Lake Erie Speedway General Manager Joe Lewandoski is expecting big things from the local asphalt Late Model teams this weekend. So he's putting a lot of money behind the Mid-Atlantic Asphalt Racing Alliance (MAARA) Hamot 200 presented by the Local Dodge Dealers on Saturday.
Lewandoski believes that local teams will respond to the big bucks he has laid on the line. A total purse of $55,000 will be paid, including $5,000 to the winner. Each driver will receive $800 just to take the green flag. An additional $10,500 will be distributed in lap money, including $500 for lap 100. A B-Main will also be run.
"This race is the biggest asphalt Late Model race in the history of Western New York, Northwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio and even up into Ontario," said Lewandoski. "Last fall when we were planning our schedule for this season we decided not to try to get a NASCAR Busch East Series race but rather give this kind of money to our local guys."
All this comes with a warning to local drivers. "I expect at least 50 cars for this event from as far away as Michigan. If the drivers don't support this race, they'll never see it again," Lewandoski said.
He has been at the helm of Lake Erie since January 2005 after his predecessor Todd Melfi, Lake Erie's original General Manager, was fired. This $11 million facility -- located just an hour south of Buffalo, five miles off of Interstate 90 in the Erie, Pa., hamlet of Northeast -- has been in existence since 2002.
When Lewandoski arrived about 13 Late Model cars competed there each week and crowds were poor. He is on the way to correcting these problems.
Car counts for weekly Late Model shows this season at Lake Erie have been good. The lowest car count has been 26 with some nights finding 31 in competition. Lewandoski says a fair purse along with common rules developed among tracks have helped.
Also, Lake Erie has had bigger crowds this year with nearly 6,000 fans attending on July 7.
"It's coming but it will take time to grow the fan base," says Lewandoski. "On Kwik-Fill Night, July 7, Kwik-Fill bought all the race tickets and then distributed these tickets free to customers. It was a win-win for us, Kwik-Fill and the fans who got to see a good race program for free.
"Our problem continues to be that 60 per cent of our weekly racers come from out of town and this is hard when the rule is that more local cars equal more local fans.
"I also need to get the couch potato NASCAR fans out of their living rooms and watch a live race event here instead of on television."
Lewandoski is spending a lot of money to lure them out of their houses by bringing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to meet fans and sign autographs at Lake Erie on Aug. 18. Lake Erie seats 5,895 and also has many hospitality suites. Currently 3,500 tickets at $30 apiece have been sold for Earnhardt Night and 700 hospitality tickets have been sold as well. NASCAR stars Kenny Schrader and Kenny Wallace will also appear with Earnhardt. Two other NASCAR drivers may be added.
"The Dale Earnhardt Jr. appearance will be the biggest day yet for Lake Erie's history and we hope for the best also for the Hamot 200," Lewandoski said. "With the money on the line this Saturday for the Hamot 200, the number of cars that should be here and hopefully the fans, this will be a big step in making Lake Erie grow big-time."
Advance sale tickets for the Hamot 200 are available at $15 presale by calling 1-866-LES-RACE. The grandstands open Saturday at 4 p.m. At 4:15, five 20-lap Late Model heats are scheduled with the top- five from each to qualify for the Hamot 200.
At 6, two 20-lap consolation races will be run with the top five from each also making the race. The 50-lap B-Main will commence at 6:50 with the winner to be the last qualifier for the race. The Hamot 200 goes green at 8:35 with a large field of 36 cars. Three other classes will round out Saturday's card. Fireworks conclude the evening.
*Erick Rudolph, 16, continues to be one of the most outstanding younger talents to race in this area. Last Sunday he won the Sunoco Race of Champions Modified Tour event at Wyoming County International Speedway.
*Winners in a rain-delayed show Sunday evening at Lancaster Raceway Park were: Mark Bliss, Late Model, (subbing for Bobby Weber); Mark Hoch, Street Stocks (subbing for Jeff Madill); Frank Battista Jr., Super Stocks; Brandon Hirsch, 4-Cylinders; and Tom MacLeod, SST Sportsman.
*Little Valley's rained out Saturday program has been rescheduled for Sept. 7. Rain checks can be used either at the Sept. 7 make-up date or at the Empire Super Sprint Special on Aug. 26.
*Holland Speedway is admitting any woman to its All-Division Mid-Season Championships this Saturday for just $1.