Opinion: Support Short-Track Racing

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart and Christopher Bell raced sprint cars at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track last weekend. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Support of local short-track racing has become an important topic of conversation.

There has been much discussion in the NASCAR world in recent weeks about the health of racing’s grassroots and what can be done to help it survive and grow. 

Kyle Larson’s comments two weeks ago helped spark the subject when he was asked if the top tiers of NASCAR racing has become disconnected with the short track scene. Larson is one of the few Cup drivers that makes regular forays into short track racing. While several question why team co-owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates allow him to risk possible injury doing so, Larson believes it’s something more drivers should embrace.

“I get asked that question all the time: “When are they going to shut you down?” Larson said. “But I feel like everybody needs to encourage me and others to go race at your local short track and all that because I feel like we’ve lost touch with our grassroots race fans.

“It really gets those local guys, local fans, back excited about NASCAR, where I feel like the last decade or so, they’ve kind of lost touch with it. So I feel like everybody should — instead of making Chip and Felix feel like they have to shut me down — should encourage them because it helps our fan base out.”

To be fair there are others who make periodic short track starts. In fact, Kasey Kahne took part in Thursday night’s World of Outlaws Sprint Car race at Gator Motorplex in Texas along with Christopher Bell, who also competed with the now retired Tony Stewart at the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

“I think places like this and Charlotte that have a dirt track across the street, it’s the perfect way to have fans check it out,” said Stewart, who also sponsored the Texas races. “You know, it’s how I got here, it’s how Christopher got here…J.J. Yeley, Jason Leffler, Jeff Gordon. Running over there is what got us over here, so we want to show the fans who they are and the potential future stars. They’ve got a great facility over there - I mean; you’re not going to just an average race track.”

While big league stock car racing should do all it can to help generate more positive influence on the short track industry, there are things like NASCAR’s Home Track program and its Weekly Racing Series in existence. But more needs to be done to erase what has become a Civil War in many areas between grassroots racing – the sport’s backbone – and the top tiers.

As a race fan, you can do your part by supporting tracks in your area and spreading the word that some of the best racing every weekend takes place live and in person, and not just on television or radio.

I'm sentimental about the issue as it touches a part of my childhood. I grew up in short-track racing and remember fondly how on every family vacation, no matter where my parents took the Pistone brood, I found a short track in the area and persuaded my dad to take us there.

Louisville, Owensboro, Flat Rock, Caraway, Myrtle Beach, New Smyrna - the vacation hit list read like a short-track Hall of Fame in those days.

I'm doing my best to pass on the tradition to the current generation of Pistone kids. Every summer, we’ve made it a tradition to get a group of nieces, nephews, cousins along with my daughter and hit one of my local short tracks in the Chicagoland area at Rockford Speedway. We took the kids a couple years ago and it's become an annual trek that is asked about in January, as in "When are we going to the races this summer?"

The kids are already asking when the "Summer Saturday" is this year and I’m pretty sure we’ve landed on a date.

My hope is that 30 years from now, there will still be short tracks around for these kids to take their kids to on a family vacation or summer Saturday night. I’ve sadly sat by and watched drive-in movies and miniature golf course, two more staples of my youth, fade into the memory banks. I don’t want short-track racing to follow the same fate.

This Easter weekend is the perfect opportunity to head out to a weekly Friday or Saturday night track with none of NASCAR’s top three divisions in action. Do your part and make it a priority to get to a local short track in 2017. Its very existence and the sport in whole may well depend on it.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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