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NASCAR and dirt racing being drawn closer together

By admin | June 6, 2011

By Richard Allen

Strange as it may seem NASCAR and dirt late model racing are two very different forms of racing that have in the past had two separate fan bases and two separate sets of competitors.

To an outsider it may seem as if both forms of racing are very similar in that they feature high speed stock cars going around oval tracks. But in reality, NASCAR and dirt racing are worlds apart. However, for one night each June these two racing worlds collide in Rossburg, Ohio at the Eldora Speedway in a charity event known as the ‘Prelude to The Dream’.

The Prelude pits drivers from NASCAR and other forms of racing against one another on the famed ½ mile dirt track owned by Tony Stewart.

This one night aside, to mention the fact that NASCAR has had significant drop offs in attendance and television ratings over the last few years will not exactly draw sympathy in a dirt track pit area.

With that said, there are some fans who enjoy both forms of racing. And more, it seems as though the two forms of racing are being drawn closer together with each passing year. Oddly enough, the very struggles mentioned above being experienced by NASCAR is actually serving as one of the vehicles pulling each toward the other.

As the NASCAR economy that roared in the early 2000s began to weaken, team owner Jack Roush and his engine building business partner Doug Yates made the decision to divert some of their resources away from NASCAR and into other types of motorsports. Among those were drag racing, off road racing and dirt racing. As opportunities for their core business decreased, Roush and Yates were faced with laying off workers and seeing significant areas of shop space go to waste if changes were not made. Thus, they moved in new directions.

Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines has made similar business decisions as Roush Yates Engines and is now also a major player in the production of dirt racing power plants.

Engines are not the only ways in which NASCAR and dirt racing are coming together. Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace have become deeply involved in the sport by means of track ownership. And, each of these three own racing teams and compete on a regular basis on dirt in sprint cars, modifieds and late models.

Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Bobby Labonte are also prominent team owners in either sprint cars or dirt late models.

Not all of this association is a good thing for dirt racing. Certainly, the infusion of money, technology and exposure have their benefits. At the same time, however, if a rising tide lifts all boats, a lowering tide brings all boats down.

A number of dirt tracks schedule events to coincide with NASCAR races in the hope of luring the multitude of fans headed for asphalt races to their facilities. Here in east Tennessee, the Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap has often set their schedule to take advantage of Bristol Motor Speedway race weekends. Now, with crowds significantly lower for the Sprint Cup races there, the dirt track has fewer fans to lure.

Tracks in Florida and south Georgia that plan around the February races in Daytona find themselves in the same predicament as the Volunteer Speedway.

There are plenty of other issues that go along with these two forms of racing drawing closer. But whether the ever nearing ties between NASCAR and dirt racing are for the better or the worse can be debated in much more detail another time. For now, let’s enjoy the two forms of racing coming together on Wednesday night for the benefit of some worthy charities.

NASCAR needs more races decided on the track than the pits or the gas pump

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