(Editor’s Note: 3Wide is a three-person roundtable discussion on Speed51.com powered by JEGS debating the hottest topics in short track racing. Speed51.com’s Matt Kentfield, Brandon Paul and Rob Blount sit down at the virtual roundtable to debate the a recent big topic in short track racing. Keep in mind, the opinions stated are solely the opinions of the staff member making them and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of Speed51.com and its parent company, 51 Sports, LLC.)
This past weekend we witnessed two different short track races at two different race tracks with two different types of race cars provide a very similar type of racing. Both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Greenville Pickens Speedway (SC) and the Southern Modified Racing Series race at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) were tire conservation races from the time the green flag dropped.
While one of these races (SMRS) saw a number of lead changes due to the differing strategies, the other (K&N East) featured very little passing throughout the field.
With that being said, what is your stance on tire conservation races?
Rob Blount – Speed51.com Southeast Editor (Twitter: @RobBlount)
Tire conservation races are a part of racing. They’re going to happen. For me, if I go into it knowing what to expect I’m usually able to enjoy it. I greatly enjoyed the Southern Modified Racing Series race at Hickory on Saturday night. There was plenty of passing and lead changes.
But I can see why people get frustrated seeing drivers lift off the throttle halfway down the straightaway rather than going as fast as they can.
However, I’ll take a race that features passing over a single-file affair any day of the week.
Matt Kentfield – Speed51.com Executive Director (Twitter: @mattkentfield)
I understand peoples’ gripes with tire conservation races. What I don’t understand is peoples’ suggestions on how to fix it. I saw people on social media after the Hickory SMRS race that the race should’ve only been 50 laps so everyone could go balls-to-the-wall. Great plan. Then those same fans would’ve been pissed that the race only took 20 minutes to complete and, just my hypothesis, someone would’ve run away with the race without much passing. Besides, Jimmy Race Fan in the stands probably doesn’t realize it’s a tire conservation race. Most of them just watch for passing, crashing and door-banging and don’t pay much attention to which tire compound gives the most grip.
Greenville is a worn-out race track. It hasn’t been paved in decades. That’s just part of its character. It’s nothing new. Honestly, not much passing in a K&N East race there is nothing new either. I’ve probably seen a dozen of those races there over the years and can honestly say I’ve never seen a highly-competitive race up front. Seen good races, sure, but nothing that I have ever immediately called a buddy and raved about. That’s not the tire’s fault. That’s just how the track is. Those who master it, succeed. There’s not much anyone can do to fix it.
Brandon Paul – Speed51.com Editor (Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51)
While tire conservation races can sometimes turn out to be interesting at the end of a race, which seemed to be the case at Hickory before the rain, I can’t force myself to say that they’re what short track racing should be about. Fans pay to watch a 100-lap race and they should see a 100-lap race, not 90 laps of conservation and 10 laps of racing.
I understand that there were a number of lead changes at Hickory this past weekend, but as a race fan I couldn’t get excited about those lead changes knowing that drivers saving more like Matt Hirschman and Jon McKennedy were lying in the weeds. And don’t get me wrong, the SMRS race at Hickory is not the only example nor the most prominent example of tire conservation, it is just the most recent example. Whether race fans liked the style of racing or not, they were talking about it.
Overall, I find it hard to fault the drivers for this type of racing, they play the hand that they’re given. Moving forward, I think it’s up to the promoters and tire manufactures to help them with that hand. A majority of the fans don’t want to watch this style of racing, and the majority of the drivers don’t want it either.
RB: A track that is similar to this is New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway. I have seen multiple races there that have been single-file half-speed parades for 90 laps before everyone goes insane in the final 10. The Valenti Modified Racing Series had the genius idea of splitting the event into two 50-lap races. If we can’t afford a harder tire or for teams to pit and change tires, then maybe that’s the route we should go. Should it be what short track racing is about? No, but it’s a part of it. Tire conservation is a big factor at the biggest race of the year, the Snowball Derby, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone really complain about it there.
MK: I’m no tire expert by any means, but I want to see competitive races. I personally was entertained through the 100-plus laps held at Hickory before the rain called it short. I knew what was going on the whole time with the tire conservation, but it intrigued me to see how it’d play out. You’re going to get a dud of a race, no matter the track or tire compound, from time to time. You only hear this issue when there’s a “lackluster” race from some of those who complain. Well guess what? I’ve seen Modified races at Bristol, Thompson, Stafford and even New Hampshire – all ideal Modified racetracks, a time or two be letdowns from races I’ve seen at those tracks before. It happens.
I also think part of the issue with this, at least on the Modified side, is the typical issue I have with many of the keyboard cowboy Modified fans that just love to complain about anything and everything. They can see a five-wide photo finish and still complain on Facebook that the sixth-place guy was 10 carlengths behind.
BP: It does happen, but that doesn’t mean that promoters and others involved in the sport shouldn’t give it their best effort to stop it from happening. The first step in fixing a problem is realizing that there is a problem. As Rob mentioned, that is exactly what Jack Bateman and the Valenti Modified Racing Series did one year ago.
Tommy Barrett and others were stinking up the show during Tour-Type Modified races at Lee USA Speedway by saving their stuff until the end before charging to the front late. Again, I don’t blame the driver for that, but I do commend the series for realizing that there was a problem. So to fix the problem they break the 100-lap race up into two separate 50-lap races, allowing a tire change in between races, and the winner of the event is the driver with the best combined finish.
They did this at Lee and they did this at Beech Ridge, another track that the Modifieds were accustomed to “sandbagging” at. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen segment racing, but it was the first time a series changed the format of a race in order to combat tire conservation races and provide more entertainment for the fans. During a day in age when it seems like race fans can always find something to complain about, I haven’t heard one bad thing said about the decision made by MRS officials.
RB: Like you both have said, people are going to complain. That seems to be a given in the social media age. It just comes down to what the individual fan wants to see. People are going to complain if, to use Duke’s term, everyone is going “balls to the wall” all race and one driver stinks up the show. And people are going to complain if drivers are running at half-throttle to save their tires for most of the event. Just give me a competitive race with side-by-side action and lead changes and I’ll be happy.
MK: I think people are being far too critical of the Southern Modified Racing Series just because of the tire conservation issue. Say what you will about the strategy the teams had to utilize, I think a far bigger point to be made is that there were more than 20 Modifieds that took the green flag in the series’ first event when their other competing series have less-than-spectacular car counts these days. Greenville can’t really be fixed unless you re-pave it or ban a guy like Mike Greci, who was the team manager for four of the last five K&N East race-winning teams at Greenville and five out of the last 10. Personally, I think the teams need to share some of the responsibility to figure out how to race given the box they’re put in and step their game up if someone else is routinely better than them at the conservation game.
BP: No doubt about it, you have to commend the Southern Modified Racing Series for what they accomplished with their inaugural race. But I believe the biggest thing to take away from all of this is that promoters can’t be afraid to try something new. Race tracks throughout the country are getting older and with that comes the more abrasive racing surfaces. Not every race needs to be 100, 125 or 150 laps in distance. Personally, I’d rather watch a highly entertaining 30-lap feature than a 100-lap race in which the drivers only get up on the wheel for 10 laps.
Like with everything, short track racing needs to be able to change with the times and this is a perfect example of that. Things aren’t the same as they were 20 years ago. It’s much more difficult to get people in the grandstands than it was 20 years ago, so when you do get them in the stands they need to be fully entertained.
-Text by Speed51.com Staff