WALTZ: Reflecting on a Fast-Fading Season

Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz.

HARRISBURG, N.C. — The dog days of summer will soon be replaced by the cool autumn breezes of late September, which means another racing season is coming to a close. That reminds us it’s time to reflect and see what we learned while applying sunscreen and wiping sweat from our brow.

– Mother Nature is not a race fan. We don’t remember a spring and early summer in which rain had such a major impact on the motorsports community. The numerous traveling series were hit extremely hard with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions losing 10 consecutive races to weather in April and May.

– Something is amiss in New England. Not too long ago, NASCAR racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was one of the hottest sports tickets in the Northeast. No longer. The crowd for the July 21 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the one-mile track built by Bob Bahre was only a fraction of the throng that formerly invaded Loudon, N.H., on race day.

Sure, it was hot — 93 degrees at race time — but this writer expected a much larger number at the turnstiles, especially now that NHMS hosts only one NASCAR weekend per season.

– Brandon Sheppard is red hot. Driving the No. 1 Rocket Chassis house car owned by Mark Richards, Sheppard has emerged as the brightest star in the dirt late model universe.

The 26-year-old wheelman from New Berlin, Ill., won 13 of the first 23 World of Outlaws Morton Building Late Model Series races and had a 206-point lead over Darrell Lanigan heading into the second half of the schedule.

– There are three talented drivers awaiting their chance. It’s going to be fun to watch Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick battle on Sundays in the NASCAR Cup Series, but who is going to move aside so they can move up?

Richard Childress Racing has room on the roster to promote Reddick but needs to secure sponsorship. The four-car stables at both Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing are fully subscribed, meaning drivers have to either be fired or shifted to other teams in order to open seats for Bell and Custer.

– Who knew Indy car racers could fight? It had been so long since two Indy car drivers had traded blows that we were flabbergasted when Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais went at it following a practice session for the Honda Indy Toronto.

Upset over an on-track incident, Sato and Bourdais were having a heated “discussion” when Sato grabbed Bourdais by the collar and then hit his helmet. That resulted in Bourdais shoving Sato and the shouting match escalated into a pit-lane brawl. And it was only practice.

– Major sprint car races equal major crowds. The huge crowds for the 36th running of the Kings Royal at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and the 59th annual Knoxville Nationals at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway tell us sprint car racing is more popular than ever.

In addition to sizeable crowds for every World of Outlaws event, the All Stars and USAC have done well at the box office when they were able to dodge the rain.

We expect the momentum to continue into the fall as officials at Charlotte Motor Speedway tell us ticket sales for the World of Outlaws World Finals are trending ahead of last year’s event, which played to a sold-out grandstand and a packed pit area on Saturday night.

– Age is only a number. They might be “retired” from NASCAR competition, but Tony Stewart 48; Matt Kenseth 47; Kenny Wallace, 55; and Ken Schrader, 64, all visited victory lane during the summer.

And don’t forget about ageless midget racer Kevin Olson returning to the winner’s circle at Wisconsin’s Angel Park Speedway for the first time since Sept. 6, 1988.

– Racing is in a good place. Overall, we learned racing — on both two and four wheels — is very healthy and the major short-track events are thriving. As long as the economy remains solid, we expect much of the same moving forward.