Monday, May 10, 2010

To race or not to race? How we weather the storm

The miserable spring weather has created quite a stir on message boards recently; most notably after this past weekend. While this time of year has a certain level of unpredictability, it's not what anyone wants to be forced to deal with - racers, fans, promoters and the like.

Before I continue, let me be sure to say that I am far from a weatherman, soil expert, climatologist or independently wealthy, nor do I claim to be. I do, however, claim to have at least a minimal level of common sense when it comes to the conditions in which I want to watch a race. Along with that, I respect the business (more on that later) sense of any promoter who makes the tough call to cancel any race when there's less than a torrential downpour making its visit as the gates open.

I've read various opinions stating that weather is expected this time of year, if it doesn't actually rain on race day you shouldn't cancel, racers will race and people will come watch regardless of the temperatures, promoters are only in it for the money, etc. There are also those who ventured to one of the few tracks who actually did get their programs in over the weekend and, from what I've read, they were just as unhappy as those whose local track canceled.

I'll offer my response to many concerns that I've come across and, agree or disagree, many tracks didn't race over the weekend, accept it. Even more so, it will almost certainly happen again before the season is over, so be prepared to encounter an unfortunate cancellation again in 2010.

"Cold and windy weather is expected this time of year." - While this may be true, there are those "unseasonable" weather conditions that most people wish to leave behind once the calendar reads "Spring." Freezing temperatures following any amount of precipitation, combined with strong winds is nobody's ideal race night. Like it or not, that isn't racing weather. If that was the case, more often than not, the season would be scheduled to start in the middle of March at most Midwest tracks rather than the middle of April. Back in the day, you'd be hard-pressed to even see an event on a racing schedule that included the word "April." When that type of weather drifts into May, chances are, it'll be a great opportunity to sit at home and watch Betty White host Saturday Night Live. Quite frankly, as racer Bobby Hansen posted on one such message board, the races you are able to take in this time of year may actually be considered "bonus" races as, historically, the racing season never used to get into full swing until mid-May. For those die-hards, Frostbusters are held in April, not May. Even those events this year offered better weather conditions than recent weeks. It's a chance we take by scheduling such events and not always do we come away with what we initially desired. When we get them in, great. When we don't, that doesn't automatically make anyone to blame.

"If it doesn't rain on race day, you shouldn't cancel." - I'm not sure where this piece of mis-informed jargon came from, but it's almost as accurate as assuming Tiger Woods goes directly to the golf course when he says he's going to go "play a round." Weather on race day alone does not dictate the events on race night. Granted, there are numerous times when a Friday rain doesn't prevent a Saturday track from getting its program in the books, however there are three elements that often assist in making that a possibility. In no specific order, those three things are wind, sun and warmth. The 25mph winds that howled through the upper Midwest over the weekend did nothing but lower the wind chill and very little to aid in making race night happen. Yeah, thanks, but I'm going to catch a Forensic Files marathon right after I change my furnace filter and start this pot of chili.

"Racers and fans will come regardless of the weather." - While this is true for many, and I applaud those of you who make a valiant effort to attend your local track regardless of the conditions, it doesn't apply to a lot of folks. As one of our SportMod drivers at Independence, Mary Handberg, explains on the IMS facebook page, racing is a family event and if you're forced to leave the kids at home due to the weather, it no longer serves that purpose. So true, Mary! I understand that everyone wants to race. Heck, I want to go racing as much as anyone, but I also understand that there are certain elements that will prevent that from happening that are beyond my, or anyone else's, control. This third statement leads directly into the fourth one...

"Promoters only care about money." - I'm not sure how many race fans out there work for a living, but I assume those who are in the work force do so in order to earn a living and provide for their families. Why anyone would think a race promoter is any different is beyond me. To a point, yes, it is about money and I doubt any promoter would argue that point. To say it's only about money, however, even you know that isn't the case. Nobody would voluntarily subject themself to endless bashing and second-guessing of race fans and drivers to "hope" to make a profit for a couple dozen "chances" during the season. Promoters want to race as much as anyone else. It is their source of income and it allows them to provide for their families. Quite frankly, when a promoter cancels a race, they're already losing money. If they do so to cut their losses when the weather looks miserable, more power to them. I'd rather take this one gloomy night off from the track than watch my local speedway suffer a damaging loss of cash flow. At Independence, we've canceled two of three nights so far, the folks at 34 Raceway have canceled all three of their weekly shows and I believe Lee County Speedway has lost all of its weekly shows, as well. Could any of these tracks have attempted to race any of these past three weekends? Maybe, maybe not. To me, it honestly doesn't matter. It's a business decision and I'm perfectly fine with that. Does it disappoint me that another chunk of my 19-week season at Independence has been removed? Damn right it does, but that doesn't make it anyone's "fault."

