not
just hard to come but below the surface have been guaranteed to those who run national touring series? Or worse yet that when you are able to get your hands on them because Hoosier suddenly finds they have a quantity available for the public that suddenly a race team has to
also inherit a rise in price?
Let’s say you were a race team that happened to race Friday and Saturday night of this weekend, and throughout the night you had hot laps, a heat race, and made it into the feature both nights. A feature that if you won, let’s happen to say paid out $1500. As race fans, are you acutely aware that this race team is now in the red just on the cost of tires? By about $500 to be exact, because just to show up and compete these two nights and HOPE to be in the running to win the race, they have spent approximately $2000 in tires.
I realize most race fans aren’t quite aware of the cost truly accrued by a grassroots race team each weekend, so I’ve compiled some of the bigger numbers below just to bring into reference the cost versus payout and show just how far apart the war on tires has brought us as a whole.
Tire Price Comparison
*Bear in mind that these numbers are based on an ideal situation. If the racetrack gets rubbered up by the feature, you’ve burned up at least both rear tires in the heat race, and the feature will cost you all four, totaling 6 tires for the night. We could talk about variables until we are blue in the face, these numbers are what a perfect night issue free would look like.*
Now that’s to say that the racing surface you experienced on both of these nights was worked in perfectly, watered profusely throughout the week, and didn’t have every single support class on this Earth competing on it before your feature, and you had every ample opportunity to be able
to have a shot at racing upfront because the surface was fast, smooth, and gentle on your tires. We know that these scenarios are simply the unicorn of the whole scenario. If you were at a South Dakota race track this weekend, you would have been lucky to not blow a tire in the feature due to the rubber down track surface. If you were at the mecca of sprint car racing where the surface is acutely worked into that unicorn scenario, you have likely laid your eyes on the blistered and destroyed poor-quality Hoosier tires that made it through the feature on sheer luck.
Now, take a minute to look into Continental Tire which owns and operates Hoosier Tire, in the past decade alone there have been a large sum of lawsuits due to poor quality tires that wear too quickly, whose tread peels off of the tire, and causes blowouts. In 2007 in New Jersey, and
2005 in Arizona the main subjects of these individual lawsuits were the premature and abnormal wear of the tire. Both plaintiffs in these cases won against Continental. Yet, when the world of dirt track racing begins to suffer these same issues under not just the ownership of Continental tire, but a CEO who spent years in research and development at Continental prior to taking his position as CEO conveniently on January 1st of 2020, immediately before the slew of issues we experience to this day, 2 years later, begun. While these lawsuits have paid out millions to the consumers who suffered at the hands of Continental, race teams are forced into dealing with price increases and quality issues at a higher rate of speed that could cause a far greater injury. I would hate to think the supply chain shortages they are blaming on the lack of production aren’t created in-house by dividing supplies up with their new ventures and leaving the customers that enabled Hoosier to be a 150-year-old brand in the world of motorsports to “sort it out” and suffer.
It’s been my contention for well over a year now that we back our drivers into a corner when it comes to the racetracks that they race at when we examine the standards of safety and degree a driver must go to ensure that he is safe. As we all know, once a team makes it to the track if you’re in contention for points, or you’ve invested a large sum to make it to the track, you’re going to race when your fellow competitors step up to the base to race, you are in a rock and a hard place. Well, now we’re doing it with the cost of just making it to the race track. If you have to spend $2000 in tires to make it to a track with a horrible surface to start or end up with rubber down track surface at the end of the night that doesn’t even lean to being conducive to risking your equipment or the tires that are nearly costing a gold nugget to purchase, you have no choice but to roll out into that feature and take the risk, you’re already in the red, and you want
to be able to race next weekend don’t you? I am certain as fans we very much want to see our teams next weekend.
The dangers of a poor track surface don’t risk just the cost of risking blowing a tire. It is the danger of risk on all of our equipment, equipment that isn’t exempt from the tyranny that is the supply chain. Being that none of this is just run of the mill easy to access information to paint the bigger picture, I’ve compiled simply some of the most common things a team might need and the extended lead time in actually getting these items in their hands to continue their already limited race season. Rocker arms are a six-week wait, that’s OVER A MONTH away from the track waiting parts, and that’s just rocker arms. That’s also if luck is on your side, there are some that are nearly 20 weeks out. How about pistons? Oh, that’s at least four weeks if you can run something on the shelf, but it’s almost required to be competitive these days to run a custom
order and those are 12-16 weeks out, meaning you’ve just lost your entire race season. The lead times on engine issues could go on until a person was blue in the face, exhaust intake is eight weeks, valve springs are 4-8 weeks, and any one of these variables could cost you your entire season. But you’re there, the other teams are willing to risk it, and the points fund or paycheck at the end of the night might be the only thing that makes a difference in if you’re even able to race next year, or heck, if you have sponsors, or are chasing down new sponsors, you better be on that race track. Risking it on a surface that could have more down to it, fewer support classes, and better racing for every single car involved with a better chance at a better outcome for each team.
This is a rabbit hole I find myself diving down into a darkness that only creates some of the most frustrating, infuriating anger I have had toward the sport I love the most. Why are we forcing our favorite teams and the future of racing to stand alone and bear the weight of all of these issues?
We can argue that Hoosier continues to make press releases tidying this mess and making claims that they are going to “catch up” and inventory relief will be coming. These press releases seem and feel very hollow, when in an April 1 2022 article with PRI, Hoosier’s CEO Joerg Burfien makes statements like, “We will never forget our heritage and core market; it’s by far our biggest segment, and we will continue to maintain and develop that,” he said. “We are looking closely at the ATV and UTV market, and with the help of our mother company, we are also looking seriously into the semi-street or dual-purpose tires, UTG 200 or even UTG 80 or 100 tires,” all while acknowledging that “Demand wasn’t as far down as we anticipated, about
10–15% below 2019 levels, and we were expecting to be down much more than that. People still have time and money. They build cars, and they want to race. That’s a good problem to have from a business standpoint, but not so good from the standpoint of customer satisfaction.” He goes on into the interview to state that Hoosier is also preparing to expand into Europe where they are virtually nobody. If you’re diversifying your market and expanding to different countries, how on Earth can your focus still be on the inventory that began the brand, to begin with? I don’t know about everyone, but when you can include numbers, model types, and other detailed information it sure sounds like the interview is full of much more legitimately guaranteed information than the press releases that leave the vague emphasis on when we can expect relief for our dirt track teams, and just all about how much more they’ll be paying the next time they find themselves in need. One could certainly hypothesize that potentially some of these pending lawsuits like with Volkswagen, or these new business ventures might be finding themselves funded off of the profit of a product they know is in high demand, as stated by the German-based CEO. He also goes on to discuss how, “we changed some tire specifications and eliminated some others to extend tire life,” to quote exactly, is this the source as to why our teams are now experiencing the same situations lawsuits have been drafted over?
I’ve spoken before about who speaks for the driver, and at this point, it’s the driver, but the drivers need to band together. Why turn these laps on a racing surface that is only going to put you in the red at the end of the night? It’s not a show for your fans, it’s not fair to the work you put into the cars, and it’s not right to force you to endure the rising costs of a monopoly not even
born on this shore. Stand together, roll out for the feature, turn your lap, roll to the infield, save your tires for the next weekend, a better surface and a chance to pay for the costs you’re enduring, and collect your tow fee. Stand against what can end your season every single time you fold to the weight of being the only one.
Across the Midwest right before our very eyes without the request of attention or desire for the credit, as if speaking the words that all the teams scream inside of their heads, or grip steering wheels in frustration on their trip home from the track, drivers are taking a stand in the name of the future of grassroots racing, in the name of the feeling of overwhelming desperation to hold together a strategy that may endure the pain brought on by limitations far out of their control and far out of the spotlight that takes accountability for the desperation it has swept the world of dirt track racing into, drivers have begun to question, “why are we racing on this surface when we don’t have to? Why are we risking this?” One seemingly innocent question with such a powerful message accompanied by a united and intelligent solution to taking a stand instead of absorbing a cost that isn’t fair nor right to absorb. A united front brought together by one passionate individual’s simple answer to a question far outside of the racetrack it’s posed upon. “Why race on this surface with nothing to gain? It will cost all of us money, none of us a chance at winning, and we’ll burn tires, and ruin equipment, why not turn the laps needed to receive our tow money and make the statement, if we have to be limited to the tires available to us, the quality lesser than what came before, and only one right rear a race, we are at least owed the surface conducive to put on a show and give us all the chance to come out on top and a little less worse for wear.”
As Americans we’ve been praised and celebrated our entire existence for standing for what’s right and dirt track racing is about as American as it gets, so it’s about time we stand for its future, and its future is the teams and drivers that bring these cars and their lives to the race track every weekend risking their season, their future, and their livelihoods to chase their dreams in the name of entertaining their fans. If you stand together, the rock, and its hard place
no longer exist and it’s about time we see you on top of that mountain - that’s the victory we can all get behind. No one wants to see our teams and drivers continue to sacrifice and lose at the hands of conglomerates and we all come to the track to see the excitement and fire brought by slide jobs and high speeds, it’s time we stand behind our teams when they take a stand to ensure the future of our great sport. I know I’d rather sacrifice 20 laps of rubber down racing surface with wrecks and blowouts, to ensure that other tracks and the Hoosier monopoly take note of the passion in their biggest consumer the grassroots driver, the passion that created the feral stories that built the legends of dirt track racing to start. Give our teams not just respect for the role they play in the future of racing, but give them a rest in the enormous weight that surrounds their getting to the track each and every week to keep all of our dreams and stories alive.
