C.J. Thom (90) fights for position with Dave Cannon at South Sound Speedway. Thom and her
Kennedy Raceway in Alabama is closed. So is Windber Speedway in Pennsylvania and Lea County in New Mexico. They've been added to a growing list of tracks around the country that have had to shut their doors.
Maybe it's because fans have moved on to other interests, escalating costs have undercut the bottom line, or there is pressure to turn the track into a housing development. Whatever the reason, while some small tracks thrive, others struggle to stay open. Every year a couple of them don't make it.
When Portland Speedway-among the nation's oldest ovals-folded last year, it left a group of Oregon Street Stock drivers with no place to race. They aren't unique among drivers whose home tracks have closed, but what they did about it is, and their solution could be the answer for racers in similar situations around the country.
The Portland Speedway drivers' response was to hit the road and create their own traveling show. Drivers elected their own directors, created their own rules, and appointed an administrative committee to oversee the series and handle problems as they cropped up.
"Basically, we just wanted to keep racing," says Mike Crase, who organized the drivers into the Northwest Street Stock Tour. "We were all upset at losing our home track. Some of us were pretty mad about it; others were pretty discouraged. Then we found a way to turn that into something positive."
In its first year, the touring series signed up 50 drivers, with about 20 of them making the shows on a regular basis. They alternated between South Sound Speedway, a paved oval in Rochester, Washington, and Madras Speedway, a dirt bullring in central Oregon. Two other tracks are interested in hosting the tour in 2003.
Dustin Wilkinson changes tires on his championship car. The series went to 10-inch take-of
"They pretty much take care of themselves," says Kevin Palmer, race director at South Sound Speedway. "They police themselves, take care of tech inspection, solve their own problems. Basically, they arrive at the track and put on some pretty close racing with some good size fields.
"If there is a problem on the track, we'll take care of it while we are calling the race," Palmer continues. "If it involves putting someone on the trailer or leveling a fine, they have their own way to take care of the situation."
The drivers began with the rules that were used at Portland Speedway. Then they changed them in order to keep the racing affordable. It is possible for a driver to build a car for under $5,000 and race the series for another $2,000 in entry fees, tires, and tow costs.
For example, to keep the cost down the series calls for 10-inch-wide, take-off slicks that most drivers buy used from Late Model or NASCAR Raybestos Northwest Series teams.
Because the rules were developed by the competitors, they center on things that can be easily policed. Rather than set displacement limits that would require a teardown to check, a car can be powered with just about any engine within the same model family. There are 302s, 350s, and even 400ci engines in the field.
The insides of the engines are relatively free. While most of them run 9:1 compression, a few drivers run motors with as high as 14:1. There's no porting or polishing allowed, but any camshaft that will fit in the block is legal.
But no matter what a builder does to the pistons and cams, it has to breathe through a two-barrel Rochester carb and exhaust through stock, cast-iron manifolds.
"Some guys build pretty strong motors," says driver Pete Kelly, in his fourth year in a Street Stock. "The problem with all that power is, we run on short paved ovals and we run on dirt. You can never get that much power down."
"It doesn't make too much sense to get real crazy in there," Crase adds. "The carb really limits what the engines can do."