Sprint Car Series got a shot in the arm last week, just days before a new upstart organization was ready to challenge him.
Shane Helms, a successful businessman and a car owner for his son Caleb, announced the formation of the Renegade Series less than a month earlier. With the support of several disgrunted All Star Series drivers, Helms sanctioned his first race when he announced his support of Saturday’s Freedom 40 planned at Atomic (former K-C) Speedway in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Webb’s 30 year old All Star Series was scheduled to run that same day at Mercer (Pa.) Raceway Park, about 250 miles to the east. As part of a two-day event, the University of Northwest Ohio (UNOH) All Stars were also scheduled to have a race on Sunday at Mercer.
On Thursday, two days before the two groups would sanction races against each other, a news release was sent out by the Fremont Speedway announcing the overwelming support by 15 track operators to Webb and his All Star series. The tracks that committed in the release made up 75 per cent of the current UNOH All Star race schedule.
Despite heavy rain days in advance, the event at Atomic was held on Saturday as scheduled and the Renegade group won the car count battle. A strong field of 37 Sprint Cars were in the pit area, and there were several fan friendly activities as part of the event.
The Renegade field was filled with Atomic and other local 410 Sprint racers plus several noted national touring drivers including race winner Randy Hannigan, Chad Kemenah, Danny Smith, Brandon Wimmer and Dean Jacobs. Also in the field were young drivers Cole Duncan, Andrew Palker and Caleb Helms who were all ranked in this year’s top ten in All Star points going into the weekend.
At Mercer, the All Stars drew just 21 Sprinters on Saturday but its top five drivers in points, including big winner Dale Blaney, were all in attendance. Back in May, the All Stars made a stop at Mercer and drew 25 cars so it wasn’t a big drop off. On Sunday at Mercer there were 23 Sprinters in the pits.
The majority of the drivers that raced at Atomic would probably not have raced at Mercer anyway. A noted surprise in the Mercer field, however, was Danny Holtgraver. While his Pittsburgh, Pa. home is closer to Mercer than Atomic, he has been endorsing the new Renegade Series along with his car owner Rob Hunter.
You don’t have a race series of any kind if you don’t have a place to race. A race track, however, without racers is worthless as well. Rival Sprint Car organizations are nothing new. The powerful World of Outlaws series was challenged not once, but twice by two different groups and they survived both renegade efforts thanks to the same type support that the All Stars are receiving from the track operators.
Back in 1988, the USA Sprint Car series ran a handful of races and then a full season in 1989 against Ted Johnson’s WoOs. While the Outlaw king Steve Kinser broke camp and was crowned the USA champion, without events at the majority of the major race tracks USA failed. Kinser wasn’t the only top name to go with USA either, his arch rivals Sammy Swindell and Doug Wolfgang went with him. Bobby Davis won the 1989 WoO crown.
Fred Brownfield put together the National Sprint Tour in 2006 in an attempt to knock the WoO tour off its perch as the country’s leader. Brownfield, however, was killed early in the season when he was hit by a race car at his own race track. Once again Kinser and several of the top WoO stars left the tour, this time to run with NST, but it also lasted just one season.
The tracks announcing their support of the All Stars include Fremont Speedway, Limaland Motorsports Park, Eldora Speedway,
Sharon Speedway, the NAPA Auto Parts Wayne County Speedway and Waynesfield Raceway Park in Ohio; Lernerville Speedway, Lincoln Speedway and Mercer Raceway Park in Pennsylvania; Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan; Wilmot Raceway in Wisconsin; Huset Speedway in South Dakota; and Volusia Speedway in Florida.
The World Racing Group, owner of the World of Outlaws Series, has thrown its support to Webb through their ownership of both
Lernerville and Volusia Speedway Park; Past history, thus, is on Webb’s side.
“This was never going to go,” said Webb on Friday, regarding Helms’ Renegade Series. “I don’t know where they’ll race. You can’t have a series if you have no place to go.”
Webb felt that Helms had made a major mistake in scheduling his first event on Saturday. The race was scheduled against his All Star race at Mercer, upsetting track promoter Frank Benic.
“They told him they wouldn’t run against him and they did,” said Webb. “Frank will hate him from now until hell freezes over.” Saturday’s Renegade event also ran against two tracks in Ohio that had 410 Sprints scheduled; Attica Raceway Park, which is less than 130 miles from Atomic; and Wayne County Speedway in Oreville, about 50 miles away.