If you’re a race fan, keep this in mind as you begin your commute to the racetrack this weekend. If you’re a driver, open the dialog to the hard truth amongst your competitors this weekend at the track.
It’s time we stand together against what stands to divide us.
South Dakota race track this weekend, you would have been lucky to not blow a tire in the
feature due to the rubber down track surface. If you were at the mecca of sprint car racing
where the surface is acutely worked into that unicorn scenario, you have likely laid your eyes on
the blistered and destroyed poor-quality Hoosier tires that made it through the feature on sheer
Now, take a minute to look into Continental Tire which owns and operates Hoosier Tire, in the
past decade alone there have been a large sum of lawsuits due to poor quality tires that wear
too quickly, whose tread peels off of the tire, and causes blowouts. In 2007 in New Jersey, and
2005 in Arizona the main subjects of these individual lawsuits were the premature and abnormal
wear of the tire. Both plaintiffs in these cases won against Continental. Yet, when the world of
dirt track racing begins to suffer these same issues under not just the ownership of Continental
tire, but a CEO who spent years in research and development at Continental prior to taking his
position as CEO conveniently on January 1st of 2020, immediately before the slew of issues we
experience to this day, 2 years later, begun. While these lawsuits have paid out millions to the
consumers who suffered at the hands of Continental, race teams are forced into dealing with
price increases and quality issues at a higher rate of speed that could cause a far greater injury.
I would hate to think the supply chain shortages they are blaming on the lack of production
aren’t created in-house by dividing supplies up with their new ventures and leaving the
customers that enabled Hoosier to be a 150-year-old brand in the world of motorsports to “sort it
out” and suffer.
It’s been my contention for well over a year now that we back our drivers into a corner when it
comes to the racetracks that they race at when we examine the standards of safety and degree
a driver must go to ensure that he is safe. As we all know, once a team makes it to the track if
you’re in contention for points, or you’ve invested a large sum to make it to the track, you’re
going to race when your fellow competitors step up to the base to race, you are in a rock and a
hard place. Well, now we’re doing it with the cost of just making it to the race track. If you have
to spend $2000 in tires to make it to a track with a horrible surface to start or end up with rubber
down track surface at the end of the night that doesn’t even lean to being conducive to risking
your equipment or the tires that are nearly costing a gold nugget to purchase, you have no
choice but to roll out into that feature and take the risk, you’re already in the red, and you want
to be able to race next weekend don’t you? I am certain as fans we very much want to see our
teams next weekend.
The dangers of a poor track surface don’t risk just the cost of risking blowing a tire. It is the
danger of risk on all of our equipment, equipment that isn’t exempt from the tyranny that is the
supply chain. Being that none of this is just run of the mill easy to access information to paint the
bigger picture, I’ve compiled simply some of the most common things a team might need and
the extended lead time in actually getting these items in their hands to continue their already
limited race season. Rocker arms are a six-week wait, that’s OVER A MONTH away from the
track waiting parts, and that’s just rocker arms. That’s also if luck is on your side, there are some
that are nearly 20 weeks out. How about pistons? Oh, that’s at least four weeks if you can run
something on the shelf, but it’s almost required to be competitive these days to run a custom
lead times on engine issues could go on until a person was blue in the face, exhaust intake is
eight weeks, valve springs are 4-8 weeks, and any one of these variables could cost you your
entire season. But you’re there, the other teams are willing to risk it, and the points fund or
paycheck at the end of the night might be the only thing that makes a difference in if you’re even
able to race next year, or heck, if you have sponsors, or are chasing down new sponsors, you
better be on that race track. Risking it on a surface that could have more down to it, fewer
support classes, and better racing for every single car involved with a better chance at a better
outcome for each team.
This is a rabbit hole I find myself diving down into a darkness that only creates some of the most
frustrating, infuriating anger I have had toward the sport I love the most. Why are we forcing our
favorite teams and the future of racing to stand alone and bear the weight of all of these issues?
We can argue that Hoosier continues to make press releases tidying this mess and making
claims that they are going to “catch up” and inventory relief will be coming. These press
releases seem and feel very hollow, when in an April 1 2022 article with PRI, Hoosier’s CEO
Joerg Burfien makes statements like, “We will never forget our heritage and core market; it’s by
far our biggest segment, and we will continue to maintain and develop that,” he said. “We are
looking closely at the ATV and UTV market, and with the help of our mother company, we are
also looking seriously into the semi-street or dual-purpose tires, UTG 200 or even UTG 80 or
100 tires,” all while acknowledging that “Demand wasn’t as far down as we anticipated, about
10–15% below 2019 levels, and we were expecting to be down much more than that. People
still have time and money. They build cars, and they want to race. That’s a good problem to
have from a business standpoint, but not so good from the standpoint of customer satisfaction.”
He goes on into the interview to state that Hoosier is also preparing to expand into Europe
where they are virtually nobody. If you’re diversifying your market and expanding to different
countries, how on Earth can your focus still be on the inventory that began the brand, to begin
with? I don’t know about everyone, but when you can include numbers, model types, and other
detailed information it sure sounds like the interview is full of much more legitimately guaranteed
information than the press releases that leave the vague emphasis on when we can expect
relief for our dirt track teams, and just all about how much more they’ll be paying the next time
they find themselves in need. One could certainly hypothesize that potentially some of these
pending lawsuits like with Volkswagen, or these new business ventures might be finding
themselves funded off of the profit of a product they know is in high demand, as stated by the
German-based CEO. He also goes on to discuss how, “we changed some tire specifications
and eliminated some others to extend tire life,” to quote exactly, is this the source as to why our
teams are now experiencing the same situations lawsuits have been drafted over?
I’ve spoken before about who speaks for the driver, and at this point, it’s the driver, but the
drivers need to band together. Why turn these laps on a racing surface that is only going to put
you in the red at the end of the night? It’s not a show for your fans, it’s not fair to the work you
put into the cars, and it’s not right to force you to endure the rising costs of a monopoly not even
your tires for the next weekend, a better surface and a chance to pay for the costs you’re
enduring, and collect your tow fee. Stand against what can end your season every single time
you fold to the weight of being the only one.
Across the Midwest right before our very eyes without the request of attention or desire for the
credit, as if speaking the words that all the teams scream inside of their heads, or grip steering
wheels in frustration on their trip home from the track, drivers are taking a stand in the name of
the future of grassroots racing, in the name of the feeling of overwhelming desperation to hold
together a strategy that may endure the pain brought on by limitations far out of their control and
far out of the spotlight that takes accountability for the desperation it has swept the world of dirt
track racing into, drivers have begun to question, “why are we racing on this surface when we
don’t have to? Why are we risking this?” One seemingly innocent question with such a powerful
message accompanied by a united and intelligent solution to taking a stand instead of absorbing
a cost that isn’t fair nor right to absorb. A united front brought together by one passionate
individual’s simple answer to a question far outside of the racetrack it’s posed upon. “Why race
on this surface with nothing to gain? It will cost all of us money, none of us a chance at winning,
and we’ll burn tires, and ruin equipment, why not turn the laps needed to receive our tow money
and make the statement, if we have to be limited to the tires available to us, the quality lesser
than what came before, and only one right rear a race, we are at least owed the surface
conducive to put on a show and give us all the chance to come out on top and a little less worse
As Americans we’ve been praised and celebrated our entire existence for standing for what’s
right and dirt track racing is about as American as it gets, so it’s about time we stand for its
future, and its future is the teams and drivers that bring these cars and their lives to the race
track every weekend risking their season, their future, and their livelihoods to chase their
dreams in the name of entertaining their fans. If you stand together, the rock, and its hard place
no longer exist and it’s about time we see you on top of that mountain - that’s the victory we can
all get behind. No one wants to see our teams and drivers continue to sacrifice and lose at the
hands of conglomerates and we all come to the track to see the excitement and fire brought by
slide jobs and high speeds, it’s time we stand behind our teams when they take a stand to
ensure the future of our great sport. I know I’d rather sacrifice 20 laps of rubber down racing
surface with wrecks and blowouts, to ensure that other tracks and the Hoosier monopoly take
note of the passion in their biggest consumer the grassroots driver, the passion that created the
feral stories that built the legends of dirt track racing to start. Give our teams not just respect for
the role they play in the future of racing, but give them a rest in the enormous weight that
surrounds their getting to the track each and every week to keep all of our dreams and stories
If you’re a race fan, keep this in mind as you begin your commute to the racetrack this weekend.
If you’re a driver, open the dialog to the hard truth amongst your competitors this weekend at the
It’s time we stand together against what stands to divide us.
This week in the large array of discussions about sprint car racing, and
genuinely dirt track
Before you choose to hit post on social media or press send to leave a voicemail of your displeasure to the choices your local racetrack makes or to make fun of car counts on large series, I want you to listen to my tirade prior to the one you think reins supreme. If you’re upset that the races were canceled, would you be upset if the race track closed all together? If you think it’s funny to say a series is dying out or find celebration in its failures, would you celebrate that they no longer existed? Whether you are on the side that loves fender racing, or you’re on the side that only sees wings, the survival of dirt track racing depends on us all to play a part.
