A dark age has been approaching when it comes to asphalt Late Model competition in Pennsylvania and the states bordering it. Tracks in Eastern Ohio as well as Lake Erie Speedway in Pennsylvania disbanded the division following the 2012 season, and Late Model racing has become almost non-existent in recent years throughout upstate New York.
That leaves Pennsylvania, which has fortunately seen a growth in the number of tracks open for business; however, car counts are currently facing all-time lows which have forced event cancellations and only a handful of longer distance shows remaining for the 2014 season.
The cars are still out there in garages around towns in the region, but many are not being towed out to the few remaining tracks that host the division. There are countless factors behind this reasoning and multiple contribute to each specific situation.
Travis Fisher and his family have been a staple in the Late Model community over the years and have enjoyed a good amount of success, predominantly in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier of New York. Most recently they went to Jennerstown Speedway (PA) for the first time, approximately a four hour trip each way, to race their Late Model for only the second occasion all season.
Travis enjoyed his experience at the facility, and encouraged folks to support it while the opportunity is there. In turn, it could serve as an awakening for other tracks to see that Late Model racing can still be an event worth putting together.
“Late Model car counts aren’t the best anywhere, and there are a lot of different opinions on what would bring the class back and what not,” noted Fisher. “I just think a lot of these guys need to pull these cars out of the woodwork and come race at a place like this. I feel if more people come out and experience a race track like this instead of going where there are only one or two cars and politics are really involved, and have a good run like this I think that would bring Late Model racing back.”
Earlier this year, Fisher spoke with Speed51.com powered by JEGS about the Late Model rules at local tracks in this region being so far apart from each other. In 2013 CNB Bank Raceway Park in Clearfield, Pennsylvania and the Late Model portion of the annual Race of Champions at Oswego Speedway in New York opened up various rules. Fisher was able to race his built motor with competitors like Glenn Gault Jr. in a steel crate and Bob Weber in an open crate, which resulted in fair and exciting battles for the win.
Despite what looked like a promising 2014 season with certain tracks originally intending to work together, the season has turned into a battle between tracks for a small amount of cars and races being scheduled on top of each other.
Tom Fares Sr. and Nick Fares organized the Template Body Racing Association a few years ago in an attempt to structure Late Model racing in the area in an attempt to create fair and balanced competition. It worked well and support from drivers and sponsors grew, even to the point that a points fund was created for those that toured with the series. Unfortunately, disagreements between officials and tracks over control ultimately took a hit on team, sponsor, and fan support. As a result, the series was dropped following the 2012 season. The Fares continue to support Late Model racing in the area, mainly with Tom Fares Jr. driving in some of the major events, but with the tracks operating individually they say that lack of communication is the problem at this point.
“I think the biggest thing is the marketing,” said Tom Fares Jr. “We’ve got four cars in the shop, and they don’t even call us. We brought four drivers last year to the track with one phone call. They need to market to the driver and get the cars to come, and then take that and market it to the fans.
“It’s hard to get people to come when there are no cars, or when there are five or six cars and you start the race they get in a line and they just go around in circles. The people want to see racing, and they want to see side-by-side racing. With six cars that’s hard to do. I think if you could get to 15 cars it would be a much better show and I think the people would come more.”
It is clear that the days of announcing an upcoming event and expecting cars and fans just to show up with very little promotion are all but gone, no matter the purse or particular rules.
Tom Fares Sr. added the alarming lack of young talent using local or regional Late Model racing to make their way to the next level. Barry Awtey has been a long time competitor in Western Pennsylvania and holds track championships at three facilities. He echoed Fares’ thoughts.
“As long as I’ve been racing, I don’t know what the answer is to get the cars,” said Awtey. “I’ve probably seen the best years of racing, and I don’t see it happening. Like Garry Wiltrout and (Bobby) Henry and all of them, we’re all fifty years old. There are no young kids getting into racing. That’s the problem. I think they’re all into computers and cell phones and nobody wants to race, but hopefully we get some more people out here and get them into racing.”
One aspect that occurred in the past that is rarely seen today is drivers working their way up from entry level or lower divisions into the Late Models. Awtey made a great point questioning who is going to be the face of Late Model divisions at these local tracks after he and his fellow competitors that have been supporting the region for several years decide to retire.
Motordrome Speedway, Evergreen Raceway Park, CNB Bank Raceway Park, and Jennerstown Speedway have all transitioned or reopened under new management or ownership within the last two years. Change is something that makes many apprehensive, especially when they have a major investment; however, if the majority continues to “wait and see” the product may ultimately cease to exist.
As this crossroads has been reached, it is clear that tracks, drivers, teams, officials, sponsors, and fans all need to work together and action needs to be taken in order to keep this premier division going in the area and in some cases across the country.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed.
Photo Credit: Speed51.com Photo