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KERCHNER: Dirt Is Turning To Gold

Written by 
Published in Racing
Wednesday, 07 April 2021 10:00
Mike Kerchner

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Dirt is gold. At least it is right now in the racing industry.

At dirt tracks throughout the country, car counts are up, crowds are large despite the ongoing pandemic, sponsors are engaged and excitement is generally at a higher level than ever.

Early season events across the south and in Pennsylvania, among other places, have attracted large crowds and stout fields of race cars.

Still, in other parts of the country, including California, restrictions, though easing somewhat, are still keeping crowds to a minimum.

However, events in California and throughout the country can be seen live on streaming video outlets, including The SPEED SPORT Network.

These video streams not only give the regulars at the country’s bullrings a chance to watch, but offer those in California an opportunity to watch Pennsylvania’s sprint car racers and Georgia’s late model stars from the comforts of home, while also bringing California dirt-track action to those throughout the land who wouldn’t previously have been able watch events from places such as The Dirt Track at Kern County and Silver Dollar Speedway.

As well, the abundance of live streams doesn’t seem to be hurting attendance at race tracks where crowds are permitted.

Pennsylvania’s big-three sprint car tracks (Williams Grove, Port Royal and Lincoln Speedways) have enjoyed excellent crowds through the early season, while dirt late model events throughout the South have seen standing-room-only crowds in many cases.

The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series canceled its Western Swing through California for the second consecutive year, but replacement events in Mississippi and Louisiana exposed the series to new fans and filled the seats.

The debut event at The Rev in Monroe, La., was one of the most entertaining dirt-track races one could ask for, with multiple drivers trading the lead and no yellow flags during the entire program.

David Gravel and Brad Sweet (49) brought fans to their feet at Louisiana’s The Rev during World of Outlaws action in March. (TWC photo)

The competitiveness of the current brand of dirt-track racing, particularly in the sprint car realm, has added fuel to the dirt-racing train. The first five World of Outlaws sprint car features of the season saw five different winners, and the first five races of the Pennsylvania Posse season also saw five different feature winners.

The majority of the national touring series have significant sponsors signed to long-term agreements and interest in the dirt-racing product continues to grow.

No doubt continuing that interest will be the six weeks of racing at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway that was getting underway as this column was written.

The .533-mile concrete track was covered with clay, with the signature event to be the first NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt since 1970 on March 28.

While Cup Series drivers such as Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon are very talented and experienced dirt racers, the majority of the NASCAR competitors had little dirt racing on their résumés.

As a result, many picked up rides in modifieds, crate late models, super late models and the Camping World Truck Series, both during the Bristol Dirt Nationals and at other race tracks, as they prepared for Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.

This, in turn, brought even more attention to the dirt-racing world.

While dirt racing at Bristol was scheduled well into April with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series and the Super DIRTcar Series big-block modifieds on the slate, the increased popularity of dirt racing has also resulted in larger purses.

While the World of Outlaws and other organizations raised their standard purses, there will also be more big-money special events this season than at anytime in the past, giving those who race on dirt for a living more opportunities to cash big checks.

USAC, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the World of Outlaws are among those giving their competitors more chances at big-money purses through the creation of new events and by using new sponsorship revenue to boost the amount of money offered for long-standing events.

More money leads to more competitors following the respective dirt-track circuits, more fans wanting to attend events and, hopefully, more sponsors willing to invest in the product.

Dirt is dollars.

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