Saturday, December 14, 2013

Time and a Word with Joe Skotnicki- Super DIRTcar Series Director

Consistency.  Such a easy word to say, such a hard thing to see through. So many people in the industry would love to be able to achieve a high level of consistency with rules, special event performance, success in terms of financial impact, and fair treatment of drivers, teams, tracks and promoters. So few can actually be successful at it.  To get everyone on the same page in the dirt racing game is a challenge, to do so and give serious consideration to the sustainable growth of the sport while keeping a certain amount of responsibility is extremely difficult.

Super DIRTcar Series director Joe Skotnicki and his team have managed to do that by developing and refining a series model that works while keeping the interests of fans, home tracks, drivers and team owners at the forefront. While at the same time working with (what a great concept), other sanctions and tracks to help drivers and fans get the most out of their opportunities.

Many of you reading may know that northeast modified racing still keeps the value of home track competition at it's core, and blending that with a high profile tour isn't an easy task. But for those who are new to following it try to imagine a Lucas Oil Late Model Series that used home track weekly points in the mix or an All Star Sprint series that did the same while running the bulk of the tour events on weeknights.  To do that successfully you need passionate fans, interested drivers and owners, cooperative tracks, and an ability to be flexible for the betterment of the sport.

Joe Skotnicki has helped bring all that to fruition for the northeast modifieds. It starts with consistency and patience while people increasingly see the value in what's being done and it has paid off for his organization as one former piece of DIRTcar Northeast turf after another have come back on board for 2014 including legendary strongholds like Fulton, Fonda and Brewerton speedways.

Joe took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us, explaining how the new RUSH sportsman modified series came into being, helping get a behind the scenes look at important factors in making a travelling series schedule, and how driver/promoters Brett Hearn and Stewart Friesen have helped make the Super DIRTcar Series a better show. We talked some hockey (Buffalo Sabers related), we talked some state of the modifieds in Western PA, Eastern Oh and we're happy to share it with you here at the dirt network.

 Q: Can you give us some background on the circumstances that brought you to the the World Racing Group after your time as a Nascar and IMCA official?

A: "A point and time had come where I thought about not being so heavily involved in motorsports actually. Then a friend that I'd made in my Nascar days, Tom Deery, had a project that he needed help with in the sprint car world, a situation where they needed to revamp their rule book at World Racing Group so I'd kind of come on as a consultant. Then next thing you know, Tom was asking me to do this full time. I wasn't sure at the time but Tom talked me into it. I was on the outside looking in and wasn't really looking to get back in because of the time and dedication that it takes."

In 2014, the newly formed RUSH sportsman modifieds will make their debut in our region and are expected to have a very positive impact on the area modified scene. The groundwork was assisted by Joe and his team at DIRTcar northeast.

Q: How did your involvement in RUSH sportsman modifieds come about?

A: "Gary Risch had called me up and had wanted to sit down and talk with Vicki Emig at RUSH about the development of a sportsman series. And, it really made sense because there really isn't a development path in that region that leads potential drivers to the big blocks and there never really has been. And through the success of our crate modified program to the north and to the east, I just kind of thought that it's a no brainer for us to partner up and help to get this thing rolling.

We weren't really in a position to start another series with the resources that it took and Vicki was able to provide those things. So we hopped on board and helped her champion it forward. I think it's really going to be a great thing. I don't think you'll see the results of it immediately. I think down the road when we get a couple of years under our belts you'll see some folks start to graduate up to big blocks. It's pretty easy to move into a sprint car or a late model in that area because there's so many options but until now, the modified portion of that just simply didn't exist."

Q: How do you explain all these former tracks coming back to the DIRTcar fold all at the same time? Is there anything you can point to as a definite turning point?

A: "I don't have an easy answer to the question (why so many tracks have come back)   I think a lot of it has to do with our consistency and ability to continue to produce events that are taking dirt racing as a whole to a level it has never seen. The team of folks we have is remarkable. Whether it's the folks from Charlotte or the folks I work with up here. We've developed a product that's exciting and it works. We all know what we're doing, and that consistency and stability establishes what the brand is and helps move the brand forward.

We give the promoter, the comfort zone to not so much worry about the rules and the nuts and bolts of it, but to go out and promote a high profile event that's going to sell some tickets.  I think in the last few years we've really been able to prove that there's value to that model and the results are starting to speak for themselves.  The key now, is to be able to manage it."

The Super DIRTcar Series should be exciting to watch on 2014. The new home track additions will add some drivers to the mix. We could be looking at a 5 to 7 driver chase towards the championship instead of the Sheppard/Hearn battle for supremacy we've seen the last few years. The tour expands this season past the 20 event mark which is a welcome thing. Although Lernerville and Sharon will not be on the schedule in 2014, neither one is out of the question in the future. Whether that time is 2 years or 10 years remains to be seen, but the area's modifieds are in the mind of Skotnicki and DIRTcar northeast, and although there's lots of work to do to get SDS events in the area, the work is underway.

Q: What's the perfect amount of tour dates for any season for the SDS tour?

A:"I think the optimal number of SDS tour events is probably between 20 and 25. I really don't see much room for growth right now. Everybody wants it to be bigger and better but if you really break down the modified competitors in the northeast, many of them run anywhere from 75 to 95 shows a year when you count weekly shows, tour events (Dirtcar and Race of Champions) and other shows and we have to calculate into that. And, there's a piece in it for everybody,  We need to try to make it so drivers can compete and be healthy.  So, we work with other promoters and sanctioning bodies and work to not schedule against each other.

So, we're at 22 points paying shows this year . At the end of last year, we already had some teams and drivers that got into the last few weeks and were struggling to make it through to the end. So that also needs to be something that we think about from time to time because you can't tax the teams so bad that when you reach a certain point of your schedule you're running out of cars.

What we're seeing now is that there was a huge increase in interest on dates towards the end of the year. We had to tell several folks that they couldn't have a race and I took into consideration that if we added more races we wouldn't be able to keep from hurting one of the traditional existing shows and all of that comes into consideration when you're putting together a schedule.

I don't think any more than 25 tour races are necessary when we're counting a portion of the weekly races which will always be a part of what we do because that's different than everybody else (counting weekly points in the tour standings). The weekly racing is truly a part of what the series is and it actually drives the series. We're not really going to change that model. So to continue to make the series races special we need to maintain a restricted volume. "

Q: Brett Hearn's Big Show and Stewart Friesen's promotion of an SDS event in 2013 were big successes, do you see this trend expanding to other areas of the modified geography? (Wouldn't a Brian Swartzlander promoted show at Lernerville be interesting?)

"I wouldn't say it's a trend just yet, but I think they're successful partially because of the names attatched to them, but more importantly those guys are very passionate about the sport and they know the entertainment value of it. And they help improve the entertainment value of it with the effort that they put into it. In our aspect, that's pretty cool because it helps us to develop different elements of the event that we can apply at every race we run from a driver and promoter perspective.  Those guys have done this longer than many people and we really need to listen to what they're telling us and that feedback really helps us in the long run."

2014 Super DIRTcar Series Schedule

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