FLETCHER: The Good & Bad Sides Of Racing

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EAST LEROY, Mich.

I frowned upon hearing the car count was pushing 200. Not that I didn’t want Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway promoter Jim O’Connor to have a successful event, I just didn’t want to be at the race track all night.

I’ve been to Kokomo enough to have known better.

It was the second night of O’Connor’s annual Kokomo Klash, a multi-division, season-ending blowout that saw almost 350 drivers in 10 classes take to the track over two nights.

Being more interested in late-model racing, I skipped the first night’s sprint-car action, but all reports said it was well worth watching.

The Saturday night portion was good, too.

But what was almost as entertaining as the racing itself was watching O’Connor and crew push through hot laps, heat races, B mains and features for 190 cars in five divisions in about six hours, which also included a somewhat lengthy intermission for track maintenance.

With an extremely congested pit area that overflowed into the parking and camping areas, the place felt cramped, like there wasn’t enough breathing room or elbow space. Like it was about to bust apart.

But somehow, the night moved along. It actually was pretty amazing to witness. And it’s something people will remember.

It takes a dedicated promoter surrounded by a talented staff to pull off a feat like that. There are several in the business who can do it. The ones who can’t really should learn how.

It might keep them in business a while longer.

It didn’t really set in what the Kokomo bunch had accomplished until I considered another one of those races I’d attended that didn’t go so smoothly.

It was at a track I hadn’t been to in some time, the final day of a three-day show that saw nothing left to complete except six feature races. The car count was half of what Kokomo had and the total laps were fewer, and it took almost the same amount of time.

There’s something really wrong with that, and I will think twice before visiting that facility again.

Grassroots racing is the backbone of our sport. Always has been, always will be. I will support it until they cover me up. I don’t like to see it suffer. But it is in many areas.

The promoters who are getting it right will be the ones to survive. The only ones.

If I could have my choice of any job in the world, operating a race track would not be what I’d pick. I have as much respect and admiration for solid promoters as I do drivers. It’s a damn tough road, certainly not for the faint of heart.

Anybody who’s already in the business or thinking about entering it better know that.

At the two races mentioned in this writing, I had left my journalist hat back at the farm and was a ticket-buying fan. I didn’t have to be there.

Both events made an impact on me, and I won’t forget either one.

Richmond, Ind., driver Steve Casebolt won the Kokomo late-model feature over Jeff Babcock and Duane Chamberlain. You could’ve thrown the old proverbial blanket over the three of them at the checkered flag.

The fast-paced event was completed in seven minutes.

Out of all the different tracks I’ve visited this year, I’ll admit, most promoters appear to be getting it right. Maybe the ones who don’t get it are being weeded out. They will eventually, anyway.

The aforementioned track where the events took much longer than they should have is being operated by a fairly new promotional team. And the racing was incredible. Ticket prices were reasonable enough.

They have all that going for them. Maybe I’m being too critical.

It’s just that, like most of you, I’ve got a lifetime invested in this sport and I don’t like it when it’s wrong.

Grassroots racing needs to survive, and it’s never going to get any easier to make that happen.