Short Tracks In Spotlight

No Sprint Cup race this weekend? No problem.

Sure the Nationwide Series is in action on Saturday afternoon at Nashville and that could be a fine way to get your racing fix.

Or you could seek out the backbone of the sport and visit a local short track near you.

It's Easter weekend and for the most part Spring has finally blossomed in most areas of the country and the short track gates have swung open.

Many of the hundreds of speedways across the country are on life support and grassroots racing is at a critical point.

While some weekly facilities flourish as do a variety of regional touring circuits, others seem to be going through the motions in a depressing death march toward extinction.

It's easy to blame things like the economy, which as we all know is in a tough state right now and certainly hurts most everything entertainment-related, which of course includes short track racing.

There's also the notion that mighty NASCAR is also to blame for short track racing's demise with so many night Sprint Cup races now dotting the schedule, taking up the sacred Saturday nights that are the lifeblood of more than 50 percent of the weekly tracks in operation.

Both are part of the equation but certainly not totally to blame.

Much of that has to be shared by the people who run this part of the racing business, the short track promoters and owners.

I'll be honest, I wouldn't trade places with any of these people. Race track promoter has to be right up there on the toughest jobs list next to the guys from "Ice Truckers" and "Black Gold."

It's a very tough business to say the least.

But it is also one where common sense seems to be missing in a lot of locations.

Many of these tracks simply believe they can operate by unlocking the front and back gates and throwing the green flag at 8 p.m. every Saturday night.

That may have worked 30 years ago, although I doubt it, but in today's world there has to be promotion, advertising, marketing, public relations, media relations and good old fashioned showmanship in the equation.

The short track world has lost a generation of kids who won't sit still for a five hour program that features more plugs on the PA system for concessions than it does actual racing action.

Parents, who flock to minor league baseball stadiums around the country, wouldn't be caught dead bringing their children into some of these short track facilities where a coat of paint and clean restroom is about as scarce as an edible hot dog.

The notion that NASCAR running on Saturday nights kills the sport also doesn't hold water with me. There's no doubt a segment of the racing fan population would rather sit in front of the set than go out to the local bullring on a Saturday night.

But promotion and marketing efforts done the right way will get people in the grandstands and off their sofas on those nights.

All around the country many weekly tracks are facing the same problems of lower attendance and dwindling competitor counts.

Without some out of the box thinking, more and more of these treasured facilities will fade away in favor of residential or commercial developments.

As a race fan, you can do your part by supporting tracks in your area and spreading the word that some of the best racing every weekend takes place live and in person and not just on television.

I'm sentimental about the issue as it touches a part of my childhood. I grew up in short track racing and remember fondly how on every family vacation, no matter where my parents took the Pistone brood, I found a short track in the area and persuaded my dad to take us there.

Louisville, Owensboro, Flat Rock, Caraway, Myrtle Beach, New Smyrna - the vacation hit list read like a short track Hall of Fame in those days.

I'm doing my best to pass on the tradition to the current generation of Pistone kids. Last summer on an off-weekend, I took a pair of nephews and my late father to Rockford Speedway and with the gracious hospitality of the McKarns and Deery family staff had a great time.

This summer when we hit the road to spend a week with family at a mountain house we rented in Tennessee, you can bet we'll find a Saturday night track to bring the kids to - I hear Newport Speedway is pretty close to where we're staying.

The kids are already asking and I'll be thrilled to oblige.

My hope is thirty years from now there will still be short tracks around for these kids to take theirs to on a family vacation.

Do your part this weekend, get out to your local short track. And bring a friend - or three.

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