In response to Shakedown Nationals founder-promoter Dave Hance's decision late last week to end the popular race that has been part of Old Bridge Township Raceway Park's calendar for a decade, track co-owner David Napp visited with Competition Plus about the facility's limitations for the ever-growing event.
He spoke with Competition Plus about the track's legal parameters, the computer crash that cost Hance considerable time and money during Saturday qualifying, and whether Raceway Park still wants to do business with New York Motorsports.
Competition Plus: What's Raceway Park's point of view on the most recent Shakedown developments?
David Napp: "In regards to what? There have been a couple of different issues."
CP: What's Raceway Park's reaction to Dave Hance's decision this past week not to return with The Shakedown Nationals after 10 years?
DN: "Raceway Park's point of view on the whole things is that we are obviously sad to see the event go. We've had a great working relationship with everybody on the Shakedown team, especially Dave and Michelle. It's unfortunate but ultimately their decision on what they want to do. I was surprised to hear they weren't going to be continuing, but I think that they've done a great job over the last 10 years. If anything were to ever change, Raceway Park would be welcoming to any ideas or anything they'd want to do in the future. We've enjoyed working with them. They're a professional group. They put on a great event. They got national attention, and that's not an easy thing to do in drag racing, especially for an independent group that's simply putting on one event. It's one thing to have a successful series, but to have just one successful event stand out, that's not easy."
CP: Could you straighten out some confusion, please, regarding whether Dave Hance's decision was a reaction to something Raceway Park said to him? It's hard to imagine Dave Hance walking away from Raceway Park.
DN: "There were discussions between Dave and my brother Alex [a co-owner of raceway Park] and myself. I'm not comfortable going into detail with it. But basically, with our parameters -- the legal parameters we have to operate under in regards to noise -- the event was getting large to the point that we simply couldn't accommodate additional class qualifying on Friday. And they had changed the name to The Shakedown Nationals, I believe, in the hope of making it more like a national event. But Raceway Park simply doesn't have the noise-allotted days in the month of October to conduct the event. We just don't. If we were another racetrack and we had no noise curfews and we could run Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday or whatever, I think we probably would be having a different conversation. But we're under very strict regulations. It's my feeling the Shakedown was at a point to either take a big leap into becoming an even larger event or perhaps Dave just said, 'If I can't be bigger and better, then I don't want to do it at all.' I don’t know. You'd have to speak to him. There was discussion after the event about doing more qualifying on the Friday of the event. And I told Dave directly, 'We would love to accommodate your needs. We simply are legally bound by the regulations we have to follow. Otherwise we would be jeopardizing our racing license. And it's not something we're willing to do. He has known what we are able to do. Unfortunately we're unable to accommodate some of the requests he would have moving forward. Unfortunately, the response that I got from him was 'OK. I'll be releasing a press release.' I haven't directly heard from David that he's not doing the event. I heard that from Michelle, who works tightly with him. But I had not hear directly that the event was not going on. I assumed that it would be moving to another facility. And of course, we would wish David and his group well in any of their endeavors, because we've had such a great working relationship with him over these last 10 years. But not only that, he's a racer we see at the racetrack all the time. He's one of our buddies. We've ended our professional relationship with regards to his event, but there's certainly no bad blood. He's a great friend. He's a great guy. He's a laugh-riot to be around. We look forward to seeing him back at the races soon."
CP: I got the impression from Dave Hance's statement that it was Raceway Park that initiated the split, saying, in essence, "We can't do this anymore. Good luck."
