ARCA-The “little” series that can!

ARCA Logo I make no apologies. I am bullish on the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/Max and Menards. Part of it is that I’ve gotten to know many of the officials and drivers in the Michigan headquartered series but a big reason is that the racing is exciting with a ton of great young drivers.

This past Friday I saw the series in action at MIS. Although Craig Goess, the winner from the previous week dominated, a late caution during green flag pit stops put him a lap down and allowed Mikey Kyle to gain his first victory.  Ironically, it was Goess that had beaten him just 8 days earlier at Pocono.

kilevlmis10 For ARCA, Kyle was the sixth different first-time winner in the 8 races run so far in 2010. Besides Kyle and Goess, Justin Marks, high-schooler Dakoda Armstrong, Chris Buescher and Steve Arpin also gained that first victory.

Arpin has already raced in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports and the others may not be far behind.

DaytonaDanicaPatrick-1.jpg Danica Patrick made her stock car debut with the series at Daytona in February bringing media attention to the series that is still paying off with increased television viewing.

piquet jr The son of three-time Formula One Champion Nelson Piquet, Nelson Piquet, Jr. is racing in ARCA and is beginning to show he will be competing for a victory soon.

But while the series is drawing more attention, it hasn’t lost that Saturday night local track feel.

You can talk to the drivers and crews in the garage area and I’m not just talking about the media but also the fans.  They willingly sign autographs just about anytime.  It’s a family atmosphere that embraces the best of auto racing. 

Ron Drager Ron Drager is the President of ARCA and his staff along with all the teams are showing you don’t have to be the “big boys” to have great racing and be ultra fan friendly.

Why not find out for yourself about ARCA?  If they are in your area, go to a race.  If no races are close, catch them on one of their Speed broadcasts.  I think you’ll be hooked once you do!

**Note-ARCA President Ron Drager was a guest on Pit Pass USA with Larry Henry Tuesday June 15th.  You can hear that interview by going to www.PitPassUSA.com and clicking on the archived show for that date.**

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Happy Birthday to us!

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n113908675882_1748-Big It isn’t actually my personal birthday but today does mark one year that has passed since the beginning of the PowerUp Motorsports Channel and Pit Pass USA being a part of it.

The channel was the brain child of Stefani Paulus. Stef, who has been around racing a long time (but not that long as she’s only 29!) went to Jeff Spenard the head man of Voice America and got him to commit to what has been our journey to this point establishing the PowerUp Channel as one of the top destinations for all forms of motorsports.

Larry with Dale Jr-1 I had one hell of a debut show last June 2nd. Newly crowned Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, “Dr. McDreamy” Patrick Dempsey, and the big one Dale Earnhardt, Jr. just hours after it was announced that his cousin Tony Eury, Jr. was out as his crew chief. You can listen to that interview by clicking here.

I can’t even list the different people that I’ve interviewed for Pit Pass USA during the last year but some of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most are the “little guys” of racing. That to me is a major part of what I try to do with this show.

Larry with Helio Castroneves Yes the big names are great but there’s a hell of a lot more grassroots racers out there than are in Nascar or IndyCar or NHRA or any of the major series. I hope I never forget those people because if I do, I will lose touch with the real racing in America.

 

I want to thank all of you for listening and supporting Pit Pass USA each and every week.  Because of your support, we’ve been able to grow and just a few weeks ago we were able to broadcast live before the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Speedway.

Larry with Kyle Petty You are now following us on Twitter (@PitPassUSA) and going to our Facebook Fan page. (Pit Pass USA with Larry Henry) Many listen to the show in our archives at www.PitPassUSA.com or subscribe through iTunes. (Click here for feed)

Most of all, I want to hear from you.  Either drop me a note on the Facebook Fan Page or directly via email at LarryHenry@PitPassUSA.com I want this show to reflect your interests and not just mine.

If you have someone that you feel would be a great interview and the audience would enjoy hearing them, email me!  I want you to be my eyes and ears out there not only across America in racing but the world!

Larry with Chip Ganassi Indy team Tonite to kickoff the second year of Pit Pass USA with Larry Henry and the PowerUp Motorsports Channel I talk with now two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, 2009 NHRA Funny Car Champion and winner of three events in a row Robert Hight, and Fox/Speed Nascar analyst Larry McReynolds.

