Getting Started On DirtThink you'd like to start a race series?
You know, rake in those big bucks for not doing anything but gathering some automobiles to compete? Yeah, right.
Look at what you'll face: the price of gas, the cost of diesel fuel, and the economy overall. Sounds like a time when an old expression rings especially true, the one about how to make a million dollars in racing-by starting with $2 million.
But there's a man who has defied all that.
His name is Ken Killen, founder and owner of the United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series in the Southeast, with stops in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. It visits tracks such as Golden Isles Speedway in Brunswick, East Alabama Speedway, Charlotte County Motorsports Park, East Bay Raceway Park, Ocala Speedway, and Screven Motor Speedway.
We recently posed a few questions to Killen. Here is an edited version of the interview.
The UDLMCS is billed as the South's fastest growing Dirt Late Model series. How did Kinney, a mobile home and manufactured home salesman by day, come up with the idea of starting a new sanction?
"What gave me the idea to start a Dirt Late Model series was in traveling around south Georgia and all over Florida last year promoting the new Hendry County Speedway," says Kinney. "Late model drivers everywhere said the exact same thing. What they all had in common was that they wanted and needed more opportunities to score a decent payday. They also all wanted more opportunities to win a big race and gain the prestige and exposure that comes along with winning a major event. And drivers told me this would give them an opportunity to attract new sponsors and to take care of the ones that they already have.
"From a personal standpoint, I had run a local series at the new Hendry County Speedway, which I enjoyed very much. However, I thought that by going regional that it would attract many more cars and quality drivers, which it has.
"This has been very rewarding to me. For someone who would like to do likewise, what would he suggest as the opening step?
"For anyone who would like to start a new series the opening step is very easy in my opinion," he says. "You have to travel to the different tracks in the geographic area where you would like to run your series and talk to the different drivers. Above all you have to gain the trust and respect of both the drivers and track owners and you must show both of them that you are out for the mutual benefit of both./
"Remember, without drivers you can't have a race and without owners that are willing to let you schedule events at their tracks you also can't have a race. So far I have been blessed in both areas. I have an excellent group of drivers that run my series both as series regulars and as part-time series entrants, and I also have a fantastic group of track owners that allow me to put on shows at their facilities, and you must have both to be successful.
"Some of the most difficult items in the process, from the beginning through the early stages and into the operation, are adopting a set of rules that will allow the majority of similar cars to run together and be competitive," Kinney says.
"Also, there's the scheduling of the events with the individual tracks as to not interfere with common events at nearby tracks, other similar type series and major non-racing events in the geographic area that might bring down the fan attendance.
"Another major item of importance when starting a series involves the assembling of a staff that can get along with each other, the drivers, car owners, and the track owners and their staffs. All of this is a difficult balancing act that must be accomplished in order to be successful."
Was there ever a time that he was discouraged and almost ready to shuck the whole deal? What changed his mind?
"There were many times that I was discouraged, but never was there a time when I wanted to shuck the whole idea."
Kinney adds that rules concerning tires and engine specifications are two of the major torments when adopting a set of rules.
Then, he says, there's the delicate political side of dealing with drivers, car owners, and track owners. He calls that the most challenging areas of the entire process, and adds that it's understandable.
"Both parties have a big financial interest in how things are set up and operated," Kinney says. "As in any other type of business when money is involved, there is a degree of stress that will always be a part of the process and there is no way around this. However, if you understand this, then you have a great deal of the battle overcome and can be successful in setting up a traveling series.
Has the economy presented a problem?
"As for the difficult economic state that we are all experiencing and the problems that it has presented in starting a series, I have been very blessed with great national sponsors such as Homes of Merit, a division of Champion Homes, a nationwide manufactured home builder and American Pace, who is one of the largest trailer builders in the trailer industry.
"The tire companies Hoosier and American Racer have also made contributions to the points funds this year. I have also had a lot of help from local businesses such as Zeigler Racing Engines, Bruce's Signs, Russell Brown Race Cars, RaceCar Engineering, Central Mobile Homes, Central Sheds and Trailers, and Real Racin U.S.A.
"However, in saying all of this, due to the tremendous struggles that are going on in the housing industry, real estate industry, and just about every other business, we are also feeling the ill effects of a bad economy."
What is the most rewarding part of being a race series owner?
