Circle Track’s Silver Lining

Dec 2, 2009

It is news to no one that the economy is currently in a depressing downturn. As a result of the pinch nearly everyone has felt in their pocketbooks, many people have had to give up the luxuries and hobbies in their lives.

But, is this true of circle track racers? Will the current storm-cloud economy cause a rain delay in circle track participation? Or, will these notoriously diehard racers continue to find a way to turn left despite the turbulent financial weather?

Let’s find out.

Circle Track Status

The criteria used to determine whether or not a company and its market are doing well seem to adapt to the times. Sometimes it’s a matter of record profits; sometimes it’s simply a matter of maintaining cash flow.

According to Shane Montgomery of Quick Fuel in Bowling Green, Ky., circle track racing is doing well-all things considered.

“The present economy has certainly impacted motorsports-and circle track racers are not exempt-and the amounts of money people have to spend. For most racers, this is a hobby, and it certainly comes after other priorities, such as putting food on the table and paying the mortgage. Sponsorship money has certainly been affected, as you can see in NASCAR. Corporations and organizations are becoming more selective in their advertising budgets,” he says.

Greg Nakano of AEM in Hawthorne, Calif., says that from his perspective, the circle track market is performing well.

“It’s doing well for us,” says Nakano. “We started with our 14-inch round filter, and we have it on some of the cars running out there. We see the sport doing not the greatest with the economy, but it is still strong.”

Commenting on why he thinks that is, Nakano says, “One of the things about circle track racers is that they are diehard racers. They’re passionate about racing. They are the guys that will build their car in their garage, maintain it there and take it and run every single week. Circle track has a strong grassroots base that really helps the sport out.”

As for attendance, Nakano says he hears that it is still good, and while there aren’t as many sponsorship dollars as in the past, they are still out there.

The Classes

When finances for racing get tight, there is sometimes a concern that one or more classes of racing-such as the classes that are more expensive to participate in-will be hurt disproportionately.

While Chris Atchley of Canton Racing Products in North Branford, Conn., says that has not yet happened, he does acknowledge that all classes have suffered a bit from the current economic state.

“Grassroots and sportsman racing has shown a decrease in car count, undoubtedly. It seems that the lowest classes or budget classes are doing about the same, while the middle of the pack has fallen a bit. Higher-end programs are also suffering due to the sponsorship situation. The middle-class Friday night racers have to make the most compromises because they are impacted the most by the economy and job loss,” he says.

With finances tightening up, many racers are trying to cut costs wherever they can, and shops are trying to balance the seemingly contradictory motives of helping their customers save money while encouraging them to continue racing and buying the parts and products that necessitates.

To help with that balancing act, Al Noe of Trick Flow in Tallmadge, Ohio, suggests shops keep on top of their preventive maintenance programs.

“A race engine will tell you when something is amiss-so long as you are paying attention. Do not let a catastrophic failure put you on the trailer.”

Noe adds, “Consumables are the number one thing to have available-gaskets, springs, etc. Heads, camshafts, pushrods, valves, seals, gaskets, rocker studs, lifters and fasteners are all things that a shop will need to keep on the shelf, as there will be failures as the race season progresses.”

Saving On Parts

Atchley notes that the use of refurbished parts is becoming extremely popular.

“Using refurbished parts where appropriate will allow the racer to devote more of their budget towards parts that must be replaced with new ones. Safety equipment is an example. Our company has a garage sale section in which customers have a chance to save a lot of money by purchasing heavily discounted parts that have minor blemishes.”

Further, Atchley notes, “We offer a repair service for all of our parts. Sometimes a racer may throw a rod and damage their oil pan, windage tray or pickup. Such a repair service allows the racer to rebuild their engine with repaired parts instead of buying new ones, saving the racer quite a bit of money. Also, offering replacement parts (such as built-in windage trays for oil pans), save our customers from having to replace the whole pan if their windage tray becomes damaged.”

Montgomery says the racers that Canton Racing has talked to are finding a way to get out there and race-even if that means running every other weekend or sticking to last year’s combination.

“They do what it takes. Many people have taken the opportunity to get their program more efficient and organized. Here in the mid-South and Midwest regions, many racers are switching to E85 to cut down on their fuel budget,” says Montgomery.

