VERNON — Last season was a challenging one for Bill and Kim Shea, the owners of Utica-Rome Speedway.
They had to cancel 12 race nights because of rain. In all, there were eight regular shows and one special race. Of those nine racing programs, three were held on days when it was well over 90 degrees.
There was “never any momentum for anybody,” lamented Bill Shea, “The main goal (this season) is to race weekly — get rid of the weather bug.”
The hope is that the new racing season will be better, beginning with Sunday’s opening program set to get started at 6 p.m. Heavy rain is in the weather forecast, but the program was still scheduled as of press time.
Last Sunday, even after almost five inches of snow fell in the area just a couple days before, practice was a rousing success, with about 50 cars on hand to shake down their hot rods at the “Fast Track of the East.”
It was an encouraging day for the Sheas. “The vibe on Sunday was so cool,” said Kim Shea. Added Bill Shea, “We were so happy and so tired, but it was a great day.”
The drivers who showed up for practice time were given 10 laps for each session, and they all took advantage of it.
Six-time sportsman track champion Matt Janczuk was on hand to roll out his new Bicknell chassis sportsman and was “really excited” about not only the speed in his car, but also the condition of the track.
The track was smooth and fast even, when the “heat” of the afternoon sun was gracing the Vernon speed plant. Dust was at a minimum, and drivers were able to explore all the grooves that make for a fast lap.
Heading into the new season, fans can expect to notice some changes.
“I was talking with Ken Shrader (the NASCAR legend and the owner of I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Missouri) and he suggested a race format that he had done at his track,” said Bill Shea.
Shea bounced the idea off of Empire Super Sprint driver Jason Barney who in turn talked to many of the other drivers and they all gave it a thumbs up.
One of the track’s big events, the 50-lap Cole Cup for 360 sprint cars scheduled for June 23, will feature some new looks for race fans.
The event will feature two 25-lap segments. After lap 25, the race will be stopped and all the cars will “pit” on the front stretch, so that fans can watch the work.
“Halftime” will last a few minutes during which teams can do anything they want to the car. There will be a “crazy twist” to the restart that could involve an inversion, so the leader of the segment could go back to find themselves restarting eighth or ninth.
The format will make the driver work for the $5,000 winner’s check.
A couple other big shows in the early part of the season will be the Mother’s Day special $4,000 to win 100-lap 358 modified DIRTcar Series race, May 12.
The sportsman will have a special with The Wild 100-lap Ultimate Sportsman Showdown $2,500 to win.
The owners are hoping for the best as they head into their fifth full season of operating the track.
There have been quite a few drivers that have committed to making the Sunday night track their home, they said.
“We care about people and racers and we’re grateful when you come,” said Kim Shea.
Now, all they need are a lot of laps and Mother Nature to get in line.