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RACING SCENE Column – (Bucket List) Jan. 2013

RACING SCENE Column – (Bucket List) Jan. 2013
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Los Angeles, CA. - What “bucket list” items did you accomplish during 2012? This winter I recalled my major 2012 bucket list accomplishment. Fellow racing writer Norm Bogan and I for years had a similar bucket list goal—drive through the New England states and visit as many auto racing speedways as possible. With the month of June 2012 wide open for both of us, we did just that. During our trip we even saw auto racing at three speedways in Wisconsin, New York and Iowa. Along the way we visited some of the legendary speedways we had read about for many decades in the pages of NSSN and other motor-sports publications. We departed on Monday, June 4 in Norm's 2011 Ford Escape SUV. We spent 28 days on the road and visited 23 states. One has to appreciate New Hampshire's state motto, “Live Free or Die”, and how that state shuns taxes. Norm now has visited 48 of the 50 USA states, missing only Alaska and Hawaii. I added ten states to my list that now has risen to 30 states visited. WY, SD, MI, CT, RI, MA, NH, ME, VT and NE were my new states. We even used our passports to travel into Ontario, Canada. We saw state capitols in Cheyenne, WY, Madison, WI, Providence, RI, Montpelier, VT, Hartford, CT, Boston, MA, Lincoln, NE and Salt Lake City, UT.

We left my house at 23,872 miles on the odometer and arrived back on Sunday, July 1 at 33,806 (9,934 miles). Norm did a total of 10,006 miles round-trip from his house. Day by day miles driven varied from lows of 104, 123 and 146 to highs of 500, 571 and 593. We averaged 355 miles a day. We stayed three consecutive nights each in Hartford, CT and Nashua, NH. Norm did 100% of the driving by his choice. I was the navigator/map reader and Sirius Satellite radio DJ. I also recorded a day-by-day trip journal in media note pads. The hottest temperature eastbound was 103 (Las Vegas) and westbound 107 (Las Vegas). The average temp during our trip was in the 80s. We traveled east/west via interstates 80 84, 94, and 90 and north/south via 15, 81, 87 and 95. We used back roads at times to see much of the country. OH and PA turnpikes, plus NY and MA throughways and tolls to travel on them are a pain. Freeways in western states are preferable.

At a NY rest-stop we chatted with the crew of driver Marty Wolfe's U-93 Renegade, an APBA hydroplane boat, en-route to Syracuse. It is powered by a big block 468 cu. in. Chevy (170 mph) and competes nationally, including on Mission Bay in San Diego. We used the 32nd edition National Speedway Directory paperback book ($10) edited for decades by Allan and Nancy Brown. It contains accurate directions to every race track in the USA and Canada and is arrayed alphabetically by states. It was invaluable and 100% accurate. We saw 41 speedways (25 dirt and 16 paved) in 15 states. Speedways we visited that host major NASCAR series and IZOD Indy Car races were: Watkins Glen Int'l Raceway road course in NY, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, and Iowa Speedway in Newton.

RACE TRACKS: Legendary dirt short tracks we visited included: half-miles Knoxville (IA) Raceway, Belleville (KS) High Banks, and Black Hills Speedway in Rapid City, SD, third-mile Eagle (NE) Raceway, three-eighths Huset's Speedway near Sioux Falls, SD, plus Wisconsin third-mile tracks Firemen's Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie and Beaver Dam Raceway in Beaver Dam, 31-miles north. Famous paved tracks we checked were: five-eighths mile Oswego (NY) Speedway, home of super-modifieds, five-eighths Thompson (CT) Speedway and half-mile Stafford Springs (CT) Speedway, plus three-eighth miles Waterford (CT) Speedbowl, and Chemung (NY) Speedbowl (where the Bodine brothers started racing), Seekonk (MA) Speedway, and quarter-mile Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre, VT.

Dirt tracks we saw included: Las Vegas dirt half-mile just off the I-15, Rock Rapids, IA, Jackson, MN, Fairmont, MN, Cedar Lake (WI) Speedway. Fremont, OH, Ransomville, NY, Orange County Fair five-eighths in Middletown, NY, Fonda, NY, an older fairgrounds half-mile with covered grandstand, NY State Fairgrounds mile in Syracuse, half-mile Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon, NY, Stateline (NY), West Liberty (IA), half-mile Southern Iowa Speedway,in Oskaloosa, 26 miles east of Knoxville, four-tenths mile I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, NE, Junction Motor Speedway in Columbus Junction, NE, and two Wyoming three-eighths tracks, primitive Ripple Ridge Raceway in Rawlins and modern Sweetwater Speedway in Rock Springs. Other paved tracks we saw were in Elko, MN, Columbus, WI, Lee, NH, Epping, NH and Spencer (NY) Speedway.

