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Dirt Fans Pack CMS To See ‘The Big Boys Play’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 9 2019
Sprint car fans from all over are packing the Charlotte Motor Speedway short track to watch the dirt fly this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photos by Jim Fluharty)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD. N.C. – Nearly two years ago the Ulrich family set their sights on The Dirt Track at Charlotte and the 2019 Can-Am World Finals, a trip that would incorporate a 4,000-mile flight for the Alaska residents. 

Eighty-year-old Warren Ulrich, his 54-year-old son Warren Ulrich II, and his 28-year-old grandson Kevin Ulrich, a junior engineer, and his 30-year-old wife, Madison, initially considered renting a motor home once they arrived in North Carolina, but decided a hotel was more economical. They acquired their airline tickets via frequent flyer miles and purchased their tickets to the three-day event in June so they could sit together. Now, a family member will carry the Alaska flag in Saturday evening’s opening ceremonies. 

“I have never been to a track this size,” said Warren II, who lives in Chugiak. “They put 10 cars out there on the hot laps and that’s more excitement than you have in an entire year of racing in Alaska. I love the sound of open exhausts and V-8 engines. It’s not like anything else.” 

Dirt, paved and drag racing exist in Alaska, but on a much smaller scale.

“We have one paved circle track in the state,” said Warren II, an assistant general manager for a satellite school bus terminal. “There are three dirt tracks in three different cities. You go to one of the dirt tracks and you might have three to five cars in a division. The biggest division we have is the Legend cars at the paved track. They run anywhere from 15 to 20 cars.” 

Donny Schatz has a family from Alaska cheering him on at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.

Kevin defined Alaska’s dirt-track competitors as a “handful of guys” that can run “pretty well.” 

“You have a really big disparity so you don’t really get any consistent race of solid drivers that can make a good showing week-in and week-out,” Kevin explained.  

The Can-Am World Finals provide a much different racing card. Each night for three consecutive days the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, the Super DIRTcar Series and the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series compete with the champion being named on Saturday night. Entering Saturday night’s competition, Brad Sweet possesses a two-point lead over Donny Schatz in the Sprint Car title battle. Sweet drives for team owner Kasey Kahne, while Schatz pilots Tony Stewart’s entry.

“In Alaska, we don’t get this kind of racing,” says Madison, a psychology major with a background in automotive management who lives in Eagle River. “This is a lot more intense and fun. Alaska racing is pretty low key.” 

The eldest Ulrich, a Gakona resident that’s almost 200 miles from his son and grandson, described the World of Outlaws as “where the big boys play.”  

For the Ulrich family, the title battle only increases their excitement as they are fans of 10-time World of Outlaws champion Schatz and 20-time title holder Steve Kinser. Warren said it was Kinser’s ability that drew him to that driver years ago. Warren II has been following Schatz for about eight to 10 years. 

Even though there isn’t a great deal of racing in Alaska, that hasn’t dampened the Ulrich family’s interest in the sport. In fact, the family’s patriarch has been following the sport since around age 10 when he lived in western New York State.

“Back in those days when I was a kid the only paved racing was the Europeans racing on road races,” he said. “Even the Brickyard (Indianapolis) was bricks. They did finally pave it. That was actually the first paved track that I remember as a kid.” 

After a stint in the Navy, the 80-year-old Ulrich moved to northern California where he raced some on dirt before moving to Alaska where he worked primarily as a mechanic. 

“I think the big thing with this racing is it’s not boring on dirt,” the eldest Ulrich said. “It’s to the point in pavement racing they run around following each other. After a while, it gets to be boring. NASCAR has gotten to the point where it’s basically spec cars. It just doesn’t have the feeling that dirt racing does, pure and simple. I love the big-block modifieds. They just shake everything.”

 While the Ulrichs will cheer for Schatz, Dawn Kinnaman, from Kalaheo, Hawaii, will focus on Sweet. Kinnaman became a Kahne fan after Bill Elliott retired, then became friends with Kahne’s mother and eventually assisted with a Kahne fan event when she attended the 2013 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Currently, she’s the administrator for a Kahne fan Facebook page. Her interest in the World of Outlaws began when Kahne became a team owner in the series.   

Like the Ulrich family, the 62-year-old Kinnaman will carry her state flag in Saturday night’s opening ceremonies, but unlike the Alaska family, she pulled her inaugural trip to the event together in three weeks. That meant a $1,300 airline ticket. 

“The unpredictability (of dirt track racing) to me is fascinating,” said Kinnaman, who works for an exclusive boutique residence club. “If Brad wasn’t fighting for the championship, I don’t think I would have come. So this to me is like showing my support for the team.” 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 9 2019
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