THE DNK "TWISTED THOUGHTS" by Mike Twist
Here's To The Successful DNK 250!
Fans of modern day racing have become used to reading stories other than what might exactly be true - either on the race track or behind the scenes. Press releases, and sometimes even supposed news articles, put a happy spin on a story and it’s hard to tell what is true and what is fiction. Fans know that and are often a little suspicious of any good news that they are fed.
Still, on occasion something in the sport will actually go
smoothly and the press is the same as the reality. This was the case last week for the DNK 250 at the Unity Raceway. The combination of PASS event and Pro Stock (Super Late Model) open show had a few hiccups, but it was hard to find any major flaws in a great weekend of racing.
A near capacity crowd and 72 race teams descended upon the small town of Unity, Maine to take part in the festivities. Campers filled the parking lot of the track
“If we were going to have our name associated with it, we wanted the race to be a complete class act event,” said Clark.
This is the second time that PASS has pulled off a big money Pro Stock race in northern New England. Last season, PASS sanctioned the non-points Big Dawg 400 at the Wiscasset Speedway with a winner’s share of the purse set at $100,000 (including all bonuses). Sam Sessions took home the top prize and the race went well by most accounts, despite the fact that it was rain delayed until a Monday afternoon.
But the Big Dawg concept wasn’t perfect. The car count was somewhat disappointing with only Freddie Query coming from outside the region to enter the race. Many local hotshoes from across the region also did not enter. A common argument that was heard was that the purse was too top heavy.
To make up for that, this year’s purse was more even through the field. The winner’s share was down to $25,000, but more teams shared in the wealth with a guaranteed purse of at least $2,000 to make the main show. Even non-qualifiers took home $300 in tow money.
Most racers were appreciative of the promoter put into the race.
"This was awesome," said Ralph Nason. "I'm just tickled pink with the DNK people coming in here to make it happen. I'm sure that you'll see this again because they had a good turnout, a lot of cars and a lot of racing."
Nason is the owner of the Unity Speedway and leases the track to promoter John Crawford. He is also a long-time competitor at that track and calls the Town of Unity his home.
To see a race the size of the DNK 250 at his familiar bullring is something that Nason did not expect to ever see.
There was great racing during the entire DNK 250 at Unity Raceway. (Norm Marx Photos)
While the sponsors were happy with how the race progressed, no one was happier than eventual winner Johnny Clark.
"We've had some big events over the years, but I never
thought that I'd see something like this," said Nason. "This was a super big event and everything went off well. Room is tight in this place and you'll always have a few snags at first but I think that they did an excellent job here this weekend."
The Unity track is a unique one that would look foreign to
short track fans from other parts of the country. There are
no infield pits, which is common at many northern New England tracks, but there are also few few walls around the
track. There is a small section of metal guardrail on the front stretch, but most of the rest of the track is lined on the outside by earthen berms.
early in the week, cars lined several overflow lots and every hotel and motel for miles was booked up. The town that claims it is, “Where old fashioned values are never old fashioned.” on their welcome signs grew to several times its normal size for the weekend.
There were few traffic problems, parking snafus or other incidents. There were plenty of people around, but their numbers brought minimal disruptions. Nearly everybody associated with the event was very happy with the way that the weekend turned out.
“We had a ball,” said DNK Select Used Cars co-owner Charlie Clark. “This was everything that we had hoped for. The car count was good, the racing was good and the weather was good.”
The event was unusual in the fact that DNK was not just the sponsor, but also a co-promoter of the race.
There was plenty of hot action, as Walt Hammond found out in the last chance race, and those who didn't qualify were still paid well.
Still, the track drew praise from many drivers and the most common thing heard was that it was a fun place to get around.
In fact, one of the most well traveled racers around looked like a kid at Christmas when he talked about driving the track.
“Did you like it when I was running the outside?" asked Ted Christopher, who has raced on just about any track that is oval shaped and in the Northeastern United States. "This is a cool place, it was fun and we'll be back again."
