From the Cushion: Outlaws director describes the day racing paused

World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series
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Ed. note: Dan Beaver will be rounding up happenings in dirt racing around the country this season for Motorsports Talk in his weekly “From the Cushion.”

The world of motorsports came to a screeching halt on March 13.

As the sun rose that Friday morning, IndyCar and NASCAR still planned to race their scheduled events in Atlanta, Georgia, and St. Petersburg, Florida, respectively, only without fans in attendance in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dozens of World of Outlaws Sprint Car series haulers were converging on Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas. Teams were heading to the fifth race of a grueling schedule featuring more than 80 races. A few teams were already there.

Back in Concord, N.C., World of Outlaws chief marketing officer Ben Geisler heard that President Donald Trump would declare a state of emergency later in the day. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles later referenced Trump’s impending announcement as part of the reason for the St. Petersburg Grand Prix cancellation.

Geisler tracked down CEO Brian Carter, who was busy monitoring an appeal resulting from a disqualification in a late model race at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida. The two executives called Sprint Car Series director Carlton Reimers.

“On Thursday, they already canceled the South by Southwest Festival just down the road (in Austin), which is huge,” Reimers said in a release. “You know, it appeared things were shutting down across the country. And Houston was starting to shut down other things, too. Then, of course, most of the major stick and ball sports were delaying or postponing everything, but F1, NASCAR and IndyCar were all racing with various restrictions.

“We had a plan to do something of our own but similar.”

There was a clicking sound in the background. Dominoes were starting to fall. That morning, NASCAR and IndyCar made the decision to send their drivers home. And then, there was that call looming that would shine a spotlight on any decision they made.

“The World of Outlaws aren’t really known for backing down, but the idea of thousands of fans walking through the gates and likely having our driver meeting at the same time President Trump was holding a press conference that we were not totally up to speed on, just didn’t feel like the right thing to do,” Reimers said.

Ultimately, the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series decided to postpone its events through April 9.

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Following the two-day show in Texas, the World of Outlaw sprints were scheduled to continue west to Arizona and California. The situation was fluid. Local and state officials were issuing proclamations limiting the size of gatherings. Fairground facilities and tracks were making decisions about whether to race.

And the phones wouldn’t stop ringing. It was not uncommon to get three answers from three different sources.

“Things were moving so fast it was hard to keep up with all of it,” Reimers said. “You’d think we’re good then I’d get another call or text from Carter and another governor or county would have put something else out. We had a race in California partnered up with USAC, and they almost canceled it from their side before we had all of our ducks in a row. Fairgrounds were announcing facility closings before anyone had considered upcoming races.”

The situation in California was particularly volatile.

Four events were scheduled there from March 28-April 4. But no one knew whether they would be allowed to race after making the long haul.

In 2018, the series was forced to cancel or reschedule 18 of the first 23 races because of rain. Then, as now, many of the opening events were scheduled in California. The high cost of transporting the cars there only to sit idle was a factor in the decision to postpone the season.

“Everyone has to deal with the pain of this,” Reimers said. “Everybody has got to do their part, no matter how small it is. You can argue all day that we could have raced at Cotton Bowl, and it wouldn’t have affected anything. But the reality is, as well thought out as the final plan was, it was done quickly in just a couple of days and with a limited amount of information. We decided the best thing at the time was to step back and better understand where this was all headed.”

If the situation stabilizes, the World of Outlaws still might salvage part of their West Coast swing. Another four California races are on tap beginning April 10 at Merced (California) Speedway. If they are not able to race in April, the season will resume when it is safe to do so.

“This is a worldwide thing, and we have to figure out how to return to racing in the safest way possible,” Reimers said. “The White House asked for another 15 days to help fight the coronavirus earlier this week, and we’re going to honor that while we work on rescheduling races and come up with a plan to go back racing very soon.”

As other series consider the impact of suspending races for a month or more, the Outlaws have the experience of the sodden start to 2018.

When asked if they could survive the hiatus, Reimers replied, “We’ve done it before.”

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Supercross reveals 2023 Daytona track designed by Ricky Carmichael for 16th time

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For the 16th consecutive year, Ricky Carmichael has designed a signature course for the Daytona Supercross race, which will be March 4, 2023.

Eli Tomac took advantage of a last lap mistake by Cooper Webb last year to win a record setting sixth Daytona race – and with that win, he broke out of a tie Carmichael.

Construction on the course will begin two days after the completion of the 65th running of NASCAR’s Daytona 500 when haulers start to unload 7,200 tons of dirt onto the grassy infield in order to create a course 3,300 feet long.

“Ricky has designed yet another incredible course for this year’s Daytona Supercross,” said Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher in a press release. “We’re thrilled to unveil it to the fans, and we can’t wait for them to come out to the track and see it in person.”

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Carmichael’s Daytona course will take center stage for Round 8 of the 17-race Supercross season and the 31-race SuperMotocross season.

The Supercross race coincides with Daytona’s Bike Week, which runs from March 3-12 and includes races from the American Flat Track series and the legendary Daytona 200 speedway race that is contested on the infield road course.

Last year’s course was reported to have 57 obstacles including the return of an over-under bridge. For 2023 the number of obstacles listed in 42, but that will not keep this from being one of the toughest tracks on which the Monster Energy Supercross series will race.

Many of the same elements from last year will be present including sharp turns, vaulted jumps, sand sections and a finish line that aligns with the oval tracks’ start/finish line.

“This year’s Daytona Supercross design is one of the best,” Carmichael said. “It races great for the riders – it’s safe yet challenging and it’s very similar to last year with the split lanes. Daytona is the toughest, gnarliest race on the Supercross circuit, but it’s the most special to win.

“This track is going to produce great racing and I think the riders are going to put on a fantastic display for all our fans.”

While Tomac has dominated this race during his career, Daytona has also been the site of some other dramatic victories. In 2021 Aaron Plessinger scored his first career Supercross podium in 35 starts with a win there and reversed a three-year streak of bad luck on the track.

The Daytona Supercross race is the first of two the series will contest on speedway infield courses. A little more than one month later, Atlanta Motor Speedway will enter their third season as a supercross venue. These two courses will serve as an early test for the SuperMotocross three-race finale that begins September 9, 2023 at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina. The three playoff races will each be held on courses that contain elements of Supercross and Motocross, much like Daytona and Atlanta.