0912 Sullivan Path

SULLIVAN: The Firing Squad

Against my better judgement, I was looking at some comments on social media when a post by ASCS announcer and publicist Bryan Hulbert hit me right between the eyes. What Bryan wrote was so accurate that my fervent hope was that everyone who read it actually took it to heart.

I understand that racing people are passionate, and it is an emotional sport. I realize that for some participants it just isn’t a hobby but it is the way they try to make a living. Years ago, if someone had a complaint, they figured the best way to handle it was face to face, or they actually took the time to write a letter, put it in an envelope and sent it off to National Speed Sport News. Now all it takes is a keyboard and, without really giving it a second thought or using any kind of filter, off it goes. The fact that it might be hurtful or personal never seems to matter much anymore. If you don’t like being told you suck, I guess now you are seen as soft. Yes, being kind has sadly become way out of style.

I personally thought I had seen it all, but now we have reached the point where promoters are actually being criticized for trying to race.

You read this correctly.

And the complaints now come from both fans and participants, alike. Joe and Jill Spiker recently won Promoter of the Year honors for the second consecutive season. Since they have taken the helm at Lincoln Park Speedway, the track has been improved in some way every summer. They then took on Paragon Speedway when it appeared to be on the brink of extinction, then added Bloomington Speedway to their portfolio when it looked to become, at best, a special events-only track. For this alone they deserve nothing but admiration among all stakeholders.

The Spikers are also willing to race. They understand one very important principle: If you want to survive as a weekly track, fans have to be confident you are committed to racing. Here is the deal. Promoting is a little like regularly going to the casino. You are going to win some and lose some. Fans and participants tend to remember when the place is bursting at the seams, but tend to forget those days when it looks like a ghost town. In 2021, Joe and Jill have had horrible luck with the weather at Paragon, and it has been sketchy, at best, at Bloomington.

While the Saturday night promotions at Lincoln Park have been blessed with better conditions, even here there have been several dates that looked doomed from the onset. The fact is, Joe rarely gives in to the impulse to throw in the white towel, and for some that appears to be unacceptable.

I get it. Fans don’t want to make a long trip and waste time and money, nor do participants. Yet, I thought the idea was to race. As a fan, I would always hold out hope against all odds that somehow, someway the race would go on despite the fact that black clouds were 10 feet off the ground with tornadoes on the horizon. I naively thought that it was by competing that drivers and teams were paid.

I seem to have been mistaken.

In nearly back-to-back weeks at Lincoln Park, the weather looked so dire even I thought there was no chance that a wheel would turn. By about 10 a.m. posts came in demanding answers, with some saying, in essence, that the time had come to admit it and give up. Then, when the Spikers said they would wait to assess the situation and report back on a given hour, that was derided.

Finally, of course, is the ultimate outrage that comes when they were 10 minutes late in giving an update. Never mind that preparing a track that has been doused by heavy rain, is impacted by the temperature, wind, sunshine, and drainage – all factors that hamper the art of prognostication. Never mind that you have to actually get on the track to see if you have a prayer. Then, to my amazement, came the negative posts after the track reported that they were giving it a go.

My incredulousness only increased when some of the most pointed remarks came from participants. Say what? In one of these cases, the race went on without a hitch and the stands and pits were full. It was a complete vindication. On one occasion the track was rough, it took a mid-race fix, and the races went on too long. If they would have had a crystal ball, perhaps the Spikers would have decided differently. News flash: That happens.

After the more difficult of the two nights referenced above, the attacks ramped up again. In this case, the Spikers were dismissed as holding this event only because they are greedy. Perhaps we might want to think what that means. Why do the Spikers open the gates to these tracks? They do it to make money. That’s not an evil thing to do. Are racers and race teams greedy when they step up to the pay window?

Beyond all of this is one simple underlying matter: If you don’t want to race – don’t. If you think a race track is too rough, don’t race on it. I have rarely seen a local track point fund that was so lucrative that you just simply had to be there. If it is too much of a fiscal or time risk to take as a fan to make a long haul to see an event, don’t. It is really that simple.

The question that looms, however, is what is really gained by using a social media platform to complain? Do you want people not to support Joe and Jill Spiker (or insert the name of prominent promoters in your area) and run them out of business? Is this what is in the best interest of the sport? Is it absolutely necessary to complain each and every time a race track is rough, your live stream buffers, etc., etc., etc.?

I have yet to meet a person in this sport whose goal at the beginning of the night was to screw up. People do make mistakes because, after all, we are all less than perfect. I often wonder how much some would like others looking over their shoulder at every single moment, who critique their every move.

At times I truly think the greatest threats to this sport are the very people who supposedly love it the most. As the famous Walt Kelly comic strip Pogo once proclaimed, “We have met the enemy and they are us.” There are plenty of examples of tracks and promoters who finally threw in the towel because they couldn’t take it anymore. Luckily for those in Indiana, Joe Spiker has thick skin. Nonetheless, as he will admit, this all gets very, very old.

End Bug
There are justifiable reasons for the public and participants to get frustrated at times, I have and so have you. Being criticized for trying to race – that’s a new one for me. In a sport where we need each other to survive, I am often amazed at how often we seem to cannibalize each other. Discussing this entire episode, I reminded Joe Spiker that far too often it seems that racing people would form a firing squad in a circle.

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