The Graybeard Report by Doc Lehman
By Doc Lehman

The past few years the mumblings and sometimes griping has begun to echo around the dirt
Late Model industry that sanctioning bodies and series are beginning to have an adverse
effect on weekly racing at dirt tracks around the country. Some think the sanctions are
taking away drivers from weekly shows that in turn are causing harm to weekly programs
through out the country.

Some dismiss this notion, but the debate is beginning nonetheless. Do sanctions really harm
weekly programs? Do sanctions have too much influence on the way weekly tracks operate
with rules to say nothing of the perceptions people in the industry have? Do sanctions set a
bad precedent in the way that teams spend money and operate?

To get to the bottom of this we contacted seven promoters who have strong weekly
programs to get their perspective on this situation. Participating were promoters J.R. Keifer
of Bedford Speedway in Bedford, PA; Mike Swims of Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, GA
and Rome Speedway in Rome, GA; Al Varnadore of East Bay Raceway in Tampa, FL and
Crossville Raceway in Crossville, TN; now former General Manager Tina Heil of Wayne
County Speedway in Orrville, OH; Scott Strode of Tyler County Speedway in Middleborne,
WV; Bill Nelson of Vermilion County Speedway in Danville, IL and Bob Schippers of
Lakeville Speedway in Lakeville, OH.

The topic: Are sanctioning bodies causing harm to ‘weekly racing’?

AARN: Do you feel sanctioning bodies are causing weekly racing programs to suffer?

J.R. KEIFER: I'd say it's one of the top three reasons.


AL VARNADORE: Sanctioning bodies and series can be either detrimental or productive
to weekly racing.  National series that do not have an effect on any one area more than once
a month can be helpful to a weekly track by bringing in drivers that are not normally racing
there and this will also bring in more fans.  Regional series that only run in a small area on a
regular basis can have too many events too often and draw drivers away from weekly
events because of the higher purses.   Also, when there are too many series conducting
races within a small area, it will dilute the car count at both weekly tracks and series races
as well.

TINA HEIL: I don’t see that happening in this area yet.


BILL NELSON: I think the things that UMP has come up with the last few years have
helped weekly racing instead of hurt it like bigger point funds for the weekly racer to go
after. National, State and Regional titles allows the weekly racer something to shoot for.

BOB SCHIPPERS: No, I don’t feel sanctions are hurting local racing. I feel they help,
because that is everybody’s desire to race big time so I don’t feel sanctions are hurting
anyone, I do feel the racing is not that good anymore because they start fast guys up front
with very little passing. I feel they need to go back to inverting at least 10 or 12 cars.

AARN: Do you feel too much emphasis has been placed on sanctioning bodies and ‘special
events’ where fans will stay at home from weekly shows and wait for the ‘specials’?

KEIFER: Yes.  Very much so.

SWIMS: Not at all. Promoters that are on top of their game should be able to maximize
both, their weekly and their special events.

VARNADORE: When there are too many “special events” in a local area, yes, they will
tend to keep some fans away from regular weekly racing events.  Especially if the ticket
prices are up and the fan has to pay more than his weekly entertainment budget will allow.  
They may stay home the next week to make up for the amount they spent the week before
on the “special event”.  Most fans only have a set “entertainment budget” that they can
spend on a weekly basis and all racetracks and all series should try to function within the
fans limited funds.  Any time that either of us forces the fan to lose that comfort level, we
are hurting our entire industry.  

HEIL: I believe that’s somewhat true where the “true” race fan is concerned as they have it
in their mindset that this is the better racing.  Whereas someone that’s just looking for good
Saturday night entertainment they don’t care.

STRODE: Fans have their choice.  There are always alternative choices for all fans of all
sports, but it is only our job to give them a show that's worth coming to see, whether it is
sanctioned or not.

NELSON: I don't think sanctioning bodies had anything to do with the decline in the weekly
show. Our car counts were the highest they have been in years but our crowd were down a
little from previous years and I think the high cost of fuel had something to do with it and the
fact the weather for most of the summer was terrible. Some fans will always wait for the
specials before they come out to the track, the diehard weekly fan is disappearing but if the
promoter works hard enough he can start a whole new generation of weekly diehards.

SCHIPPERS: I don’t think people are staying home and waiting for the big boys because
the weekly shows have more passing then sanctions and the gas prices are down for now.
This will get people out more for all kinds of racing. I think all fans like to see the big guns
when in town, You don’t get to see these guys but maybe one or two times a year and I think
that is what fans want but too many races will hurt the promoter making money. People only
have so much money to spend. I also thing the price is getting too high without having a
confirmed list of drivers that will be there. We, the owners, can’t sell tickets with just a
sanction anymore there must be a drivers’ list on who will be there to sell tickets.

AARN: Do sanctioning bodies have too much influence on the direction weekly racing goes,
such as rules, formats, etc….? And is this influence positive or negative?

KEIFER: Yes.  Rules because the traveling racer gets by with a lot, they stretch everything
to the limit.  #1 is scheduling problems.  Tracks can't race against them in a 100-mile radius.

