By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
After Saturday night’s chaotic season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway, it will be two months before we see the ARCA Racing Series fire the engines for the second race of the 2018 season at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.
It’s completely understandable why the series wants to open the schedule on the high-banks of storied Daytona. Not only does it provide valuable experience for a series that helps develop young drivers looking to break into the top three series of NASCAR, it provides valuable exposure for the series with several national media members providing coverage of the opening weekend.
What can the series change to fill the large void in one of the most diverse schedules in stock car racing during the winter and early spring months and keep the momentum that begins at Daytona going through the heart of their summer schedule?
The early gap has bothered me for the past several seasons, but it does make some sense given the obvious fact that it’s not feasible to race in the Midwest in February. While the series holds true to its Midwest roots – it was founded by John Marcum in Toledo, Ohio in 1953 and originally known as the Midwest Association for Race Cars – it does venture outside the area for a few events each season, including 2018 races slated for Charlotte, Talladega and twice at Pocono.
After nine straight days of snow here in Chicagoland, I stared out my window on a bright sunny Monday morning at the nearly two feet of snow and negative nine degree temperature, and once again found myself looking for the most logical solutions for the early-season schedule gap. While many in the motorsports community would argue that Twitter might not be the best place for logical, fact-based opinions, I took to social media to see if fan feedback matched my thoughts on viable tracks in which to race in late February and March.
Avid ARCA fan Kathleen (@khifan) proposed several of my favorite contenders to plug the hole in the schedule, including Five Flags Speedway, Myrtle Beach Speedway and Memphis International Raceway, noting it might be a bit cold for Memphis in the early portion of the season. The series has raced twice at Memphis, in 1998 and 2001, and while the city sports an average March high of 64 degrees, the average low of 44 has me agreeing that Memphis might not be the best spot for an early-season race. The series ran five consecutive events at Five Flags from 1992 – 1996.
Marlene Mitchell, mother of 2014 ARCA champion and current team owner Mason Mitchell, proposed Atlanta Motor Speedway. ARCA has competed 34 times on the 1.5-mile track in Georgia, most recently in 2003. Several sources have mentioned the series has had recent discussions about returning to the track, although logistically it could be difficult for the AMS staff given their end of February date is already a triple-header weekend with NASCAR.
Candace Fairley (@MariaFair), who fittingly has her pinned tweet set to photos from the K&N Mobile 150 from 2016, recommends Mobile International Speedway. The ½-mile paved oval located in the Mobile County, Alabama community of Irvington hosted the ARCA Mobile 200 from 2012 to 2015. This season the track will open under new management, as the father-son tandem of Charlie (owner of Charlie’s Classic Cars in Irvington) and Kodie Lyons signed a lease agreement with current owner Ida Hatfield and intend to purchase the oval and drag strip in 2019. The track’s grandstands hold nearly 9,000 and with an average high temperature of 70 degrees in March would make a perfect location for the stars and cars of ARCA.
If you have any input on the best tracks to plug the early-season schedule gap, light up my Twitter (@beberly18) feed.