"MODIFIED MUSINGS"

 

What it Was

 

There have been many debates about what made modified racing better in the past than it is today. There are of course proponents of both the current racing environment and the past. It’s a debate that nobody can win because one person’s view of “better” racing is just an opinion.

 

And everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

 

My friend Jack Hedstrom and I were discussing just this topic a week or so ago. Jack’s racing history goes back a little further than mine does, and therefore has another view of what was better back then. Following is what we believe.

 

From a fan’s point of view, I think going to modified races in the 1970’s and 1980’s was better for multiple reasons. You had your choice of many, many tracks. We’ve gone over the loss of those tracks over the years, but if you experienced modifieds in the eras I’m talking about you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. It was not infrequent to go to three different tracks one weekend and three different tracks the next weekend, with all being in a reasonable distance of where you lived. No airplane flights required.

Best of all, you would see only some of the same drivers at any of the tracks at any time. It was always a pleasure though to be able to see different drivers at multiple tracks. And yes, the fields were bigger. Personally when I went to a track that did not have 3 heats and a consolation, where not ever car qualified I was disappointed. Fortunately, this was not generally the case and my disappointments were few and far between.

 

You didn’t always know what happened at other tracks until you read the newspaper. Yeah, I know, the age of instant notifications and having to know what’s going on as it happens has been upon us for years. And yeah, I know that some of you LOVE to know instantly who won, who crashed and who punched who Personally, while I am an advocate of the Internet and its ability to get information out I think we’re in a serious overload situation. It was always kind of neat to me to hear the track announcer report that so and so was last week’s winner at speedway X. It added a bit of excitement for me and made me watch that driver that much closely.

 

You didn’t have sections of rowdy, possibly less than sober people harassing drivers and/or fans. In general, you just felt safe in the stands As for the pits, well the pits were always someplace special as they were not open to everyone. Heck, they were open to almost nobody. As a kid I viewed them as THE place to be, and could not wait to cross the track after the racing was done to spend some time with the cars and drivers. Now, pony up a few bucks and anybody can get into the pits. And sometimes in the way…

 

As everyone knows, the cars all looked different. Let’s just leave that as that for now. But one thing that comes to my mind today is that all the drivers looked different. Maybe it’s a product of the movement of society, or maybe it’s the product of trying to attain a look that appeals to sponsors but I see a whole bunch of generic looking racers these days. I don’t like cookie cutters… From a racer’s standpoint, even more has changed.

 

As Jack relates, when his father pulled his race team into the pits, he could park anywhere and unload his car. Yes, there were the “preferred” spots where the big shots always got to park, but for the most part the pits were wide open. I can even remember my dad parking his sportsman next to Brett Hearn on more than one occasion. But today…well it’s a different story. Pit spots are rented from the track in many cases, adding more expense and unnecessary drama to the simple act of pitting your car.

 

You could choose any number for your car, and it was free. Sure, it lead to duplicate car numbers but that number was chosen for a reason and you could use it. At a track in Las Vegas, where Jack can be found the competitors have to pay to secure your car number. More revenue for the track, and more money out of the racer’s pocket for something they should not even be giving a second thought to.

When Jack’s father raced, he did not have to buy a pit license They showed up wherever, and whenever they wanted and raced. This is a bit before my time as every track I can remember going to required a pit license. Not that they ever checked them after opening day, but I absolutely remember scraping together $25 or so to ensure I would be allowed in the pits each and every week. Except Reading, where I never bought one, and was never stopped from entering the pits.

 

We used to buy our fuel outside of the track. When running alcohol, we would by a 55 gallon drum from some supply company and truck it back and forth to the track. Yeah, you could buy it at the track when and if you needed it, but it was always more cost effective to buy it in bulk and carry it around. Unless it was gasoline. They you just filled up the car at the local station with high test (Sunoco REALLY high octane was available), filled up a couple of 5 gallon cans and went to the track. No track fuel deals. No requirement to buy from the guy at the track to satisfy some deal the track made with him. You used what you wanted.

 

You could also use any tire you wanted to use, and like fuel you could buy it anywhere. If you wanted to run a drag tire one week, and a Marsh re-tread the next week nobody would stop you. Compounds were important, although I only remember 4, Really hard, hard, soft and really soft although I suppose there were identifying numbers somewhere. The best thing of all was that you could use any compound at any track…and even at any time during the night. Made for some interesting “guesstimates” as to what the track was going to be like on any particular night.

When you got paid, you got paid in cash. No check sent to your home and no 1099 for the government.

 

Most, or at least a lot of teams built their own engines (besides their own cars). You’d have some work done at a machine shop, but the finesse of putting it all together was right on the team’s shoulders. I can remember when my dad put his sportsman together he had a professionally built engine done. When that engine was spewed all over the front straight at Middletown dad went right back to what he said he should have done in the first place. He built his own engines.

 

Jack points out that to make the feature, you always had to qualify. A heat, and maybe a consolation where a good finish would land you in the main event. Not like today where short, or just adequate fields have become acceptable. Jack points out that the same Las Vegas track that charges for numbers, has a whopping 11 car top class field every week. We can all remember the nights that 24 cars started a feature, and more than that went home because the qualifying cards just didn’t fall their way that night.

 

The racers helped each other. Lending a tire, or any part to a competitor was the rule rather than the exception. A well known modified driver had a boat in the same Marina as Jack did in Brick, NJ. Jack used to talk to him about racing a lot back then, as he competed against Jack’s father’s OCFS. He once told Jack that back then, you could borrow almost anything. In this driver’s last years racing he said no one would even give you a nut, for fear that you may finish ahead of them using 'their' nut!

 

And that kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

 

From everything I’ve heard, read or seen so much of the good stuff of racing is gone. Call it a trend, call it progress…call it whatever you want.

 

I just call it sad.

 

 

Reach Scott Pacich at pacich711optonline.net


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