Let’s take your local track canceling an early season race for instance. I’ve seen a lot of fans posting lately upset because their track should have known better than to schedule something in early April because the weather is always cold and wet. Ironically, you’d be just as upset if they didn’t schedule it and we had unseasonable weather and it was perfect for racing. The truth of the matter at its core, is that racetracks are not a 9-5 business, and they don’t earn passive income, if there isn’t a race happening, there isn’t profit happening. Even more so, the majority of the time a racetrack is closed it’s spending money to perform upgrades to the facility which puts even more pressure on the need to have a profitable season. When your main factor of whether or not your business can be open is mother nature, most decisions come with a tiny notation of “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” We are all well aware that there are no negotiations taking place when it comes to mother nature.
In December of 2019 I had the privilege of writing an article with 34 Raceway about the behind the scenes decisions and factors that go into promoting and owning a racetrack during a season where a large majority of their races were canceled due to rain outs. When the only way your business is able to sustain and return for another season is by having fans in the seats you can bet your bottom dollar that a promoter is doing everything within their manmade power to make it possible, and they are also going to take every opportunity to get as many races on the schedule as possible. In a time where spring has consistently begun to vary from extremely wet to extremely warm a smart business move is to schedule those races!
My point to this cliff note education on owning a racetrack? The business of owning a racetrack is already tough enough, dirt tracks are already scarce enough, the role they play in the future of dirt track racing existing is high stakes enough; don’t leave the nasty message not supporting their decision, don’t make the social media post unwilling to see past your disappointment. What should you do? Show gratitude that you have a racetrack within driving distance and are able to see racing on a regular basis in person, be thankful of the promoters who are taking chances and trying to make their schedule as big as it can be; during a moment where difficult decisions have been made send the message that shows appreciation for the part they play in the sport you love enough to be disappointed when the races get canceled, trust me, they deserve and need to hear it in those moments.
Help make a change in how we treat the individuals who continue to keep dirt tracking racing alive and well.
When we aren’t consumed with cancellations and schedule changes, there is activity that is extremely disheartening to lay witness to. Why are we finding happiness when as race fans we feel a series may be going in a downward trend? Better yet, when a race series makes changes to their series be it rules, payout, or anything else as race fans do you share in satisfaction that those changes may be the downfall to a series or may cause drivers and teams to not run with them? Be it a race series, a racetrack, a team, a magazine, or a race fan, the role we play in the existence of dirt track racing is integral, when one falls, we all face a consequence. Dirt track racing does not exist if all of the parts of the equation are not there.
Do you know one of the key ingredients to a business choosing to sponsor an athlete, team, or series is engagement from their followers/fans? How do you think it translates to a potential sponsor or a renewing sponsor when a mass amount of what they see is fans taking pleasure in putting down the series? When you complain about purse changes, as fans do you understand the direct correlation from sponsors to purse size? If you want to see the purse increase consider your actions before you celebrate what you may predict is the downfall of a series. If a series fails and closes its doors, where do drivers go to race that may have only been able to afford this series? How do racetracks fill their schedule with one less series touring? How are they able to draw in new fans or fans from further away with no exciting attraction? What are younger drivers supposed to aspire to when they want to make a career in dirt track racing? Would you rather lose more talented drivers to asphalt racing?
More importantly, if you’re celebrating what would be your predicted downfall of a national touring series or the best of the best, where do you think it will leave the future of dirt track racing if they did cease to exist?
The fact of the matter is, at the end of the day, the message you send regardless of your emotions plays a role in the future of the sport we all love. More importantly, the words you choose to say in expressing your feelings, whether in the moment or ideas you’ve had for a long period of time, reflect just how thankful you are to be able to participate in this incredible form of motorsports. While going to the races is a source of entertainment for race fans, every component that makes up race day is a business and those businesses have to be profitable to exist. In business there are no guarantees and no promises and that goes for profit and for keeping the doors open.
My point? Before you decide to throw your sucker in the dirt, take a moment to be grateful that you think you have something to complain about. Dirt track racing is an incredibly unique and exciting form of motorsports, and even the decisions you may not agree with are made with the intent on keeping all of the moving parts inside here for years to come. Take the time to show your gratitude and behave as though you want to see the sport survive, instead of eliciting behavior in response to things you are unwilling to see the motive behind.
Originally published in Dirt Empire issue 6, after the release of the new impending World of Outlaw fire suppression rule for 2023, I felt compelled to share this once again, as I feel even more passionate about the sentiment this piece shares.
There are so many social movements to normalize this or that, but when are we going to normalize grassroots racetracks being safe for our drivers? This is a question I ask myself every time I visit a new down home racetrack, and is a question I have asked myself multiple times over the course of this last week following a Sprint Invaders race. There is a point throughout the night in the pits that a person will end up sitting in the pit grandstands, and after settling there for hot laps last Wednesday, I’d never felt more in the path of danger. I’m a farm kid, I’ve seen 1200 horses run through fence, bulls bulldoze barb wire, I have a solid understanding of the force fencing can endure. Before me was a chain link fence not higher than the pit grandstands, and a few wire cattle panels affixed where the bottom of the fencing had large gaps with rusty fencing wire. I understand that grassroots race tracks are the life blood of our sport, and I’m here for the support of them, when racing at them doesn’t endanger the lives of spectators OR drivers. Yet, we still settle to race at these locations in a desperate attempt for local laps, or series points, or whatever excuse we can make, instead of standing up for the safety of ourselves and the ones we love. It is not okay to allow our safety to be compromised just to keep one more racetrack alive. Safety needs to be the priority, why do we lose sight of this until someone has been killed or greatly injured? A few years ago, I was at another track, where the car caught fire, and no one was around in the infield with an extinguisher. Yeah, fire equipment is expensive, so maybe you end your year a bit earlier so you can purchase equipment? Or maybe you have a fundraiser for track improvements? It is frustrating that we have reached some pivotal point in the future of grassroots racetracks where we settle for track time over the future of our lives in the seat. We’ve lost so many, what is it going to take? It took no time for myself to decide I wasn’t sitting in those pit grandstands, I moved to the main grandstands on the opposite side of the track, and wouldn’t you know it, during the feature a driver flipped right into that “catch fence” in front of where I had been sitting. The more astonishing part to this is a flipped sprint car was still peaking over the top of that fence, and had he had just a little more momentum, the situation would have been far worse than just the driver’s concussion. This track will race again on Sunday, as if nothing even happened, without a second look, why? Well, the fence held, no one was severely injured, why should they take a look? [I hope you soaked that last sentence in all the sarcasm in the world.] Yes, grassroots racetracks are the lifeblood of our sport, the ones who work diligently to ensure the safety of their competitors; sacrificing a little purse money, putting work into fundraisers, and diligently seeking sponsors to ensure not just a safe racing surface but environment. THOSE are the tracks we need to be focused on, this should be the normal! But, here we are, drivers being trapped in cars for several minutes with the car on fire, because of the lack of safety equipment and training, to merely say the race team should have invested in an in car fire suppression system. I feel like sometimes we’re in a completely different universe, what about accountability of the tracks? Why is this not the norm? We hear excuses like they don’t have the money, but you think grassroots teams have the money to continually make safety equipment purchases to offset the dangerous racetracks they are compromising themselves for to race on? I’m not being too critical here; I’m looking at the future of racing and questioning why we aren’t trying to ensure their safety when wrecks are inevitable? We normalize so much in our world, on and off the racetrack, so why have we not normalized safety at the very level we all start at? Why is there a pass for the tracks your career could end at just as quickly as it began? There needs to be accountability not sacrifice for these tracks that just try to make it by, simply hoping nothing terrible happens. I don’t know about anyone else, but crossing my fingers and hoping nothing goes wrong has never saved any situation I’ve been in.
For some of you that take the time to read this column, some of you are drivers, some of you are on crews, and some of you have a significant other that races, big or small, this one is for you.
It is inevitable that at some point throughout your racing experience that you will experience the lowest of the rollercoaster ride that is dirt track racing, it quite literally is just a matter of time. The darkness that surrounds these moments will attempt to consume your entire season with frustration, doubt, anger, depression, you will feel alone, and you will feel defeated.
It is not the end. It is not the story that closes your career. These are not the moments that your fans will remember you by. This is not what dictates the driver you will become. Do not stray from your goal simply because you cannot see the light.
When the thoughts of the darkness consume your moments around the racetrack and inside the shop, it will be easy to swear you’re alone, to swear no one can understand, to swear this is only happening to you. Remain steadfast, you are not the sacrifice, this is not the path you walk alone, or the theme of your story.
The depths of these moments have plagued the best, the worst, and the mediocre of this sport.
While this isn’t a ride meant for one, the peak of the rise, the comeback from the low, the moment you break into the light, this will be the moment that sets you apart from the rest. This is the moment that your fans will remember you for; these are the moments that will help write your story.
Dirt track racing is the path less traveled, and for sprint car racing, it is the goat path along the ditch that only the stubborn, the tough, the ones who thrive on the extreme trudge. While the road is bare from grass, the path of sprint car drivers sees grass and weeds sparsely placed as we go, not everyone survives, and not everyone stays on the rollercoaster ride that makes most anxious and fearful.
Even when your head feels too heavy and too shameful to hold high, even when all you can do is pick apart the night finding only the negatives, even when you find yourself putting the car back together more than rolling it on the trailer in one piece, hold your head high in pride of the path you’ve chosen to not only survive but thrive upon.
Your story is amongst your fans, your story is the people who surround you, your story is the impression you leave upon your competitors, do not let the doubt of whether you’re meant for this world, whether you’re talented, or whether you have the skills create the last chapter in your book. The details of your story are the faith that comes from never wavering on your mission along this path.
