With the ARCA Menards Series East season opener as well as the first night of Tour-type Modified racing on Monday night at New Smyrna Speedway (FL), there was plenty of anticipation about what the night would bring.
Along with two exciting finishes and dramatic on-track action featuring some of the top short track stars, the night brought one of the largest crowds the track has seen in recent memory.
So many people flocked to the Florida half-mile on Monday night, the facility ran out of parking spaces. The capacity crowd lined County Road 415 and State Road 44 surrounding the facility, squeezing their vehicles anywhere they could find space before packing the stands.
It provided an extra level of energy to an already captivating night, and it was not lost on promoters and drivers alike.
Rusty Marcus, Track Manager at New Smyrna Speedway, called it nothing short of divine.
“That crowd was a gift from God. Period. It was incredible. We are super-stoked with the ARCA Menards Series. It was the first one, so we didn’t know what to expect. We are thrilled to death.
“So far, the 2020 World Series has been absolutely great. That took it to a whole new level. We were excited with how everything had been so far, with the Tour-type car counts and the racing being really good. That was like putting double icing on a great cake.”
Gregg McKarns, best known for his work in the Midwest with venues such as Madison International Speedway as well as the ARCA Midwest Tour, was also blown away by the crowd on hand.
“I thought it was a great shot in the arm for that entire coming together, merger of three series to see the strong car counts, competitive cars and a fan base energized and excited to be at the speedway.
“We’ve been at that event for years, since they started doing it. You never know what to expect. You got the perfect weather, good drivers, short track drivers behind the wheel that had the pedigree. The movers and shakers of the short track world were out there on the track. All around, a great event.”
Drivers also spoke to the importance of the large crowd on hand Monday. Stephen Nasse, making his first start in the ARCA Menards Series East, said it was crucial for events like Monday night to be successful for short track racing to thrive.
“It always feels good to have a lot of eyes on you, and it’s good for the sport, as well,” said Nasse. “This is what I do for fun, and a little bit for a living outside of the construction stuff. For that to happen, the tracks have to stay open.”
That crowd stuck around to watch the 50-lap Tour-type Modified feature, and were treated to an excellent race with a side-by-side finish between Anthony Nocella and Matt Hirschman. Long-time Florida racer Jeremy Gerstner was part of that race, and hopes the local crowd will continue to come out and see what the ground pounders have to offer.
“It was awesome. I think they know the Modifieds are the best show right here. We put on plenty of side-by-side racing. Last night was just the first night. I can tell you the [Richie Evans Memorial] 100-lapper is going to be something else.”
At a time when fans can often be divided and negative towards the health of short track racing, especially on pavement, it was an incredible evening for the sport. Seeing a sell-out crowd on its feet throughout the night for two incredible races was a great sight to start the 2020 season.
Hopefully, it’s one we can see around the country this year, with fans itching to flood their local short tracks to see more racing like what took place Monday at New Smyrna.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51