By BILL FOLEY
In 2013 Jimmy Phelps became the promoter of the new Weedsport Speedway and ran just one event.
However, the 2018 season will provide an interesting mix of numerous high quality shows and Phelps and his team continue to enhance the racing experience for Central New York race fans.
In a question and answer exclusively with Dirt Track Digest the promoter-driver addressed numerous opportunities and challenges in wearing both hats in the highly competitive world of Big Block Modified racing.
Dirt Track Digest: Looking back as last year can you summarize the season? How difficult was it as a promotor (weatherwise and preparation wise)?
Jimmy Phelps: “There is mixed emotion on last season. The negative was obviously the weather and the fact that we lost half of our season to rainouts. The positive was that the events we did have were successful. We saw growth in our annual events and there is a sense that we are gaining some momentum.”
DTD: What are the challenges of being a promoter and a driver?
JP: “The major challenge has always been maintaining the ability to separate the two. At first it was very difficult. I found myself showing up at a track to race and then spending more time learning what the track we were visiting was doing with their facility than I was focusing on the racing. As we have gained experience, as well as put great people in place, it has gotten much easier. Bottom line, we have a great staff who take pride in the Weedsport Speedway product, and that has made it easy to focus on racing again.”
DTD: How tough is it to stay focused on the Modified when you are racing at Weedsport while the other activity is happening as once in a while you have to be involved?
JP: “Like I said, it was really tough at first, but its getting easier.”
DTD: Why has Weedsport decided to go with the specials only format? Is there any thought of racing weekly?
JP: “We really just felt that running a weekly program would do more harm than good in the big picture. We enjoy the challenge of trying to make every event we host truly special. To operate on that level would be difficult to deliver weekly. Weekly racing still has its place, although I see the model slowly changing. There are some great weekly facilities in our backyard that do it really well, and that is just not the path for us right now.”
DTD: When your team sat down to formulate the 2018 schedule. What were some of the thought processes involved?
JP: “We started with what has been working and went from there. A good portion of the 2018 schedule are events that are heading into their fourth or fifth year, so continuing to build on that was a huge priority. Some of the new additions, like the American Flat Track Series and the USAC Sprints, were a product of two or three years worth of discussion finally coming together.
DTD: Your schedule is quite varied and even includes a circus. How did you determine what you wanted to run and what do you like about the pairing of classes in the one night shows and the two day shows?
JP: “While the racing is still the primary focus, the property can really handle and offer so much more. The circus has been a fun way to expose the local families to the speedway facility. We have a car show in August, a festival in October, and are continuing to explore other event options as we speak. We are working really hard on finalizing plans for a 1/8 mile dirt kart track that we hope will be ready for competition by fall. Pairing the classes is a bit of a chess match. It really comes down to what is going on with other tracks and divisions in that timeline.”
DTD: You brought in the All Stars? Why did you add them?
JP: “There are some real legends following that tour of late. Combine that with the young talent they provide and it made for an easy decision.”
DTD: USAC Sprints are usually absent from NY tracks. What made you decide to bring them on board? What was the process to book them? How difficult was it? They also run a different style of track than the winged sprinters. How will you approach that show and how do you feel about them on your schedule?
JP: “We are really excited about this event. Discussions with USAC started a good three years ago. Last year we ventured out on a limb, with the help of Dean Reynolds from Empire Super Sprints, and ran a “wingless” 360 race. I was scared to death. But the track raced really good, and the fans left really excited! From that point the discussion with USAC got more serious. Some changes in the Eastern Storm tour allowed for them to make the trip in 2018 as that tours final night, and we are thrilled to have host them on our schedule! As far as approaching the show, there are definitely some characteristics that they will want from track prep that differs from the normal upstate NY hard slick conditions. I thought Dan and Gilly (track crew) did a great job for last years Wingless Shootout, so I think we have some good notes to build on.”
DTD: How have you felt about the evolution of the new Weedsport Speedway and what do you hope that the future will bring?
JP: “It has been quite a remarkable journey so far. It is hard to believe when you think back that less than five years ago it was in real distress. This all starts with Mr. Heinke. What the Weedsport Speedway fans and competitors see today is the result of his vision and his relentless desire to always keep improving. Like we’ve discussed, the goal is to keep building on the big events and try to continue to grow them into annual “must see” events. We have a lot of work to do as that does not just happen overnight. I feel that we are really gaining momentum, and we just need to keep pushing to get better for the fans and the racers. We also plan to continue to find ways to utilize the facility for non-racing events, in hopes that down the road we have a full schedule with something for everyone.
DTD: Three SDS shows are scheduled. Are you concerned at all that three SDS shows might be too many or do you think they can stand on their own? Why three?
JP: “We feel the big-blocks are still the back bone of short track racing in Central NY. With our special only format, and the Super DIRTcar Series gaining momentum, it seemed fitting to try to three throughout the season. Weedsport geographically is a good fit for a good majority of the race teams, so that helps as well.”
DTD: What do you think the Octoberfest event will look like. Is this racing or festival type event?
JP: “The Octoberfest is still in the planning phase, but is shaping up to be a fun filled day for the whole family. It will be a festival atmosphere with live entertainment, a variety of great food, and beer and wine tasting. Look for details in the coming months.”