One of the most ground-shaking announcements in years for weekly Dirt Modified racing in Central New York was made on Labor Day Monday. Both Fulton Speedway which hosts Saturday night racing and Utica-Rome Speedway which is unique as a Sunday track, both announced that they will be dropping their headlining Big-Block Modified divisions and moving to the 358 Small-Block Modifieds, effective at the beginning of both track’s 2018 seasons.
Fulton’s sister track Brewerton Speedway, both under the ownership of John Wight, will continue to host Big-Block Modified racing as a part of their Friday night program.
Fulton/Brewerton Marketing Director Cory Reed explained that the decision was not because of a lack of cars at the top level, but rather too many below.
“It’s probably looking five years down the road, more so than it is for next year. The overall inherent cost of a Small-Block is less than a Big-Block Modified,” Reed said. “Once you have a Big-Block, the costs are probably the same, but to get in as a whole to be top notch, is a significant amount of money. We’ve never been ones who tell people how to spend their money. The challenge we’re running into, we actually have a really good problem at our tracks, we have a gazillion Crate 602 Sportsman Modifieds.
“We have consistently had 45-60 every week in our primary class. The challenge is there is no outlet for them to go to the Big-Blocks. It’s extremely cost prohibitive and daunting to go from a $3,500 engine to a $30,000 to $40,000 engine, it happens very rarely. Where the Small-Block is not going to be as big a transition as how they drive it and the economics to try and get out of it. We hope this will take the flood of Sportsman and take the upper five to ten percent that have been wanting to move to something else. They were going to fade away or go to Sprint Cars if we didn’t do something else.”
Meanwhile, to the Southeast at Utica-Rome Speedway, track owner Bill Shea has been looking to get a boost for the top division which has been Big-Blocks for many years. While he has seriously considered a change to 358 Small-Blocks, it wasn’t until he had talked with Fulton owner John Wight about his plans for change, that the time seemed right.
“A few years ago, we were a NASCAR track and we were struggling to get Big-Blocks. I’ve always been a fan of 358 racing, because Utica-Rome back in the day before I owned the track was a 358 track, along with Brewerton and Fulton,” Shea explained. “There was always a lot of good race cars and a lot of good racing. Ten years ago, I owned a race car with a guy driving it, started out as a Small-Block and went to a Big-Block. I was amazed at the cost of it, not only for the motor, but the wear and tear on the car because of all the horsepower you’re putting threw the drivetrain.
“I’ve been thinking about Small-Blocks for a long time, I considered making the change a year ago, but I couldn’t be on an island by myself here. I needed another track to do such. We had two 358 races with King of Dirt at Utica-Rome this year, we had 42 cars at one and 33 at the other. John Wight, it caught his attention and he asked if I had thought about doing that permanently. I said yes and he said he wants to do it at Fulton, so that’s how it happened.”
Since Monday’s announcement, Shea has been hearing back from teams at all levels of competition at U-R, including the Sportsman class, where like Fulton & Brewerton, has also grown large with no direct step up. Though the response has been mostly positive, there are some Big-Block teams that are feeling left out that still want to race weekly on Sunday’s.
“There’s so many Sportsman cars and guys ready to make the move to something else, but there’s no alternative,” Shea stated. “They can’t afford to go to a Big-Block, but they can move to a Small-Block. I’ve heard from a bunch of those guys, they’re very positive. I’ve talked to some Big-Block guys that don’t know what they’re going to do, probably going to go Small-Block. I’ve also talked to two other Big-Block teams that are going to Small-Block and they’re very happy about it. It’s mixed, but it’s more in favor of going with 358s.”
Fulton has already received positive feedback from race teams, also primarily in the Sportsman ranks.
“Just this week, we already know of at least three Sportsman teams, just after the announcement on Monday, that are one-hundred percent going to our Small-Block class,” Reed remarked. “That’s just now, that’s before everyone starts shopping and prepping for next year. Will it be as many as we hope, probably not, you always have to hedge your expectations a bit because talk is cheap.”
Though Big-Block racing will continue in the Oswego metro area every Friday at Brewerton, some teams are planning to stay local at Fulton for Saturday’s running Small-Block’s.
“I anticipate we’ll have a small percentage that will. I know there is already two Big-Block teams that switched to Big-Blocks. It’s not really our goal, but there’s a team that blew up two or three Big-Blocks this year and the daunting task of rebuilding becomes a monumental amount of money,” Reed said. “A percentage of our cars will also do both, some teams will run weekly at Brewerton with a Big-Block car and weekly at Fulton with a Small-Block car, especially people who live real close by. I think several of our Fulton Big-Block field will do that, that’s just my opinion.”
Reed also believes that other tracks in Central New York that run Big-Blocks on Saturdays will benefit from the change, and that it could go as far to even bolster touring series that run week nights such as the Super DIRTcar Series, Short Track Super Series and RoC Dirt Modified Series.
“They’ll be at Canandaigua more than likely, Fonda, there’s races at Rolling Wheels, Weedsport, there’s plenty of opportunities for Big-Blocks on Saturdays. But on the touring level if guys cut back on their weekly without running two nights a week, some guys will venture a little bit out on to the trail.”
Both Fulton and Utica-Rome ran Small-Blocks as their top class primarily in the 80’s and 90’s but switched to Big-Blocks around the turn of the century. Ironically, for much of the same reasons in the return to Small-Block racing now.
“Fulton and Brewerton were always Small-Block tracks for years and years until the early 2000’s. Then costs of Small-Blocks back then were actually exceeding the costs of a Big-Block and the life expectancy of a Small-Block at that point was low because it was a very challenging engine package that was being run at the time, so Big-Blocks became a better opportunity for tracks around here. Now it has kind of been a role-reversal,” Reed explained.
Speed51.com will have more on who will be running what and where in the weeks and months leading into the 2018 season.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com