We've seen it a number of times over the years. A weekly race track wants to spice up the season with a handful of special events featuring regional tours. The ticket price normally goes up to cover the cost, and weekly race teams often times get placed on the back burner for the evening.
In 2019, one local paved oval with a long, rich tradition of hosting various tours, both open-wheel and full-fendered, has broken out of the mold, so to speak, and is putting its weekly racing at center stage.
“The fact is that car counts are suffering throughout the industry,” track owner Andy Cusack said. “I eliminated the tour races this year because I couldn't justify charging our fans $25 or $30 and a having a higher pit pass fee for car counts that aren't any better than our own. I needed to get away from that.”
It wasn't just the cost of admission for fans and racers that was a concern for Cusack, there is more to it.
“Whenever I had the PASS tour here, it most often took away a points race for my Pro Series guys. As the Division 1 NASCAR track in this area, they were losing points races towards a better finish on the national level. So there were a few factors in the decision, and I think it's working out for us so far.”
The lone visit to BRMS by a touring series will be on August 3 by the Valenti Modified Racing Series.
“I kept the Modifieds on the schedule because they are such a staple product at Beech Ridge,” Cusack added. “There are a lot of open-wheel roots around here, people can still relate to those cars. Every time I have them here I see a bunch of our old Modified drivers and crew members.
“A lot of them have long since retired from racing, but they don't miss the Mods when they come to town. I didn't want to take that away from those people who've loved those cars for so many years.”
What's more than impressive about Beech Ridge is the fact it has only had three owners since Jim McConnell first opened the gates back in 1949. J.B. sold it to Calvin Reynolds in 1973, then Ralph Cusack bought the joint in the spring of 1981. Three owners, and one common theme – great racing.
This season, Cusack is utilizing a different formula than in the past. For years, the track didn't start its weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action until Memorial Day weekend and was done right after Labor Day. Last year, he started in early May and took one week off a month for other events.
“All three of our divisions are getting more points races in now that we start earlier and focus on weekly racing,” Cusack explained. “We're seeing kind of a side benefit from it now, because on the rare occasion we have to assess a penalty, those folks are realizing there is plenty of racing left.
“This allows a little more room for a bad night or if you have points taken away, because you'll have a better chance to rebound and get back into contention. So those guys are taking it in stride, and they know if it happens before July there is still plenty of time to bounce back. More races is a good thing.”
There is a good reason that Beech Ridge used to race primarily between late May and early September.
“When you look at the big picture weather-wise here in northern New England, you quickly realize that our prime time for outdoor activities is between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“It was proven again this year because even though we got four or five shows completed in May, our fans had to endure some cold nights. It was kind of discouraging for a lot of us because the crowd was small, yet we understood why they stayed home. I know it's always going to cool off at night in May.”
Now that summer is in full swing and the weather has finally come around, fans are returning to their familiar hangout on the Holmes Road. In my two visits in June, especially on June 22 for 'Super Saturday' highlighted by the Pro Series 125, I saw great crowds enjoying some exciting races.
“It has rebounded nicely to where it should be this time of year. We finally got our Thursday Thunder show in last week after that rained out for two straight weeks. It was warm and comfortable outside, and we had a great crowd. That tells me when it's nice out and we have no threat of rain, they'll come.”
It was a definite gamble and bold move to go this route in 2019, but it's working out at Beech Ridge. A lot of us, myself included, miss the PASS and ACT races there big-time. Yet I'm also smart enough to realize that a track that focuses on weekly racing is good for our sport. Let's hope it lives on.
“It's just not like the old days when we were young, going to the races every week,” Cusack said. “There are so many other things a person can do today, and it's hard to attract new fans and hold their interest for any length of time. The average American's attention span is getting pretty short.
“We never get a single complaint from a fan on a show that goes off too quickly,” Cusack said. “That is a change from years past. The mentality in the past from a promoter's standpoint was, tell the fans they are getting a good value, because they're getting an exciting four-hour show for their admission fee.”
These days, if you make those fans hang around for three and a half or four hours, you've lost them.
“People no longer see that as a value, they see that as a penalty. These days, if they can get that show in within two, maybe two and half hours, they're happy and can go to a late dinner or even catch a show. Leaving here at a decent hour is pretty appealing to both fans and racers. It's how it has to work now.”
At Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, change is happening. They've been there since 1949, and they aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Ignore the rumors, they are just that. The track isn't for sale, and the third family to ever run BRMS takes big pride in continuing their legacy of short track entertainment.
“I'm just really proud to keep this place going,” Cusack said. “I'm lucky I got to know Jim McConnell on a personal basis, and the same with Calvin Reynolds. It's still fun to be able to talk with Cal about this business.
“I was in the infield the other night when the Pro Series cars were running, and it was time to reflect. I looked up at the sky and said 'Thanks, God, because this is so cool.' I'm really lucky to be doing this.”
-Story by: Phil Whipple, Speed51.com Northeast SLM Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51