Ok, I checked with the owners of TSO and got permission to post this here for you fellow short track fans. (yes, that's a joke )
First, let me emphatically state, last night was fun - and I didn't even get to drive. That would have been even better of course, but that wasn't why I was there.
Let's set the scene a bit. Black Rock Speedway is about 20minutes from Watkins Glen International Raceway. The drive isn't difficult though the signage is a little lacking. For future info, just get on 14A after driving through the village of Watkins Glen and eventually you'll run in to Dundee, New York. The track is about five feet inside the city limits.
The only problem I had was finding the actual entrance. Coming from the Glen, you gotta go past the track and then loop all the way around to the back straight where the pit shack is located. There is some parking back there.
First impressions of the track were good. It's a medium banked 4/10ths mile oval with distinct straightaways and nice arcing corners. Neither end really has a wall directly at the track, instead, a driver would go over the banking where eventually they could hit something. Nice layout. They worked the track a lot last night and got themselves a good racing surface at times, though it did get dusty during the small block modified feature. And there were some big holes in turn one and turn four to be avoided.
My only complaint besides the dust in the modified feature would be that they run too many classes. They had a decent crowd, but also had a TON of cars in the pits. Most had full fields except for a couple of the stock car classes (I think there were three or four variations, plus trucks which had a light field).
One group that didn't bring a small field was the New York Modified Midgets series. Owned by Jim "Timex" Morgan, they are a traveling modified midget or mini-sprint group. They brought about 30 cars, with 24 starting the feature. After the races I talked with Morgan and he explained how his group works. NYMM charges the tracks based on the number of cars they bring. The first 15 cars are worth $100 to the purse. 16 - 24 are worth $75 and anything over 25 are worth $25. They then pay out $150 to win, $125 for 2nd, $100 for 3rd and everyone else gets $75. (Non-quals get $25 in tow money). Most consider this to be pretty decent for mini-sprint racing.
Apparently some tracks were paying next to nothing (or zero) previously so the $75 for making the feature is considered pretty good. Budgets were said to be $17,000 to run up front and used cars were available for $5k to $6k that would run competitively.
The idea seems to be working as they had a full field and a competitive field. Morgan owns like seven cars himself, so that helps, and he isn't afraid to use them. His personal cars were a large part of the 13 cars that teams donated to be run by the IRL crew members.
Morgan REALLY likes his series. He actually employs Mark Laffler of Laffler Chassis. Mark wanted to race and the only way he could afford to do it was to build his own cars. Well, his cars are good. His cars win 80% of the races in the area. Morgan has Laffler working in his shop to build three or four cars each year. They then sell off the used ones to other prospective teams and those wind right up supporting the series.
Guys towed to the track in all manner of gear. Some with big trailers behind dualie trucks, with others coming on tiny little trailers and a couple just in the back of a pick up. Didn't seem to matter much how they got there in terms of competitiveness. The trailer didn't win any races so to speak.
One of the foundational rules of the series is that if you get caught cheating it's an instant 365 day suspension. No messing around, you are just gone. And one reason the purse is kept so flat is that it isn't really worth it to cheat. That might be different if they paid $500 to win and $25 to start - but Morgan isn't planning to work that way.
Another neat program Morgan has is that two drivers each year race for him. They don't bring sponsorship per se, but they build sweat equity working in the shop. In return for maintaining their own cars, plus working on the rest of the fleet, they get a car to race every weekend. Not a bad deal. He does it because it gets people hooked on the sport and helps people get started in racing. They then help support the series long term.
Seems like a pretty well run series. I didn't hear a lot of complaining, and the NYMM officials seemed to run a pretty quick, fair show. And it was a GOOD show.
That brings us to the racing itself. PJ Chesson got his scheduled straightened out and he made his appearance last night. Chesson skipped the crew member racing and was entered in one of Morgan's cars to run the regular NYMM show. PJ started the feature mid pack and raced his way to the front. He was sitting 5th around lap 14 and while closing on other's he didn't seem to have enough to make his high line work. When a caution came out, PJ was able to look down and read his dash. That's when he figured out that he was using the in car controls wrong. He had basically jacked all the weight the wrong way. Fixing that PJ was all set for the restart.
The leader at the time (Morgan's son), bobbled and then had his engine lay down which bottled the start a little. PJ went to the outside grabbed a couple spots. He then kept pounding the high side for the rest of the race. Took him a couple laps, but he ran down the second place car and then the leader.
Very impressive performance, especially as PJ was flat footing a much higher line than anyone else. The brave, fast, route worked and Chesson won his first NYMM race (in what I believe was his only attempt). And the rest of those guys weren't slouches, they ran clean and hard all night. But, PJ didn't win his World of Outlaws races by being timid.
After the win, Chesson did a bunch of donuts down the back stretch, much to the delight of the fans. Also watching PJ do the donuts were several IRL drivers. Danica Patrick and her entire family were there, Sam Hornish, Jr. and his wife Crystal were there, as were Scott Dixon, Sarah Fisher and AJ Foyt, IV.
