Monday, July 22, 2013

The Kids are Alright


After a few work-related and family duties, I got to take my first trip to see the new Nebraska 360 Sprint Series in action at Butler County Speedway last Saturday.

Twenty sprinters took to the speedway on a hot July night. The track was dry: baked by the heat and a later start time – races kicked off about an hour later than posted – but that’s about the only complaint I have. A nice crowd watched a very high quality of sprint cars own the program, along with the GOTRA Vintage cars, Mod Lites (dwarf) cars and “Outlaw” Street Stocks. Unsanctioned full-sized Modifieds were on the sked, but that was scratched for lack of participation. I’d say running unsanctioned Modifieds against three tracks in the area running full weekly shows with a USMTS race at I-80 probably isn’t the recipe for success.

But I’m not here to pan the track or the program. In fact, quite the opposite. Brent Pick and crew cleaned up a dormant facility that was tidy and looked like they had run each week and not just for specials. Concessions were cheap, the infield was freshly mowed, the old tanks/silos outside of turn one had been removed, and the hideous orange guardrails were painted a normal white. They’ve done a great job.
One of the best parts of the night started before any cars took to the track. It was a pleasure to see Steve Janousek, Dennis Parker, Larry White, and Randy Palmer as officials, and received a hearty welcome from each. And the handshakes, waves and nods from the drivers and crew were welcome too. Obviously, there’s comfort with familiarity.

I noticed something else: everyone was relaxed. It’s a different environment without a packed pit and a tight time schedule. The pit meeting was low-key, a few debates got settled without any heavy-handedness, and everyone just lined up and did their thing – raced.

For all the hand-wringing, rhetoric, and animosity of the past few years at Eagle, this was a refreshing break from the tension. Don’t get me wrong – when the call goes the wrong way, all that goodwill goes out the window. But tonight, it was about a group of guys happy to be where they were. No sideshow, no rush – and yet there was no need to rush. Classes lined up when they needed to, they lined up on the yellow flags without any prodding from officials, and the show ran smooth. I realize that the first show at BCS was about as smooth as sandpaper, but everyone learned their lessons and things went easy.

Cries of doom and gloom (and even my suspicions) have been largely squelched. A reduced schedule, a low-key environment and maybe just the taste of something new have left the Nebraska 360 Sprint Series doing quite well on its own. There’s still uncertainty, the costs and a question if the sponsors will hold on outside the population bases of Lincoln and Omaha. But for now, July 2013, they’re doing just fine. In fact, promoters at several tracks have asked for repeat shows but the series is wisely refraining from hitting the well too often. “Next year…” is the reply.

I’m not sure anyone thought that BOTH series would be holding their own after mid-summer. Eagle’s 305 class is doing well – and has a lot of advantages going for it: location, costs, and – I mean this nicely – good luck can go a long way while people are still feeling their way around. Just like the days of springed-fronts and Firestone Diamond tires in the 360’s infancy.

So can the two continue to exist? There have been a few of the 360 drivers send opting to take their talents to Cass County on Saturdays, and that’s their decision. There may be a few cars opting to run for the increased money of the touring group. This isn’t a debate about one class vs. the other: both classes have moved on. Fans should do the same.

The bonds formed by the heritage of over 30 years of 360 racing keep this crew going for now. While there are plenty of vets in the class, some of the guys behind the wheel are a decade removed from the class’ genesis at Midwest Speedway, but their fathers, families, friends all lived this sport and did a lot of it with the group I had the pleasure to be around Saturday night.

Oh, the racing? Darn good. A spectacular second heat, and drama in the feature as pre-race favorite Jack Dover went a lap-down after an early-race mishap kept everyone tense: Dover was tearing his way through the field until about lap 20 when the bottom finally gave way and the cushion became the only way ‘round. Trevor Grossenbacher earned his second win of the season.

“Thanks for coming” was a familiar greeting.

No. Thank you for having me.

P.S. I’ll have some action shots online this week and I plan to be at Eagle this Saturday.


Anonymous said...

Excellent un biased article, and it was good to see you there>

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