Keep Up With Your Local Tracks and Get to Know the Next Stars
Long-time Richmond racing writer Randy Hallman always produces good material to read, and a good place to find his writing is RacingVirginia.com, a website supported by various motorsports facilities in the Old Dominion.
One recent article profiled Matt DiBenedetto, and it mentioned that the Levine Family Racing Cup driver got his stock car racing start at Hickory Speedway. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know that.
My ignorance got me to thinking – funny how that works. DiBenedetto began his stock car racing career right about the time NASCAR and Cup racing were reaching their peak – before the crash. That also means it came at the worst possible time for a young driver outside NASCAR’s touring series to raise his visibility. NASCAR was pushing all other forms of motorsports off the newspaper and magazine pages, television screens and radio dials.
Lots of folks think Randy Hallman has made great contributions in his writing about our sport – Richmond Raceway named its new Media Center Deadline Room after him.
When Randy Hallman first began writing about racing for the long-gone Richmond afternoon paper, the News-Leader, his top responsibility was Southside Speedway, the still-running local bullring. The coverage helped you get to know the local racers, which created fans, who migrated with those races – like Bill Dennis, Lennie Pond and later Denny Hamlin – when they made it to the big time. Other newspapers did the same thing.
Then loss of advertising and audience to the internet began to cripple the newspaper business, and nearly all that local racing coverage disappeared.
As good as Randy’s writing was, though, most of my information about local racing outside my area came from racing newspapers, of which there were lots. I subscribed to as many as four or five at a time some years; now, only the venerable Area Auto Racing News remains in my area.
Area Auto Racing News recognizes that some of us appreciate racing beyond Cup, and its coverage keeps us up to date on the next drivers likely to reach the top rung.
Because AARN’s primary coverage area runs from the Mason-Dixon Line to New England, I know who the new stars are at the local tracks in that region – that’s how I’ve known of the enormous interest in modified drivers Ryan Preece and Stewart Friesen as they take their shots at the big time in Cup and Gander Truck racing.
Years ago, I would have known about similar drivers in other regions, by reading of their exploits in Southern Motorsports Journal, Southern MotoRacing, Southern Auto Racing News, Tri-State Speed Press, a host of generally short-lived racing papers in Virginia, and for the national overview, the incomparable National Speed Sport News. I might have lived in Richmond, Va., but courtesy of the racing papers, I knew who was winning in New Jersey and New York modifieds, North Carolina late models, Pennsylvania sprints, midgets in the Midwest, etc. Drivers’ names became familiar, and when one would show up at a big race near me, I knew something about the guy.
Speed Sport (the former NSSN) has migrated to the web, but it focuses on national and regional series racing; the briefs on any short track that would provide results in years past just can’t be duplicated on electronic media. The other print publications, sadly, are history. (Speed 51 is another relatively large site that covers series racing well and also is heavily involved in pay-per-view race broadcasts. RacingNews.co is yet another site, but it’s one I haven’t visited as much.)
I’m an old guy, but slowly I’m becoming accustomed to finding what I need online. If I just need results, I go to Race Monitor (), which collects that information from a huge number of tracks. My Laps ( ) is another source.
Go online, and Race Monitor will tell you who won.
Finding actual stories can be more difficult. Part of the problem is that most websites don’t have the resources the papers had, yet they’re even more work to keep up-to-date. One site I visited had several local tracks listed for results, but the second track I checked still had nothing posted since late in 2018. You tend not to return to something like that.
Nationally, I’ve seen a few sites try to recreate National Speed Sport News online, but most end up looking terribly outdated pretty quickly. The exception is Hoseheads for sprint car racing ( ). This is about as clunky, old-school a website as you can still find, and that’s why I absolutely love it. All kinds of tracks send results there, and as long as you don’t mind the official version of race coverage, it’s the place to go. (There are columnists with the unofficial take on things, too.)
Most sanctioning bodies now carry considerable news online, mostly the company line, of course, but still a good source for the basics. You should have several bookmarked.
The answer for everything else, as it once was with the papers, may be just to go local. I mentioned Racing Virginia, and while it’s not comprehensive, it seems to gather material from most of Virginia’s tracks, it has a decent compiled schedule, and it has Randy Hallman (among other writers), which makes it pretty compelling.