A veteran of Maine racing was also impressed.
"I think that it's nice that they did this," said Mike Rowe. "We had a lot of cars and a hope that we do it again next year. If they have it, I'll definitely be back."
The race itself has two common complaints. The first one
was the number of caution laps that were run, but that had
little to do with the actual operation of the race. If drivers hit things, or each other, there will be yellow flags. The second, which has a direct effect on the cautions, was that there may have been just a few too many cars that started the feature event. There were 34 starters including two PASS provisionals, one Unity Raceway provisional and one DNK provisional.
"It was a good race, but they need to try time trials or something different," said Cassius Clark. "There's too many morons out that shouldn't be. It's the luck of the draw and that's not what you should be doing with $50,000 racecars.”
Clark’s argument goes back to the procedure of determining the starting grid based largely on the basis of heat race finishes. The starting line-ups for the heat races were decided on a blind draw, so it was possible for a mid-level driver with a so-so car to start out front, stay out of trouble and gain a starting spot in the main event.
Other drivers echoed Clark’s assessment. "I think that the problem was starting too many cars on this
track," said Andy Santerre. "If they did it again, maybe 24 or 25 would be a good number.
From a sponsor’s standpoint, DNK was happy with the return on their investment.
“The race fans are very loyal and we see people come through the door to buy cars that who us from racing,” said co-owner Charlie Clark. “Maybe we’ll even sell Johnny (Clark) a car with the money ($25,000) that he won.”
The level of hospitality that DNK had to support their weekend was more along the lines of a NASCAR races than a short track event. The company put up a hospitality tent that hosted 300 VIPs over the weekend. In addition to customers and employees, DNK made sure that each driver was also invited to enjoy the benefits of the tent.
The biggest complain among most was the number of caution laps run during the race.
“All of the racers had a chance to come over,” said
Clark. “Matt Eaton is one of the drivers that we sponsor
and he’s a lobsterman, so it was natural that we served up
some lobster rolls. He and his wife prepared everything and we enjoyed a few hundred. It was quite a team event.”
In addition to their event sponsorship, there were a half-
dozen DNK sponsored cars entered in the race including the one of race winner Johnny Clark, Charlie’s nephew.
“I never saw his win coming,” said Charlie Clark. “He spun
late in the race and I thought it was over then. I figured that he’d finish sixth or seventh and that it would be a good night. But then when it was time to go, he went for it and I stood there with my mouth open. I was a great win for s.”
There was no shortage of attention given to race winner Clark or anything and anyone else during the weekend for that matter.
Not everyone had a good weekend of racing at the DNK 250, but that didn’t dampen the overall experience of the event. Travis Benjamin did not qualify and very possibly destroyed his eight-year old racecar in the process, but the former Unity regular could not hide his enthusiasm For the event itself.
"It's an awesome event. Wow!," he said after a tough weekend. "I've never seen this many people here. It's a good car count and a lot of good cars. There are even some real good cars going home. I hope that they do this again next year."
Whether or not this event takes place again is the biggest question of the weekend.
“It’s being discussed already,” said Charlie Clark of DNK. “We don’t know what we’ll do yet, but this went so well it could really happen again.”
After spending Friday at Unity for practice and Sunday for the heat races and the feature event, I personally hope that it is more than a one-off happening. The race was a major short track event that did not try to pass itself off as something at the Nextel Cup level. That was a very good thing. The on track action ruled, and if anything was less than perfect it might have been that it ruled a little too much. Between the heat races, consis and features, there were well over 500 green flag laps on Sunday. The main event took nearly four hours, but without the 22 caution periods counting towards the advertised distance, how could anything else take place?
At a time when American motorsports seems to be 99% focused on NASCAR’s three major series, it is refreshing to see the emergence of a race like the DNK 250. Hopefully the fans in attendance will be able to tell a future generation of race fans about this first event for years to come while still getting geared up to watch it live as well.