Murto: Winchester 200 slated for weekend

Winchester Speedway’s biggest race of the year, the Winchester 200, will run this weekend.

On Friday night the Super Late Models will compete in a 30-lap, $2,500-to-win, $200-to-start race. A full evening of racing includes time trials and heats, with the top two from each heat redrawing for starting positions in the feature. Also on hand Friday will be the Limited Late Models, Pure Stocks, Four Cylinders, U-Cars and Lawn Mowers. Gates open Friday at 5 p.m., with practice at 7. Pit admission Friday is $30 and general admission is $15.

On Saturday Night the Super Late Models will be back for a 50-lap, $6,000-to-win $500-to-start main event. As with Friday, there will be time trials, heats, and the top two from each heat will redraw for starting positions. Any racers planning to compete, please note that here will be a $50 registration fee for Super Late Models for Saturday only. Any drivers not making the feature will receive $50 tow money. Also on tap Saturday will be the Crate Late Models, Pure Stocks, U-Cars and Enduros. Gates will open at 3 p.m., with practice at 6:45. Pit entrance is $35, with general admission $20.

Expect good car counts for both nights at Winchester Speedway. There should be good crowds as well, so arrive early enough to get a good seat. Weather permitting, race fans should leave Winchester happy.

Unfortunately for drag racing fans at Charlotte for the NHRA, they did not leave happy. As a release stated, “NHRA officials announced that the continuation of eliminations for the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, round one of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, will be completed during qualifying rounds at next weekend’s AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas.”

Fans who paid between $45 to $60 for a ticket only got to see one round of nitro cars before crews spent two hours cleaning up an accident. Then the rains came, and for the second time this season the NHRA moved races from one facility to another.

Three rounds of racing remain for both Top Fuel and Funny Car, and all rounds remain for Pro Stock Motorcycles. Four pairs of Pro Stock cars also need to complete their first round runs.

During the Pro Stock eliminations, it became evident that the track surface had problems; the Pro Stock cars couldn’t maintain grip. Driver V. Gaines violently crashed and rolled his car at the end of his run. That brought officials out to make repairs to the surface where Gaines’ car dug in, as well as inspect what appeared to be concrete pulled up from the track surface.

NHRA never mentioned the racing surface in its released statement. On TV an NHRA official claimed that the reason they didn’t return Monday, or later in the season, was logistical. NASCAR teams travel, and they would have stayed until the event was complete.

At least one driver indicated on ESPN that there was foreknowledge the surface could be a problem. Then why didn’t NHRA prep all four available lanes? If the races rotated between the left and right lanes at the four-lane facility, the surfaces probably would have held up. And will the racing surfaces be different next year?

“With one round of pro nitro eliminations complete, fans … are entitled to a 50-percent credit for a one-day ticket to either NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event at zMAX Dragway in 2015,” finished NHRA’s release.

Half off a one-day pass next year is something, at least, but the fans still took a beating. And it’s not just the fans; it’s doubtful that many of the regional sportsman competitors will be making the trip out to Texas.

I realize there were safety issues regarding the racing surface on the left lanes. There are issues involved such as track prep as to why they couldn’t just move over to the right lanes. But this was the first event of NHRA’s Countdown; this is not the way to start a championship stretch.

From a fan perspective, this is as if NASCAR’s Chicagoland race was rained out 10 laps prior to halfway and NASCAR said that due to logistics they’ll run 10 laps at New Hampshire and make the race official prior to qualifying for New Hampshire’s race. It’s bad form, and not the way to entice fans to see an NHRA event.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.