As this season comes to a close, and the pressure of preparation consumes, and for some the question of rebuilding lays bold on the paper, straighten your collar, dust off your jeans, and leave the darkness in the past, let go of what plagues your mind when you’re sitting in the shop in silence at the end of the night. It’s time to start fresh, it’s time to dream of the success to come; it’s time to prepare to embrace the feeling of victory and relief. You’ve made it to the end, you’ve not given up, you’ve not thrown in the towel, give yourself some grace and space to start a new.
I know this seems hard, nearly impossible, I know you’ve had a rebuttal to each paragraph as you read this in your head. But I promise, you can do this, you can start over now, you can keep your faith and chase your dream again.
This summer in dirt track racing created a question in my head that has nagged me every single time I’ve watched a driver get boo’d, go on a winning streak, or have success in crossing over to different types of cars; I’d be very interested in hearing the answer of the masses as it doesn’t seem to ever have a consistent answer across the board.
What makes a driver your favorite?
Now, yes, I know that the first answer that is going to come from a lot of people is a driver’s win record. We all like to jump on the band wagon of celebration when a driver wins a lot, and maybe that’s the first time you start to learn about a driver, when they are able to get more than just fifteen minutes of fame. But, at some point in the season, it seems many fans will deter from liking a successful driver to disliking him because suddenly he’s won too much. Clearly, a driver’s win record then isn’t the only criteria we use to dictate whether or not we continue to buy merchandise and express our following of “so and so.”
I think for the entirety of my life in dirt track racing I’ve always been a little bit of an oddball, and never really picked any driver based on their win record. Have I liked driver’s that were very successful throughout their careers? Oh you bet, I’m a JacHaudenschild fan until the day that I die, and I won’t deny that it’s been that way since I could say Wild Child. BUT, at that very same time, I’ve been the little girl who rushed through the pits at Knoxville Raceway to get to the back side of the infield and ask Rich Bubak for his autograph long before I ever stood in line for Haud or Sammy. Now that I’ve been given the opportunity to interview drivers from all over the US, I’ve found that my criteria for becoming a favorite of mine, is even further from what’s in their win column and how successful they’ve been in the eye of victory lane.
Since I’m asking for your criteria, I might as well take a moment and discuss what makes a driver stick out to me. Ironically, there are lots of times where this criterion gets to be the deciding factor in whether or not I pitch someone for an upcoming article.
At the very start of hearing the name of a driver or after watching them trade sliders on the track or make calculated decisions, I’m going to look at their history. History to me, whether it’s a racetrack or a driver, is some of the most fascinating parts of dirt track racing, and can lay the foundation for an incredible story. I’m not biased, sometimes I love to wish for the underdog, someone who much like me doesn’t really come from a racing family, and other times I love to read about a driver who comes from generations of talented wheelmen or mechanics. But to me, a person who has been involved in our sport, whether by blood, or simply drawn in by the excitement and passion, is enough of a hook that I start to pay attention.
The next thing I look at is who do they surround themselves with? Now this might seem kind of silly to a lot of people, but who you surround yourself with in any facet of life, is an extension of yourself and what you stand for. Each and every one of us play a pivotal role in the future of dirt track racing, and not all of us will play a positive role, but if I want to root for your success and growth, I want you to be taking our sport and it’s fans in a positive direction. So, I’m going to look at who follows you, do you have controversial pot stirrers posting about you, conversing back and forth with you on social media, hanging out in your pit box? If the people you’re surrounded with are only ever voicing the negatives about our industry and simply picking fights to get the “attention” to grow their career, I’m not in support of it. I don’t expect you to be wholesome, and free of trouble; we all make mistakes and in a sport such as dirt track racing full of adrenaline, we’re going to say something in the heat of the moment, throw a bad slider, or who knows what. BUT, if you’re surrounded by the drama that does nothing to benefit the progression of our sport, I’m simply not here for it. The future of grassroots racing and dirt track racing as a whole are volatile enough, we don’t need to sandbag it.
While I’m looking at who is around you, I’m also looking at how you interact. Engagement is not just key to your sponsors but to your fans as well. Do you wear a smile on your face even when things have gone wrong? Do you notice the little boy or girl too shy to ask for your autograph but is standing just to the edge of darkness hoping you’ll notice and offer to sign their t-shirt? When someone asks you a question on social media, do you take the time to genuinely and respectfully educate them? I don’t expect you to catch them all, but I expect you to understand that the fans should not just be a high priority due to your sponsorship obligations. Your fans and potential fans are quite literally making your dreams come true; appreciate them as they stand in line the heat and into the late night hours.
Lastly, and the most important one, are you passionate? When you speak to someone about where you came from, the win that meant the most, the fan that stayed until everyone else was gone, and your dreams to be on the World of Outlaws tour; can we see the passion on your face and feel the emotion in your face? Now, I know, I know, not all of us are good at being vulnerable, and this is a sport where vulnerability is a weakness. But, trust me, if you’re truly passionate about something, it will show in the way you speak about it. (My friends tell me I talk fast, and you can see my dimples when I smile, whenever I talk about sprint car racing, and when I talk about my second passion, horses, this is not the case.) These moments when you speak about the sport that lead you to your life’s path, these are the moments that will be recreated in words, in videos, and spark the goose bumps that create a new fan, the dream of driving, or for people like me, the need to write about your story.
Getting to see the driver’s we deem the highest of idolism to in victory lane is simply icing on the cake for me, anyway. I’ve seemingly always felt this way, and never really been swayed to dislike a driver because they never made it there; I still smile when talking about how much I adored Rich Bubak as a kid. But, when I watch fans go from loving to hating men like Kyle Larson, Donny Schatz, and even Steve Kinser, I begin to ponder; just what is the general consensus of criteria that race fans use to pick someone as their favorite driver?
I have to tell you, I don’t think that I’ll ever be that person that boos the underdog when he manages to fight his way to the top, nor will I ever boo the guy who manages to find his groove and defeat the toughest of races for many years in a row. When did we lose pride in our gladiators just because they became stronger than our enemies? When as race fans did we choose our driver’s to become our enemies? I grew up thinking the fight was asphalt vs dirt, but after this summer, I’ve begun to ponder for what reason we’re fighting ourselves? Shouldn’t we be fighting over who loves them more not who loves a driver the least?
I’d love to see everyone else’s score card, heck maybe some of you aren’t even using one and that’s where the problem lies to begin with.. not whose won the most.
I was on Facebook a week or so ago and saw a meme talking about how we ended up where we are, and it got me to thinking. How did you end up at the racetrack? One of my favorite things about going places like the Knoxville Nationals is that we are all in one place with enough free time, that we often get to ask this question. The answers are always fascinating to me, and incredible stories in themselves. It’s become one of my favorite things to ask during interviews, as well. Have you ever wondered how your seat neighbor or your favorite driver ended up at the racetrack?
If you haven’t thought about asking, contemplate the answer some Saturday night, and given the time during intermission or pit side after the races and.. ASK. I say this with reasoning. Some of the most incredible stories inside sprint car racing come from asking questions of sources you would not expect to harbor the intimate details of our sport. When you begin the conversation at the beginning of an individual’s timeline, you’re likely to hear some of the oldest of tales.
With society being focused on being more PG and PC in their presentation in media, whether it’s print, social media, or television we miss out on some of the details that built the foundation of our beloved sport. These stories harbor details that without being shared are now becoming a dying breed, a breed of stories that house some of the best and craziest times of sprint car racing.
My parents began traveling from Illinois to Knoxville Raceway in the late 70s. My dad was great at making friends, and over the course of a few seasons had made quite a lot of them. His friendships grew to be strong since they made the trek every single weekend without fail. For me, growing up in this atmosphere, these friends became my racing family. Due to the era in which my parents began experiencing sprint car racing at Knoxville, you can imagine they were in the thick of the elusive poker games in the Arizona barn post-races, the school bus you see pictures of floating around social media, and many other incredible details like theft of the water truck to park it on the courthouse lawn.
You can imagine when you are surrounded by these shenanigans that when you bring a daughter into the world in 1986, as a father you straighten up your act some, and as a parent you don’t speak of the crazy things you partook in, until they are too old to try and reenact those shenanigans. For me, when my father passed away in 2003, those details went with him. As a teenager, I hadn’t yet begun asking questions of what happened before me; I just absorbed the details that came out in conversation. Regretfully, I wish I had the epiphany of asking how people ended up at the racetrack many years ago.
Luck would have it, though, that I would later enter the Knoxville Nationals Queen’s contest. The year that stands out to me, prior to the start of the evening portion of the contest, the contestants went to a type of sponsor dinner where we were instructed to mingle and introduce ourselves to the occupants. I happen to run into a man, whom when I introduced myself as Ashley Zimmerman, he immediately asked me if I was Joe Zimmerman’s daughter. When I responded with yes, he smiled, and asked me if he ever told me about the poker games. Now, as a nerd of racing information, I of course knew what poker games he referred to, and I promptly returned to my mother and began asking questions.
Now, I never got the details of the poker games from my mother, she laughed, and pretended to know not what I spoke of. But, this simple introduction a stranger birthed the question; just how did I end up at Knoxville Raceway? From there, I began asking my racing family about memories of my father and how my family started out their path to Knoxville regulars. I’m not going to out my father, but I sure learned where I get my love for laughter, fun, and mischief from!
