With Woods’ backing, a new organization was formed during the offseason and by spring fans were greeted with a new name: The Elk Grove Ford Sprint Car Challenge Series presented by David Abreu Vineyards. It’s a long name but it reflects the effort of a large number of people it took to create the new series.
“I’m the one steering the ship but it took a lot of people behind the scenes to make it happen,” said Scott Russell, a former driver and the new Placerville Speedway promoter. “I like that everybody plays a part and there is not just one guy calling the shots.”
Racers have responded to an increase in sponsorships, slightly larger purses and payouts down through the field, plus a healthy point fund.
But perhaps the most critical factor, notes Russell, was making racers feel appreciated with a focus on what he calls customer service. “I’m a hands-on person and I want to make things better,” he said.
The response from the teams “shows that if you put up enough money and treat racers right, they will show up,” says Woods. “I said I would help them on two conditions: That they pay the racers and that they pay the racers.” By that, he continued: “I meant that we pay them more and we pay them on race night, so they leave the track with a check,” recognizing the financial hardship a delayed payout is for most teams.
It has been a promise kept. One low-budget, part-time racer noted recently: “I ran the C main and they had a check in my hand while the B main was running.”
The increased car counts have also fueled the teams’ competitive juices.
“We all want to get better and test ourselves against the best drivers,” noted car owner Alan Bradway. “The Trophy Cup was our only chance to do that and with the new series we have 12 other races where we can go up against guys like Kyle Hirst.”
Petaluma Speedway promoter Rick Faeth suggests that many of the problems were the result of a management style that made racers feel detached from Prentice and his staff being spread too thin.
“Being a promoter means you have to get down on the ground and you’re matching up round pegs into round holes and taking care of the next thing that’s right in front of you. But John farmed a lot of things out to staff and his approach was more like a project manager,” said Faeth, who also took over the Hunt Magneto series.
In hindsight, Prentice agreed and has made changes to strengthen the Civil War Series.
“We were spread a little thin,” said Prentice, “and now we have staff specifically dedicated to the Civil War and another staff dedicated to the King of the West.”
Prentice claims those changes have cut his overhead and the savings have gone to boost payouts to the drivers. Also, both series schedule around each other, allowing teams to race in both if they choose.
“Our car counts are up this year,” said Prentice, signaling that both series are healthier than they were before the split.
In an effort to attract more fan interest, the traveling 410 series, still part of Prentice Motorsports, is now known as King of the West/NARC, evoking the nostalgia of the former Northern Auto Racing Club, which sanctioned sprint car racing through the 1980s.
A new series sponsor, heating and air conditioning manufacturer Fujitsu, and an expanded marketing program are in place to boost attendance and help teams offset the cost of racing 410s.
Like a rebuild following an earthquake, all of Northern California’s sprint car series seem stronger than they were, even if some of the names have changed or sound only slightly familiar.
Racers and fans alike are definitely enjoying the benefits.