In addition to the complaints of the people who didn't go racing over the weekend or were forced to find other tracks to attend, there were an equal number of complaints from fans who (go figure) went racing. "The track conditions were miserable," "the car count was low," "I froze my tail off," etc. were words spoken and typed in a rather large abundance over the weekend. Track conditions suffered at a number of tracks, and I'm not sure what else may have been expected. It's automatically falsely attributed to some lazy promoter who is "only in it for the money" and "should have canceled, but wanted to make a quick buck," and "doesn't care about the drivers and fans." I'm sure that's exactly what promoters think when they decide to offer a racing program to individuals when the alternative is to cancel and irritate everyone else who wanted to stay home. Consider Larry and Bob, co-promoters of Getaclue Raceway. Here is a conversation I'm sure many of the complainers imagine them having on race day...

Larry: "Bob, what say we jerk around the die-hards this week and race, but make sure we give them a crappy race track? Last week we played with the minds of the fair weather fans who had nothing else going on and canceled for no good reason. At least now we can blame it on the rain and send them Milli Vinilli's way to the complaint department."

Bob: "You know, Larry, I've been kinda thinkin' the same thing. All this money in the bank account and I don't know what to do with it. How about we not only lose our tails tonight and have to risk repossession of our fleet of Jaguars, but we also destroy the race track? I mean, it's early in the season. I still have most of my tail left and am in need of a good butt-chewin'. We can really do some damage to this thing and hope it takes us no less than a month to get the ruts and holes out of it."

I guess that's proof right there. There is indeed an underlying, unspoken commitment among all race promoters to go broke and upset everyone who helps them provide for their families. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Funny thing is, there is no right or wrong answer, but there is certainly always someone ready to pass blame to ensure someone pays the price. In the end, everyone this weekend paid the price. Kudos to Mick Trier for running at Des Moines, Toby Kruse for going through with the program at Marshalltown and Bob Wagner for making it a go at Maquoketa. I'm sure you took it in the shorts and nobody who went was happy that you raced. Kudos to Cam and Jodi Granger for pulling the plug at Independence, to the Laues, Parishes and Bowlings at 34 Raceway for calling it early even though it was your third straight cancellation. I'm sure you took it in the shorts and nobody who stayed home was happy that you canceled. Heck, to every promoter who was forced to make that difficult call this weekend, either way, my hat is off to you. It's a thankless job and there are those who are more than willing to make sure it remains that way.

Now, I just need to figure out the fans who complain that this is Iowa and we should expect to race in rotten weather. Kind of makes me wonder why they don't call Miami their home in the spring and summer months if they expect to go racing year-round. Oh, that's right, many of them are too busy working for a living and trying to provide for their families...


  1. Great column Ryan! I'm sure that prior to the internet age the scenario was probably still the same, when inclement weather interferes nobody wins. But in this day and age, the promoters really are in a no-win situation! No matter which decision they make, somebody thinks that it was the wrong one....

  2. The bottom line is this: for those that don't want to race or don't want to sit through a chilly night at the track...STAY HOME! I've heard many drivers say to other drivers, "You knew the rules when you pulled through the gate." The same applies to those that want to bitch about track conditions or the weather...You knew what the weather was like before you left home! There will always be someone bitch about perfect conditions just as there are those that bitched about Toby or Mick not cancelling last week. If you pull your car onto the track and it is too rough, park your car on the trailer and either go home or enjoy the rest of the nights racing without being on the track. Don't bitch about it when YOU made the decision to race! I am sure things will get better; they always do as summer comes closer. Enjoy the racing when you can because before you know it, it will be winter and you will be bitching about that too!

  3. Ryan, your finger must be sore from deleting all the negative posts. I totally agree with your statements. Look at Lakeside Speedway in KC. They redid the track after it started off rough this year and now he has cancelled the last two weeks. This week he cancelled the races on Wed. for Fridays races. On there facebook page no one is complaining about it. I went to Marshalltown on Friday. The only reason I went was there were double features. I dont have a car participating anymore so I didnt "have" to go. Most people in the stands were there just for that reason. Prolly not a whole lot of people said to themeselves on either Friday or Saturday afternoon..."hmmmm, what to do tonight?" And then chose to go to the races. Like Sean Walker said, its a business decision. Too many days losing money and then there is no racing. Something else to remember is that the rough race tracks will keep tacking there toll on the cars that raced them for a few weeks by way of broken parts. Not something most fans really think about.