DN: "Not exactly. Basically, we honestly spoke about some issues that we had at the event this year. And the e-mail David had sent [said], 'Hey, thanks. Thank your crew. We were a little disappointed here, disappointed there -- which is normal for an event. You go through what were the pluses, what were the minuses. And we replied to that e-mail. And he also had mentioned that he was looking forward to 2013, that he wanted to change some of the aspects of the event that included more qualifying on the Friday, which, as you know, is the muffled-only day. So anything that runs then has to be a muffled car. with the limits of our time parameters, we explained to Dave that we would not be able to accommodate his request of having more qualifying during Friday. In fact, we actually informed him -- we did tell him that we would only be able to have the 8.50 Index qualifying on Friday. We felt the decibels were just too loud in the other classes that qualified on Friday. Again, we don't have the ability to run anything loud on Friday. We let him know that we're looking forward to moving forward but for next year we're not going to be able to do anything other than 8.50. So I guess he wanted to do more qualifying and we know that we need to do less qualifying. I don't know if that was the deciding factor. I do know that it was one area that we were unable to accommodate the Shakedown Nationals' needs. But certainly in no way was there anything said to Dave, saying, 'Dave, thank you and good luck in the future but we can no longer host your event.' That would absolutely never occur. We were hoping that we would have the 11th annual Shakedown in 2013. But there have been additions. The classes have gotten bigger. The event has grown. And we just feel that we can't -- we don’t have the days to make the noise. It's that simple. If that event needs to become a three-day national event, then it has to move elsewhere, because I don't have the noise days on our schedule. We have noise days for the nationals and for divisional meet, but there are very few additional days where we're able to make noise. We're able to make noise from Sundays at 10 a.m. until 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m., then we have a few specialty race events which include three Family-Fun Monster Truck thrill shows, our U.S. Diesel Truck Nationals, the Lucas Oil [divisional] event and the nationals [NHRA Summernationals]. That's all we have. We would love to be able to say, 'Yeah. We'll pull a noise day out of the magician's hat, along with a rabbit.' But we just can't."
CP: So what we're hearing you say is that you're not opposed to the idea of a Shakedown 2013. You are only saying that if Dave were to make accommodations or tweaks to his program that accommodated your noise times and your curfew times that you're bound by, then you would certainly be interested in having another Shakedown, correct?
DN: "I would say that Raceway Park is open working with race promoters that can work within our parameters, whether it be the Shakedown or a music concert or whatever. There are certain guidelines that we are legally bound to follow, and any race promoter who wants to try to run an event with us we would certainly listen to. Our door is always open to new ideas. The key to being successful in business is innovation, and that's what we are always looking to do is innovate and do things that are different and new and exciting. So certainly the door is not closed on the Shakedown or any other event that would be able to operate within the parameters our facility unfortunately is forced to abide by. There is absolutely no strife between Dave Hance and his team at New York Motorsports and Raceway Park. We have a great working relationship. We laugh and joke all the time. There's certainly no bad blood. But for 2013, right now there's nothing on the schedule. That may change. That may not. Anybody that calls us, we make them aware of what we are able to do for them. If the event falls within that, then great. If not, we simply can't jeopardize the relationship we have with our municipalities which has taken many, many years to cultivate and keep in good faith. It's just not something we are willing to jeopardize."
CP: During the Saturday of the Shakedown, you had the computer/timing system crashes. The technicalities are complicated. But had Dave been able to run the cars, racing would have wrapped up well within the time limits, presuming no oil downs or accidents to delay the progress of qualifying. That put Dave in a tough spot, as the crash wasn't his fault and he wanted to be fair to his racers. It ate up the time he could have used to complete the event as scheduled. First of all, what happened? And does Raceway Park have an obligation to him to make up for that somehow?
