(GENEVA, N.Y.) — Paradise Speedway needed a big night on Saturday to bounce back from one of their toughest weeks as a team to date. In my humble opinion- they got just what they needed and I give them all the credit in the world for executing a flawless show.
Eight days ago, one of their micro sprint racers suffered severe burns after an apparent mechanical problem spilled fuel on the driver and igniting as he entered the pit area. The driver, Mike Humphrey, had to be extricated and flown to the regional trauma and burn center for his injuries and faces a lengthy road to recovery.
But what happened during and after the incident, on behalf of the area news media, was nothing short of appalling and a damn shame.
Television crews, news outlets and anyone who felt the need to know started showing up at the speedway looking for ‘the scoop’ on a terrifying incident in a similar fashion as what we saw take place at Canandaigua Motorsports Park just a few seasons ago. These news outlets proceeded to start airing news stories documenting that the driver was pulled from the car by bystanders and that the fire had to be put out by the track water truck.
They made it seem as though the staff and emergency crews at Paradise weren’t prepared and couldn’t handle putting on an event of any caliber. Those news outlets didn’t state that the sprinter came to rest in front of a bystander, or that the safety team and fire extinguishers were located a short distance or drive away and they also failed to mention that the water truck just happened to be driving by and went into action to stop and try and put the fire out quickly due to their proximity to the fire.
The way Paradise Speedway and it’s hard-working staff were represented by the local media was exactly what is wrong with a majority of the media in today’s society. I’d ask how many of these outlets have done any followup stories in regards to how Humphrey is doing, but you already know there hasn’t been and his unfortunate incident was just the news’ ‘flavor of the day’ that would get them a large number of clicks online.
One bright spot I do want to point out though, was on Saturday night when Spectrum News showed up asking for interviews and wanting to talk to people about the positive side of racing at Paradise Speedway. There was some unsurprising angst from speedway officials on their arrival, but that quickly changed when the interviews were focused on all the great things happening at Paradise Speedway.
Which is a great segue into what I wanted to really talk about with this blog. Paradise Speedway hit a home run Saturday night as they welcomed back the Grit Racing Series and Crate Sportsman Modifieds to their quarter-mile facility.
It wasn’t a grand slam, but it was a nice solo shot to right field. Looking back less than twenty-four hours later, I can’t help but think that this could be the spark that helps Paradise Speedway potentially get back on their feet and regain their footing one short week after going through a terrible incident and a long week in the spotlight.
Every issue that was raised about why the track wasn’t going to have a successful event was debunked within the first ten minutes of walking onto the property. A great crowd showed up to support the seventeen Crate Sportsman drivers that entered the pit area.
Two local towing companies were on site and ready to handle any on-track incidents for the big cars on the night’s schedule. Let me also say- these guys cleared the one big wreck in record time too! Not naming names, but I’ve been to several places where the wrecker crews could take notes from this relatively ‘green’ crew when it comes to clearing racetrack incidents.
Safety teams littered the facility, equipped with medical equipment and plenty of fire extinguishers to handle any emergency that might be thrown their way. Paradise Speedway also secured a dedicated transporting New York State-certified ambulance from Phelps Ambulance Service that was at their disposal.
Another concern that was offered was the track and questions swirled about how these cars would race on such a tight quarter-mile facility. I think the Grit Racing Series proved that this was also not an issue as they went twelve consecutive green flag laps off the drop of the initial green flag. After that, they went another seventeen laps without a caution flag.
Conversations with Dave Marcuccilli, a respected and decorated Crate Sportsman competitor, noted that one minor alteration that the track could make would be to push the inside of turn two toward the infield about eight to ten feet. That would give more racing room off the corner as it narrows down to shoot down the backstretch.
Another kudos goes out to track manicure specialist Gary Palone. Palone has been known for his table top-smooth surfaces over the years and Saturday night was no exception. Not only was it smooth- it had bite! While interviewing drivers during the redraw, I almost lost a shoe in the Paradise clay and drivers noted how much bite the corners had too.
The racing program was run off quickly, only taking a short intermission to spray a little moisture on the surface and to let the sun set below the trees off turn two. From an operational perspective, Paradise Speedway did exactly what they needed to do. They put the struggles of a week ago behind them on this night, and treated their fans to one of the best short track races I have been to all season long.
Paradise Speedway, Grit Racing Series officials, the teams and all the fans get a big tip of my cap for a great Saturday night showdown at “The ‘Dise.” The future may not be crystal clear right now, but I left Saturday night feeling more confident than I did leading up to this show. In asking several track officials and staff, there was a large sense of emotion at the tough times and uncertainty Paradise has endured.
We can only hope that Saturday went a long way to keeping this track’s gates open for seasons to come.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, Scorpion Radio Group Inc., their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Steven Ovens is the Northeast Dirt Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and the creator and host of the Turn 5 Live dirt track racing radio show, airing at 7:30 p.m. Eastern every Tuesday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Ovens has spent his lifetime in the sport of dirt track racing, growing up in the garages of the Kerrick and Ovens families. He spent 11 years behind the wheel between go-karts and 4 Cylinder Mini Stocks which brings a unique perspective to his dirt track editorials.
The 31-year-old has a career in the growing health care business world, and is also entering his second season as the full-time announcer and media director for Woodhull Raceway in Woodhull, N.Y.
In addition, Ovens was formerly the announcer and media director for Outlaw Speedway (formerly Black Rock Speedway) in Dundee, N.Y., serving in that capacity in both 2015 and 2016.
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