Mother Nature no match for Senoia’s persistence
By Robert HolmanDirtonDirt.com staff reporter
SENOIA, Ga. (Nov. 11) — Putting a tarp over the dirt of a baseball infield before or during inclement weather is commonplace, especially at the collegiate and professional level. Major League Baseball teams have grounds crews of a dozen or more people on standby to rush onto the field and pull their massive tarps into place to prevent a muddy mess. College teams typically rely on players on the home team to roll out the tarp. It’s one of the less-than-glamorous duties for players. | RaceWire
Placing a tarp over a dirt track before a big Late Model event, however, isn’t normal. With Hurricane Nicole bearing down on Florida’s east coast expected to bring rain into central Georgia, officials at Senoia Raceway knew it could spell trouble for the second annual Peach State Classic weekend. So track co-owner Bubba Pollard and Senoia Raceway race director Clint Smith had an idea.
Taking a page from the Atlanta Braves, Senoia’s MLB neighbor just 50 miles up the road, Pollard and his staff decided to cover the surface of the track’s turns with tarps. They didn’t have massive tarps like they do in the big leagues and they don’t have a grounds crew with swarms of people to fall in line and help. But they were determined nonetheless.
“We had mentioned it earlier in the week,” said Pollard, who operates the track with his parents Sonny and Vicky and his sister Andrea. “Me and Clint got talking down here Tuesday. Clint brought it up because we had talked about it earlier, a while back. I told him I didn’t want to do all that work and we ended up doing it. But we knew that’s what we had to do. We knew how much rain we could handle and we really didn’t get the amount of rain (we expected). We really didn’t get too much rain. But the problem was I think it stayed here and stayed too long. It’s better when it rains and washes off of us. But we talked about it and we knew we had to do something.
“We knew as long as we got the two entrances where the cars load the hardest on entry, that we could make something happen. It was probably crazy. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. But damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We’ve been racing long enough and we just try to do the best that we can. Hopefully (Saturday) will be a better show. We want a typical Senoia racetrack. We kind of dealt with the cards that we were dealt. My parents always taught me to never give up, make it happen. I don’t like to go to the racetrack and watch it rain and none of these guys do either. They do it for a living, so we wanted to make sure they got a paycheck and show these fans that we are for real and make this a long-term thing and grow for the future.”
By the time the first green flag dropped on Friday, 20-plus people — track employees, friends and family — were a muddy mess. They used a bevy of tarps, big and small, weighing them down with old car tires.
The determination didn’t end there. By 1 p.m. Friday, a helicopter was on hand, skimming around the track just a few feet from the surface attempting to aid in drying the gumbo clay.
“I had heard of people doing that and some of our friends said that they did it on a football field, some of our friends that helped us tarp the racetrack,” Pollard said. “We couldn’t have done it without a lot of family and friends that we’ve had over the years come out and help us. We wouldn’t have been able to do it. If I had to do it all again I probably would have done it all the way through the corner for sure. We were talking about the helicopter yesterday and some friends had a friend who had a helicopter and they were out of town, so I got on the phone this morning and got looking and sure enough we found one close by.
“I think it helped but it was hard. Them guys worked hard because of the way the air was. The wind was blowing (Friday) morning, so it was tough on those guys. I can’t thank them enough. They enjoyed it and they had a lot of fun doing it. They said they had done it before. They were very skilled pilots. They flew Blackhawks in the military and they were very good at what they do. It’s amazing how it all come together. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but we tried and we put in the effort and that’s all you can do.”
Pollard was rewarded by an outstanding crowd, which saw Brandon, Fla.’s Kyle Bronson lead all 50 laps to win Friday’s $20,000-to-win Peach Bowl, a precursor to Saturday’s $53,053-to-win Peach State Classic, the season finale on the Castrol FloRacing Night In America series. The weekend opener drew 52 entries, with many lauding Pollard’s effort just to get the event in.
“I can’t say enough about the track staff and Bubba (Pollard) and all his guys,” said Payton Freeman, who lives 110 miles away in Commerce, Ga. “They worked their tail off just so we could race. We sat here and watched them all day. We’re thankful for that, thankful to get out and go race. It’s a little bit different than the normal Senoia for sure, but that might not be a bad thing. All these fans came out here and supported us and that’s what it takes, everybody doing their job.”
Senoia is nearly 650 miles from home for Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill. The four-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion was already hours from home after competing in last week’s World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C. Shirley, who started 20th and finished 15th Friday was both appreciative and amazed at the Pollard family’s effort.
“I’ve been racing for 20 years and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody tarp a racetrack in general just to have a race,” Shirley said. “Obviously they knew just from a heads up from obviously the hurricane coming that they had an idea of what they wanted to do to save the race. I think the did good job of having a backup plan for the hurricane coming.
“They definitely put a lot of effort into it. You can’t say they didn’t try. I’m not sure why they tried so hard, but they definitely worked their ass off for us to be here tonight, so that was definitely good for us. Obviously we’ve been out here on the road since Charlotte, so for them to put forth that kind of effort, we definitely appreciate it.”
Tyler Erb, a New Waverly, Texas, native, who drives for Ohio-based Best Performance Motorsports, said utilizing tarps was “really cool,” while wondering aloud when a dirt track promoter would go one step further.
“I feel like the next step is to go ahead and put like, a lean-to over the racetrack,” Erb said. “As much money as people spend, it can’t be that expensive to just cover the racetrack, like a pavilion style. I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve ever seen anybody tarp a racetrack. Obviously Bubba (Pollard) and them are racers and they really wanted to get the race in. I mean, we’re here, so I guess we are racing, you know. Hat’s off to them. A lot of people would have called it off. I definitely appreciate the effort, no matter what the outcome is.”
While the show did go on, it was far from perfect. With no sun to help dry the track and with a light mist lingering through most of the evening, the track surface never got worked in 100 percent. Many cars were battered and all were mud-covered as a result at a track renowed for being dry, smooth and slick. Several drivers swapped helmets during a midrace caution — one of nine yellow flags — and 10 of 24 starters finished. Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., completed just 10 laps after running out of tearoffs, a situation made worse when he grabbed a handful off his helmet visor all at once.
“You don’t know what you got until you get to racing on it,” McDowell said. “It was nothing they did. They worked their tails off to try to get an event in. The water really kept coming up all night. It did have some water down in it and then that mist that we had here kept it from evaporating any at all. The surface was getting it from both ways, so it just stayed pretty muddy all night. We’ll see if we can do better tomorrow.”
Pollard certainly hopes to do better Saturday night as well, but despite Friday’s shortcomings, he’s still proud of how his crew rallied together to make the show happen and he’s proud of the statement it made.
“We’re racers. If we tell somebody we’re going to do something we’re going to do it,” Pollard said. “There’s a lot of people that come out, fans, we had campers here Wednesday. We want this deal to grow. We just want to show people that we’re serious and that we’ll do whatever it takes to put on a race, do the right thing, treat the racers right and put on a good show. It showed people that we were for real and will do whatever it takes to have a race. We don’t give up.
“There was a good crowd here tonight. That’s what we do it for, the fans and the racers. It was crazy but we also needed to race tonight for the simple fact of its going to make the racing better for Saturday because we needed cars on the racetrack to blow that stuff off the track. We needed race cars, it makes this race track a lot better when there’s race cars on the racetrack and get it hardened up and slick it up. We’re going to work hard on it and hopefully tomorrow we can give that to the fans.”