But, it was this interaction that began to cement my love for the history and nostalgia of racing. I embraced that I’ve loved for a long time to absorb the stories of sprint car racing; it’s my nerd home base. Sprint car racing has gone a great distance since its birth on dirt tracks made for horse racing, an era not full of cameras, no social media, and television. This means, these details are harbored in the veterans of our sport; the drivers, the crew members, track officials, and even our seat buddy who’s been a track regular for decades.
Where we fail, is that this era can find information at the tap of a few keys on a search engine, and we take for granted that these details will be there somewhere mixed in the pages of various links and message board posts. What if no one ever asks of our veterans to share their story? If we don’t ask how they ended up here, and the details they’ve buried deep inside their heart and mind, how are they to know it’s worth sharing?
I have been very guilty of thinking that the things I’ve been told and experienced are the same things that any other race fan has went through or absorbed. It’s a character trait of mine to assume I’m not of a unique nature; how many of us make this assumption? In reality, each of our stories is unique and individual, and the details are important to create the emotion and nostalgia that drives the history of our sport. We just need to be asked a simple question.
How did you end up at the racetrack? How did you end up in sprint car racing love? These are my favorite answers to hear as a writer, and I am so passionate about asking them. I don’t want the details that created the excitement around our sport to be lost over time. Next intermission, lazy afternoon at the campground, Q&A on social media… ask. I can promise you the answer will surprise you. I’d love to hear what you learn, or what your story is, others will, too.
A year ago, returning to racing had our eyes on iRacing to fill the void in our reality. Aside from typical Mother Nature racing issues, it’s beginning to feel a lot like race season. Will it all be the same? Will we appreciate the finer things in life in light of our experience in the last year?
The last year has taught me and shown me a lot inside the world of dirt track racing, and it wasn’t because I was interviewing drivers.
Remember to appreciate what you have around us. Dirt track racing exists only out of the love and passion of promoters, officials, sponsors, drivers, and of course the fans. Our ability to race every summer Saturday night across the United States is a freedom we are blessed to experience. We are not entitled to dirt track racing in any form, and if we as fans drop the ball in supporting each facet of dirt track racing, no one is going to ensure its continuation.
COVID-19 has seemed to bring out the worst in how we treat mankind, between how we feel about masks, the vaccine, stimulus checks; we’ve begun to state our opinions and offended responses to other’s opinions without thought or compassion.
Carry kindness with you next to appreciation as the 2021 race season begins. Did your favorite hometown driver get a new big time sponsor? Is your nearest grass roots race track still opening for race season? COVID-19 coupled with the prior season of too much rain, our tracks are hurting and our sponsors are, too. If you favorite driver was able to obtain a new sponsor to keep racing this season or level up to do new big things; make sure you support that sponsor and tell them why you’re supporting them. Believe it or not, dirt track race fans are the most brand loyal when it comes to supporting sponsors, so make sure you do what you do best! If your local grassroots track is still able to function at 100% coming into this race season, make sure you are kind to the promoters. When they have to cancel because of rain, or implement a mandate, try to understand from their perspective what they are trying to accomplish. Grassroots race tracks across the US die every single year, even when there isn’t a pandemic that took away most of their race season, so for them to be able to give you another season of racing..just be kind to them.
Don’t forget about those who filled the void. Many race fans learned in the face of the pandemic, that iRacing isn’t just a game, and the guys (and girls) that spend countless hours on the simulation perfecting their craft have invested a lot of effort and work. Some of them do it because they wish to race, have raced, or just simply for the love of racing. Just because they aren’t the teams out on the series trail, doesn’t mean we now forget them in the face of returning to normalcy. These individuals are still working hard every week to compete in leagues, live stream their events, and chase their own dreams. They still have to obtain sponsors for their leagues, and still deserve gratitude and fan appreciation. Spend some free time watching a league’s live stream, like their Facebook; remind them that we still remember what they were able to offer us during quarantine.
Most of all, be thankful! Be thankful to return to your hometown track, be thankful to watch your favorite driver, be thankful to return to the stands and sit next to your racing buddies. Voice it, too, let the promoters and drivers know their hard work and passion has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. We allow ourselves to get caught up in the things that upset our routines and plans, and forget to say the biggest compliment we can. Thank you. If COVID-19 and the loss of so many and so much has taught us anything, it’s to say the things left unsaid to the people in our lives that we appreciate – it simply can be gone tomorrow. Make sure your race family knows that even though you get mad about a rain out, or wearing a mask, you are still thankful for every ounce of effort they put forth.
Every single person in the racing industry from fan, driver, promoter, to sponsor worked fervently to ensure that we could salvage one wee bit of our racing season amidst the worst of COVID-19, and we need to pay thanks where thanks is due. You only become the first sport to return to racing during a pandemic because you love what the sport stands for and the people who follow, so don’t let them down by only expressing your upset in a somewhat normal world.
From me to all of the racing industry – thank you. Thank you for giving us something to look forward to, allowing us to continue to love our dirt track life one more year, and for giving us a place to escape to amidst a tragedy. I appreciate you.
The 2020 race season is officially a wrap, and while I hate winter, I’m glad we can say we’ve concluded a part of 2020, and are now one step closer to the end. Reflecting on time that has past, allows us to remember great moments in time, and also to learn lessons about ourselves and those around us. I figured now was as good of time as any to jump on the year-end review band wagon.
Love him, hate him, agree with what he did, or disagree, no matter where you stand on the Kyle Larson fence, you cannot deny that we were treated with one of the greatest moments in dirt track racing as a result. It has been incredible to witness the talent and skills that Kyle possesses in a race car, he makes every lap on the track look easy, and sometimes flawless. It takes an unimaginable amount of mental toughness and drive to set out on the path he did this summer, and find the level of success that Kyle did. While I am saddened to see him go back to NASCAR, I think this summer will give him a new level of ability and fight that will be equally as exciting to see on asphalt. But, what I really took away from Kyle’s mistake, never stop fighting, never stop trying, and never stop improving. Many people would have given up before the fight started, but Kyle pressed on to make himself a better individual, and to prove that people can change their ways. Kyle made a positive comeback from a situation that could have completely ruined his life, not just his career; it’s a strong reminder that even when the task looks daunting, even when you’re ready to hide, if you want something bad enough, go get it.
I did not attend a single race this season that felt “normal”, limited seating, social distancing, face masks, sometimes no crowds, races in place of cancelled races; it all impacted the feeling of a Saturday night at the racetrack. I will be the first of many to admit that attending the “One and Only” instead of the Knoxville Nationals wasn’t even close to the same feelings and vibe. There was a lot of heartbreak involved in cancelations, not getting to see our family and friends at the racetrack, and for some, not getting to go to the racetrack at all. I could focus on the “what should have happened”, or what was missed out on, but I choose not to. If there is one thing that this race season taught me, it’s to be thankful for what we did have. Be thankful your local track was able to host any racing, possibly ensuring their return to racing next year. Be thankful you were able to take in a race, regardless of what it was called. Appreciate that you were able to take a moment and forget what was happening in the world around us. Luckily for us, there’s next year, and a whole race season ahead; for some, they aren’t so lucky. There’s always another race is a statement I now hold a lot of respect for.
The silly season of ride swaps, sponsor changes, and all the rumors that come with it, seemed to begin early for sprint car fans; this is always a time of nerves for me. As a fan, I always want to see my favorite driver return to the racetrack. It would be foolish to think that as silly season begins, there might be some car owners or sponsors that have been adversely affected by the pandemic, and funding may be cut short. When you’re fueling the rumor mill, or listening to the peanut gallery discuss the rumors of so and so going to such and such, take time to pray for those drivers; there entire world is in limbo in an industry where rides are not unlimited. It’s a game of musical chairs, and eventually someone misses out on a chair – and that’s their livelihood.
With silly season comes sponsorship changes, and this one is near and dear to my heart. Think of your local drivers, the guys you see rolling into the track after a long week at work – the blue collar men and women just out there trying to live a dream. Sponsors can be the end all be all that determines how often the race, if they can race, and how hard they can chase their dream. With the pandemic effecting most small businesses, local drivers will have to be twice as diligent in attaining funding for their next race season. As a local driver, many of your supporters are small businesses, people you form relationships with, whom become a part of your family. When you hear of people talking about wanting to make a donation, or support something, suggest your favorite driver. They all of sponsorship proposals and opportunities available for any individual, including yourself. You don’t have to have thousands to support your favorite driver, pay for some race fuel, a tire, tear offs, they won’t forget you, no matter the size of contribution. (I’ve spent a lot of time working on sponsorship proposals, and trust me, even a tank of fuel goes an incredibly long way.)
I’m always impatient about winter, but I feel even more anticipation toward the next race season, I’m optimistic that we will have found a more normal way of life by then. I can’t wait to see local tracks reopen for full seasons, and larger tracks attempt to make up for having missed our major events. Many people didn’t get to attempt events surrounding their passions or hobbies in 2020, and I could not even begin to imagine what life would be like without wings, right rears, and slide jobs.
Wondering about my 2020 race season specifically? It has been an absolute rollercoaster ride that I am beyond thankful for. I returned to writing the fall of 2019, I’d spent a long time away, chasing other goals. Since my first two articles came out in December of 2019 in Dirt Monthly, life hasn’t been the same. From May to July, I had somewhere around eight articles just in DM. August, I joined the Hoseheads family. September, I began working for Outside Groove, and soon will have my first article online. October, I started working with Bill W at Open Wheel 101, and have enjoyed seeing a few of my articles republished. I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet some amazing individuals, and interview some of my favorite drivers. Some of you have even sent me feedback, and it has meant the world to me, and helped build my confidence after such a long hiatus. I cannot imagine what next year will bring, it’s already been a challenge balancing a day job, horses, and my writing; but it’s a challenge I welcome.
