ECONOMAKI: World Finals Spectators Persevere

AT THE GATE: Fans wait to be admitted for Saturday’s second session at the Lowes Foods World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas Photo)

CONCORD, N.C. — The ticket-buying race fan is often overlooked. It wasn’t difficult to look past the more than 14,000 hardy fans who attended a day/night doubleheader during the Lowes Foods World Finals Saturday at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. While rain and cold temperatures ruled the weekend, forcing Friday night’s program to Saturday afternoon, the wet conditions and freezing temperatures didn’t deter the sold-out crowd from enjoying a full day of racing — more than 12 hours — from start to finish. Fans patiently waited in the cold and rain Friday, and returned bright and early Saturday morning and were mostly in their seats when hot laps began shortly before 11 a.m. After dry track conditions led to the sprint-car feature moving to the evening program, few complained. Minutes after the grandstands were cleared from the first program, the throngs — many looking like they had eaten mud pies filled with real mud from watching the afternoon’s windy and dusty racing card — were lined up outside the main gate waiting to get back into the Speedway Motorsports, Inc. facility for the nightcap. The majority of the crowd was still on hand when the checkered flag waved shortly before 11 p.m. While there were 184 competitors in three divisions on hand for this event, which has battled adverse weather the past two years, yet continues to grow in stature on the national racing calendar, it was the resilience of the racing fan that made this year’s World Finals a hit.

Oh, how short-track racing has changed. Driver’s meeting used to happen around a promoter’s briefcase. Then they were held at pit shacks and sanctioning body trailers. Meetings during the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte were held at “command centers.” Three (one for each division) separate “command centers” to be exact.

Chris Luck, one of the co-owners of Jason Meyers’s championship-winning Elite Motorsports entry, was in full celebration mode this weekend, hosting visitors in a suite for both events and having a pre-party prior to Sunday night’s banquet. Luck told NSSN, “I never realized how expensive winning a championship would be.”

Tony Stewart Racing officials confirmed that both Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser and all of the operation’s sponsors would return for the 2011 season.

Many-time Empire Super Sprints champion Mike Woodring, who retired to become a crew chief several years ago, seems to have a thing for female sprint-car drivers. Woodring was responsible for getting Erin Crocker’s career started, including chiefing her to her lone WoO victory. He later worked with Becca Anderson and is now working with New York ace Jessica Zemken.

Built on the site of a former race track on the banks of the Mississippi River in Madison, Ill., Gateway Int’l Raceway, which held its first race in 1997 (ironically Champ Car’s second rendition of the ill-fated U.S. 500), was officially closed Nov. 3, 11 days after holding its final event, a NASCAR Nationwide Series race won by Brad Keselowski. Dover Motorsports, Inc., owners of the facility, had announced earlier this year that the 1.25-mile oval and adjacent drag strip would be closing. Sadly, the St. Louis area is now void of major auto racing, with only the successful short tracks of Tri-City Raceway in Pontoon Beach, Ill., and I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo., remaining.

NASCAR’s Jim Hunter was fondly remembered and memorialized last week in Darlington, S.C. Countless Sprint Cup drivers, NASCAR employees, car owners, track owners and managers, media and other members of the racing community gathered over two days to say farewell to the popular Hunter, who passed away Oct. 29. Hunter, who was known for his love of family, NASCAR and golf — in that order — will be sorely missed.

Shane Hmiel was transported from Indianapolis Methodist Hospital to a rehabilitation center in Charlotte, N.C., closer to his home. Hmiel continues to recover from a broken neck, broken back and artery damage suffered in a crash at Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track. Hmiel’s spinal cord was bruised but not broken and doctors are optimistic he will walk again.

Winning the pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix it will certainly make it more difficult for the Williams team to dump Nico Hulkenberg in 2011 in favor of a paying driver. But team co-owner Patrick Head insisted that no driver decisions would be made until after the end of the season.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Brazil’s Interlagos circuit. British-born engineer Luiz Romero Sanson and French architect Andre Agache created the challenging track located between the lakes and the huge Billings Reservoir on the outskirts of Såo Paulo. Local driver Arthur Nascimento, Jr. won the 1940 Brazilian Grand Prix, driving a 3.5-liter Alfa Romeo.

Ford Motor Co. has targeted the new version of its popular Ford Focus for worldwide touring car competition. Ford will be working with private teams around the world to develop and race the car, which will be powered by Ford’s EcoBoost engine. It is expected to make its debut in the 2011 British Touring Car Championship.

Well known for his days wheeling a Jaguar at the top levels of road racing, Bob Tullius will celebrate his 80th birthday in December. During a phone call to the NSSN office to offer a birthday party invitation to Chris Economaki, Tullius said he is in good health and still flies his plane frequently. Tullius takes great pride in a long-ago bet with Economaki over their respective ages, which earned Tullius 50 bucks.

The season for the Florida-based Checkered Flag Sprint Series came to a premature end when the series and its host track — Punta Gorda Speedway — could not agree on a purse restructure for the remaining events on the schedule. Both sides are understanding of the difficult economic times and hope to have a resolution in time for the 2011 season.

Oh Canada! Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 World Driving Champion and the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner is scheduled to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Nov. 10 in Calgary. Joining Villeneuve in this class of inductees are hockey legend Patrick Roy, skier Jean-Luc Brassard, wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, speed skater Clara Hughes and gymnast Kyle Shewfelt.

Star Mazda champion Conor Daly, the son of Derek Daly, has lost the financial backing he has enjoyed the past four years from former Champ Car World Series partner Jerry Forsythe. Daly, who recently tested an Indy Lights machine with Andersen Racing, is now seeking financial backing in addition to a ride for the 2010 season. There was good news for Daly, though. He was selected winner of the 18th annual Gorsline Scholarship presented by The Gorsline, Co. Former winners of the award include Colin Braun, Danica Patrick, Patrick Long, Buddy Rice, Butch Leitzinger and Bryan Herta.

Speedway Motorsports, Inc. issued its third quarter financial report, showing net earnings of $6.5 million for the three months of July through September. The report also showed SMI has shown a $38.5 million profit during the first nine months of 2010 compared to $4.9 million earned through the first three quarters of 2009.