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North Vernon track opens next month with sprint car races

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It seems as if the final checkered flag of last season had just been waved and now the first green flags of the 2013 season are upon us.

The best competition, at least in the early weeks of the season, likely will to come out of Twin Cities Raceway Park and Brownstown Speedway, two places battling for both cars and fans.

Mason Fleetwood apparently decided that trying to promote racing at both Twin Cities Raceway Park in North Vernon and Thunder Valley Raceway Park at Salem was more than he wanted to do. Consequently, he gave up his lease at Twin Cities.

When the lease became available, Tom Wetherald of Columbus and Troy Tabata, who will be the general manager of the facility, saw an opportunity to rehabilitate a track with a rich history.

They saw, correctly I think, the need to provide a stable schedule and to upgrade the facility.

The track needed a primary class on which to build its programs. The track is a great sprint car track; however, it historically has been a stockcar track.

Also, there currently are three tracks — Lawrenceburg Speedway, Lincoln Park Speedway and Paragon Speedway — running weekly sprint car programs on Saturday nights.

In addition, USAC, MSCS and various winged sprint car series run occasional programs during the season. All of this seemed to make late models the obvious choice for an anchor class. Consequently, they have adopted a schedule for their regular shows to include late models, modifieds, super stocks, pure stocks and hornets.

Of course, the weather makes March races somewhat problematic. However, Tabata is eager to get his season under way, and he’ll open with a car show/open practice on March 2.

A second practice session will be March 9. There will then be non-winged sprint car programs March 16 and March 23. He will have his first regular-season show March 30.

Fleetwood had started a very popular non-winged sprint car race, the No Way Out 40. Following the death of Jesse Hockett, it was run as a tribute to him. Fleetwood and Brownstown Speedway promoter Tim Keithley got together and scheduled the race for Brownstown on March 30.

Keithley has, barring weather, pretty much assured the success of the program by posting a purse structure paying $7,500 to win and $400 to start. The support classes for the fifth annual No Way Out 40 will be a $1,000 to win, $100 to start modified program and a King of Indiana TQ midget program.

Tabata and Keithley have not collaborated on their schedules. Tabata released his schedule first; and Keithley decided to schedule the No Way Out 40 after Twin Cities’ two sprint car programs. Twin Cities’ first regular show featuring late models will be run without competition from Brownstown. Brownstown hasn’t posted its schedule for the balance of the season; however, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will be competing for both cars and fans for most of the season.

Brownstown Speedway has a strong tradition of major late model programs including the Indiana Icebreaker, Hoosier Dirt Classic, Jackson County Fair Race, Hall of Fame Classic and the Jackson 100. Tabata expects to lose some of the top late model cars and some of the fans on those nights. However, he intends to maintain his schedule to reward his competitors and fans for their loyalty to Twin Cities.

Tabata and Wetherald are building a reputation on which they can build a tradition that will continue to draw both competitors and fans season after season.

Last season was a rough one for Brownstown Speedway. For weather or whatever other reasons, they ran fewer events than normal.

Keithley canceled the awards banquet and apparently took other actions to which at least some of the competitors took offense.

Brownstown has developed a strong base of fans and competitors through the years, and a lot of them will continue to spend Saturday nights at Brownstown.

I recently ran into Steve Barnett of Franklin. He is Tony Stewart’s teammate when Tony runs late models. Steve has raced at Brownstown for many years, and he advised me that he plans to be at Twin Cities every Saturday night.

The one thing that seems likely is that both tracks will be more attentive to the expectations of their fans and competitors.

Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.

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