Short tracks are the lifeblood of racing. Local short tracks are grooming drivers for future success across the country while putting on some of the best racing you will see. Ryan Blaney knows all about that.
Blaney came from short tracks, and is now a NASCAR Cup Series winner for Roger Penske. Despite his rise to success, Blaney understands the importance of not forgetting where you come from. That’s where a new initiative with one of his sponsors, Advance Auto Parts, comes in.
Advance is the entitlement sponsor of the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, but also recently announced the ‘Advance My Track Challenge.’ The program will showcase 22 tracks throughout the United States and Canada, with fans voting for their favorite track. The grand prize is $50,000 toward facility enhancements and community-based programs for the track with the most votes. Second and third-most finishers will also receive money.
Additionally, Blaney will highlight different tracks on his car throughout this season. The C-post on his Ford Mustang will feature two tracks each week (one track on each side of the car). Florence Motor Speedway, Timmonsville, and Greenville-Pickens are three from South Carolina that have already been featured this season. For every race that Blaney wins, the two tracks on the car at the time will receive $1,200.
“You can’t forget where you came from, and these tracks showed you support and love when you were a kid and promoted you and put on great shows,” Blaney told RACER. “Without all these short tracks around the world, NASCAR doesn’t exist. There are no drivers out there to feed up through the series. It just doesn’t happen. You’ve always got to give back. And a lot of these tracks that they (Advance) support, I grew up racing around, and I think it’s great they’ve come up with this program.
“You have to help these tracks out. They might not have the biggest budgets out there. My dad owns a dirt track up in Ohio, and it’s hard seeing it first-hand. It’s hard for these tracks to make it, and survive, and find new ways to attract fans and host races in unique and special ways. It’s a really hard thing to do. So, the support we can give to these short tracks, and the people who go out there and run a weekly series, or travel around and do multiple short tracks a year, that’s just great. We’ve got to do what we can to keep these tracks afloat, and I think this is a good place to start.”
NASCAR Cup Series teams will race at two Virginia short tracks over the next two weekends. Martinsville Speedway hosts the series this weekend, and Richmond Raceway has Blaney and company rolling into town on April 18.
There are six short track events on the NASCAR schedule (Bristol, Richmond, Martinsville). One of those races, at Bristol, was taken away this year as the spring race became a dirt event. And the makeup of the schedule has also been a hot topic – take, for instance, officials appeasing some with the increase of road course venues, while others are still calling for more short tracks to be added to the circuit.
Blaney agrees there seems to be a disconnect regarding NASCAR and short-track racing. Yes, NASCAR has its sanctioned short track series, but its schedules are lacking when it comes to its three national levels. One of the Camping World Truck Series schedule criticisms over the years has been how far away it has moved from short tracks to align with the other two series, which are mostly made up of intermediates.
And yet, more and more drivers have been going back to their roots. It is common to see Ryan Preece and Ryan Newman run modified races, and Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott are known to show up and compete at late model events. Blaney would love to go back and compete on some of the tracks he grew up racing at too if circumstances allowed.
“NASCAR does a pretty decent job of having their series that runs at short tracks, but yeah, I’d love to see more of that effort go into these places, because you want to keep them around,” Blaney said. “I hate when I see tracks close down because they can’t make it anymore – like (North) Wilkesboro. You hate to see what happened to that place, because it was so special to the Cup Series and a great track in North Carolina. You hate to see what it’s come to and all the weeds growing out of it.
“If you watch Dale [Earnhardt] Jr.’s show Lost Speedways, you go around to these places, and you’re like, ‘Man, that was a cool place.’ I don’t want to see Hickory do something like that, or see it shut down in 10 years just because it’s special to everybody. So, yeah, you’ve got to start somewhere.
“Something is better than nothing, whether it’s notoriety or funds. Hopefully, this is the start of something that can keep growing, and we can continue to really get these tracks out there, and people want to go to them and show their support.”
For some, short track racing is all they have – it’s their livelihood, and Blaney understands that aspect, too. Plus, short tracks are where his first and some of his fondest racing memories come from, and Blaney wants to ensure that continues for others.
“I remember going to some amazing tracks as a kid,” he said. “I grew up running the PASS series, which is a super late model series, at a lot of these tracks around North, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia. Hickory, Orange County, South Boston, places like that, and Greenville-Pickens. These are great racetracks and a great learning tool to get to tracks that are fast and bigger than you’d ever run in a legend car. It’s a great stepping stone for getting up to the next level.
“I’ve always appreciated those tracks, and these places are beautiful places to me, and you want to see them thrive and do well—great memories and learning so much. I started running late models when I was 14, 15, and I had guys in there that were twice my age that would come in and teach me stuff, and I’m still great friends with them today. It’s not only the cool tracks you get to go to, but it’s the people you meet who have been doing this forever, and that’s their life and their livelihood. You just meet lifelong friends there at the track, amazing drivers who have run all kinds of cars over the years, or maybe they’ve run late models for 20 years. I’ve built so many great friendships and memories at these places that I want to keep them around.”