Murto: Local tracks gear up for season

Racing season is here, and nobody looks forward to getting started more than the local dirt tracks.

Winchester Speedway has a full schedule planned, beginning with the March 22 season-opener. That event features a 35-lap Super Late Model feature.

On June 4 Winchester plays host to the URC Sprint Cars, which always put on a good show and are popular in the region. And on Aug. 16 the cars and stars of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series visit Winchester, an event that is a must-see for dirt Late Model fans.

The ambitious schedule begins to wind down with the annual Winchester 200 weekend on Sept. 19-20, a weekend that always attracts the stars of the region’s dirt Late Model scene. For more on Winchester’s 2014 schedule, visit the track’s website at www.winchestervaspeedway.com.

Not to be beaten to the punch, Hagerstown Speedway opens on March 9 with the Hagerstown/Port Royal shootout for 410 Sprint Cars and Late Models. This is a good opportunity to see the “Pennsylvania Posse,” the stars of the Pennsylvania Sprint Car circuit, at work.

A highlight of anybody’s racing calendar will be July 5, when the AMA Grand National Flat Track motorcycles roar into Hagerstown. Other than Aug. 22 at Colonial Downs outside Richmond, this will be the best chance to see the professional Flat Track riders at their best.

Hagerstown’s promotion team of Ernie Davis and Rick Jones have even added some “topless” events on the calendar, in which cars in their Late Model and Late Model Sportsman divisions leave their roofs at home and fans get to see drivers manhandle their horsepower around the clay oval. Visit www.hagerstownspeedway.com for more information.

Virginia Motor Speedway in Saluda recently announced that the FASTRAK “Pro Late Model” series will compete for $20,000 to win Oct. 2-4.

Only a few short years ago the term “Pro Late Model” was only known in pavement racing circles, where rules are so fragmented racers are often only able to race at a handful of locations with their car. It used to be that in dirt racing, if you owned a dirt Late Model it was the same all over the country. There were a few differences — UMP bodies were narrower, for example — but with only minor changes (often just weight and spoiler height) you could race your dirt Late Model anywhere.

Now, however, we have Super Late Models on dirt, Late Model Sportsman, crate-engine Late Models, steel block Late Models, etc. If the rule makers in dirt Late Model racing aren’t careful they’re going to end up with the same fragmentation as pavement racing, and that’s not a good thing for car counts. Plus it may hurt fan interest when the best part of dirt racing — the fact that anybody could show up anywhere to race — disappears as racers go where their equipment allows.

The NHRA opened its season at Auto Club Speedway in Pomona, Calif., and the intense competition allowed for some records to fall.

John Force set a national Funny Car Elapsed Time (ET) record for the 1,000-foot distance during qualifying, 3.966 seconds. He also established a track record for top speed on that run when he was clocked at 324.12 mph. Force later bettered his ET mark in the final round when he was clocked at 3.965 seconds. The 16-time champion beat Matt Hagan for the 139th win of his career, also an NHRA record.

Doug Kalitta set a track ET record in Top Fuel during qualifying, 3.713 seconds, and set a track speed record in the second round of eliminations when he was clocked at 330.15 mph. Khalid alBalooshi beat Kalitta in the final round. Jason Line won the Pro Stock final.

Fans got to watch the NHRA on ESPN, and fans of AMA Supercross got to see James Stewart get his first win of the season at San Diego, riding his Yamaha to victory on Fox Sports, which will carry ARCA and NASCAR Speedweek activity from Daytona this weekend.

But thousands of fans worldwide watched the Bathurst 12-hour endurance race from Australia on Livestram.com. Australian V8 Supercar racer Craig Lowndes drove his Ferrari to an exciting win in the FIA GT event. Be sure to put Livestream.com on your list of Internet sites to check for good racing.

And we still don’t have MavTV on Comcast, but it is available from your satellite provider.