A year ago, Kyle Larson made headlines when he gave his thoughts on NASCAR losing touch with grass roots racing and its fans.
That sentiment flamed up again a few weeks ago. Kevin Harvick captured the NASCAR Monster Energy event at ISM Raceway and used the post-race press conference to hammer home NASCAR and its track’s need to embrace grass roots racing.
Now, it’s Christopher Bell’s turn to discuss the issue, as he had a busy Wednesday in the central Pennsylvania area.
Bell visited Wrightsville Elementary School to help announce the winner of Dover International Speedway’s Monster Mile Youth Design Challenge. Fifth-grade student Brennan Lehman won the contest to design this year’s pace car, and students lined the sidewalk in front of the school to see the wrap on the new car.
From there, Bell took part in a press conference at BAPS Motor Speedway, in which a year-long deal was announced that brings together the promotion of NASCAR events at Dover with grass roots racing at BAPS.
“I think it’s a must,” Bell said of having NASCAR and dirt-track racing partnering in an effort to make racing at both levels stronger. “I think it’s very important.
“I will be honest, as a kid, I watched a little bit of NASCAR racing and then once I was introduced to dirt tracks, I lost track of NASCAR and didn’t keep up at all. I think [Kyle] Larson was the turning point for me. When he made the jump to NASCAR, that is when I got more involved in it and paid more attention.”
Continued Bell, “For me growing up, if I would have had a billboard to look at that said, ‘Dover International Speedway,’ I would have been like, ‘Whoa, OK.’ That would have sparked interest in getting more involved and paying attention to NASCAR racing.
“The fact that [Dover and BAPS] are intertwining here is really, really important, and I’m glad guys like Kevin [Harvick], Kyle Larson, and myself are getting NASCAR and dirt track racing to work together.
“I feel like if you ask a diehard dirt track fan, they are almost against NASCAR racing. If you ask a NASCAR fan, they are almost against dirt track racing. We have to get everyone together … it’s all motorsports, and it’s all fun to watch.”
Bell would know.
The Oklahoma native was a star in the Sprint Car and Midget ranks. He advanced to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and captured the title a year ago. This season, he’s moved to the Xfinity Series ranks and is fourth in the point standings with three top-five finishes in five starts.
So, when Dover International Speedway and BAPS Motor Speedway announced their partnership, Bell was a good driver to have on hand.
But this wasn’t just about past remarks by Larson and Harvick. Or even Bell, who has long since believed the two motorsports factions should find a way to work together to promote racing. It’s about cross promoting.
Dover took notice and inked a deal that includes signage at the speedway throughout 2018, giveaways, and also sponsorship of the August 26 Justin Snyder Salute to the Troops, which features Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.
“We dabbled in this a little bit in our area,” said Dover International Speedway Assistant Vice President of Marking and Communications Gary Camp. “We showed up at DelMar, popped up our tent, and promoted our races, but we’ve never committed to a full season and expending a lot of energy to attach ourselves to these guys.
“A lot of tools we have to market to our fans, we will be using those tools to help promote some BAPS events and vice versa.
“So, we just saw an opportunity to not just dip our toe in, but put our whole body in the water and see if we can cultivate new fans in this area. I’m excited to see what materializes as a result of this.”
Camp indicated during the press conference that he was impressed with the renovations and changes at BAPS Motor Speedway.
He wasn’t the only one. Bell, who raced in central Pennsylvania for the first time last weekend at Lincoln Speedway, called the track “Bad Ass” and stated that he was interested in racing at the facility.
“I’ve been here twice, both times, unfortunately, got rained out,” Bell said. “So, I’ve never raced here. That was before BAPS came on board and Kolten [Gouse] was here.
“It’s pretty remarkable to roll up and see these new suites … it’s a pretty remarkable place. The surface looks really good. Yeah, it looks like a great facility, and I would love to race here.”
Thanks to BAPS Motor Speedway owner Scott Gobrecht, general manager Kolten Gouse, and Dover International Speedway, it might happen.
This could also lead to a long partnership, not only between Dover and BAPS, but also inspire others to cross promote grass roots racing with NASCAR venues or high-profile events in the United States.
“I’m excited about this partnership,” Gouse said. “This has been in the works for a couple of months, and we were able to put everything together.
“We are certainly excited for this opportunity. Grass roots racing is really big in this area with Sprint Car racing and all forms of racing. It’s a hotbed, so for us to be able to partner with Dover International Speedway and bring some of our fans to their races and expose our teams and facilities to what they have going on at Dover, it’s a huge deal for us.”
It also might pay off for dirt track drivers.
Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne made it from the dirt ranks to NASCAR. Larson and Bell have followed and could open the door for more in the future.
“I hope so,” Bell said. “There are so many talented Sprint Car or Midget drivers, even Late Model drivers.
“What is unique about dirt racing is that we have professional dirt race car drivers. You look at the World of Outlaws, or to some extent, All Star or USAC guys … even guys who have moved to Pennsylvania to make a living.
“You don’t have professional pavement drivers until you get to NASCAR. So, it’s cool to cross breed the two, so I hope more dirt guys get going.”