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Pure Stocks dropped as Viking Speedway readies for changes

A group of four Pure Stock drivers race in front of scattered fans in the grandstands at the Viking Speedway on June 23, 2018. The Pure Stock class was dropped from the 2019 schedule as part of a number of changes coming to the local oval this summer. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Viking Speedway has its nine-person board of directors in place for 2019, and one of its first orders of business came in a decision regarding the classes that will run at the local oval this summer.

On Jan. 6, the board of directors announced on the Viking Speedway Facebook page that it was dropping the Pure Stocks class from this summer's schedule. It is a move that was met with some frustration from those who left comments on the post, but one that stems from low participation numbers, according to new board president Rich Snyder.

"You can't have five guys on a baseball team and put on a game, can you?" Snyder said in an interview with the Echo Press. "They started out strong four years ago with eight, then they went to nine or 10. In 2015-16, they were pretty good. We had Jesse Waldorf come out and some others came out. I wasn't on the board last year but went a few times to the races and there were only five of them, and I asked what happened? They all moved up or quit. It's simple numbers. We can't rely on four guys saying I'm coming back. We need eight guys saying, 'I'm building one.'"

Snyder, 57, has been around racing his whole life since moving to Alexandria with his family as a young kid. He has served on the Viking Speedway board in the past and accepted another leadership role as the track prepares to take on a host of changes in an attempt to get more fans in the stands.

Pure Stocks is often considered a beginning class for drivers and one that offers a less expensive path to get into racing. Snyder said he talked with Waldorf, an Osakis driver who has won back-to-back pure stock point titles at the Viking Speedway, about the decision to drop the class, and that Waldorf has expressed interest in racing in a limited late model when he has time around added responsibilities in farming.

That Limited Late Models class is one that Snyder said drivers can be competitive in and race a fast car for relatively cheap in a day and age when the cost of competing for championships in many divisions gets more expensive by the season.

Snyder said others who raced pure stocks last season had already committed to moving to a different class, and they simply do not have enough drivers who will race a full season.

"We need to think about what's going to fill the stands, and what's going to fill the stands is car counts strong in all five classes and supporting and paying more for those classes," Snyder said. "It was just a numbers game. It's unfortunate."

Changes coming

Dropping the Pure Stocks class is just one of the many changes coming to the Viking Speedway this summer at a time when Snyder called those changes necessary.

Fans often did not come close to filling the grandstands last season, and the 2019 board of directors has an aggressive plan in place to change that, starting with moving the start time back to 7 p.m. from its original time slot of 6:30.

The Viking Speedway is up against a curfew of 10:45 p.m. that they have run into multiple times in the past, and getting down to five regular classes should help alleviate that.

"I already have people looking at me saying, 'How are you going to get it done?' No wasted time," Snyder said of the later start time. "We're going to be running those heat races, as soon as one class is done, they're not even all off the track and our next class is coming out. They make one more lap and we're going green on the next heat race."

The break between those heat races and the features will also be shortened.

"A 15-minute break. Not 40, not 45—15 and we're going racing again," Snyder said. "With fans, you have a three-hour time window. The NHL, NBA, you name it. If you're at an event and halftime is about an hour, they're going to laugh at you."

Snyder believes upping the pay in every class could draw four or five more cars a night in almost every division.

"By doing that, it's going to bring in 300 or 400 more fans," he said. "That's the vision."

Other changes could include having less of the large car trailers in the pit area to improve the spectator's ability to see all the way around the track from the grandstands.

All of these changes are coming with the fan in mind in an attempt to make sure drivers still have a place to race in Alexandria long into the future.

"It's very important, and it is urgent," Snyder said of the board feeling a sense of urgency. "The reason is because the city, if there is a real decline in racing, they can shut us down. They have that option. If we improve, and we get on our 'A' game, it's entertainment."

Getting back to where people choose the races over other entertainment options in the area is something Snyder feels will take some polishing, but he is "100 percent confident" that they can produce a top-notch show for race fans.

"We all have the vision of getting the Viking Speedway back on track as the leading track in the state of Minnesota, but it takes some changes," Snyder said. "We can't afford to have a class with only five, six cars in it. We have to have 15-20. The fans are going to be very pleased. They're going to leave here after the first couple weeks and say, 'This is a whole different place.' That's what we're after."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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