HEDGER: Not So Hot Summer Nights Have Produced Memorable Racing

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BALLSTON SPA, N.Y.
It’s difficult to believe, but the end of weekly racing is in sight and the late season “big shows” are starting to draw attention. But before the passing of the “summer that wasn’t,” as cold, wet weather and numerous rainouts were the norm in this part of the world, we’ll look back at a few highlights.

One was the first All-Star Weekend at the Cayuga County Fairgrounds. The DIRTcar Northeast crew did a great job sprucing up the Weedsport, N.Y., facility, generating interest and definitely building a “big event” foundation for the future.

With campers everywhere, the grounds had the feel of a mini-Syracuse and a larger-than-expected crowd turned out for Sunday’s $20,000-to-win 100-lap finale.

Once the track crew quit watering the surface, which only produced more dust, the track turned black all the way across and the top talent on hand went at it all over the three-eighths-mile.

Racing, after all, is about passing cars and Tim Fuller and Brett Hearn, among others, did just that. And it didn’t hurt that young Ryan Phelps swept the weekend despite the presence of all of DIRT’s heavy hitters.

What other promoters can take away from the All-Star event is that management dared to be different and was rewarded for the effort. Driver introductions were especially noteworthy, with the drivers in each row walking to the flagstand from opposite ends of the grandstands, shaking hands with spectators (and in some cases getting kisses) as they went.

And all the time, ace announcer Shane Andrews was on the flagstand, cranking the crowd up even further as he worked his way to the front of the field. Many fans got their money’s worth before the feature went green.

Another notable show was Utica-Rome Speedway’s recent midweek program featuring the Race of Champions Dart dirt tour and the CRSA 305 sprint cars.

The show featured two distinctly different classes instead of the three look-alike modified divisions plus late models and street stocks that are featured at so many tracks today.

When rookie Mason Oldstead blew past leader Mike Stelter on the last lap to claim the sprint-car feature and Matt Sheppard, Bobby Varin, Pat Ward and Stewart Friesen hooked up in a race-long duel in the nightcap, fans left feeling they’d more than gotten their money’s worth. That’s the name of the game.

It’s understandable that many speedways now have to run five or six classes to boost the back gate and keep the track finances in the black. But it certainly doesn’t help the show from an artistic standpoint. Sometimes more is actually less.

Another case in point was Brett Hearn’s “Big Show” at the Orange County Fairgrounds. One-class shows wouldn’t make it on the weekends, but for a midweek special, 60-plus modifieds were just the ticket.

Had the weather and fairgrounds electrical problems not interrupted the proceedings, the fans would have seen a great show and been on their way home at an early hour.

On the weather front, Lebanon Valley Speedway was right in the middle of a band of storms that dropped six inches of rain or more in a couple of hours recently. Both the drag strip and oval suffered major flooding, but the problem that brought the Capital District TV cameras in was that many drag racers leave their trailers and cars in the parking area from week to week.

The sight of large tractors towing trailers out of water halfway up their sides made great TV, but was certainly discouraging to those who appreciate the investment of time and money contained inside the trailers.

Promoter Howie Commander and track manager Lyle DeVore were TV regulars during the ongoing coverage of damage in the region and after much work, were set to reopen as this was being written.

Let’s hope that that’s it for bad weather for the duration of the season.