The 2nd Annual Fall Classic that concluded the 2015 season at the Motordrome Speedway (PA) this past weekend saw the repetition of an all too common theme throughout the year. A cold front quickly passing through went from a prediction earlier in the week of only a slight chance of precipitation to a matter of when the line of showers would hit on the day of the event.
Drivers and fans already sitting on the fence ultimately made the decision not to attend due to the weather threat, and as a result car counts and turnout were not the most impressive by any means. Fortunately for those in attendance, a special school bus race and a 100 lap Enduro were run immediately after the rain subsided and in the process dried the track for the three weekly divisions to compete.
Lonnie Hoffmann held off 2014 Fall Classic winner Dustin Blank in an entertaining Modified Division finale late in the evening to bring the year of Western Pennsylvania asphalt racing to an end. It also marked the completion of the second season of short track racing at the half-mile under the operation of Todd Melfi.
Melfi and his company Turn 4 Entertainment purchased the speedway at the beginning of 2014, a time in which the future of the facility was highly uncertain. He and his wife Melissa, who both can be seen week in and week out around the Motordrome grounds with a hands on approach to a number of tasks, previously managed the development of the currently idle Lake Erie Speedway (PA) in its infancy. Todd went on to be a key player in the construction of the Iowa Speedway complex as well.
Todd Melfi admits; however, that a variety of factors have definitely showed that there have been and continue to be several hurdles to overcome bringing the track that sits only 50 miles outside of metropolitan Pittsburgh to prominence and keeping short track racing alive on Friday nights.
“It’s been frustrating, it’s been fun, it’s been challenging–all of the things that promoters and short tracks go through anywhere around the country, particularly tracks that have been struggling already,” Melfi told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We definitely have accomplished some things that we set our minds to coming into it, but we’ve got a long ways to go on some other things if we want to get to a place where we feel the weekly racing program is stable.”
Among those accomplishments include multi-year partnerships with corporations such as UPMC Health Plan, a health insurance division for a major medical center based out of Pittsburgh which altogether employs the second largest population in the state. With that relationship included title race sponsorship of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East’s first ever visit in August, an event in which they hope to continue for years to come.
With inaugural events come some unexpected outcomes though. Due to the sheer performance and faster speeds of the cars in one of the premier regional stock car touring series in the country, the track surface began to break up in spots during practice day. Overnight, crews came in to patch some of the original asphalt first paved in 1989. It proved not to be enough.
The 150-lap NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race was halted twice for track repair. In the end, the fixes held up and set up for a thrilling 30 lap finish where Dillon Bassett used tire conservation to get the lead and stayed ahead of a charging Rico Abreu for the win. Nevertheless, the unanticipated expenses paired with Mother Nature doing her best attempt to disrupt several shows at the beginning of the season put them in a hole.
“The first part of the season was bad,” Melfi stated. “Probably nine out of the first 11 races were rainy, and you just can’t recover from that. So from an operation standpoint that really hurt us and put us behind. The second half of the season was better, but you can’t make up for lost events.”
Altogether, there was only one complete rain out all season. That sounds remarkable for a short track on paper, but when the schedule is constantly affected week after week the bottom line can look even more painful than if the plug were to be pulled for the night.
One of the main reasons Todd, Melissa, and staff have kept pressing on is for those that have continued to support them.
“We’ve known that the race fans are amongst the most loyal around and I’ve definitely learned over the last couple years here that we have a good core group of diehard race fans,” Melfi said. “They sit through everything that we sit through as track promoters and owners. They have to sit out the rain delays, they have to wait out the track drying, they have to wait out the track repairs just like us.
“They’re spending money to come out and do that, so they’re dedicated race fans and they just want to see good racing. That’s what we’re trying to commit ourselves to be able to provide them for many years in the future here.”
In regards to the future, now with the season complete the plan remains to improve on what has been experienced so far.
“Probably for the next month or two I really start to look back at the season and digest what went right and what went wrong, maybe take a lot of feedback from drivers and others that I trust in the industry,” Melfi explained. “Maybe make certain changes that I think are going to better the operations moving forward.”
Melfi indicated that discussion has already begun about setting up committees for each division composed of different drivers, owners, and crew members scheduled to meet on a regular basis. Figuring out rules as well as other ideas as it applies to limiting costs and maintaining the current group of racers in an atmosphere constantly filled with moving pieces will be part of the intended goals.
“It’s an awful lot that goes into it, not just putting a schedule out,” Melfi said about offseason planning. “We’ll be ready to go next year with our NASCAR weekly racing program and getting back into talks with the touring series and see which ones we want to bring back, and maybe some new ones we can bring in. It will be a busy offseason for sure.”
Despite some major ups and downs, Todd Melfi and those all-in at Motordrome Speedway appear to be optimistic about envisioning the more than 25 year legacy of asphalt racing in Western Pennsylvania continuing.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Pennsylvania/Central New York Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com