Sunday, May 10, 2015

Figure 8 racing returns to Elko Speedway


This year is the 50th anniversary of racing at Elko Speedway.  We will be celebrating the events of the past much of the year, but the thing that is causing a lot of buzz to start the 2015 season is something new.  The Figure 8's are returning, it's more of a rebirth of the division from the older full bodied heavy V-8 cars to the newer, front wheel drive 4cyl vehicles.
The Figure 8 division was the identity of Raceway Park for decades, definitely a fan favorite.  The Figure 8 races always seemed to have that extra element of danger, it seemed as though you might witness "the Big collision in the X" at any moment.  The racing was always suspenseful as you waited for the cars to string out and the leader to catch the tail of the field.... would the driver at the back of the pack slam on his brakes to avoid a collision when they crossed, and just how close would these Dare Devils push the envelope?  When there was a near miss, you would turn to your neighbor and say "he better back off next lap, or else!"  You just had to wait one more lap and find out, who would have the guts to keep on the gas pedal, or is it the brains to back out of the gas.  The collision in the "X" was rare, but when it happened it was spectacular, the crowd would gasp as one giant unit, people shared the videos on social media and talked about the crash with their neighbors.  These are type of moments that get casual fans excited about racing and get them to come back week after week.
The action on the track in the Figure 8 division was complimented by the colorful characters who drove the cars, one of the most colorful was Mark Bronstad who told me years ago that the division was going to need a reboot soon as the car count was slipping down into the teens.  "The Figure 8 car count started to decline due to lack of cars, feeder drivers and the current drivers getting older," said Bronstad "Eric Hake was the youngest driver when Raceway Park closed, other than him all the drivers were over 30 and most of us were over 40, that is why 4cyl cars are the way to go, so younger drivers will hopefully gain interest."
When Raceway Park closed most of the drivers in the Figure 8 division retired and it was the end of an era. 
That was not the end of the Figure 8 division though, it will be revived this summer doing double features on seven different race nights.  This time 4cyl cars will be racing utilizing the inside flat track at Elko Speedway.  Bronstad thinks switching to the Hornet type car is the right idea.  "The 4cyl cars are easier to find and are generally in better condition," said Bronstad "the kids of today can relate to them just like us older guys related to the bigger cars."
Two former Figure 8 drivers have been pushing hard to get their favorite form of racing back on the track; Todd Tacheny and Dan McCarthy.   "I loved to race Figure 8's," said McCarthy "there wasn't one race where I left the track with a frown on my face.  I love the challenges of having to pay attention to the X, you've got drivers above you and below you and your car has to turn both ways, it's challenging but fun."
McCarthy has worked with Elko Speedway to incorporate the new Figure 8's into the Hornets (formerly called the Mini-Stock) division.  "The Hornets cars are totally legal to race in the Figure 8's with the addition of a drivers side door plate for safety" said McCarthy.  "The Figure 8 drivers can also race in the Hornets division providing more seat time and more fun for the drivers."
I suspect some drivers will build Figure 8 only cars and set them up to turn both left and right, other guys will race in the Hornet division all night long and just make minor air pressure adjustments from race to race.  The corners are plenty wide to see 3 wide in the turns in addition to the action in the X.

Expect growing pains as drivers new to this form of racing will be exploring just how close they can come to contact in the X.  The Raceway Park Figure 8 drivers relied on trust and familiarity with the other drivers to know where the boundaries are, there will be little of that to begin with in a new division.  Many drivers might take the "wait and see" attitude at first but the potential for growth is huge in the new 4cyl division and unpredictable might be the best description of the new Figure 8 races.
I think in it's 50th year of racing Elko Speedway is ready to handle a new breed of Dare Devils to emerge onto the racing scene.  The Hornets Figure 8's.

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