Insight Team TRT January 18, 2024 (Comments off) (459)

SPRINTCAR RACING – The underground movement

Australian speedway has had to deal with a couple of black eyes in the past few years. Some of them have been self-inflicted. Some completely and unfairly out of their control.

The sad demise of the World Series for instance was a casualty of COVID. But the pandemic is long gone and unfortunately there’s no sign of a national series returning anytime soon.

The loss of Brisbane’s Archerfield Speedway was a long time coming – but has left a savage hole that hasn’t once looked like being filled in the Queensland capital – despite the extended lead in time.

And then there’s Sydney’s Eastern Creek Speedway – a magnificent new $100 million dollar structure – that sits idle as its issues continue to mount. Will it ever return as a racing venue? No one really knows.

So there’s problems. And big ones at that.

But ahead of the biggest week in the sprintcar calendar for the year – there’s enormous optimism and for a pleasant change, genuine, great hype around the sport.

Sprintcar racing is indeed undergoing an underground movement globally.

Look in America – where the biggest name in motorsport is Kyle Larson. The favourite for this year’s NASCAR series, a rookie starter in the iconic Indianapolis 500, oh and he’s also the Knoxville Nationals champion. And he owns a rival sprintcar series that is taking on the might of the World of Outlaws.

This year’s NASCAR champion was Ryan Blaney. He’s a guy who grew up at the dirt track watching his legendary old man Dave win just about everything sprintcars offers.

And that’s the beauty of the sport right now, there are sprintcar connections everywhere in the world of motorsport.

Look closer to home.

The three biggest names in Supercars – Shane van Gisbergen, Brodie Kostecki and Cam Waters are all passionate sprintcar racers and have a drive whenever they can.

Scott McLaughlin, the three-time Supercar champ, who is now in America racing IndyCars, co-owns a sprintcar team with one of the AFL’s biggest stars, Jack Riewoldt. We’re pretty sure Scotty would like a run in his own sprintcar – but his Team Penske contract forbids it.

But it’s Waters who is perhaps the greatest supporter of the sport and deserves great praise for wanting to race every weekend across summer. Because that’s what he’s done. Since December he’s been running every single weekend and will do so until the first week of February – that’s how much he loves it.

He doesn’t need to turn up – from places as far flung as Simpson in south-west Victoria, South Australia’s Mount Gambier, and as far north as Toowoomba in Queensland. He’s certainly not doing it for the money. He does it, because he loves it.

And he does it because he loves testing himself against the best.

Aussie speedway continues to replenish on the run, whilst allowing their stars to become legends.

James McFadden has returned home for a summer holiday with his young family after the most successful season of a career than is now incredibly two decades old. J-Mac is a great ambassador for the sport, and now is back in his home bed for a couple of months as one of the best six or seven drivers in the world – after a six-win Outlaws season.

This week he’ll try and win a third Classic title. The week he’ll shoot for a third Australian title – something he hasn’t won for eleven years. Eleven years! How’s that for making sprintcar fans feel old!

McFadden has helped change the face of the sport the past twelve months with his new high profile team, Hodges Motorsport – set up by former Warrnambool local, and leading sports producer, Tim Hodges.

J-Mac has done media where sprintcar racing has never existed – and brought A-grade celebrities to the race track along the way. It can only be a good thing for the sport to have the likes of leading sports broadcaster Gerard Whateley, AFL icons Jonathan Brown and Brad Johnson, and the likes of V8 royalty in Marcos Ambrose and Steven Richards to be onboard.

McFadden deserves credit for pushing himself to places he never thought he’d be aired – consider this: he’s now Greg Rust’s only three-time guest on his Rusty’s Garage platform. That’s how far sprintcar racing has come in the past year.

But following in McFadden’s path is perhaps the most exciting young star on the scene since he shot to prominence as a teenager in the 2000s.

As a young man Jock Goodyer had no interest in racing. He tried go-karts but didn’t like it much. Until he tried sprintcars – and he was hooked. And he shows signs that he might be one of the best talents Australian sprintcar racing has ever seen.

He’s had a spectacular purple patch – with the Aussie title, back-to-back Speed Week crowns on the east, the Red Hot Summer Shootout in Toowoomba, and a truck full of other trophies in the past twelve months.

Next – is to see how Goodyer can fare when an American experiment happens. That’s exciting right there.

Talk about exciting – the Perth Motorplex has led the way this past month.

Western Australia has ridden an amazing high across it’s popular Speed Week since Christmas – luring American legends headlined by reigning five-time World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet and popular showman Rico Abreu.

Such has been the success of the WA product at the glitzy State Government funded Motorplex – that Channel Seven has jumped onboard – and the good news, they’ve liked what they’ve seen.

Once considered a pipedream, sprintcar racing can now sell itself as a legitimate live television product in a stacked Australian summer sporting landscape. There’s issues obviously. Simply not every race track is the right fit for a live broadcast – it’s got to look good, like Perth. The format has to work to time, which doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with Aussie nights at the speedway…

But under the wise leadership of long time TV Executive Producer Dean Neal, the ratings have been more than solid, and now the Australian Sprintcar Championships next week at Warrnambool will also be telecast live on the Seven Network. Premier Speedway has been around for half a century – but next week will be the most watched event they’ve ever held – that’s the power of free-to-air TV right there.

So that’s a huge win for the sport. And now is its best chance to shine brightest.

Thursday night kicks off seven nights of blockbuster racing across ten nights. The road convoy – of race teams and race fans – was due to start at Avalon for the Presidents Cup – though weather has forced that to be rescheduled to next week. The circus then moves across the border to Mount Gambier for the Thursday King’s Challenge, before a high-powered festival in Warrnambool – the spiritual home of speedway in this country.

With a heaving car count topping 100 – the largest of any sprintcar race on earth – there’s three nights to determine a 51st Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic winner, and then two nights to decide the Aussie number one from Australia Day.

It’s well worth a look. Join the movement.

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