"It has to be the positive energy that you feel in the stands when at an event. I thrive on the idea of putting something big together that is enjoyed by both the fans and drivers alike and this has been the most rewarding part of being a race series owner.
"I have felt the electricity surrounding the series since the inaugural race at the Ocala Speedway.
How many races is the series conducting and in how many states? How many employees does the series have and what are their specific duties?
"Currently there are 15 races in our schedule for the 2008 racing season that will be run in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
"As for our staff we currently have 12 persons, and without this group there would be no series. They are honest, loyal, dedicated, and truly some of the nicest people that I have ever been affiliated with.
"Their sacrifices have been great and I truly appreciate each and every one of them. Their duties range from flagging, lining up the cars, registration, communications, building and updating the Web site, teching the cars, a track photographer, videographer, announcer and the putting up and taking down of sponsors banners."
Any plans for expansion?
"We plan on sticking with a 15 weekend format, but would like to make several of the weekends two racetrack events. This will all depend on the availability of quality racetracks that share our beliefs and are willing to allow us to sanction a race."
What does he see as the future of dirt track racing in the South and nationally?
"I see the future of dirt track racing and the potential growth there as being huge both in the South and nationally. My opinion is that dirt track racing as a whole is the most economic way to enter racing and the racing programs are incredibly exciting. The proof, just in Florida, is obvious. Previous and current asphalt stars such as David Pullen Jr., Wayne Anderson, Richard Pratt, Mike Bresnahan, and Jeff Choquette all have recently purchased Dirt Late Models.
"I fully expect that this trend will continue as the costs associated with asphalt racing continue to soar. As for my part I plan on making the United Late Model Challenge series one of the most viable Dirt Late Model series in the country."
Thunder In The DesertMost books about racing are not interesting to people who are not fans of racing. Thunder in the Desert is different, however, as it profiles the racing in the Grand Canyon State of Arizona for almost 100 years.
Two volumes are required to tell the whole story. The first book covers motor racing in Arizona from 1909 until 1980 and the second covers racing at Manzanita Speedway from 1981 to the present day. The author, Windy McDonald, has been the announcer at Manzanita Speedway for over 50 years. So you can bet he has seen some real changes.
It is really interesting to see the changes in what racers are racing today and what they were racing 50 to 70 years ago. Just the differences in safety equipment between 30 years ago and now is enough to make your hair curl. Racers have come a long way in what is a relatively short time given the real age of the automobile.
It is really interesting to read about the personalities and the equipment they were using. The books are a race fan's dream, with in-depth detail that allows the reader to get lost in the books. The books are a limited production, so don't wait too long to get your copy. V
The books can be ordered from: Win-Di Publishing, P.O. Box 82727, Phoenix, AZ 85071. Phone: 602-993-7471. Or you can e-mail email@example.com to place an order.
Fuel LinesIn any NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend, the competitors need Sunoco before they can go.
Sunoco is the official fuel for NASCAR and before any event, such as this summer's Pepsi 400 weekend at Daytona International Speedway, the gasoline is delivered two to three weeks in advance.
To learn more about Sunoco's role in the sport, we went to Thomas Golembeski, the company's manager of media and public relations.
Is the same fuel used in the top three venues and what is the difference between that and fuel one gets at a service station?
"Yes, Sunoco 260 GTX is used by all competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Craftsman series," says Golembeski.
"The 260 GTX is refined more than typical gasoline consumers buy at the pump. We start with high octane hydrocarbons that normally go into premium pump fuel and then refine them some more to give us the higher octane and other properties we want.
"Our 260 GTX is 98 octane unleaded fuel for NASCAR and it's green in color. Since we produce racing gasoline for series such as ARCA, Grand Am, and DIRT, we color code our fuel for instant identification. NASCAR fuel is green.
"Sunoco provides NASCAR competitors with free racing gasoline," Golembeski says. "Teams in the top three national series are allowed as much fuel as they need for sanctioned testing, practicing, qualifying, or racing.
"Outside of those situations, the fuel is available at a competitive price influenced by market factors and whatever supply contracts we might have in place."
How and when is the fuel distributed to the teams?
