While my 2011 racing season ended just over two months ago, I like to hold out just in case that one last race comes along. Unfortunately, that last chance turned out to be the Thanksgiving weekend event at the Springfield, Mo. Raceway, which was cancelled by less than favorable weather. Not sure if we could have made the trip, but we were sure looking at it, as it would have made the off season a lot shorter than the 161 days from our last race to a projected March 31 opener.
The cancellation should have been no surprise, as the weatherman was not very cooperative for a large part of the 2011 season. For the second year in a row, I finished with 45 race nights, including three that were rained out before a green flag waved. My travels this season included visits to 13 tracks in four states. Two of those tracks I attended for the first time, I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., and Callaway Raceway in Fulton,Mo. The August visit to Fulton was my 50th track all time, leaving me well behind several of my fellow Positively Racing cohorts. I confess to being a bit of a creature of habit, and over the years, I tended to frequent tracks I enjoyed. I have also spent several years as a track reporter at a couple of different tracks, and served as my son Brents sidekick for several years of Saturday night reporting at Lee County Speedway. In fact, quite a few of those 50 tracks have been added since the turn of the century! Jeff Broeg referred to me as a late model fan in one of his columns, and I confess that the full bodied machines are my first love. In fact, I attended only one event in 2011 that did not include late models, that being the season ender at Scotland County Speedway 60 miles up the road in Memphis,Mo. I was rained out of my only visit to a World of Outlaws show this season, at Independence, Iowa, but I did get to witness shows by the Lucas Oil series, MLRA, ULMA, IMCA weekly and Summer Series, UMP weekly and Summernationals, as well as several non sanctioned high dollar shows, MOWA sprints and Sprint Invaders, and an outstanding USMTS modified show at I-80. In addition to the venues already mentioned, my travels this year also took me to Knoxville, Davenport, West Liberty, West Burlington, and Donnellson, Iowa, Pevely, Mo., Pontoon Beach and Alexander,Illinois, as well as my home base in Quincy,Illinois, where weather held them to only 18 full nights. There were several memorable shows, and I am sure I will leave out some dandies, but Shannon Babbs' late race charge at the May Day Classic at West Liberty, Brian Harris doing the same at the first IMCA Derry Brothers show in more than 25 years at West Liberty, and Don Oneal dominating the last part of the $25,000 to win 80 lapper at I-80, then using late race dramatics to capture the $40,000 top prize at the Knoxville Nationals remain vivid memories.
As we look ahead to 2012, there are a lot of changes afoot, as we might have expected given the economic struggles of the past year. Quincy Raceways got things started by ending their 14 year late model affiliation with IMCA by announcing a switch to ULMA sanction, then a change in the ownership group followed by another change to UMP late models, all within a span of a few days. At this time, I am cautiously optimistic that car counts in the premier division will increase, especially after track officials announced that the late model feature will now pay $1,000 to win. It looks as though a small number of QR regulars may opt to race away from home with IMCA, but there appears to be at least an equal number of area drivers " coming home. " Plus there are 12-15 UMP cars within 100 miles of Quincy, and with Shepps Speedway in Alexander switching to a Friday night program, hopefully we will see the weekly travelers that we have not seen the last few seasons with IMCA. QR will also host UMP modifieds, IMCA stock cars and sport mods, as well as track rules hobby stocks and 4 cylinder Wild Things. QR track photographer Dewaine Hulett has been named race director at the Lee County Speedway under new owners Dave and Yvonne Sapp, and they are going to kick off 2012 with a 4 cylinder show on Saturday Feb. 11. Check the website for details. It also sounds as though LCS and 34 Raceway in West Burlington are looking to work together in 2012, which should be good for the tracks and fans alike. At this time, there appears to be nothing shaking at Memphis, Mo, or 24 Raceway in Moberly, Mo, as well as Jacksonville,Il., Bloomfield, and Eldon, Ia.All these venues are within 100 miles of my home, and there has also been nothing announced for Columbus Junction, Iowa, which sets about 104 miles away. So that is eleven tracks - including Fulton - within a two hour drive, six of which are not scheduled to open at this time. It would sure be nice to see at least a couple of these tracks running, as I have certainly seen some great racing at all of them over the years!
As the schedules are being released we are trying to put together a working schedule for 2012. With the time it takes to travel to and from many tracks, most of the weekday races require two vacation days, so most of our traveling will again occur on the weekends, and we will have to pick and choose those week night races carefully. But for now, we are focused on Saturday, March 31, with the second night of the World of Outlaws Illini 100 to the east at Farmer City,Il, the UMP opening night to the south in Pevely, Mo., and the IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series opener to the north in Farley, Iowa. I have a feeling the weatherman will have a lot to say about our choice. Quincy Raceways is scheduled to open the UMP late model era the following night, Sunday, April 1. The QR banquet is three weeks away, on Saturday January 21, so I will hopefully have some gossip and maybe some real news to report at that time! Until then, Happy New Year, and heres to a successful racing season in 2012!