Auto Racing: Cost, payouts hamper some race drivers/teams
By Tony Baranek email@example.com August 8, 2013 10:41PM
Bill Serviss | Tony Baranek~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2013 6:29AM
One of the funniest moments at the 2007 Illiana Speedway banquet came when Bill Serviss went up to accept his award for winning his second turbo stox title.
At one point during the speech Bill said he had a few people he wanted to thank, after which he, to much laughter, unscrolled down the front of the podium enough paper to reach the audience.
What could have been on that long sheet of paper were the names of the drivers who competed in the turbo stox division that season. In all, 39 drivers made at least one appearance on Illiana’s quarter-mile.
The year Serviss won his first title (2005), 52 drivers raced in the turbo stox class.
Last week at Illiana, we talked about those numbers and how distressing it was to see the car count in the turbo class this season drop, on a couple of nights, to as low as nine.
The five-time track champ looked kind of sad.
“Oh, my God, it breaks my heart,” Serviss said. “I remember the day when we used to start 24 cars without batting an eye. And then we got down to 20, and 20 was still a good field on the quarter-mile.
“I remember the days when, if you made the fast heat, everybody was within one-tenth of each other (in time trials). You can’t get any closer than that. That’s a driver error in a blink of an eye.”
The last couple of seasons have seen a dramatic drop in both the turbo stox and Legends fields at Illiana, while at the same time there hasn’t been much of a shortage at all of the high-priced late-models.
It wouldn’t seem to make sense in these times of financial trouble the lower-budget classes would be the ones struggling, but it’s a fact.
I guess when you don’t have as much to start with, tough times, moneywise, hurt more. Serviss sees it as a three-pronged problem.
“Street stocks are getting more expensive,” he said. “Fuel is getting expensive. And I don’t want to say anything bad (about Illiana), but the pay is the same.
It’s $125 to win the turbo stox feature at Illiana, $30 to start. At Grundy, the street stocks get a smidge more ($135 to win, $35 to start), but the fields there also have been down, on some nights close to single digits.
Just as a comparative, the late-models at Grundy get $930 to win a feature and $160 to start, the Mid-Americans $400 to win and $110 to start, and the pure stocks $50 to win and $30 to start.
“I’m very fortunate because I usually finish in the top five,” Serviss said. “But other people aren’t as fortunate. If you just started the race at $50, and if you walked out of here with about $70 (including heat and qualifying pay), the average guy who has the average car will come back the following week.
“When you give him $30, every time he comes out he’s losing. And after you lose so many times you sit there and you go, ‘Well ... ’ Reality hits you, and you have to stay home some nights.”
Reality hit for Brian Kucaba, who after several seasons of title contending gave up the chase in 2012 and now is an official at the speedway.
“The cost to run an entire season is so much now that I could not afford to fund my car alone,” Kucaba said. “The cost of pit passes, fuel and tires have gone up over the years, but the purse has not gone up enough to be able to come close to offset the cost to race per night.”
Wesley Dennis, who finished sixth in the turbo stox standings at Illiana in 2012, has kept his car in the garage in 2013.
“Times are tough right now,” he said. “I’d love nothing more but to strap into the No. 4, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to this year.”
According to Serviss, the cost of racing gets turbo stox competitors coming and going.
“Not long ago, a driver could acquire five gallons of racing fuel for $20. Now it’s $40 for five gallons,” he said. “Now it’s twice the amount to fill up your car and your truck and drive out here.
“Anything that has to do with plastic or metal ... like brake pads, we used to get them for $99. Now they’re $135. And on a quarter-mile, a set of brake pads last you about eight nights. Rotors used to be $45. Now they’re $75. Tires used to be $90. Now they’re $105.
“We need to get a little bit better pay in street stocks. Hopefully, that would bring more cars back.”
Illiana owner/promoter Mike Mikuly defended his turbo stox purse, and said it’s better than at many tracks in other parts of the country.
“Go to North Carolina, down to Concord, and they’d be ecstatic,” he said. “They get $80 to win and $20 to start. But they don’t have cars, either. Nobody does.
“If I had more fans, more coming through the gate, we can talk about purse. But we are in the red so bad struggling right now, there can be no negotiations on it.”
Mikuly had some numbers of his own to throw around regarding the expense of running a local short track.
“My taxes doubled this year,” he said. “We have six months out of the year and we have to get all of our ducks in a row. We aren’t even close.
“I won’t mention names, but I’ve talked to (owners) at five tracks that aren’t going to run weekly next year. They’re going to run specials only. There is no money. This is probably one of the roughest years I’ve had since I’ve been in this.”
Sounds like a good time to have a meeting.