Baranek: Give up? Not Illiana Speedway owner/promoter Mike Mikuly
By Tony Baranek email@example.com July 3, 2014 8:32PM
Illiana Speedway owner/promoter Mike Mikuly | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 4, 2014 2:12AM
Let’s meander with Illiana Speedway owner/promoter Mike Mikuly.
Saturday’s rainout was the fourth in the 11 scheduled dates so far in 2014, just one away, Mikuly said, from the most washouts he ever has had in a single season since taking over the track in 2000.
The last of the street stocks had just taken a qualifying session when the skies opened up with a fury and created gigantic puddles on the quarter-mile.
Meanwhile, not that many miles away at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, there was only a hint of rain and the Route 66 Nationals went on without any weather delays.
Talk about bad luck.
“I hung in as long as I could,” Mikuly said. “The pure stock (drivers) were like, ‘Come on, we’ll dry the track.’ I said I’d love to, but we had water coming up to it.
“We’ve had so much rain the ground is so saturated that it can’t take any more (water).”
It’s been a tough year for Mikuly. It’s been a tough few years, really. The crowds aren’t what they used to be, at least on a consistent basis, and neither are the fields of cars. More often than not, there have been single-digit turnouts in the Legends and turbo stox classes.
It’s like that just about everywhere, though. Mikuly blames a lot of it on the economy and is bunkered in, waiting it out for a turnaround.
“We’re hanging in there,” he said. “I just have to find some other venues to shove in here during the week. We have to do something.
“We have a college of exchange students, about 50 of them coming out in two weeks. So we’re trying to get people in here, trying to get them interested in what is going on. We have to captivate an audience that we’re trying to build from scratch.”
What would help, he said, is some positive support from the drivers.
Baer Field promoter Jon Raney announced this week he’s ceasing operations at the Indiana track effective immediately, citing a decline in attendance. He blamed it on the drivers for spreading poisonous rhetoric about the track on social media.
I can say after seeing it with my own eyes that short tracks have been easy targets on forum boards and sites such as Facebook, going all the way back to Raceway Park.
You know what? Sometimes criticism is necessary, but within the short track community it does get pretty crazy, with most of the harshest criticisms coming from the drivers.
“A guy goes out and has a bad night,” Mikuly said, “all of a sudden the track is a piece of (garbage). Then you have a new (prospective fan) who says, ‘Hey, let’s look into this local racing.’ Then they go on Facebook and read that and say, ‘I’m not taking my kids there.’
“Look. I commend these guys. I don’t know how the heck they’re racing. If you look at most of these cars they’re unsponsored. But they’re busting their butt, because it’s their hobby. I’m trying to hang in there with them, but when you get the negativity, when they start going on and start ripping the tracks, it’s just going to destroy them worse.”
Facebook probably helped the Illiana cause when a couple of turbo stox drivers dived into a complaint-fest and suggested maybe they try as a group to meet with Mikuly to have a respectful conversation about how the division should be run.
Mikuly, made aware of their intentions, welcomed the dialog, and on June 14 they met and came up with some ideas that will be implemented in 2015.
“I think we all walked away with smiles on our faces, I really do,” Mikuly said. “We went over the rules and made some exceptions. I’m going to sit down with Grundy’s officials (and discuss similar rules). We want to be on the same page.”
Mikuly dismissed the idea that he’s got his finger on the button, eager to sell the property.
“I love (Illiana),” he said. “If I didn’t I would have been gone already. I put a lot of work in this place. I don’t want to see it bulldozed down.
“I’ve had to play games with the town (of Schererville). Like everything else there are a lot of politics involved. But I’ve never given up. I get frustrated at times, but I’ve been in business since I was 16 years old. If this is the worst hurdle I’ll ever have, I’ll be shocked.
“I still have high hopes.”