We were amazed so many speedways were unlocked/open for visitors. We took photos inside the following tracks: Huset's, Cedar Lake, Angell Park, Fairmont, Chemung, Ransomville, Waterford, Seekonk, Thompson, NHMS, Lee USA, Fonda, Utica-Rome, Oswego, Knoxville, Southern Iowa, I-80, Eagle, Belleville, Ripple Ridge and Sweetwater. We had a nice visit with Chemung's co-promoter Robert Stapleton, who invited us to tour his track a day after a race. Seekonk promoter Frank Venditti also was present when we visited his track.

RACES SEEN: On Sunday, June 10 it was 89 degrees and we saw our first race during the trip. The site was Angell Park (WI) for the usual Badger Midget Auto Racing Association (BMARA) Sunday night midget races. It is the site where BMARA drivers Dean Erfurth and Kevin Doty had lost their lives. BMARA is the oldest midget racing sanctioning body (1936). Angell Park has hosted midget racing since 1946. There were 16 midgets present with two support classes--Badger winged 600cc micro midgets and Wisconsin dirt legend cars--also racing. Midgets raced a trophy dash, two heats and a 30-lap feature from 6:45 to 9:09 pm. Curfew was 10:00 pm. Admission was $10 for seniors and included free admission to the National Midget Hall of Fame in a pavilion near the first turn. The same building had an indoor dining area popular with spectators. There was no printed race program, but the large crowd present (3 to 4,000 est.) did not seem to care. The promoter was Chris Wilke, son of Greg from the famous Wilke racing family. Robert Wilke Leader Card, Inc. won the Indianapolis 500 in 1959 and 1962 with Rodger Ward driving.

J. J. Yeley won a USAC sprint car feature at the track in 2002. USAC sprints returned here on 6/24/12 and Dave Darland won the main with 19 cars present. The USAC National Midget Series raced twice at Angell in 2012; the winners were Bryan Clauson (July 8) and Brad Kuhn (August 19). Announcer Bryan Gapinski and timing/scoring were located in the infield near the start/finish line. The midgets one-lap track record is 14.179 by Jerry Coons, Jr on 8/1/99. We saw Davenport, Iowan Davey Ray (No. 33 Spike/Toyota) set fast time of 14.948. Seating on wooden rows accommodates about 5,000 and all seats offer excellent sight lines. The speedway is in a park setting in mid-city and is a great place to watch racing. The crowd June 10 seemed knowledgeable and appreciated the close racing action as we did. Past BMARA champion Kevin Olson is third in all-time Angell Park feature wins. “KO” filled in for Casey Shuman in a second Hans Lein-owned midget after Casey did not arrive at the track. Dan Boorse leads with 66 Angell Park feature wins, followed by Billy Wood (51), “KO” (46), K. Doty (37) and Scott Hatton (34).

On June 10 Travis Berryhill, from American Canyon, CA and now racing out of Brownsburg, IN, won the first of two ten-lap heat races. His No. 11 started fifth in an eight-car field and led all the way. D. Ray started sixth and led the final nine laps in heat two. The 16-car main event ran 30 all-green laps in 8+ minutes. Tulsa Chili Bowl veteran Gary “Bubba” Altig, a 25-year old Mechanicsburg, IL driver, started fourth and led the first 18 laps in the No. 19 Rick Imhoff Spike/Fontana. Then pole starter Brandon Waelti, from Sun Prairie, made an inside pass leaving turn two and his No. 51 Stealth/Mopar led laps19-25 and 27-30. Ray's No. 33 led on lap 26. Hometowner Waelti won by a few lengths over Roscoe, IL teammate S. Hatton's No. 15 Stealth/Fontana. Ray, Altig and Mike Hess completed the top five finishers with eight of 11 finishers on the lead lap. The first five finishers were close at the checkered flag. Berryhill placed seventh.

BMARA had run one prior Sunday night event in 2012 at Angell Park, the site of seven of 16 BMARA events in 2012. The winner on May 27 was Hatton (IL) from P. 6 with 21 cars present. Midget main event winners after Waelti on June 10 were Brian Clauson on 7/8 with 27 midgets on hand, Californian Rico Abreu on 7/15 with 28 midgets present, and Jerry Coons, Jr on 8/12 after rain shortened the main by five laps to 25 laps. There were 22 midgets present. Brad Kuhn won on 8/19 with 32 midgets present. Caleb Armstrong won the 9/1 Pepsi Nationals feature with 24 midgets present. Altig won the 2012 BMARA driving championship by 261 points over runners-up Hess and Hatton, who tied at 705 points. Waelti placed fourth with 656 points in the 16 race season that visited six tracks in two states--Wisconsin and Illinois.

