Relections Of The 2017 Racing Season By RPW Staff Members
Column By: RACE PRO WEEKLY STAFF – Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us at Race Pro Weekly. We hope you’re enjoying your day, but we wanted to give you a little present of our own. So here it is…RPW staff members reflecting on the 2017 racing season just gone by.
Bobby Chalmers: Editor-In-Chief & Columnist
2017 seemed, to me, to be the dominance of one driver in the Modified division. Back in July, many people had written Matt Sheppard off when it came to taking his sixth Super DIRTcar Series crown. That was, however, except for Matt and his team.
To see how they rallied and used this adversity to bring fun and enjoyment back into racing was cool to see. So many times, for good reason, we all get wrapped up in the chasing of points, both on the series and local levels. It was nice to see the 9s team do as all racers have done when they started their careers…just chase the checkered flag to win races.
On the local level, you can’t deny that Peter Britten winning the Malta title was a highlight of the season. Anyone who knows this guy knows he’s just an all-around good person and someone you always want to see do well.
For me, being a weekly attendant at the Lebanon Valley Speedway, I loved seeing guys like LJ Lombardo, Keith Flach, Kolby Schroder, Kyle Sheldon and the ageless Denny Soltis reach victory lane. I wish we could see more of the “feel good” stories come out next year…meaning more drivers who could ‘really’ use a win.
Can’t forget Super DIRT Week. After a rookie season at Oswego Speedway that was full of issues in 2016, DIRTcar officials worked hard to produce a better product this year. I would say there were still some issues, but things are definitely heading in the right direction. Hell, the final 100 laps of the Big Block championship were some of the best racing we could have asked for.
On an national dirt level, it was amazing to see drivers like David Gravel, Josh Richards, Brad Sweet, T-Mac and Brandon Sheppard come to prominence in their respective series. Now I know Richards and Sheppard have won a lot, but knowing that the two changed teams, and series, and still went out and won titles in their first years was amazing.
Only time will tell on how the state of dirt racing will progress. Just like NASCAR, as many have said, it’s not like the 80’s and 90’s. We get that. The cost of racing for the teams, the tracks, and the fans have changed the landscape. The economic ramifications of society today have played a big part in that as well.
As I said, nobody knows what the world has in store for us in local racing. However, a lot of people are working to see how to make the sport better, so we can only hope it works.
Ed Biittig Jr.: On-Air Personality
I was glad to see dirt track racing get more national exposure in 2017. I hope that parlays into greater exposure and attendance for our local tracks in 2018.
Mike Warren: Columnist & On-Air Personality
In 2017, I was really impressed at the way the Airborne Park Speedway got off to a great start getting back to the dirt. The speedway staff run a ‘Grade A’ race track and it’s a great show with some great racing. The ceiling is high for them in 2018.
John Meloling: Photographer
My observation this year seems to be a noticeable lack of use of the black flag.
A flat tire and drivers stop on track to bring out caution. I saw one car take two laps on the inside with plenty of time to pull off track. Instead, he waited for a caution. Intentional caution should mean a black flag to pits and done for the night.
Another driver I saw spin out, pull to infield, stop, waits one or two laps, saw no caution, pull out on the track and stop, and that drew a yellow flag. This is not acceptable and needs to be sent home for a week.
I have no problem if it is a true safety issue. When they pull up to exit ramp and stops, and the caution comes out, magically, the car drives into the pits. Officials need to stop this behavior, and depending on who it is, how they handle it. Draw unneeded caution…done for the night in my opinion.
Toby LaGrange: Columnist & On-Air Personality
My takeaway from the 2017 season can be largely summed up in one word – change.
It was a season of changes that have each affected racing in their own way. Just a few of those changes are listed below.
In the Capital District, the biggest change occurred at the Glen Ridge Motorsports Park where new promoters took over early in the season. The team of veteran car owners Mike Parillo and Ray Sefrin were dealt a challenge in trying to bring The Ridge back to life. They switched back to the tracks familiar night of racing – Sundays and dropped the Modifieds as their headline division. The drastic changes have been well-received as the ‘Fastest Quarter Mile on Dirt’ is heading in the right direction.
A couple of hours north of the Capital Region sits the Airborne Speedway. The Plattsburgh, NY track likewise has made a drastic change. This time, from the asphalt to dirt. For me, this was a both a positive and negative change. I really enjoyed the asphalt at Airborne. The Dirt Modifieds put on a great show each week not that long ago featuring side-by-side racing and really good car counts. That changed when Mike Perrotte was replaced and the Modified were replaced with Sportsman.
The one show I attended in 2017 featured a lot of action but was full of rookie mistakes…things that will surely be corrected as the 2018 season appears. All-in-all, the dirt version was a welcomed sight in 2017.
As my fellow Race Pro Weekly staffer Mike Warren can attest, the karts that you can race on race night at Airborne are a very entertaining part of the program both during the week and race night.
Some other changes that happened at the end of the 2017 season include the dropping of the Big Block Modifieds at the Fulton and Utica-Rome Speedway’s, the dropping of DIRTcar’s home track points, the Devils Bowl Speedway covering the asphalt with dirt returning to one dirt track in 2018 and the renovations at the Caroga Creek Raceway.
Ray Rogers: Columnist & Photographer
Before I close the book on 2017 I have to mark a few pages as highlights of my season. The ‘Big Show’ was one I will surely remember. Besides it being a fantastic race. I had the opportunity to interview race winner Tim McCreadie. A class act and true champion.