“Here is a new guy on the block running against two of the established tracks that run these cars,” said Webb.
“The tracks got to thinking, ‘if they did that to them they’ll do it to us’. That’s what led to this announcement. It’s idotic to treat tracks like this. Without them there is no business.”
Webb also said he knows that Helms made deals with teams not to attend recent All Star events.
“I work for the track,” said Webb.
“The dirtiest thing they have pulled is paying guys not to go to race. I don’t know who was doing it, but I have direct knowledge from some of the guys who got paid not to race with us. When they started to get people to go to one track and not another, they pitted track against track and that’s what caused this (press release). They also threatened other tracks to take a date with them or they wouldn’t come.”
The All Star Series was formed in 1970 by Bud Miller as a midwest group. The series went national in 1973, but when gas prices hit record highs it was shut down for eight years. Bert Emerick got the midwest series going again in 1979 and had the All Stars heading back towards the series we now know it to be in 1981.
Webb, a former Sprint Car owner took over the series in 2002.
“Our schedule is repetitive,” said Webb. “Where we go every year is where we go. We always knew we’d go back to these same places because they make money with my events.”
Don’t, however, look for the All Stars to return to the Atomic Speedway, promoted by Brad McCown, anytime soon.
“The only place we’re not going to race at is K-C (now known as Atomic),” said Webb, “and that’s because he races against everybody.
He’s not a good neighbor. It’s a first year operation and there are serious doubts he’ll be around next year. The original owner is Jim Nier who is a good friend of mine. I’ll wait until he gets it back to return, he’s done that twice already.”
Attica, Williams Grove and Port Royal speedways were noticeably missing from the list of tracks giving support to the All Stars.
Webb said Attica, which has a two-day event with his series this weekend, will be supporting him. He said events this season at Williams Grove and Port Royal were rained out and will be automatically renewed.
“Here’s the problem they have,” said Webb of the Renegades. “I don’t know anyone that is going to buy a show from them. If you look at all the tracks listed on that release, what other tracks in Ohio can they run at? So where are they going? This is not a game. There is a lot of money at risk. It’s hard for these tracks owners to make a living. That’s why they fight so hard when people try to mess with them. There isn’t a lot of margin in this industry.”
So where did this tiff begin?
According to Webb, the Renegade series was started because Helms and others were upset about the delay of the All Stars in paying last year’s point fund and their attempt to race on two occasions when, because of rain, they felt the race should have canceled.
“They used that as a reason to tell people we were broke,” said Webb about paying the point fund.
“They said we were bouncing checks, which is not true.”
It appears as if four race teams did not get paid their entire 2013 point money owed to them prior to the start of the 2014 season in Florida in February. Driver/Owners owed were Dale Blaney/ Ti22, Tim Shaffer/ Janet Holbrook, Lance Dewease/ Michael Heffner and Danny Holtgraver.
“We had three sponsors that were having financial problems and they needed to pay us in payments so we had to pay payments too,” said Webb. He said he talked to the teams before Florida and they all agreed to a payment schedule.
“Before we went to Florida they did,” said Webb of them accepting the terms. “It was pre-determined. It wasn’t a surprise. If they didn’t want to do it (payment plan) we would have made other arrangements.”
Heffner, whose 2014 driver Greg Hodnett currently leads the All Stars’ Eastern Point Standings which will reward the winner $20,000 again this year, went public this summer about his discontent in not getting paid. According to Webb, lawyers began exchanging paperwork and the payment process was delayed.
“I’ve talked to Mike,” said Webb, “and I think we’ve made up.”
Webb expected Heffner’s No. 27 and Hodnett to compete on Sunday at Mercer (he did not) and on Sept. 4th in Canandaigua, N.Y. (that event, rained-out earlier this year, has now been cancelled by promoter Jeremie Cocoran).
Webb assured that everyone will get their money, except one.
“Holtgraver is not getting paid and he knows that,” said Webb. “He did some deflamatory things for two years. He’s accused us of bouncing checks and other statements that are not true. You can’t do that in today’s society and he may just be getting sued.”
The series had two weather related issues that came under fire. At the start of the season at Bubba’s Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., the race went on despite a very wet rough track. Several WoO teams that were running the event refused to compete, but Webb said the promoter wanted to race so they did.