It’s been a blast doing this past year and I look forward to many more here as part of the PowerUp Motorsports Channel.  Thanks again for making us one of the fastest growing spots on the internet and remember, The Best is Yet to Come!

Grassroots racing at its best

webtopSaturday night, I attended the annual Michigan Automobile Racing Fan Club Banquet in Warren, Michigan.  Once again, Mother Nature tried to stop anyone from attending with a snowstorm  that piled up a total of 7 inches by night’s end.  However, almost 400 brave soles took on the challenge of barely plowed highways and multiple freeway accidents to gather at a night of honoring track champions from across the Wolverine state.

70 champions from the many local short tracks in the state were recognized and got a plaque from MARFC for their accomplishments and a chance to say thank you to those that helped them attain those titles.  Most heartwarming was a bevy of youngsters involved in karting, many under the age of 10, saying thanks to their parents.

paulpageAnother highlight of the evening was my very good and longtime friend and mentor Paul Page receiving the Eddie Sachs Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award.  The award was given to Paul by Eddie Sachs, Jr.  Unbelievably, Paul admitted this was the first award of this type he had ever received in his career.

After the ceremonies ended, it was on to dancing for some, but for most, it was renewing friendships and telling those tall lies that get larger and larger from the past season of racing. Finally the night came to an end with everyone making their way to either nearby hotels or their homes on even more treacherous roads than they had travelled to attend the affair.

Still, just like the event I had attened 7 days earlier(previous post) , no one complained about the weather or the challenges of the road.  They were too busy smiling and revelling in a celebration they would remember forever.

Time for Nascar to look to small track America!

 

We all know that for roughly the last 8 years, Nascar has been the 2-gazillion pound gorilla of auto racing in the United States. There is no denying the dominance of the series on television, radio, newspaper/magazine coverage, and fan support.  However, the times they are a changin’.  (Apologies to Bob Dylan.)

 

Attendance started slipping at Nascar venues in 2007.  2008 saw empty seats on a regular basis every weekend.  Most pointed to the price of gasoline, which was over $4 a gallon.  Some pointed to the economy.  Some (and possibly rightly so) at the prevalence of HD plasma screens across America with surround sound that allowed fans to sit in their favorite chair and enjoy the same experience (minus the cost) to stay at home.

 

All of that probably contributed to the attendance decline.  One should also add in that the racing, especially on the Nascar Sprint Cup side, didn’t seem to be as exciting as it once was. (Can you say Brickyard 400?)

 

So what’s the answer “Mr. Know-it-all??  Simple, just look at short track America!

 

Why do I say that?  It’s because local small track promoters have had to fight Nascar for years.  If that wasn’t enough, the Big Kahuna of American auto racing decided racing on Saturday night under the lights would be a great thing.  (Especially to grab more television viewers.)  Of course Saturday night is the money night for many small tracks across this great land.

 

Instead of crying foul, which they had every right to do, small track promoters got creative.

Already as fan-friendly as a racetrack will ever be, small track promoters realized they were not in the racing business per se, but the entertainment business.  Racing was the big draw, but people expected more, they expected an experience.

 

This brought about more and more giveaways tied in with sponsors.  They came up with school bus figure 8 races, “Faster Pastor,” “Toilet races,” (nothing like seeing a motorized “throne” being raced!) and much more.  They also keep ticket prices low along with concessions.  Drivers come into the stands between races and talk with the people.

 

Most importantly, local track promoters try and get their programs over at a decent hour 10PM local time if possible, but no later than 11PM.  Parents, and those with a long drive appreciate that.  (Does a Nascar night race ever end before midnight local time or start before 3PM in the afternoon?)

 

Nascar also should take s look at teams in the NBA, NHL, and MLB to see what they are doing to bring in fans that want to hang onto their hard earned dollars.  I’m prejudiced, but Nascar could learn a lot from my friends at the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Detroit Pistons. (I’ve worked with the Palace and the Pistons in the past.)

 

With Big 3 layoffs rising, the Palace continues to sell out for the Detroit Pistons.  The reason?  Value and entertainment.  (www.DetroitPistons.com)

 

Nascar needs to get back to its roots both on and off the track.  They need to get off their private jets and helicopters going to and from the track and get stuck in traffic with the “regular” folks.  They need to sit in the stands with fans and talk to them with their ears wide open. They need to make their drivers do mandatory autograph sessions.  They need to end 8-dollar beer and 5 dollar hot dogs.  They need to think short track America!