"Fuel is distributed to the teams during all official practice, qualifying, and race events. NASCAR allows the teams to use 5-7 gallon cans to top off the cars during practice," Golembeski says. "The average team would bring the car to the Sunoco station approximately three times (initial inspection, qualifying, and race day inspection) during an average weekend."
Have you ever run out or gotten so low you had to send for more?
"Our planning and logistical forecasts begin months ahead of each event. We're able to forecast our fuel needs to avoid delivering fuel during an event weekend."
How many gallons of 260 GTX fuel would be on hand at the Pepsi 400 weekend, for instance?
"Some folks here consider that proprietary or private.
"Every component used in 260 GTX is produced and blended by Sunoco," adds Golembeski. "We don't rely on other suppliers for any component in this fuel, which means we can control the consistency and quality of the fuel to a remarkable degree.
"That's what allows us to produce a fuel the race teams can count on.
"Our 260 GTX is produced exclusively at a special plant located in our refinery in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, located about 20 miles from downtown Philadelphia. Once the fuel is blended, tested to ensure it meets the appropriate specifications, and colored for instant identification, it's loaded onto a dedicated fleet of Sunoco tankers-each with a driver exclusively making deliveries to racetracks.
"We maintain a strict chain of custody. We also have a quality assurance program through which we check the fuel daily during race weekends."
The Carolina 500 at Rockingham Speedway on May 4 offered a classic blend of old and new. The track, purchased last year by racer Andy Hillenburg, held its first race since a Cup event there in 2004. Joey Logano, one of the top young drivers in the sport, won the ARCA RE/MAX event by more than four seconds over the runner-up Ken Schrader. Logano was 17 years old at the time but has since celebrated his 18th birthday. He is a member of the Joe Gibbs Racing development program and the Chevrolet he drove to Victory Lane at the Rock sported Joe Gibbs Racing Oil as the primary sponsor. Logano might be a youngster but he demonstrated his burnout ability on the track's fronstretch immediately following the win. He later posed with Hillenburg. Rockingham opened as North Carolina Motor Speedway in 1965. Curtis Turner drove a Wood Brothers Ford to victory in the track's inaugural race, the American 500, on October 31 of that year.
Engine Builder ShowdownDrivers often take all of the limelight because of the obvious risks they endure while racing. But at least for one evening the spotlight was cast somewhere else. But at least for one evening each year, the spotlight is cast somewhere else. This happens during the Mahle Clevite Engine Builder Showdown, where 24 teams battle to see who can build a NASCAR Ford 357 engine from the block up the fastest. The winning team pockets $26,000 and bragging rights for an entire year.
NASCAR's elite were all represented with teams from Roush, Hendrick, Ganassi, Evernham, and Penske. Each year the competition is held at NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, North Carolina. The competition starts with the block already installed on the stand, the heads already assembled, and the pistons already have the rings installed. Other than that, the two-man teams have to perform a complete build. But it doesn't stop once the engine is built. The engine has to start and idle for one minute before the clock can be stopped.
The finals put Dennis Borem and Darrell Hoffman from Pro Motor Engines (the defending champs) against Jim Snyder and Mike Kasch from Roush & Yates Racing engines. There were seats for the hundreds in attendance but toward the end of the finals not one seat was being used as the fans were all standing to see who was going to stop the timer first.
Once the director started the competition, each team started working furiously. It was neck and neck with Roush having the advantage by just a small margin until there was a small ping heard in the bottom of the team's block. One of the builders had dropped a bolt into the block and underneath the crankshaft. He then grabbed a magnet to try to pull the runaway bolt back into the open, but had no success. He had to spend valuable seconds turning the motor upside down on the stand to get the bolt to fall out.
That was the only opening that the guys from PME needed. They worked very efficiently and hardly spoke to one another outside of the occasional "here's the torque wrench," or "distributor's ready." This, of course, is to be expected, as they later said they practice three times a week and obviously have the build down to an art form.
Pro Motor's engine fired first for the 60-second idle. The roar of the engine was drowned out from the roar of the crowd as the winner was close to being crowned. The engine was shut off after the one-minute idle and a new record was set. The engine was built and fired in 15 minutes and 59 seconds. However, the inspection process still had to take place. Any loose bolt that was found would cost the team a minute penalty. Amazingly enough, not one bolt was loose, and Pro Motors had repeated as champs to take home the Randy Dorton Memorial Trophy and the cash.