FENWICK: How Much Practice Is Needed?

Adam Fenwick

CONCORD, N.C. — Do we really need so much practice?

That question was debated on social media in the days leading up to the annual running of the Snowball Derby for asphalt super late models at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., during early December.

The 51st annual 300-lap race was run Dec. 2, but prior to the main event there was not one, not two, but three days of practice for teams entered in the Snowball Derby. There was also qualifying and a last chance race, all prior to the main event.

So how much is too much?

As everyone who reads this is likely aware, tires aren’t cheap. In fact, they’re one of the most expensive things teams consistently purchase at any level of motorsports competition.
Assuming each team buys a new set of tires for each practice, that’s six sets of tires at the Snowball Derby at a minimum. That’s not taking into account the new sets of tires the teams use during the 300-lap feature or if they decide to test (which many do) at Five Flags Speedway in the days leading up to the first practice.

No matter what the tire distributor is charging for a set of tires, that’s still a lot of money spent on tires. Why do we need that many days of practice? Why do teams spend so much money on tires?

There is no reason the asphalt super late model division at the Snowball Derby needs to spend so much time on the track and so much money on tires, among other things.

Why not make it simple? Park the haulers for the super late model class on Friday. Practice and qualify on Saturday. Run the last chance race and the 300-lap finale on Sunday. That seems pretty straightforward, but it is very unlikely anything is going to change.

Not that long ago we caught up with a Southeastern late model driver and asked them if he’d be competing in the Snowball Derby. He answered, “no,” and explained he didn’t believe the race to be worth the effort.

The cost was too high and the payout to win ($25,000) wasn’t worth the expense to bring his car to Florida, pay the entry fee, buy the tires and risk wrecking his race car. When a $25,000 payout isn’t enough to get one of the top late model drivers in the Southeast to participate, there’s a problem.

So how do we fix this? Is it even fixable? Those are excellent questions. Limiting track time is one obvious fix, but race teams are smart and if they want to test, they’re going to find somewhere to test and someone to take their money.

Similarly, race tracks and tire distributors want to take that money. Track rentals and testing equal new sets of tires, which equals a paycheck for track owners and promoters as well as the people selling tires. Why would anyone give up that money?

There is no simple fix. There is no right or wrong answer here. What it will take is promoters, drivers, team owners and other industry representatives working together to come up with something that works for everyone.

Will that solution be perfect? No. Will everyone be happy with it? No. But the conversation needs to take place. The only way to fix a problem is to admit there is one.

– One of the most interesting changes revealed in the first weeks of the offseason came from the Tony Stewart Racing camp.

The team announced Donny Schatz’s longtime crew chief, Ricky Warner, will come off the road to focus on developing the long-awaited Ford engine, which is expected to make its debut this year.

Replacing him will be Steve Swenson, who most recently worked as car chief on the No. 15 entry that Schatz drove to his 10th World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series championship.

It’ll be interesting to see how the new driver/crew chief pairing works out. That, combined with the potential switch to the Ford-branded engine, could be the top storyline to watch when the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series season begins in February.

– Matt McCall doesn’t get to race often, yet when he does he makes the most of it.

He spends his year working as a crew chief at Chip Ganassi Racing, most recently with Jamie McMurray, but for the last two years he has dusted off his driving uniform for the Thanksgiving Classic at North Carolina’s Southern National Motorsports Park.

Interestingly, for the last two years, McCall has walked away with the winner’s share of the purse. This fall that was $20,000, not bad for racing once a year.

Hopefully, in the coming years, we get to see more of McCall behind the wheel instead of on the pit box.