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Car and fan turnout irks Erie GM

Brian Campbell of Grand Rapids, Mich., won the first ever Mid Atlantic Asphalt Racing Alliance (MAARA) Hamot 200 Saturday night at Lake Erie Speedway in North East, Pa. The question now is, will there be a second edition of this event at the track next season?

While Campbell was a happy victor, reeling in $10,500 in purse and lap money, Lake Erie General Manager Joe Lewandoski was less then jovial and has put the race's future on hold. He expressed disappointment with both the car count and poor fan attendance.

Forty-two MAARA Late Models were on hand. In the days leading up to the race, Lewandoski forecast that 50-55 cars would participate. He based his hope on the large, $55,000 purse he was paying including $5,000 to the winner. An additional $10,500 was up for grabs in lap sponsorship money; just to take the green flag was worth $800.

The race drew only 1,897 in a facility that seats almost 6,000.

"I'm very disappointed with the car count," said Lewandoski. "When we're paying $800 to start the race and we paid all the non-qualifiers $250 for a one-day show, it's disappointing. Especially when the top 13 in Late Model points from Lancaster [Lancaster Raceway Park] don't even come down and basically no cars from Motordrome [Pittsburgh] came. Between those two tracks, there's probably 35 eligible cars that could have come and raced with us."

Some observers felt 42 cars was a great field when one considers that this area does not have as many Late Model teams in competition as there once was. Many of the drivers in Saturday's field came from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Lewandoski clearly felt the event was less than successful.

Lewandoski directed most of his ire at the Lancaster teams, saying that some of these teams did not come because of tire brand. Lancaster racers use American Racer tires, while Lake Erie racing rules require Hoosier tires. Lewandoski feels that Lancaster drivers didn't want to have to buy up to six Hoosier tires.

Lake Erie also may have shot itself in the foot when it made a late rule change last week, requiring teams using Ford engines to add 100 more pounds to their car weights and also to make some rocker arm adjustments. Todd Hoddick, a Lancaster racer, who was fifth in MAARA points, was a no-show at Lake Erie because, according to his father and car owner, Trey Hoddick, there was not enough time to make the changes to their car.

"We tested three GM crate motors and one Ford on the dyno and we found the Ford motor does significantly higher rpm then the other motors," Lewandoski explained. "So we made the change and then ultimately after the practice . . . we took 50 pounds off the penalty and the Fords only had to run 50 pounds heavier . . . in the race."

There also was a $125 entry fee for each car and pit passes were $50 each. Lewandoski said these fees were needed to make the event profitable as these numbers were figured on a business model of 50-55 cars.

"My problem now is that my track owner is going to come to me and say, 'Hey Joe, we can pay a $15,000 purse and get 35 to 40 cars instead of paying $55,000 to get 42 cars,' " said Lewandoski. "Heck, we're getting for our weekly Late Model shows here each week between 28-30 cars and that's only an $8,000 purse.

"I cannot look my track owners straight in the face and say that we need to try this race again next year. If it were my money, I wouldn't do it. My staff and I worked our butts off to try to make this race a success."

Campbell survived an early race lead-swapping duel with Glenn Gault Jr. of Hubbard, Ohio as well as stiff challenges from Mark Bliss of Arcade in the waning laps to score the win. Bliss placed second, pocketing $3,605 with Eden's George Skora III finishing third, earning $2,110.

e-mail: lawrence_o_14075@yahoo.com

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