With weekly car counts on the decline in both the WISSOTA Late Model and FASTRAK Late Model divisions, Shawano Speedway will be dropping both sanctions. Both Late Model divisions will be combined and race under WDLMA-type rules.
The premier Late Model division at Shawano Speedway has been raced under the WISSOTA sanction since the mid-1990s. The Limited Late Model division took on the FASTRAK sanction several years ago. Both moves brought an increase in car counts, only to see those counts drop in recent years.
“It was obvious that both classes were not gaining any cars,” said Dale Hodkiewicz, race director of Shawano Speedway. “If there were cars that were going to be leaving one division to move to the other one, how many were going to be left? It was time to make a change in order for the Late Model class to survive. Change is tough for everybody. People don’t like to see change but it needed to be done.”
The WDLMA-type rules will allow different types of engines to compete in one division. The cars will be equalized by weight and spoiler height rules. “Open” engines will be required to run a restrictor plate.
Hodkiewicz said this will allow drivers from both the WISSOTA and FASTRAK divisions to compete in one division without the drivers having to buy new equipment.
“Does that mean the equipment they put together puts them in first place in the race? I don’t know that. None of us know that,” Hodkiewicz said.
The change has received some criticism on the Internet. Some from FASTRAK drivers stating they can’t compete even with the rules to try to equalize the cars. And some from those unhappy open engines will have to run a restrictor plate.
“We’re hoping that it’s going to be a positive thing,” Hodkiewicz said. “I guess it’s a wait and see. I see it as being positive no matter what negative activity is out there [now]. Again, some of the negative stuff that I’ve heard, it’s individuals that it’s a me, me for them. I have to look at the whole program. I have to look at the whole division. What kind of entertainment value we can put on the track. I can’t look at just one individual.”
Hodkiewicz said that since Shawano Speedway is a half-mile track, it makes it more difficult to equalize the cars.
“That’s why you have to put a restrictor plate on an open motor,” Hodkiewicz said. “Why would you let them out there against somebody who doesn’t have one (open motor)? What competition would that be? What value to the fans would that be?
“That’s basically what WDLMA was doing with spoiler heights and weight, trying to make it somewhat equal. That’s what we are doing too, but we have a half-mile track, we don’t have a small track. If you want to have drag races down the front straightaway, then we might as well go down to Kaukauna and watch drag racing.”
Hodkiewicz said the track has been trying to get input from drivers for a couple of years. For the past two years the track has held a meeting with the Late Model drivers, but he said not much was accomplished because drivers want rules that benefit their racing program.
“I looked at it after it was done and I thought, ‘You know, if you belong to WISSOTA, or you belong to IMCA, how many drivers had input to those rules?’ Those associations set the rules,” Hodkiewicz said. “We spent hours going over this stuff. We feel that the rules that we got, everybody’s equipment that they had last year, they can run with it. Nobody is shut out. They can run here. They can go run WISSOTA if they want. They can go run Manitowoc or Plymouth. We opened the rules up enough that it’s viable for other drivers to come to us.”
This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. Hodkiewicz said a lot of research went into the decision, including contacting engine builders and track promoters in the area and out of state. This included tracks that currently require some of their Late Models to run a restrictor plate. He said he also obtained input from some drivers.
Bill Behling, who was instrumental in the formation of WDLMA, was also consulted. Behling passed away since that time.
Hodkiewicz said Behling told him the speedway may have to tweak the rules once in awhile. Before tweaking the rules, though, Hodkiewicz said Behling told him to give the rules a chance until it is known where they should be tweaked or how it should be done.
“If you read the rules package it does state in there that the track can make adjustments,” Hodkiewicz said. “… I’m not going to jump to adjustments in one week.”
Hodkiewicz said he understands this is a big change, but he hopes everyone will give it a chance.
The speedway was in a similar situation in the early 2000s when it replaced the Hobby Stock division with the IMCA Stock Car division. Initially this change received some negative feedback. Now, the IMCA Stock Car division is one of the strongest divisions at the speedway.
“People have to understand that anytime there is change there is heartache,” Hodkiewicz said. “This isn’t the first change at the race track. We start the SportMods. We were the only track in the state of Wisconsin with SportMods. Look where that went. We’ve done some positive things. We tried Fastrak. It just didn’t take off. It was a worse island than WISSOTA was.”
With the Late Model change, the payout for the Late Model division has also changed. The Late Model feature will now pay $1,000-to-win. Hodkiewicz said the payout was increased throughout the field.