Can “The Way It Used To Be” Work?
SCSCS Is Testing That Theory
While many of you were preoccupied with Talladega weekend-before-last, this race fan spent Saturday evening at Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, Va., just south of Fredericksburg and a little north of Richmond, right next to I-95. On offer was an intriguing program featuring three traveling series: the Super Cup Stock Car Series, the USAC Speed2 Eastern Midgets, and the Southern Ground Pounders vintage cars, plus two weekly divisions: Modifieds and Dominion Racers. Nearly 250 laps of feature racing was scheduled, but a surprise rain storm sent us home after just over half the show. Still, it was a good night.
Here’s Dominion Raceway from the air and from the infield as the SCSCS feature took the green flag.
Dominion is a first-class facility, built three years ago to replace the late, much lamented Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, which fell victim to the relentless need for more suburban housing. I’m sure some Old Dominion regular competitors and fans don’t like the location - about an hour south of the old track - but it’s closer for others and more accessible for just about everyone. I really hope the place succeeds, because it could be a model for the sport’s future.
My main reason for attending was the Super Cup series (SCSCS), a group born out of what used to be the Hooters/USAR/Pro-Cup series and supported by drivers and teams who wanted to have competitive racing without prohibitive costs, especially expenses caused by constant rule-changing. Over a decade after it started, SCSCS is still plugging along, hardly a major force in pavement racing (10 races this year at six tracks in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio), but true to its roots. (In part, the schedule also reflects the desire to limit travel costs.)
Ex-ARCA Bob Schacht holds off ex-Pro Cup Allen Purkhiser on a restart.
The result is an interesting mix of racers: long-time NASCAR competitors Brad Teague (now age 70!) and Mike Potter, ex-ARCA veterans Bob Schacht and A.J. Henrikson, and Todd Peck, who was at Dominion before a scheduled truck ride at Dover. Various other backgrounds were there, plus a two-car team of 61-year-old Larry Berg and his 19-year-old granddaughter, Samantha Rohrbaugh.
Samantha Rohrbaugh signs autographs for fans prior to the race’s start. In her first SCSCS start, Rohrbaugh moved smartly up to 9th place but spun during a tight, three-car battle for position and ended in 11th, and she brought the car home in one piece.
The cars included some former Xfinity and ARCA machines, ex-Pro Cup vehicles and who-knows what else - one entrant had a stock Corvette V8 in his Chevy, which he gassed up at the Sunoco across I-95 from the track.
What makes it all work is a balancing act that tries to tweak the various cars to keep competition even without making anybody sell the ranch to change a car. That’s gotten the SCSCS a longer lifespan than many smaller series.
Bob Schacht won the first of two scheduled 50-lap features - the other fell victim to the rain - and although he clearly had the best car, the top five stayed pretty closely bunched. The race’s “talking point” saw Schacht take second from J.J. Pack, who spun; there was clearly a difference of opinion between the principles in the incident about contact/no contact.
Schacht and Purkhiser put a lap on Ron Langdon (17) while battling for the lead.
So what does this small, low-buck racing group that runs at weekly tracks and didn’t draw a packed house for its appearance at Dominion have to do with mighty NASCAR? Well, I think NASCAR might well benefit from bending a little bit in the SCSCS’s direction, simplifying rules and cutting costs to keep more racers and teams in the sport and to make it more affordable to everybody.
For me, it would be more enjoyable, too.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
An online article last week from Forbes Magazine painted one of the most dismal pictures I’ve yet to read about NASCAR’s declining popularity. The attendance and TV ratings numbers were deeply depressing, and the conclusion was that, despite the requisite corporate smiles, nobody in Daytona seems to have a clue as to how you turn around this train before the track runs out.
How many more grandstands will have to be removed before it looks like Cup races are being run in front of capacity crowds again?
Stage racing got a harsh evaluation, with which I tend to agree. Despite relentless forced excitement by TV and radio commentators, I just don’t hear fans saying anything good about that innovation. Old fans hate it, and new fans don’t seem to care.
NASCAR has to start by slashing costs, maybe even going back to racing something actually based on stock cars. That’s where the SCSCS’s approach to minimalist rules-making might come in handy. It also would keep the sport going after the last multi-million dollar sponsor has left the building.
It’s just depressing, because we love this sport and don’t want to see Cup racing go down the drain, which could happen. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have any faith in the current Daytona brain trust being able to save the day.
Back when it seemed NASCAR could do no wrong, North Wilkesboro was closed because it was too small and didn’t deliver the right demographics for sponsors. When the next track closes, the reasons might be different.
Oh, well, there are other forms of racing, which are fun, competitive and a lot cheaper for everyone involved. But I’ve seen some great racing at Richmond, Charlotte, Martinsville - and a lot of places that no longer run Cup or even exist - and not having that option would be sad.