In August, a season was cut short leaving fans and competitors wondering if there would ever be asphalt racing again near Buffalo, New York. Enter ARCA Racing Series and PASS Super Late Model driver Bill Catania, who not only continued a tradition that has been present for decades at the 5/8-mile Lancaster Speedway oval but stayed with the effort to make sure the U.S. Open was a successful event despite many adverse attempts from Mother Nature.
The two-day extravaganza was set to take place in mid-September. The initial day was an instant success with approximately 3,000 fans enjoying the mid-60s temperatures and five diverse divisions of racing. Then the clouds rolled in and postponed Sunday’s portion highlighted by the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour. Two more postponements and nearly an entire month later the skies finally were clear and Catania’s entire Short Track Management team was on hand to promote a smoothly run show for those that braved the extreme chilly autumn conditions.
“We had an excellent day two and it would have been great to tie it all together,” Catania told Speed51.com powered by JEGS after a full-day of competition. “We had over a hundred campers here the first time for day one, and the atmosphere was like Woodstock. But I’ve got to say for the way the weather was today, and the struggle it was over 30 days trying to put it together I couldn’t be happier with how it went off. Looked like a pretty good fan count and the car count was up. That’s all you can ask for this time of year near Buffalo.”
Perhaps the most promising turnout came from the Late Model division. A class that used to be one of the headlining divisions in each year’s running was dropped from the card in 2013. When the 50-lap return of the popular cars was announced the drivers answered. 15 were on hand Sunday with at least three others that had registered and practiced but couldn’t make the trip back.
“I have a soft spot for the Late Models,” admitted Catania. “I still think that there’s a market for the Late Models, but we’ve got to get the rules to a place that matches the inventory of cars in this market. We’re looking at everything for next year.”
Catania competed in Late Models in the general region before relocating to North Carolina. His organization is now giving back to the area he came from, beginning with reopening and operating the Stateline Speedway dirt track situated on the New York-Pennsylvania border. Based on what he has learned there, Catania has some ideas on what can bring back the fans to Lancaster week after week.
“I would love to bring the Late Models back at least on a somewhat semi-regular basis, and the same thing with the (Tour-Type) Modifieds,” said Catania. “At Stateline we get in the neighborhood of 28-32 Super Lates every week, and if we don’t have those Super Lates we’d have half the fans that we get.
“I would look at this scenario the same way. You have to have your headliner and it has to be something different and exciting. Fans that have been loyal and supportive to this track for 50 years want big Modifieds. I don’t think the market would support them 20 times a year, but we would work very carefully around the Race of Champions schedule and a little bit with the NASCAR Whelen Tour to make sure we can get them here one or two times a month and crown a track champion at the end of the year. That’s the way it ought to be at Lancaster.”
With the U.S. Open now deemed a success despite all the circumstances, Catania and his team hope to continue their involvement among other projects. His group is in the process of closing on Eriez Speedway (PA), a sister facility to Stateline. They hope to do the same with Lancaster.
“We’re looking at Lancaster real hard,” said Catania. “We’ve submitted a bid to buy it and we’ve also provided a draft agreement. We’re just waiting right now for the property owner (Gordon Reger) to approve that. In a perfect world I would have announced it today that we’ve closed, but the good news is I think we’re going to come to terms in the next week. If we can make that work, Short Track Management would immediately begin operating Lancaster.”
While it may not be another six months until cars are on the race track again, if all goes according to plan Catania would like to make some improvements and begin some communication right away.
“While we might not close on the transaction until the first of the year, it allows us to have a drivers meeting, a drivers banquet, and get the rules of the classes figured out. Start doing some light work here, for example some of the work in the concessions, a new web site to be put up, things that would make a difference in image but maybe not cost a lot.”
The future looks bright for facilities on the verge of being history thanks to a driver and all around supporter of short track racing.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com