What about the 2020 season impacted you? What will you take away as a lesson amongst the dirt and methanol fumes?
My passion for writing has allowed me the opportunity to tell the stories of a lot of incredible individuals, this is something that I enjoy doing immensely; telling the stories of other people. I want you to read that again, and emphasize that I said telling the stories of other people. While at just thirty four years old, I realize that I have a multitude of adventures and experiences left to live, my journey to get where I am as an individual has not been paved in gold. There have been times where I have hurt deeply, lost greatly, struggled through great difficulty and adversity. These stories of my life have made me very adverse to the vulnerability it takes to share my personal story; it’s not something that people encounter me doing often. In fact, my friends currently reading these words are likely shocked that I’m about to be raw and open in such a public format, but, there are times that call for such moments.
They say, “vulnerability is not weakness, vulnerability is the birth place of creativity” and on this Friday morning, I’m going to take some time to embrace vulnerability with sharing a part of my story.
In 1978, my parents experienced their first season of racing at Knoxville Raceway. Aside from loving the sport, they fell in love with the track, the town, and its proximity to their home in Illinois. For some time, my mom would drive the nearly three hours home after the races, while my dad slept in preparation for work the next day. Eventually, as time wore on, they purchased a camper, and fully settled into the life and friendships they had made coming to Knoxville Raceway.
When I say friendships, I mean it in the very most plural form of friendships. My father loved to meet people, talk to people, bond with people; you get my drift. One of my favorite memories of my younger years at Knoxville, is being in the pits after the races, my dad was talking to someone on the push truck crew, and my tiny eyes could no longer stay open. I would tug on my dad’s pant leg and say “dad, I’m tired, take me home”, and in usual parent response, he would say “just one more minute”. This went on for some time, until eventually the leg tugs stopped, and I was found curled up on the ground, sound asleep on that black zook everyone loves so much. (I always knew I loved the dirt.)
In 1986, two weeks after my birth, I began visiting Knoxville Raceway every single weekend with my parents, just as they had for seasons before me, and just as we did for many seasons after. I grew up surrounded by the incredible individuals my parents had become incredible friends with camping and going racing in Knoxville, Iowa. You see, the family I was born with, they have not, and they do not play a role in my life, they did not help me develop and grow into the person I am, they do not see my milestones. While the list of people my talkative father made lifelong friendships with is too numerous to put into this column, every single one of them helped to make me who I am, they impacted my life, they experience my milestones, and they are my true family. (Let that last sentence sink in, because I feel across dirt track racing as a whole, this is a statement we can all put emotion and understanding into.)
There is a family, well, two now, that I do want to share in specifics. Jim and Mabel Hardin, I cannot recall a time in my childhood when I didn’t know their names, see them every weekend, or camp next to them. It’s because of them that I was able to experience what it was like to have grandparents, to make memories that for no particular reason stay with you and still make you smile. The entire Hardin family never ceased to include me in their lives when we came to Knoxville, and it was a type of inclusion I did not get to experience anywhere else in my life. It is a type of inclusion, that thirty four years later, this entire family still gives me, and I still get nowhere else in my life. It is impactful, it is warm, it is kind, it is loving, and it is family.
Jim and Mabel have a daughter, Christi. Many currently know her as Christi Woodruff, the woman who wears many hats around Knoxville Raceway, but my favorite hat is the lady who gives me hugs, and is always excited to see me. You see, many moon ago, Christi Woodruff married Jeff Woodruff aka Woody. That inclusion I speak of, blessed me the opportunity to be the flower girl in their wedding, and while I’m thirty four, this is a fun fact that to this day, I will brag about. Like the rest of the family, Woody has become my family.
The Woodruff’s have watched me through two queen’s contests at Knoxville Raceway, shared in the joys of graduating high school, cried with me when my father passed, and allowed me to write about Woody as one of my very first articles at Dirt Monthly. I’ve rode the rollercoaster of race results, experienced what it’s like to have siblings through their children (as mine, again, are absent from my life), helped with the queen’s contest, visited every single time I’ve came to Knoxville, and one of my most favorite moments; witnessed and cheered loudly when Trey Starks won Jeff Woodruff his first Knoxville Nationals Preliminary night feature win.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know, that the presence of Kenny Woodruff (Woody’s father) in their pit box that night made that win even more incredibly special. I didn’t have to ask to know it, when I interviewed Woody for my feature in Dirt Monthly. After all, this is a son following in his father’s footsteps. Both men of few words, knowledge of sprint car racing that could fill books, hall of famers, and absolutely incredible individuals; both have left their marks on us all.
As if 2020 could not get anymore tumultuous or heartbreaking, Christi sent me a link to her Instagram post last night sharing with me news that sadden me immensely. If you could feel your heartbreaking, I can imagine it would feel what I am feeling for the Woodruff family in this time. Kenny Woodruff was diagnosed with ASL. This is a devastating diagnosis and I pray in the time allotted to them, they are able to enjoy a few more precious moments, find a bit of peace, and enjoy the love of their family around them.
Kenny Woodruff blessed the sprint car racing industry with some incredible moments on dirt. He was passionate about our industry, about success, and it showed. I cannot begin to imagine the knowledge he has stored away, and the things he could pass on to teach us all. The victories, and records that Woody has amassed in his lifetime as a crew chief is representation of this multitude of racing knowledge.
2020 has taken far too much happiness from us, this was a low blow that no one needed, wanted, or deserved.
I’m blessed that I’ve shared my life with the people around me, and there is not one ounce inside my heart that wants to see them experience this hardship. I hurt for the family that has guided me through life so flawlessly.
One of my absolute favorite things about writing at Dirt Monthly is the Local Heroes’ section, and the opportunities that arise for me to write about drivers that aren’t often times found in the headlines. For me, I’m not a headline chaser, I don’t search out the opportunities to write about what everyone is buzzing about, and I like to write about the stories that inspire me. While I don’t own a sprint car, or any race car for that matter, almost any story I have written in the last year has had a component of inspiration that could be derived and used in anyone’s everyday life; it simply is my favorite part about pitching a topic to the editor at Justin Zoch and what I hope allows me to stand out in a sea of media members.
In June of this year, Dirt Monthly published a story I wrote about someone I call my best friend, and while it was a story I have been familiar with for nearing a decade, it was still a story I was eager to share with the world; as Billy Brickley has been inspiring my journey through life with his racing without being in print. While Billy dubs himself as semi-retired in present day life, his storied career in lightning sprints throughout Illinois was noticed by many. While I’ve had the opportunity to bring Billy up in conversation a multitude of times, I’ve always heard how incredibly fast his cars were and how impressive it was that he did it with very little; the amount of times that Billy has made it to victory lane justifies the sentiment behind these statements. Billy was known for his ability to make speed while budget racing, and this undoubtedly taught me something in my long career of rodeos and barrel racing jackpots. While money can buy fast things, and make the trip to the winner’s circle seem faster and easier, hard work, ingenuity, and passion can also find you under the checkered flags at the end of the night. When more expensive horses have beat me, when other barrel racers roll up in nicer rigs than mine, I just remind myself that I’ve put my hours in at home, and other people have found immense success in making do with what they have and found a place in the record books. My favorite line from interviewing Billy, and yes, while I can repeat his career in racing from memory including the regret he has in not making a last lap pass to win a golden driller at the Tulsa Shootout, I still forced him into an interview; he simply stated in a laughing tone; “I’m only semi-retired, and as long as there is a semi in front of retired, I can always come back.” It’s a motto that has stuck with me this year, as I’ve quite literally hung my spurs on the wall to focus solely on writing about racing, and pursuing a passion for a career I put on the back burner some seventeen years ago.
In May, Dirt Monthly published a story I did on 34 Raceway regular Nick Guernsey, and boy, this story left a lasting impression on me. Nick Guernsey is a Purple Heart recipient, and while his decision to fight for his country after 9-11 was rooted in civil duty, and love for the red, white, and blue, it also had a second motivator; fund his racing habit. Nick poured all of his free time, and combat money into building a sprint car from Iraq, but in facing war, he was also injured in a roadside IED incident, where he also lost many brothers. His dedication to his country didn’t stop once he returned state side and began racing either, he uses his platform in sprint car racing to share about the Hope For The Warriors fund; that helps veterans and families transition once a solider returns home. There is so much to learn from Nick, whether it’s perseverance through difficult times, chasing your dreams as far as you can take them to get them, or your love for country; what Nick Guernsey represents is something I hope to take into my life every single day. No matter what he’s doing, whether it’s helping a fellow driver, reaching out to talk to a fellow soldier, being a father, or being a sprint car driver; he goes hard into the paint and puts every ounce of effort into doing the absolute best that he can all while wearing his signature smile. If you’re ever at a racetrack where Nick Guernsey happens to be, I cannot impress upon you enough to take a moment to have conversation with him, he will leave a mark upon your evening.
