Aluminum sections, such as...
Aluminum sections, such as the one this car sits on, form the 1/10-mile tracks. (c) CIA Stock Photo, Inc.
On the surface, the concept seems a little over the top: half-scale cars racing on aluminum tracks in arenas more suited to basketball or ice hockey. But when Arena Racing USA decided to enter the market considered the center of American motorsports, the series turned to Joe Gibbs, first and foremost a football man who also happens to own a top NASCAR organization. The foray into the Charlotte, North Carolina, area this fall comes with the financial backing of Gibbs, a Nextel Cup Series team owner, and his drivers-two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and rookies Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley.
"It's huge when you have somebody become involved in a project and that guy has won three Super Bowls in the NFL and three NASCAR championships," says Ricky Dennis, founder and CEO of Arena Racing USA. "Not only is Joe Gibbs a very recognizable name, but he's a very good human being as well. We've even got Tony Stewart as a part of Arena Racing USA. I'd like to think we got those guys on board as well as our other sponsors because they think this is the coolest thing they've ever seen."
Gibbs, for one, is convinced the concept of racing scale cars indoors will work.
"I'm a firm believer in this," Gibbs says. "It provides great competition at a time of year when motorsports is typically dormant. Plus, it's a cost-effective way to get started in racing."
Arena Racing USA will be new to the area, and it's a type of racing that is totally different from what most NASCAR enthusiasts are used to seeing. The half-scale stock cars race indoors on a 1/10-mile banked track that is built to fit inside a hockey rink. One of the unique things about Arena Racing USA is that if it's raining or snowing outside, that's no problem since the cars do battle under roof in well-ventilated arenas such as Cricket Arena in Charlotte, where tentative plans are being developed for a 12-race schedule to run from November 11 through March 24.
"Not having to worry about the weather is absolutely something that we've got going in our favor," Dennis says. "We're even getting a lot of interest from the northern parts of the country as well as Canada because they have so much snow in the winter that it makes it almost impossible to race during certain parts of the year."
Fast action on a tight track...
Fast action on a tight track provides excitement. (c) CIA Stock Photo, Inc.
While new to the Charlotte area, Arena Racing USA has been active in Virginia since 2003, staging events at the Hampton Coliseum and the Norfolk Scope. The concept has been wildly successful, according to Dennis, as spectators get to see the cars rocket around the mini tracks at speeds of around 50 mph with lap times in the range of eight seconds.
"It's like trying to hold on to the fastest rollercoaster you've ever ridden," Dennis says. "It really is cool to watch this type of racing, and we try our best to make sure that everybody wins-the drivers and fans-through Arena Racing USA."
By establishing a base in NASCAR country, Dennis believes that all the pieces are in place to build and grow Arena Racing USA into a successful venture in that area.
"Charlotte is the market where we wanted to expand this type of racing to because most all the teams, drivers, and team members in NASCAR live around the area," Dennis says. "We want to make Charlotte our centerpiece, and it's going to be a good way for everybody in Charlotte to come together during the winter when everybody is dying to get back to racing."
Dream Vs. Reality
Racing has been in Dennis' blood since he was a youngster watching his dad, a racer from the Richmond, Virginia, area. Bill Dennis had a successful career and even earned the NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year award while racing against such racing legends as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, and LeeRoy Yarbrough.
The elder Dennis also won the Permatex 300, a Sportsman event, at Daytona International Speedway three years in a row (1972-'74). Ricky Dennis started to follow in his father's racing footsteps when he was 22 and bought his first car. Two years later, while still racing, Dennis started a race car building business-Townsend Racing Products-that he admits took up too much of his time.
"Between racing and building cars, I got so busy within a few years that I had to choose one or the other, so I chose the one that paid the bills, and that was building cars," Dennis says.