The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 17, 2014

Shawn Wood's Inside Track: Where are all the fans?

Daily Item

---- — Last Saturday night at Selinsgrove Speedway, track promoter Charlie Paige was back at his old job as head flagman of the track as he was filling in for regular starter Randy Kline.

I'm not sure what was going through Charlie's mind from his vantage point, but I think he had to be asking himself the same question I was: Where was everybody?

After a very harsh winter, temperatures in the 70s and sunny skies for the first regular show of the year should have yielded a packed house.

It didn't.

With weather so beautiful, why then did we see empty seats not only in the first-turn, but also in the main grandstand?

That's the first question that had long-time track observers scratching their heads.

Then there was the car count.

Charlie and I spoke at length about car counts during our annual meeting for his interview for the paper's motorsports publication.

He pointed out that in some parts of the country, 15 sprint cars is a full field. There are some places where that happens, but on the whole, over the past few years, car counts are slowly rising.

Last week's Empire Super Sprints challenge race, which helped usher in the new 360 sprint car era at the track, drew just 26 cars for a $3,000-to-in show.

There were seven cars from ESS (one less than last year), one from the Patriot Sprint Tour, some drivers who will follow the United Racing Company tour and others who will split time between the 360 and 410 scene.

Unofficially, that leaves the speedway with a starting base of 15 sprint cars for a weekly show.

Charlie went on to say that he thinks we here in Central Pennsylvania are spoiled with big car counts.

It was not all that long ago when Selinsgrove, Port Royal and Lincoln speedways all ran the 410s on Saturday nights.

To some extent, I do see his point that we are in some way spoiled. After all, we live in THE sprint car capitol of the world, but still, once has to wonder how much higher will the car count be on nonchallenge nights?

I don't know what the actual car count was on the first night the 358s were at the track in 2001, but you have to remember back then, there were a lot more of them around.

Today, the division is all but extinct.

Charlie also said that if you get six cars or 66 cars, it's a problem either way.

Given the harsh winter we experienced, like many, I thought the stands would be full last Saturday.

This week, the United Racing Company opens its season at the track and one has to wonder if some of those drivers who did not come out for last week's show wanted to save their cars for the season ahead with URC.

In the pro stock division, the count was 12. It was one of the divisions that most people figured would be in the 20s given the fact that Port Royal dropped the class after last season.

After suffering through some low-car counts last year, the roadrunners had 13 cars. The late models had 21 cars and Jeff Rine won by more than five seconds. Nothing new there.

So the question that will be looked at for the 2014 season at the track is which way will the car counts go?

For the sake of the fans, I hope it gets to the point this year where all four divisions need a consolation race each night.

I am not a fan of getting the races over in less than two hours. I think that mentality will someday come back to haunt a track in a deadly way.

A three-hour show is good enough for the amount of money fans spend to see a form of entertainment.

The other question -- and it may or may not be answered by year's end -- is, will the sprint car counts get back to normal?

Then again, how do you define 'normal' when it comes to sprint car racing in Central Pennsylvania?

n Shawn Wood covers motorsports for The Daily Item.