In June, I also had the opportunity to interview a young driver from Minnesota for the Local Heroes section of Dirt Monthly (yet to be published, hopefully next month?) by the name of James Broty. In my previous post here, I talked about being a driver’s hype man, and referenced a driver I had formed a friendship with after having the opportunity to interview them, and this is the man of the hour. James comes from a family of race car drivers; a race team that was originally funded by his father spending summers painting houses in his families’ native country, Norway. Through the connections and great networking of his father, they even have a Norwegian sponsor aboard the team this year. The family runs Broty Racing Engines in Minnesota, and while James’ dad has retired from racing, James and his younger brother are still strapping into the car every weekend. They aren’t a large money team, they have to think about motor conservation throughout the year, especially now that James has stepped up from 360 to 410, and divide their time at the track focused on their cars as well assisting their loyal customers. Talking with James, you would never hear the stress or frustration; just sheer positivity and passion, in every single conversation. James has set lofty goals, and I’ve applauded from the sidelines to see him make his first A features with the World of Outlaws in just his first season in a 410, and smiled to the point of showing my dimples when he’s talked with passion about wanting to be the type of driver a kid can look up to, someone a kid can call a hero. I spent a great deal of time talking with James Broty on the phone for his interview, listened to how much he admires his peers in racing and takes every suggestion and piece of advice to heart. He shared with me during our interview a wipe off board that sits on his refrigerator, and has all of his goals to mark off as they are achieved, and after listening to him, I don’t dare question they won’t all get erased in time; only to be replaced with newer and bigger ones to achieve. It was the inspiration that I needed coming into the busiest time for barrel racing in my area, knowing I was pressing pause on one passion, to see if I could do great at another, it was a time where my heart felt like it was being tugged in two directions; my answer was a white board on my refrigerator centered on the goals I wanted to achieve with my writing and my writing only. (My barrel horses will be there next year, just as fat and out of shape as me, and still eager to go, right?)
I went into chasing my dream of returning to writing about sprint cars thinking I would learn about drivers, improve my writing ability, be a little bit more of a grammar Nazi than I already was, and spend a lot of time focusing on the sport I love; I overlooked the way each driver I spoke with would change my life, my mental health, and make me root for the hidden headlines. I find myself every weekend rooting for the local guys I’ve interviewed from the back, from the front, from Facebook, and addicted to using my race pass for just about every answer I need. As a thirty four year veteran of this great sport on dirt, I feel confident that I can say one thing; guys like James Broty and Billy Brickley have a few thoughts wrong; you don’t have to be a platinum member of a circuit to be anyone’s hero, and even if you’re semi-retired you simply aren’t washed up. We see what you did last Saturday, we saw what you did back then, and for many of us you’re always going to be legends simply because you’re stories impacted our lives and fueled us to do our unimaginable.
While my interviews generate income, the lessons I’ve learned from every single one of those conversations, have been payment enough. The driver’s in our sport are incredible men, doing the unthinkable in a sprint car and behind the scenes. As the racing season begins to slow, take a moment during intermission to learn about the driver’s not making the headlines in the blogs, the magazines, or might be simply in the local section; there are some incredible drivers out there, that while not the talent of Kyle Larson, are still doing historical things.
You can find past articles of mine at www.dirtmonthly.com with some of their free issues; Nov/Dec – 34 Raceway – A Day In The Life, Gearheads- Jeff Woodruff aka Woody, May – iRacing 101 with Elbows Up Billy, Local Hero – Draython Schanfish, Gearhead – Scott Bonar of Midland Performance, Nick Guernsey Feature, June – Gearhead – Conner Nelson from Wayne Johnson Racing, Billy Brickley Feature, Flea Ruzic Feature, July/August – Jacksonville Speedway with Paul Nienhiser, coming in September – Gearhead – Drew Brenner of Sheldon Haudenschild’s crew, Q&A with Justin Grant feature. Coming maybe in October – Local Hero – James Broty, Dominic Scelzi & The Long Road Home Q&A, Jenny Hutton – Life after Keith Hutton.
I feel profoundly lucky when I say that the thirty plus years I have been around dirt track racing, I have managed to surround myself with quite a few like-minded individuals; simply meaning, my friend circle consists of the majority being dirt track fans, raw, passionate, lovers of slide jobs, followers of the who, what, when, and why of dirt. I put a lot of the cause of these friendships behind the basis that I inherited my father’s ability to strike up a warm conversation with any stranger, and leave a lasting impression, majority of the people that I sit with during the Knoxville Nationals, have quite honestly watched me grow up, there isn’t a single person for rows and seats around me that hasn’t heard parts of my life story, experienced my lows with me, and used me for my abundant nerdom knowledge of racing, stats, and on the fly ability to mentally track points during the week.
Even more so, through my friendships, and now through writing for Dirt Monthly, I spend a great deal around drivers, and crew members, and it brings me to something that has begun to weigh heavily on my heart and mind.
Who are you when you approach a driver? When you shake the hand of a crew member?
I spend a lot of time sitting in the pits after the races, simply just people watching the interactions between fans and teams. I enjoy being incognito and sometimes hard to spot (hard to believe if you see my Twitter profile picture, I do rock the unicorn hair!), I don’t carry a media pass, and I am quite quiet about my affiliations; not that I’m embarrassed, or want to be sneaky, all in all, simply because I want to see the stories that other people don’t pick up, or make the headlines, I want to stay unique and outside of the box.
In my people watching, and through being personal friends with a wide expanse of team members and drivers, I’ve noticed how fan interactions lack a key component that I feel in this day and age, we could all benefit from adapting into our lives.
Life on the road is hard, strenuous, frustrating, and sometimes greatly depressing. Even as a weekend warrior, each race carries a heavy weight of necessary success; whether it be the cost of racing, chasing dreams, or wanting to do a stand up job for those sponsoring you; each race counts heavily. In a sport fueled more by adrenaline than the methanol fuel firing through the motor, the lows are more impactful are emotion filled than the highs. Many of these teams are going without seeing loved ones (some from stuck currently in other countries), some drivers are functioning without a true consistent team, some are going from day job to racetrack and back again; at the end of the night, no matter your walk of life, you’re focused on one place, trying to make moves and take risks that potentially end you up with a checkered flag behind your head in victory lane.
It’s when those moves don’t work, or a pressure filled weekend is approaching, that our teams and drivers need their fans in a capacity I think many of us overlook; maybe we’re too busy talking crap on social media, maybe it’s out of our box to interact this way, or maybe it just slips our minds. Our teams, our drivers, no matter what track, no matter what race, they need their hype men (or women, or kid)!
We are often very quick to build our friends up in our social lives, but I see it missing in the conversations of who won, crap talk, the next race, the biggest headline, and in line for an autograph. It’s a place we need to take the time, whether we say a bit on social media, when we shake their hand asking for an autograph, or when we muddle around the pit box looking at the car at the end of the night, or heck, even at Dingus after the races when the rest of the world is partying.
Did your guy try to make some moves that cost him some places? I bet he’s dejected, he might not show it, but he’s beating himself up mentally; instead of rehashing his mistakes, hype him up. Focus on the maneuvers and showing that has found him success, share with him how much is being said in positivity. Is your local driver entering up with the big dogs in a few weeks? Take some time to talk about how impressive their skills have been, where their talent lies, give them vibes for the weekend to come; we all know inside their head they have every single doubt running crazy. Did your team take a hard hit, wreck the car, and do some serious damage to the car and equipment? Here’s your time to shake a crew guys hand, tell him how you see them busting their humps in the heat and humidity.
There can be more to fandom than watching our favorite’s win, boo-ing the guy who wins too much, focusing entirely on the headlines, or arguing who’s better on social media groups. Saturday nights at the track are exhausting, they are trying, they are full of levels of fatigue some of us can’t even imagine, and at the end of the night they roll the car into the trailer and have to head down the road preparing themselves for the next one; fuel them to want to get to the next one faster, and drive harder into the corner.
We are a society who sometimes loses sight of the value of the spoken word, and the value of unwavering support. We tend to focus on what looks cool, or being right, or talking about the biggest headline, and forgetting about the fight inside the minds of the road warriors we admire and idolize. If we’re going to put them on the pedestal of fame and excitement, we better take some time to let them know we appreciate them, and let them know we enjoy them even when the night might not have been perfect.
All people feel good when their effort alone is noticed, not just their successes. When times are tough, all people have trouble seeing the silver lining in what it is they are doing, as fans, we can part the clouds and show them how bright it shines, when we use our words in a positive manner, in any format.
On a personal level, I absolutely would have to say that this year, with the pandemic, schedule changes, seasons ending early, cancelations of everyone’s favorite races, less fan capacity, every single person involved in dirt track racing is experiencing a mental struggle with finding a definition of success that fits the current situation; hype them up, help them, put them on notice that we see them rocking it out every single night, do your part as a fan.
Personally, I had the pleasure of interviewing a driver this year for the “Local Heroes” section of Dirt Monthly, aside from a great interview, with amazing content and a bad to the bone family story, I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with this driver. This season has been a season of high risk, high reward for his family and team, he’s put himself out there to chase some goals, and occasionally, he finds himself in a moment of doubt. I feel honored to say that I hear about these moments, I’m entrusted to have a chance to be someone’s hype woman. (Probably a wise choice, words seem to be my thing!) As someone who’s become this driver’s fan through an interview, I take my hype job very seriously, and I put my all into helping alleviate a mind focused on doubt and attempt to find a way toward confidence. Now, I’m not saying I have a calling in motivational speaking, or that my words have anything to do with anyone’s level of success, but this driver has experienced some amazing success this summer and has set an incredible foundation for himself to be someone fun to watch, be a little kid’s hero; and if I got to play any role in helping him chase some goals, even if it was one single ounce of motivation, then my job as a fan in the most positive aspect, is complete.