Montgomery also tells us that, “Some of the local shops in Bowling Green have begun a sort of consignment-type setup where people can buy, sell or trade with other people. This allows them to get good parts from people they know at a cheaper price. Return customers also get good breaks on machine work and freshen-ups.”

Like Montgomery, Nakano has observed that many racers are being more selective in the races they compete in.

“They’re picking their races carefully. They may cut out the races that are farther away or races where past attendance or participation hasn’t been that great. Instead of covering three race schedules throughout the country, they’re choosing one that’s regional. That way, they’re still racing, but they’re not spending nearly as much in traveling costs.”

He adds that some teams have decided to carpool to save a little money.

“There are some teams with trailers that will fit two cars that have called up their buddies down the street and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to the race. Do you guys want to split the cost of the driving?'”

In addition to the desire to reduce spending, another factor is motivating this change.

Nakano points out that many racers run their own businesses. That means when they go out of town, they have to shut down the shop for a couple of days. That’s a lot harder to do in an economy like this.

Silver Lining

Discussing the economic downturn is a reality check, no doubt about it. However, there is a positive side to consider.

“The main thing is to keep positive and bear in mind that everything runs full circle. Before long, we’ll be back to a normal economy, and people will be able to resume where they left off. Until that time, people can still enjoy racing and get themselves more organized for next year,” says Montgomery.

Make sure that your shop remains as involved with these racers as possible, if for no better reason than this: There’s a special bond made when people go through tough times together. Stick with these racers now, and they will remember it later.

The Long-Term Upside of Dry Sump Pumps

When looking to save money circle-track racing, most use the logical method of looking where they can reduce the amount of cash they’re spending. But with a view of the big picture, money can also be saved by investing in a product that will provide a beneficial return in the long run.

Dry-sump oil systems are a good example.

Rod Thompson of Peterson Fluid Systems in Henderson, Colo., says, “There’s really no minus to running a dry-sump system other than the initial cost.”

He estimates that an entry-level dry-sump system costs in the ballpark of $2,200. However, “In the long run, if you look at the investment that people have in their engines, they’re not $10,000 or $12,000 race motors anymore. They’re $30,000 to $60,000 motors and sometimes even more than that. Their survivability definitely goes up with a dry-sump system.”

Considering the improved durability dry-sump systems provide, it might make sense to spend a couple thousand dollars to protect an investment in the tens of thousands. The question is how much a dry-sump system really improves an engine’s longevity.

“What you’re really trying to do with a dry-sump system is to get peak performance and deliver the best possible oil you can to the bearings. It’s not that an internal pump can’t do it. There are some great internal pumps on the market, no question about it,” says Thompson.

It’s not a question of the pump itself as much as it is where you’re storing the oil. Are you going to store it in the hurricane that’s the lower end of your motor and oil pan, with a rotating assembly at 7,000 or 8,000 rpms? Or, do you want to store it in a dry-sump reservoir that’s fully baffled, enabling the oil to cool and more oil to be carried on board?

“A big wet-sump pan might be eight to 10 quarts, which is a two-and-a-half gallon dry-sump tank, and we make as much as six-gallon oil tanks. You’re carrying more oil on board. You’re controlling that oil better, and you’re doing a better job of de-aeration, which is huge. The more aerated the oil becomes, the less capable it is of supporting the crankshaft or whatever else you need to support. It’s less viscous and air in the oil is heat. Air is going to carry that heat much better than the oil will, and that’s where you get the added heat.”

Thompson adds that there are multiple reasons why a dry sump system is the system of choice for racers. “One of them is that the engine can be placed lower in the chassis because you can run an oil pan that’s shallower than a wet sump pan. Having the engine lower in the chassis is obviously going to help the car run better from a handling standpoint.

“You can also scavenge oil in multiple locations, depending on how many stage oil pump you choose to use and how many scavenge sections you want. The top end of the motor can be scavenged separately from the bottom end of the motor. So, it’s just much better oil control, which leads to overall better oil delivery to the engine,” Thompson adds.

It can be a serious up-front investment, but also offer serious protection for long-term racing use.