The track has some little "boxes". Not exactly luxury suites, but they gave the IRL folks two of these were you could go into an enclosed (and shielded with plexi-glass if you wanted) box that overlooked turn two. Nice touch and a good thing to have at the dirt track. People went in and out of this area, though the aforementioned drivers also spent a lot of the night just hanging out in the pit area.
Before Chesson ran, there was a "race" between TJ Patrick (Danica's dad), Dave Popielarz ("poppy") and Rick Campbell. The latter two drivers have day jobs working for Andretti Green Racing. Interestingly, they raced 358 cubic inch small block DIRT modifieds. These are real deal, no messing around race cars, and the lead class at Black Rock (where they had a nice full field).
TJ was impressive. He went out and followed the driver that had given him his back up and was solidly on the throttle and leaning into the right rear quite quickly. Poppy and Campbell took a couple laps longer and then they were getting around the track pretty good. It should be noted, all of these guys have raced before or currently, so it's not like just anyone was handed the reins of these high horsepower monsters.
Danica was standing in the staging lane - talking to her belted in father before he went out to run. The track had a couple security people kind of shadowing Danica, but they really weren't needed. A few folks asked for and got autographs, but mostly those were people there to race, so she pretty freely roamed the pit area.
Danica also went over and did some stuff during intermission with the track announcer, but the PA wasn't strong in the pits, so we couldn't really tell what they talked about or gave away or what not.
Ok, now the important part. The crew member race. First, those guys had a blast. Organized by Jack Arute and the NYMM series, there were two buses to take all the crew members from the garage area at Watkins Glen over to the dirt track. NYMM also had lots of water and after the racing was over beer for everyone to drink (though few really hit the beer, it was a long night).
Once arriving at the track, everyone was signed in and they all kind of hung around the NYMM officials area to chat with everyone and get acquainted with the cars. It was really interesting to see the variety of driver's suits being worn. Some came with their oval the wall suits that they'll wear on Sunday. Others had some old fire suits including some old Team Kool Green apparel and old Motorola suits.
Because the IRL guys would run after the NYMM feature there was a lot of time to watch racing, grab a track dog, or pick the brains of the guys that usually run these cars.
Before the NYMM regulars hit the track, the mood was pretty relaxed and calm. A little pensive, but mostly jovial. After watching the NYMM cars run their B-Main, the mood tightened up. People started to figure out how quick they would really be going. Not many realized just how big 4/10ths of a mile really is. Most thought it would be a smaller track and maybe even a little less professional style racing.
But, these are real race cars and they go real fast on a big track like that. Morgan claimed the NYMM was the fastest class last night and while I didn't use a stop watch, that claim seemed pretty well founded. They were circling the track in around 15 or 16 seconds. (That's almost 100mph for an average).
After the NYMM feature, they brought the cars over with the plan to run three 10 lap races with 10 cars in each. The IRL team members pretty much just matched themselves up to a car that fit their size. A couple cars got hurt in the big feature, so that messed up things a little but eventually they found cars for everyone.
The plan was to alternate regular track features with a IRL team feature.
With everyone watch, the first race got off to a bad start. Adam Rogazzini from Ganassi Racing messed up a little bit and nailed the inside first turn/front straight wall. From what we could tell, either he thought the car would slide more, or it would turn a lot slower. Either way, he was heading left about 20 feet before the actual corner. His car spun three times or four times, but did not turn over. His right front wheel was broken off and went between the other cars and into the catch fencing way off the corner. He also got the rear axle a bit.
This was one of Morgan's house cars and he didn't seem to be in the slightest concerned about the damage. That car was planned to be repaired today and racing again tonight. BTW, the drivers weren't charged for anything last night though the teams contributed a bunch of passes, hats and other stuff to the NYMM people. (I can't say again how nice those folks are).
After getting broken car off the track, the racing ran clean the rest of the night. Derek Davidson of Vision Racing (and formerly a USAC driver) won the first race. It'd be fair to call him a ringer, but everyone else really seemed to pick up the technique fairly quick. Some were very fast in the race - maybe because they didn't know any better
The second race was a battle between Andy O'Gara (Sarah Fisher's fiance and DRR crew member) and Didier Francesia of Ganassi Racing. Didier mistook the white for the checkered and lifted a bit. That let O'Gara catch and pass him. Didier didn't seem to care afterwards. Like everyone else, he was excited. It is hard to translate just how much fun everyone appeared to be having.
The third race was won by Anton Jullian (Ganassi) though there was some confusion. Dave Sharpley of AGR was listed as the winner in other places, but to be honest. It didn't matter much. Everyone just had a blast running the cars. It's not like there was a prize or anything. There was some trash talking and I'm sure that continued on the ride home, but overall everyone seemed to have a great time.
Both the drivers that participated and the NYMM series are planning to do this again next year. Ideally, even more IRL drivers will appears to cheer their crew members on. The usual issues of schedule and stuff need to be worked out, because it really seemed like everyone in attendance had a good time.
Some guys were even asking around for pricing on buying one of these little race cars. Though I doubt they've got much time to actually run the things
Very nice promotional work by Jack Arute and the NYMM series. Heck, I'm already looking forward to seeing this again next year - though maybe I'll talk my way into a car next time.