Don’t let this season end with your favorite driver dwelling on their mistakes of the season, let your last words, your last tweet/post, be hype.
August 12th, 2003; while for many generations of race fan, it’s a date that seemingly has very little effect, for me, while I was just 17 years old, it is still a date that can cause me to stop in my tracks, take an inventory of my life, and pause the hustle for a moment of silence. You see, seventeen years ago, it was a gorgeous Tuesday night before the Knoxville Nationals, and like usual, Terry McCarl was hosting the non-wing version of the Front Row Challenge in Oskaloosa. Out of the ordinary, Australian, turned Knoxville native, Keith Hutton put down the wrenches as the crew chief of the iconic #55 car, and suited up as a driver. Through what was later determined to be just a freak racing accident, we laid Keith Hutton to rest filling the grandstands at Knoxville Raceway later that week. Losses like Keith’s, are moments where drivers, car owners, fans, fabricators, crew members, we feel a lump in our throats, and a break in our hearts. While death is a part of this lifestyle we all love, we do not prepare ourselves to lose the men that strap in on just an occasion, and those moments we do, impact our lives in way we can never anticipate.
For myself, and my family, we spent every weekend eating breakfast with the Hutton’s (Keith & Jenny). When I was chosen for a trip to Australia, as a student ambassador, it was the Hutton’s that convinced my father I would be safe in the land down under, and what necessities I should take. I feel blessed to have shared in the love for rodeo with the same fire and passion that Keith also did. The impact losing Keith left on my life, I still continue to feel to this day. You see, it was the emotions that my father felt from losing Keith, that left him to share a multitude of details with his only daughter [me!] about what to do, if/when, my mother and I should ever lose him to a freak incident. At 17, I could not even begin to fathom the possibility of such, especially with a fifty year old parent, driving a semi-truck as an occupation. Unlucky for me, I would later use the knowledge I was given as the result of our loss as a family, and industry, exactly one month to the passing of Keith. My entire world turned upside down, and for a few moments in time, I faltered, and questioned the option of giving up entirely. It was when I saw the answers I had been given, were answers my mother had the questions for, that I dusted myself off, and planned the funeral my father had wished for, just thirty days prior.
If the memories I had made in my seventeen years of life prior to losing Keith and my father, had not solidified a love for sprint car racing, utilizing my love for sprint car racing to continue to feel connected to my losses, did.
This last weekend, I was honored to have been given the opportunity to reconnect with Jenny Hutton, Keith’s wife in Indianapolis. The last time I had seen her, was the 2004 Knoxville Nationals, and that moment is engraved in my memory. My mother and I had purposely sought out to find her, located in the All Star’s merchandise trailer, we stood on the midway, hugging, and sobbing; as I had just shown her the #55 I had tattooed on my arm, in memory of Keith. While reuniting with Jenny was bittersweet, in the truth that I was coming to say “safe travels” as she returns to Australia to enjoy family, and to chase her own personal dreams, it was also incredibly inspirational.
You see, Jenny has been incredibly private about the loss of Keith Hutton, and the memorialization of his death; but it’s simply because she’s been in the mecca of the racing industry, living out his legacy in the most positive way possible. While there were many times throughout the years after losing Keith, Jenny wanted to throw her sucker in the dirt, figuratively speaking, and allow the pain to consume her being; she chooses to change her narrative. Jenny is passionate about seeing the light in the darkness, and pursued a career at Indy Racing League in safety inspections and accident investigation. Jenny allowed her personal loss to fuel her passion for preventing others from suffering through similar pain.
I left Indiana this weekend feeling like yet another Hutton had turned my life upside down, but this time in teaching me how to take the pain from my losses, and find the light in the darkness. There is an incredible strength inside of women like Jenny Hutton. I’m going into the next two months looking at the significant dates, and reminding myself to see the light in the darkness of the loss of two incredible men. I was incredibly blessed to have the man whom raised me share his love for sprint car racing with me for seventeen years of my life, and I have been blessed that the people inside of that sport enveloped me with their love, hugs, and positivity after my losses. Myself, and the world of sprint car racing was made better for the contributions and passion that Keith Hutton brought to the racetrack every single weekend. While for some this may be the first time you’re hearing about Keith Hutton, there is still an impact to be made by his passing; don’t allow the sadness of tragedy prevent you from doing incredible and positive things, let it fuel you.
On August 12th, I implore you, take a moment, wherever that might be, use the remembrance of those we’ve lost in sprint car racing, and in our personal lives, and change the narrative. Take this moment to feel happiness for having witnessed their legacies, for sharing in their memories, and simply smile.
P.S. Please watch upcoming issues of Dirt Monthly, where I will have a full interview with Jenny Hutton about the remarkable things she’s experienced in Indy Racing League, her life with Keith, and her inspiring perspective on using loss to fuel her passion in safety.
While statistics and results are well documented throughout the history of racing, the emotion elicited by the rich moments created by our dirt track ancestors is developed through the delicate sharing of each goose bump in its entirety of every race. When this happenstance is passed from each race fan to the next we tend to name this recalling of events racingnostalgia; nostalgia that has become easily shared by turning to our fellow fans and sharing a warm smile and a welcoming greeting at any dirt track venue across the world, it’s as if this friendly approach is a trigger to recall in the most vivid of descriptions frozen moments throughout racing history. While COVID may demand we take a six foot away approach, we are still very blessed to have the ability to mingle with individuals that love our sport just as much as we do. Our reality in the world outside of the race track can be quite daunting these days and sometimes prevents us from living each moment with the warmth and enjoyment that we once did. It brings me to worry about those whom thrive on moments of happenstance and nostalgia, I call them the last few of a very rare breed, a breed that has been slowly dying from racetracks around the world for many seasons now. We are a breed that is hard to spot, you can’t just look us up and down and know we are “one of them”, you come to find us after you’ve shared a “hello”, or asked a simple question about the race, the track, or the town. We are the story tellers, we are the bringers of life to nostalgia, to the goose bumps, to the nights to remember, and the moments lost in statistics versus the results. Too often we are overlooked as the fan who sits alone, so dedicated to sprint car racing, they will come alone simply to just come to a race track that means something to us; we overlook the ones whom start off quiet; the ones we may potentially dub unfriendly, simply because they want to absorb every detail, every sound to recall later. It is that absorption of each detail that has created the nostalgia that has allowed us all to relive moments like Jack Miller and “hooooollllllyyycooooow”, that causes those goose bumps, and draws smiles across our faces, all thanks to the intense recollection of a dying breed, the lost art of storytelling, the beauty of sharing the nostalgia of racing history.
In our beginnings of life are taught we need wings to go to heaven, later we evolve to learn that leaving this Earth can solidify your moments in this fast paced sport, coining you a legend in our history.We seem to forget that strong beautiful wings lead us to heaven every single Saturday night, lucky are we to have our paths guided by vapor trails. Our nights in a slice of heaven on Earth begin with a little motor heat, and end us in celebration in Victory Lane. It’s the moments in between, at the track or the campground, where the details form from our interactions, and begin the deep roots of memories to later become filled with nostalgia. These moments years ago, started as potlucks with your neighbors, purchasing the same tickets at big events year after year; where we learned about your families, your trials and tribulations; with the hustle that has become daily life, these moments have slowly faded to brief passing’s – unless, by great happenstance, you’re one of that dying breed, the story tellers, the detail absorbers, the creators of nostalgia. You reach out to those camped around you, you cross fingers to see them the following race season; you answer the questions from the “puppy racers”, and you take each opportunity to recreate the nostalgia of the great moments you’ve witnessed in your race fan career, and take great pride in creating another generation in the now lost stories you were graced to hear fall upon your ears over the seasons.
We heavily document each Saturday night with statistics, who has done what or broke what record, and sometimes allow the details to fade. Social media has given us the opportunities to visually absorb the highlights of each race, but what social media lacks is the emotion those highlights are able to give us. Youtube is unable to let a proud smile creep across it’s lips when they recount how spectacular it felt watching Jason Johnson battle it out with Donny Schatz for his nationals championship; but the story tellers, the heart that goes into the way they pass nostalgia on to the next race fan, is a talent no machine can recreate.
COVID will undoubtedly change our normal lives for many years to come, but as race fans, we have shown our Saturday nights at the track are not to be messed with or interrupted. We have shown our love for sprint car racing, our local tracks, and our drivers, is unrivaled of any sport on this Earth. As race fans, it is also our duty to not allow the stories to die, to not trickle away into just remnants of days gone by. As we sit in the stands, or lounge around under the awning at the campground, don’t let the hustle of day to day prevent you from that warm greeting, and conversation. It may be through this simple interaction, you learn the power of Tony Bokhoven yelling “let’s go racing in the valley!” Our maybe, just maybe, you’ll remember that wings don’t just take you heaven in the afterlife, but heaven on Saturday night.
My name is Ashley Zimmerman, and I am a freelance writer. I’ve grown up around sprint car racing, and dirt tracks my entire life. Currently, I consistently contribute to Dirt Monthly magazine, and my column here on Hoseheads. Although, I am always looking for more opportunities, if you like what you read, don’t hesitate to reach out. I pitch all of my own articles for Dirt Monthly, but will consider any opportunities to write and expand my horizons. Anything published in my column here, has not been published elsewhere, and is available for contribution.
Amjzimm55@gmail.com or on Twitter – snappybee55
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Copyright © 2020 by "Hosehead's Sprint Car Photos & News." Do not reproduce anything from these pages without the permission of the photographers, writers or webmaster.
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