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Commentary: Are Some Fans Being Left Behind

When the powers that be at the national Dirt Late Model touring sanctions and larger scale regional ones look back at all that is good with their product, and all the excitement they bring fans and the moments we remember for years, I wonder if they ever think back to what got left behind in the creation of their success.  It’s hard to say.  Hey, who wants to spoil a good time? Plus, an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears go into the making of entertainment on that scale.

I love going to those shows as much as anybody. And I can’t begrudge their success for the life of me. They identified a demand, and used their resources to offer up a supply worthy of the ticket price. This is fundamental economics, capitalism at work.  But at the same time, as I look at tracks that have had to drop weekly Super Late Models due to lack of cars, I can’t help but feel awful for the fans that can’t afford to travel to said shows anymore, and the drivers that had to put their cars away for good or sell them. It’s as if the sport that they helped build with their hard earned cash from countless hours at the full time job, in some way has turned it’s back on them, in a cruel way.

 And what’s just as distressing was something that I’ve been noticing more and more lately.  I’m noticing that there’s less Crate Late Models in many places too. The decline in numbers is not as pronounced as the Supers have been, but it’s as if you can feel it when you look at the results and walk the pits at the weekly shows and talk to the drivers. 

The tours themselves don’t represent 100 percent of the problem. It’s not their fault that it’s so expensive to race. The chassis companies, engine producers, tire companies and parts manufacturers share in the present condition of anything Late Model related.  And bear in mind that they probably don’t mean to cause anybody to feel bad. Those entities provide jobs to people and if there were no demand, those companies wouldn’t be in business. You can’t lay the total blame on the drivers either. They love racing, and are willing to spend what it takes to be competitive, because let’s face it, nobody likes to spend six figures a year to ride around in 15th place where they don’t even get the pit passes for the team back in their pocket let alone money for a new right rear.

The Crate Engine, once considered the savior of weekly racing, was supposed to level the playing field and it actually did in terms of engine cost and a few other items. There are no rules against purchasing a brand new Rocket XR1 and putting said engine under the hood though and therein lies a disparity that the Crate sanctions can’t solve. Drivers will spend what it takes to win despite good intentions. So, the Late Model fan that had grown accustomed to weekly Supers, had to travel further to see them, and saw them less has to be feeling left behind. Sure, you can get used to Crates as a top class, but there’s probably less of you in the stands if that’s the case too. Then the tracks begin to suffer, they’re left behind in a way too. If Crates as a top class don’t fill up the stands and promoters can’t pay purses without having to cough up lungs and getting third mortgages on the track property, then they’re use as headliner is completely counterproductive.

There are no answers that anybody can agree on when it comes to what to do. I keep waiting for one to magically appear and it eludes me and virtually anybody else who is starting to grow very concerned at the overall health of the sport.  But one thing I am observing, is that this type of contraction isn’t happening in other divisions at anywhere near the rate that it is currently occurring in the Late Models. That’s the scary part. The beast has literally become so highly engineered, so sensitive to adjustments, so dependent on so many factors that didn’t seem to matter years ago, that in it’s complexity of mechanics, it has seemingly gained the world, but lost it’s soul. And in doing so, has left a good portion of everything that helped make it great, behind.

Here’s hoping it gets better somehow, and soon. The National shows look so amazing these days, they’re well produced entertainment that’s at a level near stick and ball sports found on TV. That’s great. But without weekly shows at local tracks, how does one fall in love with the Late Model when parents can’t afford to drive six hours and buy tickets? Just throwing it out there.

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