In this column I'll try to give fans a glimpse of the goings on at the short tracks in the Western Pennsylvania area, particularly the greater Pittsburgh region. My home track is Lernerville Speedway. I previously have written a column for a print publication in the Pittsburgh area called Motorsports Fan Report. I have covered dirt and asphalt, NASCAR to go-carts and everything in between. Through my writing I have met some of the nicest people anywhere. My traveling partner to the races is my young son (we let mom come sometimes too!), so I often write from a fan in the grandstands point of view. I hope what you read here will entice you to visit some of our many tracks in Western Pennsylvania.
Rweb Note: You may reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miley Motorsports and PPMS: Year One
By Jim Zufall
With ESPN2 cameras rolling the 17th annual version of Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway’s Pittsburgher 100 took to the track Sunday, September 18, 2005. Gone was the World of Outlaws Late Model Series of last season; in was the Lucas Oil Late Model Series. Gone was the 40 Lap Friday/60 Lap Saturday format; in was the old familiar 100 laps of green flag racing on Sunday evening to cap off the three day weekend that ends the PPMS season.
When Donny Moran passed under the checkered flag to take home the $22,000 winners share of the Pittsburgher, it marked the end of the first season of Miley Motorsports not only promoting, but also owning “Dirt’s Monster Half Mile”.
Going back to the close of the 2004 Pittsburgher, many thought it would be the end of the road for the Miley family’s involvement in the Imperial, PA racetrack. But several months and lots of speculation later, Miley Motorsports began the 2005 season as the new owners of the facility that they had leased for so many years.
Red Miley took the time on Sunday, September 18, just before the B-mains of the 17th annual Pittsburgher took to the track to talk about the first year, his expectations and disappointments of the 2005 season, as well as the future of the facility.
“I think it’s been a very trying year at best,” said Miley about the first season. “From 2004 into 2005 we had the floods at our primary business, the auto service business last fall. Then to get into this whole issue of purchasing the speedway and to get that matter cleared up. So it really is a distraction from your primary focus of your business. From that standpoint it’s made it a little more difficult."
“But the positive side, the racing program I think has been excellent this year at Pennsylvania Motor Speedway; I mean full fields of cars in most divisions, exciting racing. So from the fan perspective I think it’s been a great year. And with this field of cars here today for the Pittsburgher; I mean there’s 52 cars and there isn’t a slouch in the group. It’s exciting to see that. When you face some of the problems with the economy that everybody’s facing; with gas prices, the pressures you have for the entertainment dollar we’re up against in motorsports. And we’re working at that, both here and Motordrome Speedway."
“The Miley’s have that slow, consistent approach to things; the tortoise wins the race type approach. Take your time work it through and try to make decisions that will work. Everybody has their opinion and today here at the Pittsburgher I’ve gotten to hear a lot of them (laughs). But the fans pay their dollar; they’re entitled to have their opinion. We’re happy to see the season end from the perspective that we have a chance to really improve everything for 2006.”
As the process of taking ownership of the track went on well into the late winter and early spring, Miley Motorsports had very little time to make many improvements before the season started in 2005. Now with a full off-season in front of them, Miley spoke to some of the changes fans can expect to see when they come through the gates in April 2006. “I think they’ll see a cleaner, sharper facility, you know we’re working on painting. The first things we went after were infrastructure issues, you know with the buildings, roofs, things like that that hadn’t been repaired for a while. I think primarily they’ll see cosmetic improvements initially right now. Rebuilding and fixing things; wiring and plumbing. The kind of infrastructure issues that really make things work smooth on a race night that you don’t see. So I think that’s the primary focus."
“And certainly on the competition side, it’s very important to us. The new Young Guns class; we’re very excited about Young Guns. Trying to get the young people involved in racing; age 13-19. Over at Motordrome Speedway we have the same thing in the American Flyers; four cylinder American cars. I think we’re going to work hard to develop that class next year."
“Over at Motordrome Speedway on the asphalt it looks like we’re finally going to have a standardized crate motor for the Late Model division at five racetracks should really help competition there also."
The new Young Guns division has raised a few eyebrows over safety issues. The concept of teenagers, most too young to have a driver’s license, racing in a full bodied race car has brought on more than a few questions about safety. So why not a Bandolero type car? Or perhaps Micro Sprint? It all comes down to cost explains Miley: “They’re cheaper. Plain and simple economics. You can put together a four cylinder American race car for probably under two grand. And you look at Go-Karts and Bandoleros and all that kind of thing, you’re talking about four to ten grand. So we’re trying to find something that’s affordable. And we’re even looking into ideas to get them built. One of the problems facing the kids is a place to build these things. So we’re looking at ideas for that too. We’re even talking about storing the cars at the race track. So if they don’t have a place to store them at home, we’ll give them a place to put the car. We think it’s really important to work with the next generation of race fans and competitors right now.”
As far as long range plans for the speedway, Miley candidly admits that financial concerns are at the heart of how quickly and to what degree the facility improvements occur. “Obviously it’s all about money. And we are a small business, so depending on what help we get to try to do things; take a look at the grandstands, I mean you’re looking at a million dollars right now. That’s a big number for a small business.
“On the plus side, I think that Pennsylvania Motor Speedway and Motordrome Speedway are two of the finest places to watch racing anywhere. I mean there’s not a bad seat in the house, they’re big wide open facilities. And that’s a great plus for the race fans. So we want to capitalize on what we have here. We’re interested a party pavilion here at Pittsburgh similar to what we have at Motordrome.”
Since Red Miley purchased Motordrome Speedway, the NASCAR sanctioned half mile asphalt in Smithton PA a few years ago, the two facilities have become more like sister tracks than their differing track surfaces might otherwise suggest. “You might notice we talk about the two speedways together; because we look at them very much that way. We as a family are working to make both speedways improve; one Friday night, one Saturday night; and try to be able to cross promote them. We pretty much have Western Pennsylvania covered with that kind type of marketing.”
So what of the rumors that after the Miley family purchased PPMS that Motordrome would be sold? “The question always is ‘Is Motordrome for sale?’ I’ve always said you put the right pencil to it, anything’s for sale. You’re a business person. I love racing, but also if the number is right; someone said to me, ‘You know Red would you sell the speedway?’ I said ‘Yeah, I probably would sell it.’ You know I said it in a joking manner, but it got carried away here a little bit this year. The bottom line is in my business career I’ve sold several businesses where the right situation came up. And you have to look at that."
“We are ultimately in everything we’ve done in it for the long term. Our track record says that. Everybody has a quick fix for this or that, but we have to think of the big picture all the time. And we certainly want to listen to what people are saying. They are the paying customer, and as I said earlier they have the right to have their ten cents. But we have to do what’s prudent from a business standpoint, because that’s exactly what it is, and entertainment business that we’re working at.”
Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway will open for the 2006 season in early April.