BJ Kimbrough: What’s Right With Dirt Track Racing Today?

The internet has certainly been a game changer in modern history. Once called “the information superhighway,” it can also be a misinformation side-street. There is a ton of research that can be done on today’s interwebs, and you can be entertained for hours – that’s for certain. You can even buy your race parts and weekly groceries right there online. Sort of like shopping at Pawnee’s megastore, Food and Stuff. You can get all your food – and stuff – in one place.

We decided to go out to the track and find out why National Sprint Car Hall of Fame drivers like Shane Carson and Jimmy Oskie kept returning to the venues if racing was so horrible these days. As it turns out, they love modern racing!

What we didn’t count on was social media. Misinformation abounds! Forums were bad enough, but who knew what evil lurked in platforms like Facebook? One bad intended comment finds a crowd of hungry supporters, eager to jump on the hate-train for the next negative comment to come down the tracks. When it comes to dirt track racing, the usual target is cost, and the evidence offered is how great things were in the good-old-days. At one point a few weeks ago, we’d had enough of the good old days talk that we decided to go out to a local track and find out why people kept showing up if things were so bad.

Costs

Because cost is often one of the first things mentioned on Facebook when critics start ranting on how horrible modern dirt track racing is. “It cost too much for the fans,” they moan. Having just paid for my grandchildren to visit Disneyland (one park/one day) – which is $97 per ticket at this writing – I am in disbelief that anyone had a problem paying $5 for a ten-year-old to watch an evening of sprint car racing, when a Disneyland ticket for a ten-year-old is almost a hundred bucks. Yes, five bucks is the correct ticket price at our local track for a ten-year-old.

We found these authentic Ascot Park tickets from 1913 for sale on an eBay auction. Face value in 1913 was one dollar.

A quick check of the internet proved exactly how much things had changed from the good old days to the modern era of racing. We found a ticket stub on eBay from Legion Ascot in Los Angeles from February 9, 1913. The face value of the ticket was one dollar.

How much is a buck from 1913 worth today? About 25 bucks.

One dollar is a decent price for an evening of entertainment. I started to wonder exactly how much a 1913 dollar was worth today. An online currency calculator gave us a quick answer: One dollar in 1913 was worth $25.46 in 2016. An adult ticket at Perris Auto Speedway for an adult in 2018 is $25.00. It appears that the promoters have price-gouged us an incredible negative 46 cents in more than a hundred years. That’s simply underhanded and needs to be stopped! We jest, of course. 

If by “cost too much,” the complainers are pointing at the price of race cars and equipment, whose fault is that? I’m not trying to place blame, just pointing out the obvious. Racers were fine building cars and engines in their garages, using junkyards as their parts store. Things started to change when racers started making their own parts and began charging other racers so they could fund their own racing programs. To go faster it took fancier parts with more exotic material and technology. Racers and team owners had to spend more to keep up with the Joneses. 

There was a time when roadster-style sprint cars and midgets were built in home garages and shops with parts salvaged from wrecking yards or made by the builder.

With some competitors owning the mentality of “I’ll spend every dime I have to win,” race teams have no one other than themselves to blame for the high costs of building race cars. I realize that is not going to be a popular statement, but I think we can all agree the days of building a competitive car from junkyard parts are long gone. Race cars are faster now, and speed costs money.    

Getting Back On Track

As mentioned in the opening, we did go to the track and questioned several people about the racing today, as opposed to the dirt track racing of yesterday. Without fail, everyone we asked responded that racing from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s was great. The cars had a timeless design and represented a time when you could build a race car in your backyard for next to nothing. As luck would have it, the speedway was hosting a vintage race car show just inside the entrance. We spotted more than one of these great old race cars with a “For Sale” sign on it. The price tag for these vintage homebuilt cars was currently more than $25,000. Oh, the irony of race car prices past-to-present.

Was racing great during that era? Of course it was. Heroes were made. Legends were created and the stories have been told many times. Recently we went to the grandstands and watched an evening of racing that was every bit as exciting. The leaders waged a battle for the ages. The car in second place threw a slide job on the front-runner … they made contact, and the driver attempting to take over First ended upside down in Turn 4. This incident has been talked about every day since. If you are to believe those same social media sites, it was a legendary race. A hero was made, and a rivalry developed. Everything that racing used to be.

Racing was good in the past. No one can deny that. The cars had character and looked cool.

Yes, racing was great in the past. But …racing is also great now. It may be different, and the barriers to entry may be more than they were in the past, but the excitement and entertainment are still there. I challenge anyone to tell me that these modern racers care less about winning than the heroes of yesterday. That is simply not true.

Today’s racers are just as exciting to watch and the cars are much faster today than ever before. Sure, racing was great in the past, but it is still as great today as it ever was.

What Is It Going To Take?

The biggest question that remains is: What will it take for modern racing to be viewed in the same light that past eras of racing are? Time! We’ve seen this over and over, time and time again (pun intended). In the ’60s, people complained about how great racing was in the ’50s. In the ’70s, people complained about how much better the racing was in the ’60s. The only thing that made the previous era better than the current one is time. All things get better with the passage of days. All the pain and troubles are forgotten with age. The same problems and concerns existed, but they are softened with maturity. 

Thank you to all the people that work to make these events the most participated in, and most watched, automotive sport in America.

As a community, we can support the racing that exists in front of us now. The best medicine is a strong helping of positivity. Taking the family out to a local track and creating a festive environment will go a long way in spreading the sport to others. All of us at OneDirt cherish the racers that strap in race cars every weekend. We give thanks to the men and women that sell tickets, keep records, control the gates, keep score, sell beverages, announce, or work the track.

Enjoy the racing while it is here. No one knows what tomorrow might bring.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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