SWIMS: I think they have definitely have influence and for the most part, I think it's
positive. Anytime you have an organization that runs in different areas and deals with many
different competitors. They have the opportunity to gather more info and gain more
experience in dealing with all kinds of issues that in turn should filter down to the weekly

VARNADORE: Yes, when they change rules which will cost the competitor more money to
compete or make changes that are not in line with the track rules, that has a negative
impact on overall participation in both series and weekly events.  The series and tracks
should be closer for both to benefit.

HEIL: No, I don’t think so.  Most tracks do try to follow their rules to a certain extent to
make it possible for drivers to race other tracks, but our weekly show is formatted to fit our
local drivers and fans.  I don’t think it’s either positive or negative.

STRODE: I wish the sanctions would make their own rules instead of letting the drivers
suggest the format.  If you go to most any major sanctioned event the start is almost always
heads up.  Lucas Oil has the right idea with the redraw method as long as they stick with it.  
But also there are some other pill draw/ passing points formats out there that are equally
exciting.  Heads up starts are not good.

NELSON: That's why I like being involved with UMP I have a voice in what rules and
formats are implemented each year. I don't think a rule has ever been forced on me. I
always get a e-mail or a letter from UMP asking me what I think about this rule change or
this format change, if your sanctioning body is not asking your opinion then I would change
sanctioning bodies. The bottom line is these sanctioning bodies need promoters a lot more
they we need sanctioning bodies.

SCHIPPERS: I like the rules sanctions come up with. It makes it easier for us owners to
follow their rules.

AARN: Does sanctioned racing foster a mentality where racers feel they have to spend
more money than they should in order to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’?

KEIFER: More money, no! But where their money goes yes!  If Eckert is hot!  What heads,
what shocks, what brand chassis and all of that.

SWIMS:  Not any more than weekly racing does. This will always be an issue at any level of

VARNADORE: Racers in general tend to do that whether they are racing weekly or in
series events.  The fact that the series normally pay better tends to magnify the problem
and those racers feel justified in spending more because they are racing for more.

HEIL: Yes, if you want to race with these groups, you have to have the money to compete
with them. That’s why our numbers are so high on the local level, they don’t have the deep
pockets to follow a series.  We have great racecar drivers that race with us every Saturday
night in every division.  I believe if our local drivers were given the same funds and
opportunities that these World of Outlaws, Lucas Oil and MACS drivers have they would be
equally competitive.  It’s just a matter of funds.

STRODE: We the promoters are the ones who mandate what weekly rules our racers use,
and many times they aren't laid out with economics in mind.  The guys on the touring series
make that choice to spend that money.  But they are also rewarded with nice contingencies,
purses and sponsors.

NELSON: Racers are always going to spend more than they can afford and it has nothing to
do with sanctioning bodies, its just what racers do.

AARN: Do you see a time when sanctioning bodies will begin to fall by the wayside, or grow
in numbers, and why?

KEIFER: I doubt any more will have staying power!  Rules unification is key for tracks as
well as sanctioning bodies.

SWIMS: There will always be a place for sanctioning bodies. Tracks need a place for
drivers to move onto in order to build new stars. And promoters need options for special
events other than just running their own "big show". Fans need to be able to see how their
local heroes measure up against the travelers.

I don’t know how many more sanctioning bodies are really needed at this time. Some people
would say there are already too many. But this is a self-policing issue that will take care of it
self. The market will determine how many different series are needed, number of
participants, number of tracks, demand for dates, etc.

VARNADORE: When there is too much competition in a local area with multiple series, the
tracks and series both will suffer and both stand the chance of falling by the wayside
because neither is profitable.  If there is only one series and they work well with all the local
tracks and racers to minimize conflicts, the series will be strong and the tracks in the area
will benefit from working together.  Both tracks and series can benefit by working together
because both should be able to be profitable without hurting the other.  If done properly, the
series should benefit every track that it comes to and will be invited back.  When they do
not bring enough cars or put on a decent show, they should not be invited back.  The other
problem with a lot of local and regional series is that they are directly competing with race
tracks for local sponsorship from local businesses.  By doing this, they are effectively taking
income away from the track itself.

HEIL: I think we will be seeing the numbers fall for these sanctioning bodies and I also
think that trend will continue until there are only a few left.  I don’t think it has anything to
do with the product they offer… it’s economics.    

STRODE: It’s a cycle that never ends, sanctions are reinvented, retooled, revamped,
renamed.  I only see one sanction who is growing in numbers and that is IMCA.  They of
course aren't known as a touring sanction, but it does sanction touring events.  There are
reasons that they dwarf everyone else in numbers, rules and economics. Look it up!

NELSON: I think it depends on the sanctioning bodies, as long as they remember who puts
on there shows and who the entertainers are and they always try to take care of them and
ask there input on things that impacts them and how they do business I think they will be
around for a long time, But if they forget who helps pay those large point funds with weekly
sanction fees and drivers memberships I would think they would  not be around for long.

SCHIPPERS: We need less touring groups and more tracks working together to bring
drivers from other tracks to their track for bigger races that pay well, kind of a small four or
five track deal were each track runs three or four races paying extra money with each track
knowing who is coming for the locals.


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©2007 Doc Lehman/Dirt America

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