One of my Fonda highlights was seeing Ray Zemken pick up a Sportsman victory and celebrating the win with him and his crew. Bobby Varin’s final run of the 2017 season at the speedway was one I soon will not forget. I was there when he stunned the DIRTcar field 22 years ago and it brought back some great memories of my earlier days at the ‘Track of Champions.’
The best part of the 2017 season, though, was the great people I have met and the good times with my racing family.
Lucas Ballard: Photographer
My one “takeaway” from the 2017 racing season was getting to be a part of Race Pro Weekly for my first year. If you’re a weekly “regular” at any racing facility, you know the pleasure of rolling into the parking lot every weekend. It’s a racing fans biggest stress reliever…from cheering on your favorite driver to enjoying your track’s concessions.
Personally, I am a regular at Lebanon Valley Speedway. There’s no greater feeling than spending every Saturday night with my small group of close friends, taking pictures of dirt cars flying around the Valley against the warm, yet dirty, sunset.
This year, I’ve taken pictures along side photographers I’ve always wanted to meet. I’ve even became really good friends with most of them. This opportunity wouldn’t have been available if it weren’t for Race Pro Weekly. This season had its ups-and-downs, but looking back, life’s never perfect. There’s really no other way I could have imagined it.
John Zachary: Columnist & Photographer
My thoughts on the 2017 race season are that short track racing is alive. NASCAR, NHRA are seeing a decline in attendance, but as far as I can tell, most local dirt tracks are pretty busy during the season.
As far as car counts, again I think they were good at most events I attended. The Sportsman class is huge. Sprint Cars are growing in this area and the Big Block Modifieds are still a great class to watch.
Matt Sheppard is ‘the man’ right now and has set the bar pretty high for next year.
I had a fantastic year at the track and can’t wait to get back at it.
John Cliver: Photographer
My take on the 2017 racing season is going to be focused on Bridgeport Speedway. Other than a few races here and there, I didn’t travel around all that often to other speedways. Bridgeport had a strong season overall. I like the promotional team getting aggressive and bringing the DIRT series back into town on the big track. They’ve already announced a 2018 date so hopefully it’s another annual event akin to the Short Track Super Series and the end of the season Big Track Classic for the URC sprints.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my biggest take away from the 2017 season, which was at times, the utter dominance of Ryan Watt in the Big Blocks. His accomplishments were as follows: Big Block Track champion, Poker Series Champion, winner of the DIRTcar event, and there were a couple of Poker Series races where he was only a few cars away from lapping the entire field.
Prior to becoming a regular photographer at the track, I have to admit, I wasn’t all that into the 1/4 mile side of the operations at the facility. Over the past couple of seasons I have now become hooked. The promotional team for Spirit Auto Center Speedway has added Poker Series events to the schedule for all divisions and this year they held the inaugural Skyscraper event paying $4000 to the winner in both 600 and 270 division. The racing is always close and it’s a blast to watch these drivers have at it.
Dylan Friebel: Columnist & Photographer
My biggest takeaway from 2017 was the time it actually took to get the a race car ready. I wrote a column on the process because of how surprised I was by it.
From a fans perspective, who was ignorant like I was, I always believed that the car just shows up to the track every week. You have no idea how much time and sacrifice is needed at the race shop.
Do me a favor. When you’re sitting in the stands, don’t just think about how the car just shows up. Make sure you appreciate the time and effort your favorite driver and his team makes to show up on a weekly basis.
Happy Holidays everyone!
Brett Horlacher: Columnist
My big takeaway from the 2017 season is that it is surprising to see the juggernaut of NASCAR starting to be visibly threatened by the resurgence of Dirt Racing.
This was evident in the adoption of different qualifying procedures and the sensationalism of the Dirt Derby NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora.
On the local level, the support for the Albany-Saratoga Speedway continued to grow. The turnout at the meeting regarding noise ordinances in the town of Malta was inspiring and showed that the speedway is still a big part of the history of the town.
Edward Kochersberger: Columnist
My 2017 takeaway is that open-wheel racing in the Northeast has shown promise. I envision it as continuing to grow. More and more cars, with USAC coming to NY and more dates for All Star Circuit of Champions. This is a very exciting time for us on the sprint car side of things.
Laurie Fallis: Columnist
My take on 2017 racing is that it is always great to see the racing family at all the dirt tracks in the northeast were racing is at its best. It will be sad in my eyes to see Ronnie Johnson leave Fonda Speedway, but wish him the best of luck at the high banks of Lebanon Valley Speedway. Also, it was wonderful to see what a super job and dedication that goes into the Fonda Speedway Hall Of Fame Museum. It’s a must see with all the rich history of the past at the speedway.
As always, the car count at Albany-Saratoga Speedway was phenomenal and each and every week there was side by side racing all the way to the finish. Whether you are a “Brett the Jet” fan or not, you had to respect that he reached the 900th win mark at “The Great Race Place” and tacked on a few more to his quest for 950.
I have said all year that the Pro Stocks were some of the best racing of the night and they surly were not a let down at any track. In racing, there is always highs and lows. but it’s always great to see teams that when they are at a low point not give up. They have success by having heart and dedication to this sport.
Now, on to NASCAR. I must say that I used to be a follower, but this year I don’t think I actually watched a whole race. Over the years, it seems to be on a decline for the fan side of it, but I’ve always said, “asphalts for getting to a track and dirt’s for racing.”
The biggest reflection that I look back on this racing season was getting involved with “Race Pro Weekly” as a writer and being able to write about the sport that I have had a passion for a very long time. Thank you Ray Rogers for hooking me up and Bobby Chalmers for the great job you do. You are a class act.
Last but not least, I will reflect back on the great time I had to the races with my Fallis gang, especially my ‘lil’ racing monsters.
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