HEDGER: The Long Look
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. — The annual Eastern Motorsport Press Ass’n convention had too many highlights for someone engaged in organizing the events to note, but we did catch a few notable moments and statistics.
We had the pleasure of hosting inductee Doug Wolfgang at our table during the EMPA/NASCAR Hall of Fame dinner. When someone asked how many races he’d won, the answer, “I’m not exactly sure but it’s in the 500 range.” Amazingly, he was only second at that particular table, as EMPA Northeastern Driver of the Year Brett Hearn is well in the mid-800 victory range with no signs of slowing down.
World Racing Group executive Chris Dolack offered during his presentation of Wolfgang that he and retired driver and now television commentator Brad Doty often speculate who would be on the Mount Rushmore of sprint car drivers should such a monument ever be built.
He said that Wolfgang’s choice was obvious but went no further, though it’s difficult to imagine such a display without Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell.
The fourth, face, however, remains a mystery we hope to solve during the upcoming UNOH DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park when the 2013 season kicks off in Florida.
Had a race broken out at the dinner, the field would have been impressive with Wolfgang, Hearn, asphalt ace Tony Siscone, open cockpit stars Guy, Lou and Bobby Cicconi, WoO winner Lucas Wolfe and his father, Randy, and dirt modified stars Mike Mahaney, Kenny Tremont Jr. and Stewart Friesen all on hand.
How does an empire start?
In a video made in acceptance of his EMPA Newsmaker award prior to departing for a European business trip, Roger Penske tipped that he had started his business career in nearby Philadelphia as a car salesman at a Chevrolet dealer.
Longtime EMPA members were thrilled to have Dr. Rose Mattioli on hand for the reception honoring her late husband, Dr. Joe Mattioli. The patriarch of the Pocono Raceway family was fondly remembered by all present.
“Monster Mile” representative Gary Camp revealed that the speedway’s ongoing effort to bring younger fans onboard will be highlighted by $8 tickets on Friday and Saturday and a $10 ducat on Sunday for those 14 and younger.
We were also impressed by their “Monster Mile Crash Course,” a program aimed at helping new fans of all ages learn the ins and outs of how to enjoy a race and not miss anything. He also previewed a great new “Get off the Couch” advertisement aimed at getting fans out to the track instead of parking themselves in front of the TV.
On a non-racing but equally entertaining note, Dover’s three-day Firefly Music Festival will return for a second run in June following a 35,000 fan debut in 2012. It will have four stages and some 48 bands, making it one of the nation’s largest and easily the biggest on the East Coast.
The Fuzzy’s Ultra-Premium Vodka Triple Crown program will offer a million dollars to a driver who wins the Indianapolis 500 and the following events at Pocono and Auto Club, with a two-time winner getting a $250,000 bonus. The 20th Indy Car race at Pocono will find everyone there on a new to them speedway but Al Unser proved in 1978 that winning all three is possible.
Pocono’s Bob Pleban tipped that with some extrapolation, he projects Indy car speeds in the 215 mph range on the track that “was originally built for Indy car racing.” He also offered the fact that the speedway’s infield road courses have been revamped and now offer 17 variations that double to 34 if races are run in the opposite direction. Pleban responded to a query about Grand-Am visiting the facility by smiling and saying the track is now “suitable” for such an event.
ARCA’s Don Radebaugh offered some equally impressive numbers, as the sanctioning body is starting its 61st season with its 50th Daytona race and 199th on Speed.
The tiny Action Track at Pennsylvania’s Kutztown Fairgrounds will be run by well known driver Richie Tobias and partner Doug Rose in 2013 and will feature the midget-like spec-engine Speedsters built and sold by Tobias. The $2,000 to win purse is expected to bring in many big names from around the region, including Freddy Rahmer and his two sons, Billy Pauch, Craig Van Dohren, Jeff Strunk, Kenny Brightbill, Chad Layton and Brian Monteith, and the track has been widened to 70 feet to improve the racing.
IndyCar’s Kate Guerra introduced Andretti Motorsport’s development driver Zach Veach to the audience, with the latter impressing everyone with both his record in the sanctioning body’s ladder program and his attitude. At age 17, he may well reach the top level at an extremely young age.
On the World of Outlaw and DIRTcar front, it was revealed that World Racing Group hosted some 5,000 races at 125 tracks last season. Once again their crown jewel events will include the upcoming 12-night program at Volusia in February, Lernerville’s Firecracker 100, Super DIRT Week at Syracuse and the season ending World Finals in Charlotte.
Kevin Kovac also revealed that Josh Richards will return to the LM tour to challenge 2012 kingpin Darrell Lanigan, that the race total will rise from 44 to the mid-50 range this season, that six events will offer winner’s shares of $20,000 or higher and a date has been obtained by New York’s Fonda Speedway, which has run Lucas Oil LM series races in the past.
On a much smaller scale, Bethel Motor Speedway in the Catskills has grown steadily and public relations representative Tracey Chirico attributed much of the success to the slogan “A little bit of free goes a long ways.”
She detailed how first-time racers are admitted free and added that teams wishing to try the quarter-mile asphalt oval without committing themselves to a huge tire bill can borrow a set of tires from the speedway for their maiden voyage. Both programs, she says, have led to many teams giving it a try and then becoming regulars.
At the EMPA’s annual business meeting, photographer Dave Dalesandro, writer/publisher Len Sammons and writer Ron Hedger were elected to the board of directors, joining holdovers Dino Oberto and Earl Krause, both writers for area publications.
Since longtime president and EMPA founder Ernie Saxton retired after decades of much-appreciated service, Sammons was president for one year and Hedger has now been elected to his third term with Oberto continuing as vice-president.