51's Who's Hot / Who's Not
A Look at Some of the Burning and Chilling Short Track Stories
By Matt Kentfield
HOT: Lady Racers
It’s no secret that women who strap into racecars will have a little more attention placed on them just because they’re not just “one of the guys.”  Most will say they want to be considered just another driver, but for fans, media and even competitors, female racers are under the microscope every time they’re on the track.  As much hype surrounded Danica Patrick’s record-setting fourth-place finish in the Nationwide Series race last weekend in Las Vegas, it’s a worthy accomplishment, but not a victory.  Already in 2011, two women have gone to victory lane during Florida Speedweeks at New Smyrna.  Jessica Murphy won a Limited Late Model race and Becca Kasten bested a field of Super Late Model drivers that would make any SLM series happy with the quality of racers in it.  Kenzie Ruston ran well in the Crate Late Models and a few ladies turned heads in the Truck division.  With success like some of them had, perhaps that wish for so many female racers to be measured on the same level as the men is quickly becoming a reality.  Another thing we noticed?  Female racers who focus on driving their racecar and doing what it takes to make it go fast seem to do better than the ones that flaunt around in skimpy tank tops, flip flops and have neatly-styled hair before and after putting on a helmet. 

NOT:  Ladies in Races
A couple weeks ago, Speed51.com was contacted about a race that was scheduled to happen last Saturday at Florence Motor Speedway in South Carolina.  The race was to feature a full field of female racers competing in Late Models.  What kind of Late Models?  We asked the same thing and were led to believe that whether it was a Late Model Stock, Super Late Model or Late Model Buick, they’d all be allowed to race if the driver was a female.  It was all for a pilot of a reality television show about female racers.  Then, we found out that the person promoting this event was the same person that was wanted in a few states and arrested in North Carolina on felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense when he tried to take over North Wilkesboro Speedway in 2009 before the track’s current management team was in place.  Needless to say, for the however many female racers were planning to participate in the race (we didn’t hear of a single one, for what it’s worth), it didn’t happen and all record of the race has been taken off the track’s website. 

HOT: Good PR
Some series do a darn good job promoting their events and drivers.  Media outlets are much more inclined to use information that is formatted well and provides solid and timely information.  NASCAR’s regional series PR departments have really stepped up in the last two or three years with their race event information and the publicizing of their characters and storylines.  Just when many fans wondered if NASCAR still cared about those series, the move to push the PR efforts of those series soon followed.  PASS South has done a pretty good job with their promotion of “The Race” in recent months, as well.  CRA and ACT have also done a good job of promoting their events both before and afterwards in the early season.

NOT: Not-So-Good PR
The old adage, “Any publicity is good publicity,” doesn’t necessarily work.  In fact, there’s a certain series out there that’s still sending out recaps of their drivers’ seasons from 2010.  Now that we’re into the third month of 2011, it’s time to start focusing on the new season and some of the new things going on.  We also understand that not every series can afford to pay someone to do their PR on a full-time basis and have to resort to current series staff members writing their material, but basic spelling, grammar and punctuation can go a long way no matter the kind of series it is.

HOT: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
As much as it probably pains the New England racing fans to read this, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is on a definite upswing since it found a niche in the short tracks and speedways on the Eastern Seaboard.  What was a bullring-based series in New England has become the premier developmental series not just for NASCAR, but seemingly for short track racing as a whole.  Car counts are up, Cup teams are using it to develop their next talents, the series is visiting more and more tracks that NASCAR fans can relate to (Richmond this year, for example, added to series staples New Hampshire and Dover), while still staying true to its short-track roots with events at Greenville-Pickens, South Boston and two new bullrings in 2011, Bowman Gray and Langley.

NOT: USARacing Pro Cup Series
The K&N East Series has risen to the top of the short track ladder at the same time that the once-mighty USARacing Pro Cup Series (formerly USAR Hooters Pro Cup) has fallen.  Pro Cup used to be the place where drivers wanted to be as the final step of their short track ladder before moving up into the top-tier levels.  Nowadays, it seems like the series is going in too many different directions to have any direction at all.  Management and office personnel went through a complete overhaul.  An engine leasing program was announced, then canceled weeks later.  NASCAR K&N East/West-type racecars, Nationwide cars and ARCA cars will all be allowed to compete in the series in 2011, as well.  We’re not sure how many will show up to New Smyrna for the series’ first race in two weeks, but we’re hearing it won’t be many and several of the ones that will be there will be funded by the series’ director.  A real shame to see what that series has become from what it once was.