DN: "With regards to the Saturday qualifying, we obviously were dong our best to locate the stray voltage that was coming into the system. We zapped one computer along with the scoreboards. Then we plugged in another computer and we ran for awhile and again stray voltage made its way into the system. At that point, losing those two systems, we were down to one back-up, and we certainly weren't ready to plug in the last PC until we found out where the stray voltage was coming from. At that point, we began to shut down the system, almost do a system-by-system check. It's a very unfortunate situation. It had never happened in the 48-year history of Raceway Park. But it must be understood by racers, spectators, and organizers that there is always the unforeseen, whether you’re dealing with track seepage that puts you on hold -- that's been an issue for some racetracks with water coming up through the track: 'Well, it's not raining but we can't race because of this problem.' There have also been safety issues where a car has hit a guardrail and they've had to stop racing because a section of the guardrail is missing and they have to repair it. When those unforeseen things occur, you do your best. And that's what I think we did. My brother Alex got on a plane leaving from our airport [that's about a football field away from the racetrack] and flew to Atco Raceway, where he obtained two back-up computers, one form Atco and one from another racetrack. And we were able to get our system up and running, albeit without the scoreboards. With professional drag racing, regardless of what the circumstance is, when one qualifier is completed of the pro cars, the pro-level cars -- for example, at an NHRA national event, when one full round is completed it's considered complete the day of qualifying. We were able to get up and running. We were able to do the Pro Modified session, the Pro Import session, and we considered that a completed day, again, as it would be if it was seepage or a rain delay or what have you. Then on Sunday we were informed by the race organizer that not only would there be additional qualifying, which we had not planned on, but also race fields that had been 16 cars would now be 32 cars. We make it a point to very carefully time ourselves out. So with those last-minute changes, we knew at that point that it was going to be impossible to finish all of the race classes. And as you know, there were [four] race classes that were unable to come to completion. Part of the excitement of drag racing is how unpredictable it is. And that goes for the business side, as well. It's very unpredictable. I think Saturday should be considered a completed event, albeit with delays that were unforeseen. But you can't keep adding qualifiers or moving qualifiers. You kind of have to stick to your schedule. On this one we took our lumps. And some racers are not happy with us. As anyone who own or runs a business knows, sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And while you want to be everybody's best friend, at the end of the day, you have to worry about business and keeping that in line. We would have loved to never had any of those glitches and run everything. But at the same time, you need to follow the time schedule that you've prepared. Had we not had to run additional qualifiers, perhaps we could have finished on time. It's a New York Motorsports event, and those are the people we're looking to appease. They deal with the racer, and if the racer wants something, then we're going to do our best to provide them with that. We think that we did our very best in a really tough situation."
CP: So it sounds like you're saying Dave pushed the rules a little bit, pushed his limits, pushed the envelope, if you will.
DN: "Whenever you add an additional round of drag racing to a class, going from a 16-car, four-round eliminator to a 32-car, five-round eliminator, you need to anticipate that there are going to be repercussions, as the facility simply doesn't have the time to add an additional round in that narrow 10 a.m.-to-7:30 p.m. curfew. That was explained to the group that runs the Shakedown, and they understood that and were willing to do that. They were willing to try to get their way through it and hope for the best. Had Sunday been perfect and there wasn't a single oildown or a single delay, maybe he would have been able to finish it. Dave and his team thought the best way to accommodate the racer was to add qualifying and expand the size of the field. I think that was probably a good decision on their behalf. Thought he classes didn't come to completion, they were aware that there were unhappy racers in their pit area. This is drag racing, and sometimes you have to make calls -- 'Oh, boy are we going to be able to do it or not?' - But there were last-minute adjustments made, and we did our best to accommodate those adjustments."
CP: Did you or anyone at Raceway Park suggest specific format style changes he might want to consider?
DN: "That never came from anybody on my side of things. I don't have any knowledge of anything like that taking place."
CP: So if Dave were wiling to change his program -- change the schedule, change the format -- you feel confident you could work out a deal?
DN: "I'm confident that if the event were to be organized in a way that the Raceway Park staff felt we could operate within our parameters, then yes. I do think that we could move forward."
CP: So you did not slam the door on Dave Hance and say, "Don't come back."
DN: "Not at all. The door is open. The lines of communication are open. We hope to see the Shakedown in whatever form -- whether it be at Raceway Park or it be elsewhere. We wish everyone on that team the best. I think they've got a great product, certainly something that people are logging onto [online] and checking up on. There's definitely plenty of interest. At this time, Raceway Park can't satisfy the needs of the event, due to our legal obligations. We've always worked really well together. Everybody's always done really well. Michelle obviously is like family to us. I don't want to [say] and anything was done wrong. It's as simple as this: Dave wants his event to grow. He doesn't want it to shrink. He's moving forward. He wants to do more with this event. We can't accommodate that. So I suppose he made a decision just to take a hiatus or not continue it. He did request the ability to expand the event. And we simply can't do it. We just don’t have the [noise] days to do it. I don’t know what he has decided, but right now it's not on our 2013 schedule. And that's completely on the decision of the Shakedown group. Raceway Park would love to move forward on a partnership with them. The ball's in their court. Whatever they do, we certainly wish them the best. They've treated us world-class, and we've tried to do the same back. It's one of our fans' favorite events. There's always a buzz and they get a good turnout for it. It's going to definitely be an event that 's missed on the calendar. "
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