Racing Virginia also offers this podcast, if you want to hear interesting guests and news updates.
In Pennsylvania, Sherry’s PA Racing Updates on Facebook does a nice job of tracking down items of interest, and if you’re interested in something a little more traditional (and with a professional writer at the helm), Jeremy Elliott’s Central PA Racing Scene is a subscription-based option with quite a bit to offer.
That brings up a major point: I used to pay for those racing papers (or the daily local), but we’ve entered the internet era where we think we can get it all for free. That does present the decision for each of us as to whether what we want is something we’re willing to pay to access – presumably, the folks supplying this info want to eat, drink and have a roof overhead. You have to think about that.
Increasingly, you also have to think about it for video, too. Most major NASCAR races are still televised by the big networks, but the world doesn’t end there. MAV-TV, owned by Lucas Oil, is trying to pick up what the big networks don’t, but it’s not available on many cable and satellite systems. Streaming may be the eventual answer, but you won’t get the quality of production work you see on Fox or NBC. Nevertheless, many local tracks now have streaming telecasts of their races available for a season subscription, and if you don’t get out that much. . .
The point of all this is that there’s news out there. You may have to do some searching to find it, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll remember that there’s a lot more to racing than what’s on network TV Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, and when new drivers come into one of the touring series, you might know whether their chops or their wallets have gotten them there.
I think I’d be interested in that.
(Anyone who would like to suggest good online racing news sources – national, regional or local – may comment below or otherwise pass that information along to me, and I’ll gladly share it.)
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
The recent conversation about Kyle Busch matching Morgan Shepherd’s nearly 30-year-old streak of finishing in the Top 10 for the first 11 races of a season led me – in a really roundabout way – to another Top 10 streak that, in its own way, ought to be remembered as well.
Set the Wayback Machine to 1965, when a local racer could build or buy a Grand National/Cup car for affordable money and try his luck against Junior, Ned, Richard and David (the latter two only after the Chrysler boycott ended) and the other NASCAR stars. It also was when Big Bill France, having temporarily given up on making his traveling circus a truly national show, was focusing on racing in the Southeast but running a week or two of races above the Mason-Dixon Line in mid-summer – the “Northern Tour.” That encouraged some Yankee hot-shoes to try their luck.
One was a Connecticut racer named Dick Dixon, who in ’65 ran eight Grand National events: a threesome of North Carolina races the weekend after Memorial Day, three races on the Northern Tour, and consecutive events near summer’s end at Moyock, N.C., and Beltsville, Md. (I think we know where his vacation time went that year.)
Dick Dixon’s Fords were always “8-ball” numbered. This photo, attributed by Dave Fulton to Randy Gilbert when used it previously, is said to be Dixon at Harris, N.C., where he finished third in late May 1965.
In the first race of his Grand National season, Dixon finished 20th at Shelby, N.C., but he didn’t finish outside the Top 10 for the rest of the year – seven straight finishes, five of them in the Top 5.
OK, first, they weren’t consecutive, they weren’t at the beginning of the year, and they were in the days when you could notch a Top 5 without finishing on the lead lap. But think about this Yankee driver taking consecutive third-place finishes on consecutive days at New Asheville and Harris Speedways, 800 miles from home, probably with very few resources at his disposal.
On the Northern Tour, he finished fifth, sixth and fifth at Manassas, Old Bridge and Islip. To wrap it all up, he traveled to Moyock, N.C. (just below Virginia Beach) and finished eighth on a Tuesday night and, after driving to Beltsville Wednesday, came home fourth there.
He never tried it again, maybe because all those good finishes earned him a TOTAL of $2,215. Even 35-cent gasoline and volunteer crew members doesn’t make that enough to pay the bills. Still, I think we need to remember when a racer could accomplish that on grit, determination, talent and a few dollars.
Sadly, Dick Dixon lost his life less than two years later in a Memorial Day Weekend crash at Thompson Speedway in his native state, but he’s in a Hall of Fame or two up that way, which should help preserve the memory of a driver whose name might be more widely remembered today if he’d gotten the chances some others did.
Dick Dixon in a classic modified.
One of those bygone era racers whose memory should not be allowed to fall through the cracks.