HEDGER: The Long Look


THE VILLAGES, Fla. — As we indicated when we announced Ed Reichert as the professional division winner, we have a first-time amateur SuperFans champion for 2012.

Longtime participant Kevin Babcock, of Des Moines, went to 133 races last year to earn a spot on the podium next to overall champion Reichert, who caught an amazing 169 races around the nation.

Babcock’s personal record season, which he attributes to the unusually dry summer keeping rainouts to a minimum, took him to 43 speedways in nine states — Florida, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kansas. After travelling some 25,057 miles and spending “around $2,300,” Babcock determined that his favorite track is in Illinois.

“My favorite is Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach because promoter Kevin Gundaker does a fantastic job of putting on shows that both the drivers and the fans enjoy,” Babcock said. “But my best race was the October Friday night MLRA show at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas. Another great race was the Wissota Challenge Series event at Brown County Speedway in South Dakota.

“The majority of the shows I attended were worth the trip, with the worst races a couple of shows that seemed like they would never get over because they had a long wait between races. Tracks like that could learn a lot from Joe Ringsdorf at Hancock County Speedway, as he gets the show started on time and doesn’t mess around, so the show gets done at a decent hour and the four-hour round trip can be done in the same calendar day.”

Finally, Kevin declared the best food on his tour to be the Walking Taco at Iowa’s Hancock County Speedway and the chicken bites at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway.

Second in the 2012 “ticket buyer” standings went to Bruce Carley, of Bellevue, Ohio, with another personal best, 121 races at 90 speedways in 13 states. Thirteen of those speedways were new to Bruce, who says “the best racing and track operations can be found at Attica, Ohio, and Boone, Iowa. And just for fun, everyone should go to Macon, Ill., and see some cars passing each other.”

He says the best food is in upstate New York, where he loves the salt potatoes, with Rome, Ga., and Waynesfield, Ohio, providing the most scenic settings.

On the downside, Carley says he dislikes “paved tracks with too many divisions, too few cars and too many warm-up sessions and announcers who don’t give the lineups before the cars hit the track and haven’t visited the pits to gather interesting information to relay to the fans.”

Bob Litton, of Iowa City, Iowa, another perennial contender, claimed third in the “ticket buyers” division for 2012 with a 118-race season that took him to 30 speedways in 14 states. He invested some $1,442 at the ticket window and says that in general, he saw “more good races then bad.”

For good racing, Litton cites Pontoon Beach, where he loved the three-night Modified Mania program, Belle-Clair Speedway’s opening program, and Fairbury, Ill., where he watched five late models battle to the checkered during the fair. He also lauds the weekly modified shows at West Liberty, Iowa, and the Liberty 100 there in October.

And after extensive research, Bob says that the best hamburgers are found at the SPI tracks — West Liberty, Dubuque and Farley.

Cortland, Ohio’s Ben Trask was fourth after enjoying 113 races at 48 different tracks in 14 states.

“I didn’t keep track of how much the ticket prices were because I tell people I never said racing was cheap. But I like to watch and it’s well worth what it costs me,” summed up Trask. “My favorite sandwich this year was the pork loin sandwich at Muskingham County. Screven Speedway may have the best menu but the lines are too long and you miss too much racing while you’re waiting for food, so I don’t spend much there.”

Trask says his list of good races started right out in January with the Chili Bowl, with other notable events including a UMP LM win at Volusia by Steve Francis and a trio of events at Attica Raceway Park, where Dale Blaney and Denny Holtgraver shared All-Star wins and Shannon Babb claimed the Summer Nationals late model race. He also praised a Sharon E-mod race and a LM show at Michigan’s Flat Rock Speedway.

“My stinker of the year was at Fayetteville, with features only and they still didn’t start until after 10 p.m.,” declared Trask. “And finally, my pet peeve is the ‘Scott Bloomquist’ rule. Do all your passing in time trials and start the fastest on the pole. This makes for follow-the-leader racing, which most of us fans do not care for.”

Rounding out the top five was Ron Oswald, of Bethlehem, Pa., who retired in January and set out to see some good racing. By year’s end he’d seen 110 races in 11 states and had invested $1966.50 at the ticket window.

“I have to say that I saw a lot of outstanding racing up in New York this year,” said Oswald. “Utica-Rome Speedway has to have one of the best run shows around. I attended 11 shows there in 2012 and it’s a four-hour ride for me to get there, but worth it as I saw many last-lap thrillers.

“The SuperNationals at Five Mile Point was another great show along with the specials I saw at Penn Can and I-88 and an asphalt show at Airborne Park. I just love the RoC dirt tour races.”

On the negative side, Ron was disappointed by almost all the races he saw at Mountain Speedway, citing all the time that is wasted there, and the USAC show at Big Diamond Speedway where the track came up unusually dusty.

He says the best food award is a tie between Utica-Rome, I-88, Fulton and Brewerton and ends his summary with a valid question, asking why none of the Pennsylvania tracks serve salt potatoes, a staple of central New York clam bakes and race tracks.

Sixth place in the standings was shared by Marshall Kern, of Slatedale, Pa., and fellow Pennsylvanians Dale and Brenda Matthews, of Chambersburg, all with 101 events.

Kern, a fan for 45 years, may well be our oldest SuperFans Rookie of the Year. He hit 23 speedways, both dirt and paved, and spent a total of $2,955 on his racing, of which $1,255 went for admission.

He says that Mahoning Valley Speedway in Lehighton, Pa., presents the best weekly show, with “good ticket prices, a show that starts on time and keeps moving and great racing.”

His worst shows both came at Big Diamond with Kern saying,“you couldn’t see the racing due to the heavy dust conditions at both the PA Speedweek and USAC Sprint shows.”

In closing, Kern said, “The biggest problem at most tracks is late starts with too many divisions. But even with the problems in short track racing, I still enjoy going, never knowing when the next great race will be run and hoping I don’t miss it.”

As for the Matthews, their slate kicked off in Florida, where we had the pleasure of meeting them recently when they started the 2013 season as they did 2012, and ended at Wall Stadium’s Turkey Derby. The best race, they agree, was at Pennsylvania’s Path Valley Speedway, “With the 410s running great through lapped traffic and Cole Duncan from Ohio beating the PA Posse boys in an amazing race.”

They also travelled through Indiana and Iowa, enjoying all sorts of sprint car racing along with some notable LM shows.

“We loved seeing our friend Brian Paulus get into the A-main at Knoxville on a used tire, beating Kinser and Swindell in the B. We were impressed by his entire year, as he runs on the tightest budget I’ve ever heard of. The next best thing we saw was Kyle Larson, who we expect to see a lot more of in the future.”

Downers on the Matthews’ tour included too many needless laps under yellow at the Turkey Derby and a dustup between USAC and the track owner/preparer at Ocala, but as long as their motorhome, which just topped the 100,000-mile mark, holds up, they’ll be on the SuperFans trail well into the future.

We’ll pick up from there next time. And if you have totals that would have put you well up in the standings, but you didn’t get around to entering, send them along to us at [email protected] and we’ll work you into round three.



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Ron Hedger
A veteran of nearly 40 years with SPEED SPORT, Hedger has also covered auto racing for the Schenectady, N.Y., Daily Gazette and was a contributor to Stock Car Racing and Open Wheel magazines.