Saturday, May 9, 2009

Super Stocks days numbered at Irwindale

Rich DeLong has been building race cars since Toyota Speedway at Irwindale opened 10 years ago. He was racing cars and building cars when Saugus Speedway was open more than 25 years ago.
The Santa Clarita race car builder has been a big part of developing and nurturing drivers at Irwindale since the beginning.
But one of the divisions he worked so hard to build up is running on empty. The NASCAR Super Stocks might be taking their final spins around the race track. DeLong is left to wonder why the track operators are pushing his cars and drivers out.
He maintains three cars in the Super Stocks division. He had four last year. Only eight have shown up for races in recent weeks. DeLong’s son, Rich, drives one. He lost a driver a couple weeks ago and is considering putting his teenage daughter Nicole in one of his three cars. His third car is driven by a Mark Anderson, a 16-year-old from Lancaster in his first year racing in the Super Stocks division.
The Super Stocks used to be a great testing ground for potential drivers looking to move up to the Late Model and Super Late Model divisions at the track. Some had dreams of becoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. Few, if any, ever make it that far. But some do, not necessarily at Irwindale, but in similar divisions at tiny race tracks all across the country.
It is an affordable, introductory class of race cars for drivers, teams and car builders to test their skills and commitment to a sport that demands focus and precision. A driver could potentially buy a car to race in the Super Stocks division for around $15,000. The popular car of choice was the Chevrolet Camaro, but other makes and models fit the specifications for the division.
Before the season started at Irwindale, track operators made a change in the rules for the Super Stocks division. They recommended that drivers and team owners change the body on their cars. According to DeLong, it amounted to a nearly $5,000 upgrade. For his team with three cars, it meant a $15,000 investment.
“We had heard rumors that they were going to switch to this new body on the Super Stocks this year, which we thought was kind of crazy,” DeLong said. “We knew that the cars were going to have to switch to the bodies if they wanted to be competitive.”
DeLong said he changed the body on only one of his cars, the one driven by his son Rich.
“By the time we were done, it cost us 4,800 bucks to put the body on the car,” DeLong said. “They don’t understand that $2,000 is a lot of money to a Super Stock driver. Not to mention whatever they do to the division, to us it’s times three.”
For a division that is supposed to be an affordable alternative, it was a tremendous cost to put on some of the teams. Two drivers who showed up on opening night race in the Super Stocks division decided not to return. The car count went from 10 to eight in that span.
If DeLong decided to stop racing in the Super Stocks, the car count for a race would be five, hardly enough for a decent race.
It wasn’t that long ago when 40 cars and drivers would show up for Super Stock races. It was a draw and developed a strong following.
That number dropped to 11 for the final Super Stocks race at Irwindale last year. It is down to eight, although DeLong said he anticipates two more drivers to bring their cars to the next Super Stocks race at the track on May 23.
There are a couple factors that contributed to the decline in Super Stocks car count. A dwindling economy is one of them. Finding sponsorship dollars is as challenging as it’s ever been. Additionally, drivers and teams do not have the money to maintain cars like they have in the past.
But what might be contributing to the demise of the Super Stocks division more than anything else is the introduction of the new S2 Sportsman stock car at Irwindale.
The track unveiled the new race car a couple weeks after the season opened in March. The new division will begin racing in July.
The new car is comparable to the Super Stocks in cost and performance. The difference, at least according to DeLong, is that the new S2 looks like the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow, the new stock car used at the Sprint Cup Series level.
From DeLong’s perspective, the track operators wanted to add a modern-looking race car to the line-up. The timing of the introduction of the new S2 car could not have been worse. Even though the cost of the new S2 cars is more affordable than some of the cars in other divisions at Irwindale, it is still more than the cost of a Super Stock car.
“The part that they haven’t figured out yet is not only are they going to kill the Super Stock,” DeLong said, “but who’s going to go spend $50,000, $60,000 for a Late Model when they can go buy this Sportsman S2 car for $25,000?”
DeLong is at a crossroads. He has a collection of race cars he can’t race anywhere else and probably won’t be able to race at Irwindale anymore. He doesn’t know if he will invest in the new S2 car. If he does, it will most likely be on a smaller scale than his Super Stock team.
“I don’t know. We are kind of in a place where we don’t know where we can go,” DeLong said. “If they kill the division or it goes away when they start with this new car in July, I don’t know what we do. We’ve invested the money in the bodies. We could probably put together one for $15,000. Most of the parts we could take off of the car and put on the new car. I don’t know. I’m so upset at the deal, the whole way it came about.”

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