Our second track visit to see racing was Sunday night, June 24 at Utica-Rome (NY) Speedway, about 30-miles east of Syracuse. The half-mile, semi-banked clay track hosted its tenth of 25 scheduled events from April-September. Sportsman stocks, modifieds, pro stocks and pure stocks participated. Car counts were in the mid-20s for the two featured classes. The track also hosts All-Star Circuit 410 cu. in. winged sprint cars at times. Senior admission was $10. We saw all divisions hot-lap from 5:30-5:50 pm. Racing was to start at 6:00. After the National Anthem the first heat race was ready to roll when predicted rain (70% chance) started. At 6:30 management said the track was too wet and refunded money to fans and racers. That was too bad, racing on the half-mile clay promised to be very competitive. I did watch 2012 recorded racing from the track later on You Tube.

THIRD RACE: Our third race was the regular Wednesday night competition at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, IA on June 27. The half-mile semi-banked clay track in mid-town has a covered grandstand with about 700 persons that night. The clay surface was racy all night despite the 100+ degree day that was still in the mid-90s when racing started after 7:00. It was 89 degrees when racing concluded at 10:17 pm. Musco Lighting, a firm located in a nearby Iowa town, was outstanding.

Five IMCA racing divisions—modifieds, sport-modifieds, stock cars, hobby stocks and sport compacts—raced heats and 15-lap main events. What impressed us most was how fast, clean, and competitive all the divisions were. They raced wheel-to-wheel with little or no contact and at speeds in the area of 70-80 mph. There were few caution flags. It was a very enjoyable night of racing. Admission was $9.00 for seniors. The track had no printed race programs, but fans present received a printed point standings sheet containing all five IMCA divisions current points. The colorful ticket stub was the best I've seen at a short track and it was not torn in half at the front gate. Two pace vehicles for each race were unique. Sikes Machine supplied two huge $150,000+ tractors on tank-like treads to pace each race two abreast for a lap or so. It was farm-land USA. The Oskaloosa track hosted Terry McCarl's annual pre-Knoxville Nationals USAC sprint cars races Mon.-Tues. August 6-7. Sensational Californian Kyle Larson, 20, won both USAC features that I was able to see later on You Tube.

SITES SEEN: Non-racing sites we visited included: Mt. Rushmore (SD), Niagara Falls (NY) all five Great Lakes, ESPN HQ in Bristol. CT (“sorry, no public tours”), Atlantic Ocean and USN submarine base in Groton, CT, US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, Revolutionary War Lexington battlefield, Boston Globe newspaper, upscale Kennebunkport, ME, three US presidential libraries/museums—Gerald Ford (Grand Rapids, MI), FDR (Hyde Park, NY), and JFK (Boston, MA). Traffic in Boston was the worst. We also saw HQ for Gorton's Fishsticks (Glouster, MA), Vermont Teddy Bear Co (VT), Mott's Apple Juice (NY) and universities—BYU and Lavel Edwards Football Stadium (Provo, UT), Harvard (MA), Univ. of Wisconsin and Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Notre Dame(South Bend, IN) and Wilbur Shaw Travel Center on I-80 in South Bend. We detoured to Pleasantville, IA to see a large mural highlighting the racing career of Earl Wagner, the late sprint car driver/Knoxville Raceway Racing Director. It occupied the entire sidewall of of his former HVAC/plumbing business in town and it's worth viewing.

We saw MLB stadiums Comerica Park (Detroit), Fenway Park (Boston), Progressive Field (Cleveland) and NBA's Boston Garden (Celtics), the Triple A Syracuse, NY baseball stadium and Sal Maglie Stadium near Buffalo, NY. We spied a herd of 30 buffalo next to a road in SD, a bear, deer and other wildlife. We drove over the Mackinaw Strait Bridge from the upper Michigan Peninsula to Michigan. We crossed Lake Champlain from Charlotte, VT to Essex, NY in 25 minutes on one of two 30-car auto ferry boats. We toured the National Midget Hall of Fame in a pavilion at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, WI. We also toured the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, IA. Special thanks to Executive Director Bob Baker and to Museum Curator Tom Schmeh for the afternoon they spent with us and for their guided tours. The NSCHoF museum is a must-see for open wheel racing fans. The view from the third and fourth floor suite balconies in a spectacular way to watch racing below on the half-mile Knoxville Raceway.

We used about 360 gallons of gas and averaged 28+ mpg. Cost of gas was $4.10 a gallon when he departed California. Gas averaged $3.40 to $3.65 during our 23 state trip. The high was $3.83 (NV) and low of $3.05 (Sandusky, OH). Our gas bill was about $1,300 ($650 each). We used 16 different brands of gas with Shell and Sunoco the most frequent. We stayed overnight at seven motel chains with Super 8 and Motel 6 tied at 11 nights each. Super 8 is tops in value. Others included Holiday Inn, Days Inn, and Red Roof Inn. Our favorite restaurants included Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, Applebee's, Friendly's, Perkins, Denny's, and some unique chains such as Bugaboo Creek Steak House in Nashua, NH. Norm even had his 5,000 mile service done in Elmira, NY. I definitely recommend accomplishing some of your bucket list items during 2013. You will have a lifetime of pleasant memories and photos to remember them.