I think we can officially count the 2016 racing season as in the books. I’ve wanted to write a new piece for some time now, but for some reason I didn’t quite feel it was the end of the season.
I don’t know about the rest of you but for me it’s kind of hard to pinpoint the true “end” of racing season.
Many call the season over the day after the World Finals at Charlotte because as most of the dirt world knows, the World Finals wraps up the points race for three of the largest series in the country. It’s the ultimate way to bring a long grueling season to an end as it provides a showcase unlike any other with the biggest names in dirt racing.
Some may think, even though racing is over, it’s still not official until the massive PRI Show has been posted in the books. While no racing may occur, I guarantee you won’t find more racers under one roof anywhere else in the country. You can see all of your favorite dirt drivers as well as the most talented drivers in other disciplines.
I was able to partake in helping Indy Car driver James Hinchcliffe celebrate his birthday with some silly string. Others may recognize him from his time on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. I have to say my hair stylist, who has never watched a race of any kind, was jealous I had the opportunity to meet him.
Most may say that January 1st represents a new start; not only to the year, but also to the racing season and technically you would be right. However, since the racing season doesn’t necessarily fit the fiscal year model, I find for myself, the point at which I can say out with the old and in with the new, is the annual Chili Bowl in Tulsa. It falls a couple of weeks after the New Year, but for me it’s the point at which I finally recognize a segway to the new racing season.
After watching the annual Chili Bowl it inspired me to finally reflect on the 2016 racing season. Many fans reflect on different things about the past race season. Some may be Late Model fans, reflecting on Josh Richards and Scott Bloomquist winning championships on the two major series. The Sprint Car contingent may be reflecting on another Donny Schatz dominant year with the World of Outlaw Craftsman Sprint Cars. Last but definitely not least, the folks in the northeast may be reflecting on “Super” Matt Sheppard’s championship run on the DIRTcar Big Block tour.
When I sat down and looked back, I didn’t think of a specific series or driver, I thought of one word that defined the 2016 racing season.
The definition of community is: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
The word community probably means different things to people across the dirt racing fan base. I personally believe community means more than its core definition. To me it also means helping others in the same group in their time of need.
Having lost multiple drivers in 2016, it was a tough year in the dirt racing world. It’s not easy to talk about let alone think about the loved ones that were affected by these tragic losses. However, one thing that did show itself was the dirt racing community and the urge to help a fellow dirt racing faithful.
There was no gesture too small showing the love for Bryan. Everything from leaving flowers by his hauler at Knoxville to purchasing an item at the auction held at the track. All of these gestures show a sense of community we should all be proud to be a part of.
The Knoxville benefit was planned in only a couple of days and had drivers digging through their haulers to add items for the sale, creating a never-ending auction.
Once Knoxville was in the books the support kept coming, leaving Bryan’s fiancé Lauren posting apologies on social media because she couldn’t ship merchandise out fast enough.
To top it all off Bryan’s autism benefit at the Chili Bowl this year was able to raise $150,000 and it’s all because of a community coming together for someone they loved.
In September the World 100 concluded its event with Bobby Pierce as the winner but ended with the terrible loss of late model driver Shane Unger.
Shane may not have been a high profile driver but if you have been around Eldora for very long, you’ll recognize he and his family as regulars to the facility. In fact, members of his family are employees at the track.
When I think of Shane I think of two colors, blue and grey. For years he had an open hauler and hand painted blue and grey numbers on his car. He ran Modifieds for years at the Ohio facility before jumping to the Super Late Model ranks.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Shane, but from everything I have heard, you wouldn’t find a nicer person or family.
The World 100 is the showcase for Super Late Model drivers and their graphic suppliers. Every year there is a best appearing car award leaving many cars with special schemes that we will most likely not see again.
Once the World 100 weekend concluded we saw a flood of drivers from the event take to social media auctioning off sides from their cars.
Most drivers would typically keep their perspective car sides to sell at their merchandise booth or sell on-line, but this year we saw more than a handful selling off their sides with all the proceeds going to Shane’s family. Among some of the notables was Rusty Schlenk’s Donald Trump scheme, Chris Ferguson’s World 100 theme and car owner, Chad Stapleton’s Tony Stewart tribute design that was driven by Steve Francis.
I can’t possibly bring up the dirt racing community without highlighting people like Tony Stewart and the other NASCAR drivers who are still apart of the dirt world.
We saw Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. donate to auctions. In addition, Stenhouse Jr. ran a special scheme on his NASCAR ride as tribute to Bryan Clauson. We also saw Danica Patrick help out in the Bryan Clauson merchandise trailer at the Knoxville Nationals.
I think it’s safe to say that we can’t say enough about Tony Stewart. Mr. Stewart is a person who doesn’t like notoriety for his selfless contributions so I apologize to him for the shout out, but regardless, I feel like people should be noted for their actions that are truly moving and inspirational.
We have all heard the story of him buying Bryan Clauson’s favorite helmet at the Knoxville auction and giving it back to Bryan’s fiancé.
When it came to Chad Stapleton’s tribute side panel Tony was nice enough to sign it for him and jump the bid by about $1000 on the spot. Ultimately the side ended up going for well above Stewart’s bid to a fan.
More recently, on a podcast Stewart had said he is going to help out racer Robert Bell who had his tools stolen at the Chili Bowl. I think it would be hard pressed to find a NASCAR star who came from the dirt ranks, who has given as much back as Tony Stewart.
I ask all race fans to look back and reflect on 2016. Stop and think about what made you smile or about what made you cry this season.
Think about what you want to do different in 2017. That could be go to some more races or try out some different tracks. Whatever you may come up with always keep in mind that it’s more than being a member of a team or a group of fans.
It’s about being a member of a community.
There are many instances of community and helping that I am positive I have missed. That is the great part about being in a community like the dirt racing; there are too many good things to mention in a short article. Please feel free to post on OneDirt.com or comment on OneDirt social media about what makes you proud to be a member of the dirt racing community. After all, without the fans, dirt racing wouldn’t be possible!
Wishing all race fans a great and safe 2017 race season!