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2021 Irwindale Main

Pistone: Short tracks need support

Easter Weekend is upon us and NASCAR’s national tours are taking a break. It’s a perfect time to turn our attention to the local short track scene.

Consider this my annual reminder that our short tracks need your help.

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It saddens me to say that some of the short-track world is struggling and 2021 is a critical year. Hundreds of tracks were hit hard by the pandemic last season and just opening their doors this year is a welcome relief. However, there’s still much to be done and fan support is vital.

Let’s accentuate the positive. There are several speedways around the country doing great business at the box office as well as the pit gate. But that list is much shorter than it was only a handful of years ago.

Truth be told, some of the tracks suffering have done it to themselves. So far this season, I’ve actually witnessed two shows — one featuring a prominent touring series – that threw the green flag on main events after midnight. Still too 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 but in today’s world, there has to be promotion, advertising, marketing, public relations, media relations and good old-fashioned showmanship in the process.

The notion that the NASCAR Cup Series running on Saturday nights kills the sport also doesn’t completely hold water with me. There is, no doubt, a segment of the fan population that would rather sit in front of the TV to watch the big show than go out to the local bullring on a Saturday night.

But promotion and marketing done the right way will get people into the grandstands and off their sofas.

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

COVID-19 has been a gut punch. But as fans are allowed back in and smart promoters and track operators ensure that health and safety protocols remain in place to encourage folks to come out and feel comfortable, there’s optimism. 

The embrace of streaming has been accelerated to the point where if a sanctioning body or track hasn’t figured out a way to beam their events through the internet, they are in the minority. I hope that platform finds its way as both a revenue stream and encouragement for fans to sample in person what they can now watch in the comfort of their own homes.

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 or radio.

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. Every summer, we’ve made it a tradition to get a group of nieces, nephews, cousins along with my daughter and hit one of my local short tracks in the Chicagoland area at Rockford Speedway. We took the kids a couple years ago and it’s become an annual trek that is asked about in January, as in “When are we going to the races this summer?”

The kids are already asking when the “Summer Saturday” is this year and I’m pretty sure we’ve landed on a date if everything on the virus front keeps heading in the right direction.

My hope is that 30 years from now, there will still be short tracks around for these kids to take their kids to on a family vacation or summer Saturday night. I’ve sadly sat by and watched drive-in movies and miniature golf course, two more staples of my youth, fade into the memory banks. I don’t want short-track racing to follow the same fate.

Do your part and make it a priority to get to or support a local short track in 2021.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.