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A New Perspective On Sprint Car Racing In A Modified State Of Mind

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By ADAM BUCHANAN
First, let me introduce myself. For those of you who do not know me my name is Adam Buchanan. I am the co-announcer at Brewerton and Fulton Speedways and racing is in my blood. My family has always been a racing family and it started at a young age. My father loved racing most of all and being his only son out of six children we used racing as a way for us to bond together. My fondest memories as a child were going to Brewerton on Friday nights to watch the mighty Big Block Modifieds. Most nights had me rooting for the likes of Billy Decker, Gordy Button, and Tommy Kinsella to name a few. Being in the heart of Modified country that was all I was accustomed to watching. My father rarely traveled to other tracks much. His thoughts were that the best tracks are right in our back yard, why bother going anywhere else? I feel as though he shares the thoughts of many  others around Central New York.  Many of us grew up on Modified racing and Sprint Cars are a bit of an afterthought with it being a Mod or bust mentality.
I shared this sentiment for quite some time but Sprint Car racing started to grow on me. It started when I had the opportunity to go to the Fonda Speedway two years ago for a UNOH All Star’s Circuit of Champions race. It had rained heavily, but after a two or so hour delay the cars made it onto the track for hot laps. I can remember being in the pits looking down the back stretch and Tyler Walker lays the loud pedal down and the car rockets down the backstretch toward me so fast you can see the air disburse off the top wing.  Walker does not lift as he throws the car into turn 3 off that sweeping corner the car catches into four and down the front stretch. An unbelievable sight, that race proved to be a turning point in my perception of sprint cars. The last couple of years I have attended or announced All Star 410 and 360 shows at Brewerton, Fulton and Utica-Rome, with each adding to my appreciation for Sprint Cars and the drivers a little more.  I had only been to a few race tracks in the area (with a few exceptions) but I mostly stuck to an hour or two radius from home.
This week I decided before my season officially started in the booth that I was going to venture out to see some racing. Thinking of places to go I got a hold of my buddy Mike Mallett who travels all over and he suggested we go to Pennsylvania for some sprint car racing. At first I was a little apprehensive knowing there were some big modified openers in the area, but after some thought I jumped on board and along with John Tiff we left for the weekend. Our first racing destination was Williams Grove Speedway, the home of American sprint car racing. We entered the Speedway towards the pits, and the atmosphere was electric. The place had a charged up atmosphere and you instantly felt like you were somewhere special. Everyone has heard of Williams Grove Speedway but you cannot grasp the feeling of the hollowed grounds until you witness it for yourself. We walked around as they put heat in the engines and you could smell the alcohol as it came billowing out of the exhaust pipes. Race fans know that smell, you yearn for it all winter and you finally get that first whiff and realize that racing is back. Having never gone to the track before, I was given a tour of the pit area. I recognized some drivers from past events and learned of some new ones as well.  I made it a point to walk over the bridge that crosses over the backstretch to the extended pit area where you can clearly see the giant half mile banked clay oval. The facility was top notch and I was impressed with the large crowd on hand.
Hot laps started soon after. Three groups of hot laps gave me time to see different parts of the track at eye level. I watched from the exit of turn four as the motor roars for more power. I then ventured to a few more areas of the track. The most impressive in my mind was the backstretch into turn number three.  The pilots of these machines were putting the foot to the floor at close to top speed and throwing it into the turn wide open with ease. The ability, mindset and skill you must have to drive a car on the edge like that is majestic. The level of respect I have for these drivers has significantly increased. The heats did not disappoint and the super late models put on a good show as well. The 410 feature was exciting to say the least as the battle of the night was between Danny Dietrich and Lance Dewease. Lap traffic became a factor as Dietrich was able to clear not one but two lap cars on the high side of turn four picking up his 8th win by .558 seconds. The feature put the cherry on the top as my first Pennsylvania Sprint Car experience was exhilarating.
The next day we had already decided to head down to the Mach 1 358-360 challenge race at Selensgrove Speedway. Some of the ESS tour regulars had made their way down including three from Quebec; Steve “Fireball” Poirier, Patrick Vigneault, and Michael Parent. Walking down to see the Speedway for the first time you realize how long the straightways are. Looking down, they looked really tacky and fast. We knew the surface was going to be a fast one. There were 32 entries for the Mach 1 challenge, Tony Stewart was bad fast as he broke the 360 sprint single lap track record posting a 17.168 averaging 111 MPH.  I walked around turns 3 and 4 mostly for hot laps and time trials. What impressed me the most was the drivers’ ability to pitch the cars into turn 3 and barely lift through turn 4. In talking to some drivers they describe the configuration as feeling like you should lift but you find a way not to and if you do its not for long. Come feature time the track had widened out a bit. During the opening laps Pat Cannon and Jessica Zemken put on a show, trading the lead quite a few times with Cannon pulling off 2 slide jobs with the second giving him the lead. Tony Stewart would not go quietly picking his way from the 8th spot to best them both for the win. The ESS contingent did well for their first time in 2013 against an impressive field. After the race the promoter of ESS and I were able to present Tony with an ESS 30th Anniversary sign and take a couple pictures. Just spending a few minutes with Tony, you know he doesn’t race for the money. He races sprint cars simply because he enjoys to do so and fans enjoy watching him put on a show.
Overall I would say my first trip to Pennsylvania to the home of American sprint car racing was an eye opening experience. It was my first trip but definitely not my last.  The level of excitement is top notch and exhilarating. It’s a must see for any racing fan and it also made me appreciate the talent we have in our backyard.  In a modified centric state the local level of sprint cars, especially the Empire Super Sprints, has risen in the past few years. The mix of veteran talent and young rookies in the tour makes for some good racing this season. My advice to the diehard modified fans is to give local sprint car racing a shot. Just because the modifieds are off on a given weekend does not mean you won’t see good racing. Sprint Cars are fast, agile, and are capable of putting on great shows for fans out there. At first I was unsure of how entertaining sprint car racing was going to be. Needless to say, I’m now hooked!