This weekend, the CARS Tour will begin its fifth anniversary season. On Monday, CARS Tour Director Chris Ragle joined “The Morning Bullring,” discussing the state of the series going into the season.
Ragle chatted with hosts Bob Dillner and Casey LaJoie, discussing some of the big events on the CARS Tour schedule for 2019, starting with the season opener at Southern National at Lucama, North Carolina. For Ragle, the return to Southern National after two seasons away feels like the series coming full-circle. Southern National hosted the tour’s inaugural event on March 28, 2015.
“Southern National Motorsports Park, Michael Diaz’s track in Kenly, is where it all started,” Ragle said. “Our first ever race was there. We haven’t been there in two years, so we’re glad to be getting back there.”
Ragle is also excited for the return to Southern National due to its accompanying purse. For the first time, the CARS Tour is paying $10,000 to the winners in both of its touring divisions during the same event.
“We’ve got two $10,000-to-win events, one for Super Late Models, one for Late Model Stocks,” Ragle commented. “Four-tire race, 150 green flag laps. Car counts look just awesome. It’s very likely that we’ll send guys home in each division. We’re very excited.”
The Southern National season opener marks the series’ highest-paying purse over its history. However, that mark will be broken again in April, when the series hosts the inaugural Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway (NC). The event is paying $30,000 to win and $1,200 to start.
Ragle said the Old North State Nationals was his most anticipated event on the 2019 schedule.
“I would say in 2019, without a doubt it’s the Old North State Nationals on April 6thand 7th, the highest-paying Late Model Stock race ever at Orange County.”
Another staple of the CARS Tour returning for a third season is the Throwback 276. A celebration of stock car racing history at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC), the event features throwback car designs, legendary racing figures attending as guests, and a swell of fan participation.
“Without a question, the Throwback 276, in two years, has just blown up,” Ragle stated. “It’s a cool event, a cool thing with the participation we get. The competitors bring out the old schemes. The fans have the old haircuts and dressing and shirts. We’ve expanded that to two days, we’re bringing it back this year.”
2019 also marks the second season of the “Touring 12” program for the CARS Late Model Stock Tour. The program offers benefits to a dozen full-time competitors on the tour to thank and reward them for their dedication to the series.
“We definitely modeled that after the Lucas Oil [Dirt Late Model] Series and things like that,” Ragle said. “I feel like the Lucas Oil and World of Outlaws have it going on. For us, one of the big things they have that we don’t have on asphalt is the consistency of teams and drivers from season to season. That’s the key ingredient we need to build true fans. That’s the program we came up with for rewarding those teams and drivers that continue to race in our series, give them a reason to come back each and every season. When you do the math, it comes out to $6,000 or $7,000 in sponsorship per team, between tires and free tickets, extra bonus money, things like that. That’s giving them a reason to come back each and every week.”
Over the years, the CARS Tour has occasionally faced criticism for “gimmicks” such as live pit stops and segmented “big money” races. Ragle acknowledged that the format for events such as the Mid Atlantic Classic will be simplified for 2019 to a four-tire format, removing the option for Super Late Model teams to change tires during the segment breaks of the $10,000-to-win race.
“One of the things we did this year is, a lot of our big money races will only be four tires,” he explained. “We found that by keeping the usage of the tires down a little bit instead of making guys buy an extra set of tires. It didn’t really change the racing product. We take away pit crews, even at the Snowball Derby going to controlled cautions. Even at our events, everybody came and put their tires on at the same time. You didn’t have a lot of strategy.
“Mainly it’ll be just straight-up green flag laps, with the exception of the [Old North State Nationals] at Orange County. That will be a six-tire race, everything else will be four tires.”
As far as “gimmicks” go, Ragle said that some of the unique procedures and events the CARS Tour has employed might be called that simply by being different. One of those that will remain for 2019 is knockout qualifying for select series events, based on pit road space.
“What really defines a gimmick these days is very opinionated and selective,” Ragle said. “Are you trying stuff that’s different? Yeah, we’re probably a little bit different. We might have some rules and stuff like that in place. It’s still racing and competition, which is what fans want to see. We still have knockout qualifying at tracks that have a big pit road and can utilize that. We will do things a little bit different, that’s our MO. Whether it’s good or bad, people will talk about it.”
The CARS Tour also faced criticism for starting a Super Late Model tour upon the series’ inception in 2015, when the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) South Super Late Models already existed in the region. Ragle defended the decision to include Super Late Models in his series.
“Lowe’s corporate headquarters is right here in Mooresville, North Carolina. They built a Home Depot in Huntersville. Just because it’s Lowe’s depot doesn’t mean a Home Depot cannot build a store here and let the people choose. I think it’s no positive or negative to PASS or us or anybody else to try Super Late Models.”
Ragle said a unique challenge for both his series and PASS, as well as the new PRA Tours Super Late Model series or any prospective future series in the region, is the composition of the teams in the region. Many of the top Super Late Model teams in the Carolinas are driver development teams, some with heavy NASCAR connections, which often travel across the country for prestigious races rather than competing locally.
“We are in a unique region that does not compare to anywhere else for Super Late Model racing,” Ragle explained. “We have teams in our area that will go 15 hours, go to California, things like that. There’s not that many people coming from Irwindale to here, but we have four guys that will go to the Winter Showdown or Oxford or Evergreen. We don’t see those people from Ohio, Michigan, Maine on a regular basis. We have some of the development programs which is really rampant in the Super Late Models.
“There were teams in our region that didn’t support either PASS or us, or the consistency wasn’t there,” Ragle continued. “You go anywhere else, and you see five, six, seven people run the series, whether it is CRA, SRL, or whatever, that run the series for the championship on a consistent basis. Over the last five to ten years, whether it’s PASS or us, we’re only getting three or four drivers running the whole season, and that’s just the region we’re in.”
Those who missed the live show can watch the full interview with Ragle via an on-demand replay now by clicking here. Be sure to like Speed 51 on Facebook and turn on notifications, so you can be alerted when “The Morning Bullring” comes on each Monday.
Interviews from the show will also be available individually in podcast form on iTunes and Google Play in the coming days.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com