HEDGER: SuperFans Part No. 1
With the February events at Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park in full swing and the Daytona 500 coming fast, it’s time for the 2013 SuperFans report.
As longtime readers will recall, we traditionally split our listing of America’s leading racegoers into two categories – the Pro’s who gain admission using a press pass or a work connection and the Amateurs, who pony up hard cash at the ticket booth.
This time around, we’ll take a look at the Pro category, with the ticket buyers who keep our nation’s speedways in business to follow.
Topping the Pro category and once again claiming the overall SuperFans title was longtime entrant Eddie Reichert of Spooner, Wis., with 155 races at 59 speedways in 13 states, his lowest total in four years. Bad weather, including snow in mid-May and widespread rain through the season, was the culprit.
A scribe for All The Dirt Racing News and Hawkeye Racing News, Reichert marked his 33rd consecutive season over the century mark and notes that his 33-year average is 146 races a year. He has now seen races at 285 tracks in 27 states and three provinces of Canada.
Reichert named “The Little Dream” at Wisconsin’s Rice Lake Speedway as the best night of the year, with street stocks benefitting from fan donations to the purse and winner Jimmy Randall collecting some $8,000.
Other 2013 highlights included Jason Grimes’ win over Chris Stepan in the Minnesota Mod Nationals at Viking Speedway, a Brian Shirley Hell Tour score at Peoria, Mike Stearns’ win at KRA Speedway in Wilmar, Minn., in an Advantage RV Mod show and a John Kaanta duel with Jake Redetzke in a Wissota Challenge LM event at Casino Speedway in Watertown, S.D.
While he does not identify any lowlights, Reichert does note that he “feels there will be a few tracks that either don’t reopen or don’t last through the 2014 season. Short track racing remains great entertainment for me but there is no doubt that drawing fans remains problematic for a number of tracks.”
California racing writer Ron Rodda, another familiar name to SuperFans followers, checkered second in the Pro category on the strength of a 124 race season that saw him hit 40 tracks in 10 states. Highlights included catching exceptional shows at Columbus, Neb., Brainerd, Minn., and Gillette, Wyo., a return to Arizona’s Canyon Speedway Park after too many seasons away and an abundance of racing in Arizona in January that got him off to a big start.
In the Golden State, Rodda says the highlight was the Trophy Cup.
“After a low nonwing car count on Thursday night and a gong show, the next two nights offered a fantastic field of winged 360’s and the most unique/controversial main event finishes in the 20-year history of the event,” Rodda said.
He also praised Petaluma’s tacky surface, both the late models and modifieds at Bakersfield, where he saw superb shows on different nights, the Bud Nationals at Bakersfield, the BCRA midgets and Stockton’s successful first year as a dirt track.
As for negatives, Rodda cites “those few tracks that still use announcers who are annoying beyond description.”
Pennsylvania’s Bruce Eckel, who blogs for the Gater Racing News, logged 97 shows at 52 tracks in 10 states in his first year of retirement from his regular job to finish third.
The best, he says, was the Forrest Rogers Memorial at Grandview, with Duane Howard prevailing after a dogfight with Craig VanDohren and Jeff Strunk. Close behind was Deron Clayton’s score at Grandview during the USAC Eastern Storm event, which he says “had many fans wishing they could move to Indiana for weekly non-wing racing.” And third-place honors went to another Pennsylvania race, the Tuscarora 50 at Port Royal, where Brian Monteith ran down front row starter Donnie Kreitz and got the lead. The lead then went back and forth before Monteith eventually faded, letting Danny Dietrich slip by for second.
With Eckel and his wife Pat about to move to Indiana, we expect a lot of non-wing racing to be mentioned in their 2014 SuperFans rundown.
Jeff Ahlum, the longtime Bridgeport Speedway announcer set to take over the retiring Ernie Saxton’s seat at Grandview in 2014, was right on Eckel’s bumper with 90 races at 21 speedways in a trio of states. Topping his scorecard was the chilly Gobbler 50 at Accord on Nov. 30, a show that “had multiple passes for the lead, multi-car battles for the top five spots, little dust for an afternoon race and 103 cars using the multiple grooves available on the fast quarter-mile.”
Second best, according to Ahlum, was the October Poker Series show at Bridgeport with 80 degree weather at night, no dust, multiple grooves and a classic battle between Billy Pauch and Mike Iles. He also loved the USAC sprint shows at Grandview and Susquehanna, noting that both had multiple cars in contention for the win, with Susquehanna settled on the last turn with Shane Cottle grabbing the win in a Pennsylvania based car.
Area Auto Racing News columnist Don Davies rounded out the top five for 2013 with 88 races around the northeast. But his race of the year came in North Carolina, where “Stewart Friesen showcased his tremendous talent by winning the second modified race of the World Finals. That was one of the best driving performances in a big block modified feature that I have ever seen.”
Pat Eckel enjoyed 78 races with husband Bruce to show sixth in the standings. She shares Bruce’s choices of top races but also noted that they hit 18 tracks that were new to them and thoroughly enjoyed the Robby Gordon Off-Road Stadium SUPER Truckshow at the University of Phoenix Stadium. She also reports that they lost another 16 possible shows to bad weather.
Rounding out the Pro SuperFans field was a welcome newcomer, Indiana’s Danny Burton, who writes for hoseheads.com, Hawkeye Racing News and Flat Out Magazine. He caught 61 shows and says that the highlight of every season for him is Indiana Sprint Week, closely followed by Indiana Midget Week. He also loved Kokomo’s second annual Smackdown featuring three nights of USAC sprints.
On the concession front, Burton gives high marks to the tasty popcorn sold in huge bags at Lincoln Park and Kokomo’s pork chop sandwiches.
As for the racing, he lauds Brady Short’s domination of Bloomington, Chad Boesplug’s performances at Lincoln Park, Kyle Larson’s ever rarer sprint car appearances and the ongoing war’s everywhere between USAC stars Dave Darland and Bryan Clauson
Burton also notes that new personnel solved Bloomington’s poor track prep problems, a welcome relief, and that taking his grandson with him too many races gave him a whole new, and obviously welcome, perspective on short track racing.