WILLIMANTIC – It’s a familiar refrain heard from many directly involved in team ownership or driving in local short track racing.
The complaint that NASCAR and the racetracks they compete at don’t do enough to promote them in racing.
And yet their team’s car never sees the light of day beyond being in the pits or on track at a racetrack all season long.
And year after year the crowds in the grandstands at local short tracks grow thinner and thinner.
The idea that sometimes if you need help you’ve got to help yourself seems lost on many teams involved in local racing today.
There was a time in this area when you couldn’t drive a 10-mile radius around a local track on a weekend day without seeing multiple race teams out making an appearance at a local gas station or other types of business and reaching out – hand to hand directly – with the community.
These days the appearance for local race teams has become a lost art, and with that fact, local teams are losing the chance to connect with the next generation that will help perpetuate the sport.
Wednesday night in Willimantic some race teams were trying to break the trend by participating in a community open house at the Willimantic Chronicle.
Ginny Gayton, daughter of legendary Modified driver Bob Potter and an advertising account executive with The Chronicle, organized a racing portion of the open house and welcomed local racers to participate to help promote growing coverage of local racing by the paper.
On hand with their cars were Waterford Speedbowl SK Light Modified driver Larry Goss of North Windham and Stafford Speedway Limited Late Model division driver Kelsey Rottino of Willimantic. Also on hand were be POWRi Outlet Midget Series driver Lauryn Burd and local JR Honda Quarter Midget driver Hailey Desaulniers.
“Events like this are very important for us,” said Goss, a longtime veteran of the local racing scene as a driver, car owner and crew member. “I’ve been in Willimantic for 53 years. This is my hometown. We get The Chronicle. I really wish they would put more in The Chronicle about our local tracks. But I’ll go anywhere with my car. You tell me when and I’ll deliver the car. Landon Tire, my sponsor, he lets me get out of work to do things like this and he pays me for it. Its helping me and it’s helping me get out there in the open. I wish a lot of other teams would get out.”
Asked if he feels like many local teams have lost touch with the outreach factor away from the track, Goss said yes.
“A lot of teams they just don’t want to be bothered, because they spend so much money on their cars and this and that.” Goss said. “But, how are you going to get the younger crowd into the racetrack? I’m 53 years old, but I’m dealing with a lot of kids at these shows that want to know what this car is. These little things help. It really does help. I wish a lot more teams would get involved.”
Rottino said he’ll do everything from public appearances to kids birthday parties if it means putting his racecar in front of the eyes of people that might be turned into new race fans.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times you bring a car out to somewhere that you’ve never been before and you hear probably about a third of the people say ‘Wow, I didn’t even know there was still racing around here, I want to go see that’” Rottino said. “The exposure aspect of it, us as drivers for the most part, we really aren’t doing our job.
“The whole point of this is to bring fresh faces in. That’s the only way that we’re still going to be racing 10 years, or 20 years or 30 years from now. It’s all about bringing people in and we need to help ourselves and do that.”