(Editor’s Note: This story is a part of Speed51.com’s State of the Sanction series, which takes a look at the current state of sanctioning bodies throughout the short track racing world.)
The ARCA Midwest Tour enters its 12th year of racing and by all accounts one of the premiere Super Late Model series in the country is holding steady at just that. The brain child of Steve Einhaus and Tim Olson, the Midwest Tour changed hands prior to the 2015 season and now veteran promoter Gregg McKarns continues to feel good about the state of his Midwest based series.
“From my point of view, we are in an okay position,” McKarns told Speed51.com. “We continue to see solid car counts and great fan support. There are always areas to work on and we continue to work with other sanctioning bodies around the country to address those issues. I have never been one for a knee-jerk reaction, so sometimes the process takes a little longer than others may like. That being said, we make our decisions based on what is deemed to have the best interest of short track auto racing at heart for the long haul.”
While McKarns enters his fourth season at the helm of the Midwest Tour, he credits the former owners with laying a solid foundation. Thing like the Touring Star program, which provides added incentives for drivers who plan to run the full schedule, and a strong contingency program reward drivers who are committed to the series.
“The blueprint for success was laid out a long time ago, solid purses, travel incentive plans for our touring teams, rules which allow local drivers to compete evenly with the touring stars, name recognition amongst our fans and traditional events are just some of the areas we concentrate on,” McKarns explained. “When we acquired the ARCA Midwest Tour, there was a good base, we tweaked a few areas and have provided a great travel and bonus program (over $40,000 in 2017) for our teams with the help of our contingency sponsors.”
One change McKarns has stuck with is trying to limit two-day shows and really bring the focus back to one-day events. A typical Midwest Tour event see the pits open around 1:00 p.m. with two practice sessions, one for 30 minutes and one for 25 minutes, followed closely by qualifying and then racing that evening. The long-time promoter believes this has done nothing but help his series.
“Our emphasis on one-day race programs and limited practice schedule are geared toward helping our teams,” McKarns stated. “At the end of the day, my job is to get the top cars on the track to put the best show on for our fans in the stands. Since doing this, we average just six tires purchased per car on race day. My goal is to be done racing three hours after the green flag flies on a race night. Our officials know this and carry out a well-run program from the word go.”
In addition to tightening up the race day schedule, McKarns has brought a few marquee events back to the schedule, most notable the Dixieland 250 and returning the Oktoberfest event to a 200-lap race. This year he has also made the season opener, the Joe Shear Classic at Madison (WI), a $10,000 to win event.
“Even before we got ARCAMT, I had a plan to bring the Dixieland 250 back, so that one was pretty simple,” McKarns said. “The first Tuesday in August had been a mainstay for my parents’ ARTGO Challenge Series, as a one-day event, it works well. Oktoberfest had been a 200-lap championship feature for years, had gone away from it and now is back to it. Taking the Joe Shear Classic at Madison to 200 laps was a pretty easy decision when I saw how well Fest and Dixieland were playing out on the track. Last year we had ten lead changes among seven drivers during the Joe Shear. I was nervous whether or not the numbers would work out, but the team and driver support was there so we decided to make it ten thousand to win this year.”
This season the Midwest Tour schedule will see visits to 10 different tracks throughout Wisconsin and Illinois. That number has jumped around a but over the past few years, but at the end of the day McKarns says if they can be between 10-12 races, that’s a solid season.
“It is my family’s money on the line most of the time. We have our Friday night programs at Madison International Speedway, we have our LaCrosse involvement, Street Drags and other various dealings,” McKarns explained. “Why should we risk our time, money and resources to run an event just to say we did it? Each Midwest Tour event needs to be special and I feel if there are too many of them, eventually they cease to be special. Last season we had twelve, this season we have ten, anywhere between those numbers I am comfortable with. There are some tracks that I would like to see us at, and there are some tracks that would like to see the Midwest Tour come to town. Over time I believe those events will happen or resurface in some cases.”
The root of what helps McKarns continue to see success is his genuine love for short track racing. Formerly the promoter at Rockford Speedway, he is also the current owner of Madison International Speedway. Much of that passion comes from his family; his father John McKarns was one of the founders of the old ARTGO Series.
“My heart is in short track pavement auto racing, I thought about jumping ship over to the dirt world in 2014, but decided this is where I wanted to be. However, I did study the dirt playbook quite closely,” McKarns admitted. “Some aspects such as multiple tire combinations that we have utilized at various events, shortened practice and race days as well as building up our drivers are all built into what we do today. I go to countless events and numerous places to see what I can learn and implement to make the sport I love stronger and continue growing it.”
While the Midwest Tour continues to hold steady as one of the top Super Late Model series in the country, there is no doubt this year will bring some adversity. The series enters the year with heavy hearts as its long-time tech director, Mike “Lumpy” Lemke passed away in March.
“Our entire racing family misses Mike ‘Lumpy’ Lemke who passed away in February. So, we are at a bit of a disadvantage not having our field commander. That being said, I know our staff and teams will make it happen in 2018.”
The 2018 Midwest Tour season kicks off on Sunday, May 6 with the $10,000-to-win Joe Shear Classic at Madison International Speedway.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo credit: Speed51.com