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WE VS ME - 12/6/21 - Toby Hallett


If you are a race fan, this past weekend certainly stood out on the calendar with potential, and for December one that most were looking forward to. The 5th  Gateway Dirt Nationals inside the Dome at Americas Center in St Louis, Missouri, and for those who follow pavement the 54th Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. 

These two events couldn’t be farther apart in the racing world even if one was raced on Mars. There is almost zero connection between the two events, this parallels their connection in the racing world. I’ve been a fan of both for so long now I didn’t even know this existed or didn’t care to see it, maybe that makes me part of the problem as well?

The Gateway Dirt Nationals are the WWE of the racing world, wild personalities driving on a surface that lends itself to flipping a fellow competitor more than it does to actually racing for wins in the Late Model division and it certainly gets people engaged in the social media world. The modified races resemble Rally Cross in part due to the hard-ass sidewall tire and horsepower they are now racing with and then there are the midgets. When you throw out 80 invitations for a 10k to win race and only 20 show up for the event it's not hard to understand why the promoters have decided they will not be on the card for 2022 but seems likely that is subject to change. They put on the best show of the weekend, but you could understand why they are scheduled to go away.  This place brings out the hate, but it also brings out the one thing both need to survive and grow, engagement. Tyler Carpenter once again took home the dirt late model portion of the event and will now have an opportunity to race for Niece Motorsports at Knoxville in a Camping World Truck Series ride. Tyler was also fined for wearing Hey Dudes shoes instead of racing shoes on his prelim night, a small penalty to pay for some free swag I guess, or the #42 Hey Dudes truck in June. See how this works?

Sunday at 5 Flags Speedway it was the complete opposite, Dereck Thorn fresh off his 3rd consecutive pole of the Snowball Derby ran off and hid for 287 laps of the 300 lapper. A race he wouldn’t win, determined mostly by a caution run rule that brings out a caution for tires for every 75 consecutive green flag laps. Chandler Smith was able to run him up the track on the restart and ran away with the victory. There wasn’t any screaming into the mic after the race from either driver, in fact, it was pretty damn mundane for what went down. Chandler had no problem telling the world why he did it, and Thorn acknowledged it sucked for him. 4 hours later Ricky Brooks made it official and now we all move on. Smith already has a Camping World Truck Series ride, and now a Snowball Derby win but does that propel him to something bigger? A few social posts about the tech process and a few discussing moving a guy for a win is all that trickled across the social platforms.

Pavement short track racing has a major problem, it's not a new problem at all, but when you have a superstar in Bubba Pollard opening his weekend comments by openly telling the press if he wins he is going dirt racing full time. Retiring legend Rich Bickle openly questioning why they are still racing for peanuts compared to the dirt world and a decline of money influx since the 90’s it makes you wonder why this is happening. Without speaking in certainties, the Snowball Derby is a successful one when you judge it without opening the books, sold-out crowds, pits full of racecars, and a pay per view partnership (including a renewal for 2 more years) with Racing America, so why does this race pay less to win than a mid-tier Dirt Late Model event?

Drivers from all over this country and Canada come to 5 Flags every year and say it, they need bigger purses. Admittedly this is based on the Southeast pavement scene I am most familiar with. I haven’t gone searching for driver quotes about the lack of big money purses from the Midwest or East/West Coast races but I’m sure they are there. The Southern Super Series has a 15 race schedule for next year with increased purse money and bonuses and that’s a damn good start! You have to start somewhere and the promoters know that but still have trouble implementing it. 

Matt Weaver of Racing America works his ass off, he has to. There is no long list of pavement journalists ready to tell the stories of the 4-hour tech line, no one else there to ask what it feels like leading 287 laps and getting moved for the biggest race win of the year. I can’t imagine being one of the few champions of a sport and single-handedly trying to give the fans and drivers (not at an event) the story. The dirt racing world doesn’t have that problem, hell they have built personalities that tell the stories sometimes over the top and are ridiculous, but they have plenty of talent to help support those drivers and fans.

Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, OH will once again hold The Eldora Million for dirt late models in June of 2022, over 1.9 million dollars in purse money is already posted for that race plus the Dream the same week. FOUR DAYS OF RACING,  you could race a pavement late model 365 days next year you won’t even get close to racing for 1.9 million dollars in posted purses.

Walk in the Dome or turn on the subscription-based FloRacing via FloSports and you immediately get your answer. Corporate sponsorships adorn banners, are prominently placed on the graphics packages and hit every commercial spot. Flo has the appearance of a real partner to these promoters. The influx of money is right there for the world to see. Dirt racing purses on a national level are thriving and it’s in part thanks to the strong media presence surrounding them. That comes with consequences though, there are no less than 4 companies vying for your subscription or PPV money on a nightly basis in the Summer. Four companies with record money purses in 2022 all trying to be the premier streaming platform for Dirt Super Late Models all while local racing (including Dirt Super Late Models) struggle mightily to survive on life support. There is not much of a trickle-down effort with any of these companies, it’s a race to get the fan support not a race to see who can help all of dirt racing survive.

Why was a company like FloSports attractive to NASCAR when negotiating the NASCAR Roots programming? It's much likely deeper seeded than I am willing to dig up but it’s certainly conceivable the Race Team Alliance would have loved to have that programming on their newly rebranded platform Racing America. 

Pavement short track racing has a “we” problem, dirt track racing has a “me” problem and even if they switched sides I’m no longer convinced anything would change.


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