A similar issue happened during Ohio Speedweek on June 23. With a big crowd in the grandstands and 52 Sprint Cars in the pits, rain just wouldn’t allow the race to be completed despite a strong effort to do so. Helms was part of a group that thought it was not safe to try and continue and a confrontation developed.
“I was embarassed at what happened at Wayne County that was supposed to have started all this,” said Webb. “But we had 2900 people sitting there and we had to wait until it rained to cancel. That’s just the way it is, but they wanted to go home early. All they had to do is wait five more minutes and it rained again and we would not have had any unhappiness.”
Webb said that Wayne County promoter Jason Flory was working hard to get the track back into shape and didn’t deserve the stand put forth by many of the drivers and car owners.
“I told Helms he needed to let this play out,” said Webb, “but he kept wanting to peacock in front the drivers. I’m sorry, I work for the tracks and represent the drivers. I know my place. My plan was good. I already saw the radar and knew it was going to rain and it did. But before it did, we embarassed ourself in front of other people and left a bad taste in the man’s eyes. He’s now got five names in his head he’ll never forget. I spent 40 minutes under a tent hearing him scream about those gentlemen that said bad things about him. He was standing 15 feet behind me when they were testifying, they didn’t know he was there.”
In both cases, Webb felt he made the proper decision.
“They were both rain-driven things,” said Webb. “At Ocala I did what I’m paid to do. It’s a rough time when you’re in the middle between a track operator saying he wants to race and some of the drivers that don’t. I could have lost a lot of business out of that, but we found common terms and we put on a nice show.”
Webb said he won’t ban any driver from competing with his All Star series. Everyone is welcome to compete.
“They can race with us,” said Webb, “as long as they act proper and are there for the right reasons. But with the tracks unhappy they’re probably going to cross off some names off the free list that have not shown loyalty or made some personal threats. They’ll have to pay to race and won’t get the extra benefits.”
Webb explained that the All Stars, like the World of Outlaws, offer traveling teams a compensation package they get when they pull through the gates. To be part of the deal, the team must commit to running all events to get tow money and free pit passes at each race.
“There are about seven people we won’t sell memberships to next year and we’ll just go on,” said Webb. “There is nothing to work out. They don’t communicate with me. You called me, I called you back. I love to talk on the phone, but this isn’t Norma Ray at the cotton gin holding up the union sign. They are allowed to race.”
Webb said he’ll pay $20,000 to his East and Ohio champion this year and $10,000 to his West Champion. He’s considering returning to just one National point fund next year that will pay $50,000 to one team. He said he expects his schedule to be much the same in 2015 with the possible addition of a Sunday night event at Big Diamond Raceway in Minersville, Pa.
“I’m not disrespectful to drivers,” said Webb. “I’ve done over 1200 shows and it’s not a beginners sport. I’m sorry, you can’t buy a job and expect to be good at it. It’s a process that over time there will be winners and losers. I’m 49 years old and have six years of college education. I’ve owned a race car. I’ve earned the right to be here. I resent when people come into this thinking they’ll do it better when they have no experience.”
The Renegades now have one event in the books with a strong field of entries to show promoters in their bid for 2015 dates. They can show promoters a list of drivers such as Chad Kemenah, Bryan Sebbeto, Greg Wilson, Andrew Palker, Taylor Ferns, Dean Jacobs, Travis Philo, Caleb Helms, Danny Holtgraver and Cole Duncan as committed to show up at their events. They have the financial backing of Helms and his successful construction business.
Webb has the commitment for dates from the race track operators that have formed his past schedules.
To Webb, it will be business as usual.
“We want to be predictable and reliable,” said Webb.
“They’ve told people I owe everyone including the pope himself, but I’ll still be doing this tomorrow and if they want to race they’ll still have to follow the rules.”
He also offered advice for Helms and the new Renegade group.
“If I started a new series,” said Webb, “here is the road map. You’ve got to work with people so they work with you. You don’t want to threaten them.”
NOTES: Christopher Luck, accused of running a $60 million Ponzi scheme, pleaded guilty in federal court on July 24 to three counts involving securities fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Luck, a former partner in Sprint Car operations driven by Jason Meyers and Stevie Smith Jr., will hear his sentencing on November 24 in San Jose, Calif., according to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Luck faces up to 60 years in prison and a $5.5 million fine. He had been scheduled to go on trial in August.
The Motorsports Expo will be returning to the Center of Progress Building at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, N.Y. in 2015. The event will again be a two day show, Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15 with exhibitor set-up that Friday.