HOT: Rushing Kids Along
Teenage drivers coming into the short track series that were once for the veterans is nothing new.  Each year, there seems to be a new crop of kids that are barely tall enough to see over the steering wheel file entries into short track touring series – and they keep getting younger and younger.  Remember when little Logan Ruffin was heralded as the next big thing when he entered Late Models at 14?  Now, at 14 you’re almost two years behind the curve.  We saw a 12-year-old win a Truck race at New Smyrna during Speedweeks (ironically after he was black flagged for spinning someone out of second and scored seventh, then given the win when the top-six finishers were DQ’ed in tech, but a win’s a win, right?).  Thirteen-year-old Gray Gaulding, whose trailer has been decked out with a giant photo of himself since his Legends Car days, has been signed to Kevin Harvick, Inc. as a development driver and will be in championship chassis builder Robert Hamke’s house car in the 2011 PASS South Series.

NOT: Kids In Scale Car Series
Scale car series such as Legends Cars, Pro Challenge and Allison Legacy were built on two types of racers – the guys that were out there to have a good time and race relatively affordably, and the young kids using it as a tool to develop racing talent.  Many of those types of scale cars used to thrive because of the 12 through 16-year-olds that made names for themselves there.  As recent years have gone by, every youngster who has either curtailed their scale car experience in exchange for a Late Model at a young age has spawned another three or four kids that have done the same thing.  While having those little guys in the big car series is an issue of its own, every 14 year old in a Late Model is one that was taken away from the scale car series.  All the scale car series are perfect proving grounds and many of the drivers that have moved up too quick have either gone back or should go back because they just weren’t ready.  But, with series lowering their minimum age requirements, could we be seeing the end of the scale car industry?  We hope not.

HOT: Full-Fendered Racing at New Smyrna
There were a lot of memorable moments, a few torn-up racecars, and some feel-good stories that came out of the Super Late Model, Limited Late Model, Crate Late Model and ACT Late Model events during Florida Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway.  After all, isn’t that what short track racing is all about?  Car counts for all those divisions were moderate to strong.  Ryan Moore ended a long winless drought.  Becca Kasten won a race just a few weeks after her sister passed away.  Jason Boyd taunted the crowd one moment in victory lane, then the next moment he reflected on the memory of his late father all in one victory lane speech.  Tim Russell won the Super Late Model title to become the only the second father-son duo with his dad David to win Speedweeks titles.  All things considered, it was definitely one of the most memorable Late Model Speedweeks in a long time.

NOT: Modified Racing at New Smyrna
While the Late Model racing was memorable for positive reasons, the same can not be said for the Modified portion of Smyrna Speedweeks.  Single-digit car counts for both the SK Modifieds and Tour-Type Modifieds left many scratching their heads as to just what has happened to the once-great Modified racing during the month of February in New Smyrna.  Some say a few teams are out-spending others, making it unfair.  Others say the economy.  We heard winter weather in the Northeast kept a few teams from making the trip.  We also heard of some unrest in the pits towards the tech team.  Unfortunately, while many should be talking about the wars waged on the track amongst Silk, the Zachariases, Ted Christopher, Chuck Hossfeld, Earl Paules and the rest, the 2011 Modified portion of Speedweeks will go down in history for far less exciting things than those.

Jessica Murphy is a multiple-time Smyrna Speedweeks winner in a few different divisions.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
After a few years of being in a transition phase, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is a strong developmental series.  (NASCAR Photo)
Logan Ruffin was the first of the new crop of young teens to hit the short track scene.  (Pro Cup Photo)
Ron Silk (#6) and Chuck Hossfeld (#22) provided a few highlights for Modified fans during Smyrna Speedweeks.  (Jim DuPont Photo)