EAST LEROY, Mich. — Eight years ago, after spending most of my previous 37 years residing smack in the middle of the dirt-late-model hotbeds of the Southeast and Ohio Valley regions, I moved north to Michigan.
Down south, from March through October on any given weekend, I could usually travel a few hours or less and watch a high-dollar event featuring some of the sport’s best talent on an array of competitive, well-known race tracks.
I had grown accustomed to that, maybe even spoiled by it.
Moving to Michigan was a culture shock. No national touring events, only a handful of races sanctioned by anybody, and even fewer events paying more than $2,000 in first-place money.
My first few years here, I often told people you had to leave the state to see a good full-bodied dirt-track race.
Well, things change sometimes, and being that I love, cherish and respect the concept of honesty, I’ll apologize right now to all those I lied to.
Michigan’s status and history in the world of motorsports are well documented and not to ever be disputed. Thanks to a few promoters who are willing to take a risk or two, some in the state are trying to move modern-day late-model racing into a more recognizable category.
To be fair, it should be mentioned that several things have changed in the Wolverine State over the past five years. Rules have been unified, some tracks have changed hands, new races have been implemented, increased consistency has become a factor, improvements have been made to racing facilities and promoters are becoming more aggressive.
In today’s super-tough economy, their aggression is slow and measured, which really is the proper approach.
In the past 10 years, there have only been three national dirt-late-model touring races held in Michigan. There are that many scheduled for this season at three different tracks: the World of Outlaws Late Model Series at Hartford Motor Speedway, Winston Speedway and Merrit Speedway.
I watched 22 races in Michigan last season, about one-quarter of my annual schedule. There are tracks in the area I love to attend, some almost as much as anywhere else I go.
Seeing some national stars should only add to the attraction.
The UMP Summernationals tour will visit the state for a mid-summer event, and the Sunoco American Late Model Series, long a staple here, will compete at least four times.
Several lesser-paying non-sanctioned events also are scheduled again this season at every track that features the full-fendered cars.
Perhaps the best move made by Michigan promoters, done three years ago, has been rules unification under the United Midwestern Promoters banner. For a number of years, rules variations made travel, sometimes even inside the state, difficult for limited-budget teams.
For many drivers, out-of-state competition wasn’t even an option.
Track preparation and cooperation among promoters have also improved immensely in recent seasons, and hopefully that trend will continue.
Maybe Michigan will someday be known for its dirt late-model tracks and races. Who knows what the future holds, but things look much better than they once did, and seem to be improving each year.
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