Dirt Track Racing Continues To Gain Attention From The Mainstream

 

Dirt track racing is gaining attention. No, not the attention our sport typically only gets when there is a tragedy. Rather, these days we are getting featured more and more in a positive light by mainstream outlets. From media coverage to feature-length movies, our sport is getting some long overdue exposure.

In my opinion, this upward trend comes at a crucial time. As a whole, dirt track racing currently finds itself at a crossroads. We are precariously positioned in a spot, where we need to find new avenues to attract more of the younger generation to our events.

Our sport has a lot to offer fans. We’ve just got to find a way to get them to check it out, even once.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the growing problem. A quick glance around the grandstands at just about any track on any given night, undeniably reveals the increasing age of our fanbase. Sure, there’s some kids at the races, but we need more if we hope to survive for decades to come. Mainstream coverage will hopefully be a factor in educating perspective new fans about what our sport has to offer.

With that said, I’d like to explore a couple of the latest exposures our sport has received.

Hollywood
Growing up, I absolutely loved the movie Six Pack. Hell, I’m 39 years old now, and I still love it. Sure, seeing Kenny Rogers race Dirt Late Models in a helmet with no tear offs is a bit comical to any educated dirt racing fan. Similarly, there are other inconsistencies strewn throughout the 1982 movie, but overall, it’s a solid piece which I still absolutely love.

Brewster Baker (Kenny Rogers) battles it out with the No. 73 of Turk Logan in Six Pack.

Based on my love for any movie featuring racing, my interest was piqued in late-2018, when I learned John Travolta and Shania Twain were playing the lead roles in a new racing movie named Trading Paint. Trailers for the film revealed it featured the trials and tribulations of a father-and-son duo in the Dirt Late Model division.

I won’t lie, my expectations were pretty slim for the projected quality of the movie. However, I also felt compelled to at least give it a chance. Since it’s been 30-plus years since Dirt Late Model racing was featured in a film, I figured it was only fair to check it out. So, with this in mind, I rented the straight-to-rental film a week or so ago.

Trading Paint brought Dirt Late Model racing back to the movie world.

While, there’s plenty of laughable moments for any diehard Dirt Late Model fan or racer, the movie isn’t awful. Now, I’m not saying it’s nearly as good as Six Pack, but it’s still watchable. First and foremost, it brings light to our sport and the eternal battle of low-budget teams pitted against those well-funded operations. I also like how it elaborates on the internal turmoil families often endure when they spend long hours together in the shop during the week, and then back it up with long nights together at the track on the weekends.

Shania Twain and John Travolta played the lead roles.

The plot is believable, and the acting isn’t terrible. Conversely, the racing scenarios and action are unrealistic at times. However, if somebody is deeply entrenched in the racing world, then they would likely be rooted in the action and drama.

I enjoyed seeing some familiar drivers and cars in the racing footage. In addition, it is pretty wild to see a movie where manufacturers like Rocket Chassis, Barry Wright Race Cars, Clements Racing Engines, and Butlerbuilt Seats are mentioned. Last but not least, it is cool the whole movie was filmed at the venerable Talladega Short Track.

Trading Paint was filmed at Talladega Short Track.

While it’s not going to win any awards, I am still extremely pleased to see our sport featured in a movie including such storied, celebrity names. I’m not sure what led to the movie coming to fruition. However, it definitely doesn’t hurt dirt track racing’s pursuit of growth. If even one kid sees it and bugs his parents to take him to a dirt track race, then we win.

Hopefully, we’ll see more movies in the coming years highlighting dirt track racing.

Mainstream Media
Simultaneously, as we get some much-needed attention from filmmakers, our sport is also getting a renewed spotlight from the mainstream media. This comes thanks to drivers like Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and other NASCAR drivers, who continue to return to their dirt roots whenever they get a chance.

Typically, mainstream news outlets and television only cover our sport when there’s a tragedy or a negative spin. It’s just reality. Unless someone is gets injured or killed, we just don’t get much front page coverage.

However, several years back, drivers like Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader, and Kenny Wallace started paving the way for the media to pay attention to what we have happening on the dirt. The reinforcing shot came when young guns like Larson, Bell, and Stenhouse Jr. started winning and making waves on asphalt. All of a sudden, it was like a light flipped on in the media’s mind. Our sport instantly became a shiny new toy.

The exposure they [NASCAR drivers] bring is always a plus. Anything that can highlight our Sprint Car racing is always a positive. – Kraig Kinser

Recently, a handful of NASCAR drivers jumped behind the wheel with the World of Outlaws (WoO) NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Just like that, the media actively covered the event.

Now, I know some folks are going to say, “who cares if we get media coverage? We don’t need it. Our sport has always been alright without it.” I say you couldn’t be more wrong. We need coverage and exposure more than ever. Perspective fans have more entertainment options than ever before. We need every advantage we can get.

Kasey Kahne (No. 4) races against Kyle Larson at Vegas. (Melissa Coker photo)

For WoO-series regulars, like 2005 Knoxville Nationals Champion, Kraig Kinser, the added exposure is welcome. Furthermore, he doesn’t mind the spotlight being on the invading NASCAR racers.

“I don’t mind it at all,” Kraig Kinser commented. “The exposure they [NASCAR drivers] bring is always a plus. Anything that can highlight our Sprint Car racing is always a positive.”

The Indiana racer also went on to talk about the level of accessibility dirt track racing offers, which other sports don’t.

Kraig Kinser likes taking his No. 11k into battle against the NASCAR invaders.

“A lot of older fans know you can come down into the pit area afterwards, a lot of newer ones don’t realize,” Kinser recently commented to WoO Sprint Car Series PR Coordinator, Nick Graziano. “It’s always nice to speak with the fans and get face-time with them. That is a positive for our sport, too.”

From my perspective, Kinser’s attitude is spot on. The more exposure our sport gets, the better off we all are. Getting past the attitude of “me, me, me” to the position of “us, us, us,” will only reap a brighter future for us all.

Making sure we are putting new fans in the stands is crucial to the survival of our sport.

Again, dirt track racing is experiencing a resurgence in mainstream visibility. From my viewpoint, this is nothing but a positive for our future. I only hope the coverage continues to grow.

I’d love to hear from some of you awesome readers on your perspective. Do you think this added exposure will help dirt track racing grow? What else would you like to see? What increase in coverage have you noticed?

About the author

Ben Shelton

Ben got his start at historic Riverside International Speedway. His accomplished motorsports media career includes journalist, race announcer, and on-air personality.
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