Tough Times Put Short Tracks On Spot
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
Braselton, Ga. – Blessed with Chamber of Commerce weather, Donnie Clack and his staff ushered in another Saturday night of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing at Lanier National Speedway.
For much of the season, the deep economic recession has played havoc with the .375-mile paved oval’s car and fan count.
But one week from Labor Day weekend, things are looking up as a semi-crowded pit area comprised of stock cars, race trucks, Legends, and bandoleros greet the several hundred fans in attendance.
And with 10 Late Models on the entry list, track owner Clack and speedway general manager Terry Roberts are upbeat about the evening’s festivities.
A season that began with NASCAR superstar Kyle Busch doing his customary bow after winning a Super Late Model race in January quickly turned into a year of survival for Lanier and other grass roots racing-level tracks throughout the nation.
“It’s been a challenging year,” admitted Roberts, who came to the Atlanta-area speedway late last season following an eight year stint at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway.
“You’ve got to understand that many of our racers are in involved in real estate or construction to some degree. And some of our drivers are in the car business.
“Those are critically hit industries, and it’s affected us.”
As Roberts sets up shop in race control, the hands-on Clack is already busy working the crowd between races using a wireless microphone.
The night’s big promotion is a tire race for the kids in attendance.
“We’re gonna need all the younguns down here on the front row and we’re gonna let you know when we’re gonna put you out on the track,” Clack barks out over the public address system.
After one kid gets his feet tangled up with a tire and winds up nearly face first on the pavement, Clack quickly informs the crowd: “Ah, he’s OK. Ain’t nothing hurt but his pride.”
And the flamboyant Clack isn’t reluctant to chime in and offer some insight alongside track announcer Joel Williams.
When a Legends car goes into a series of barrel roll flips on the frontstretch, Clacks tells the fans: “The acrobatics weren’t part of the plan, folks.”
When he’s not using his gift of gab, Clack is busy rounding up kids to hop aboard the big cheese, a souped-up school bus complete with sketches of Sponge Bob Squarepants on its sides.
Roberts said he and Clack are willing to do everything necessary to bring fans to the facility originally built by Bud Lunsford in 1982 as a dirt track. It was converted to an asphalt track five years later.
A ticket promotion with a local company earlier this summer far-exceeded Roberts expectations.
“I predicted that we’d get 500 to 600 fans out of it,” Roberts said. “We wound up with about 1,700. I was blown away.”
But ultimately, the key to packing the grandstands begins and ends with the product on the track.
Former track champion Shane Chastain has been able to do his part on the car count on a part-time basis this season. He’ll wind up running up to eight of Lanier’s bigger shows this season.
But Chastain was relegated to spectator status on this Saturday night as his No. 3 Chevrolet Late Model sat idle at his shop in nearby Murrayville, Ga.
As for Saturday evening’s 50 lap feature that paid $1,000 to the winner, Chastain said those economics don’t add up for his family-owned team.
“Guys just can’t afford to run these weekly shows,” he said. “They just don’t pay enough.”
Sanctioned by NASCAR for the past 23 years, Roberts said it’s too soon to know if Lanier will continue its relationship with the sanctioning body based in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“We’re still putting the final touches on our plans for 2010,” Roberts said.
– Jeff Hood can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment