Safety has stepped into the spotlight within the motorsports community during recent years and the topic is trending upward with last season’s formation of a sprint car council.
The high-profile deaths of Jason Johnson and Greg Hodnett in 2018 pushed the conversation into finding areas that will drastically limit the number of crashes that result in severe injury or death. Rules changes continue to be implemented for the race cars and now the question about what the race tracks can do has risen to the forefront.
“Everyone says the tracks don’t make money, we can’t make them make changes,” veteran driver Brian Brown said. “The car owners don’t make money. We can’t make them make all the changes. It can’t always get passed on to the teams. Barry Jackson led the charge before we went to the National Open (at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa.) of just getting 55-gallon drums and filling them full of water and putting them where there are blunt openings. I don’t know what a 55-gallon drum costs to add water to it, but to me it’s better than nothing.
“We’re not going to ask these tracks to take all fencing down and add new fencing,” Brown said. “We’re just saying is there something small we can do to make it safer, to have a better opportunity to have a chance to come out of it with just a tore up race car and not someone getting hurt very badly.”
While the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series is known as the nation’s top tour and many of the sport’s rules trickle down from the top, its parent company — World Racing Group — has taken the lead in more than just writing rules.
The company, which also runs the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series, the Super DIRTcar Series and DIRTcar Racing, is ushering in major changes at the lone track it owns — Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
The semi-banked, half-mile dirt oval has recently received a huge facelift with additional moves on the way.
“Whenever you have a 50-year-old facility you’re constantly bringing it to modern-day standards,” said World Racing Group President Tom Deery. “Whether that’s the number of urinals to the type of fencing to the type of seating. We’ve taken it one step at a time. We redid the fence in turns one and two last year and then this year we’re refocusing our efforts on a new wall, fence and flag stand along the frontstretch. It’s pushing our grandstand project back a year.”
An announcement was made last September detailing the newest project. The grandstands will have four types of seating, ranging from general admission to a VIP experience. Handicap-accessible areas, reserved seating with contoured backs, extra leg room and a higher rise for better visibility are several of the points of emphasis for the updated seating plan.
Deery noted during a phone conversation in mid-December that while new footings have been added and the materials purchased, the project will run out of time and not be completed prior to the Feb. 5-16 DIRTcar Nationals.
“(World Racing Group CEO Brian) Carter has been quoted saying this round of capital improvements is half a million or around $600,000,” Deery said. “The project was grandstands, the fence and the wall. For 2020, it will be retrofitted grandstands. Hopefully, we’ll have a new tower, some more sidewalks and accessible seating.
“The grandstands will be a combination of four or five NASCAR tracks. Ironically, the overall seat count does not change. It only makes the seating more fan-friendly; a little wider seat, wider rows, higher elevation. Much like stadiums are doing today or even race tracks are improving the seating situation at the track.”
Improving the grandstands is a comfort item for the spectators and it has seen rousing success at several tracks across the country.
“I feel like dirt-track racing and winged sprint car racing with the Outlaws is on as big of an upswing as we’ve ever seen,” Brown noted. “We’re putting more people in the seats. It’s important when we get them there to take good care of them to make sure they have a good time, a good seat and a good view. That all goes hand in hand.
“If they go and are sitting on bleachers they don’t think are safe, maybe they had a good time but won’t come back,” Brown added. “Especially if you want to bring marketing partners, being able to have suites and stadium seating is important. I feel the next four or five years we can take it to the next level. We all have to work together as a big group.”
Additional projects focusing on concession stands, restrooms and sidewalks have also been completed at Volusia Speedway Park in the past. While those are enhancements to a comfortable and fun experience, World Racing Group officials have also been quick to respond to safety concerns following a pair of scary incidents during the 2017 DIRTcar Nationals.