ARCA RE/MAX Series bucking the trend!

arca-logoLet me start by saying, I’m a big backer of the ARCA RE/MAX Series and I do not hide that fact.  I’ve gotten to know the people running the series including President Ron Drager over the last several years.  It does help the ARCA offices are just down the road in Tecumseh, Michigan, and that Ron also is an owner of Flat Rock and Toledo Speedways.  That however has nothing to do with this.

At the just concluded 3 day ARCA RE/MAX Series Daytona International Speedway pre-season testing, 62 different drivers took to the track!  That’s right 62 drivers!  I don’t think you’ll see that many try and qualify for the Daytona 500 in the Nascar Sprint Cup Series.

joey-loganoThe ARCA RE/MAX Series has been evolving in the last few years as more and more Nascar teams are using the series to get young up-and-coming drivers seat time.  That’s why Joey Logano, who takes over the #20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing was on-track in a Venturini Motorsports machine.  He wasn’t alone however as 5-time Daytona Supercross by Honda champion Ricky Carmichael was getting accustomed to running on four wheels instead of two.  How about 20 year old Port Orange, Flordia native Alii Owens?  She’s giving Daytona a go.

will-kimmel1Then there’s Will Kimmel.  He’s the nephew of 9-time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion Frank Kimmel.  He made his uncle proud as he posted the quickest time during single car runs at 180.977 miles an hour.

Those are the youngsters, but what is great about ARCA, they have a cadre of veteran drivers who are the heart and soul of the series.  Bobby Gerhart is looking for a sixth Daytona ARCA RE/MAX Series win.  There’s Patrick Sheltra, Terry Jones, A.J. Henriksen, Bryan Silas, Larry Hollenbeck, and Darryl Basham just to name a few of the guys that are there every weekend.

That’s what makes ARCA a fun series to watch.  The mixture of the young “soon-to-be” Nascar stars and the veterans, whose only aspirations are to win and be competitive against their peers in a series that allows them to enjoy their passion.

Also, ARCA runs at a lot of small tracks across America in addition to their races run in conjunction with Nascar.  They race each year at their home track of Toledo Speedway. There’s Salem Speedway, Berlin Speedway, Cayuga Motor Speedway, and DuQuoin Sate Fairgrounds, which is dirt! (Wouldn’t you love to see a Nascar Sprint Cup race on dirt!)

What’s great about those venues, the fans get to go down on the grid before the race and get autographs from the drivers who are by their cars !  Nascar says it is fan friendly. The ARCA RE/MAX Series backs up their words with action!

If you haven’t discovered the ARCA RE/MAX Series yet, let me invite you to watch the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona February 7th beginning at 4PM ET on Speed.  I think you’ll be hooked on one of the best little secrets in American racing if you do.  I know I am!

America’s Short Track Survival

I love short track racing and I’m not talking about Bristol or Martinsville, or Richmond.  In fact, I’m not talking Nascar at all.  I like local short track racing, America’s real racing and the backbone of the industry.

I grew up in southern Indiana and my family liked going to races at several of the dirt tracks near our home.  We got to see a lot of “jalopy” races and a ton of USAC midgets and sprints since they were based in Indianapolis.  They were always fun to go to and the excitement? Well well, you didn’t want to turn away.

I advanced from those days to being a part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network and helping to broadcast the Indy 500 from 1980 through 1995.  I then spent several years with CART doing the same.  In recent years, I’ve been the track announcer at Michigan International Speedway and the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.  I worked the PA this past summer for the Daytona July Nascar/GrandAm weekend.

Those are fun and exciting yet I still get just as much enjoyment watching the “local” guys and gals go door-to-door at short tracks here in Michigan, where I now live.

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about the survival of Nascar, cutbacks in the American LeMans Series, motorcycle racing, and more.  Not discussed, America’s short tracks and how they are doing in these tough economic times.

Flat Rock SpeedwayI called up my good friend Scott Schultz who is the General Manager of Flat Rock Speedway, a quarter-mile paved oval in Flat Rock, Michigan, (Ford builds the Mustang there,) and Toledo Speedway, a half-mile paved oval in Toledo, Ohio.

Toledo SpeedwayHere’s our conversation.    Interview with Scott Schultz