Lake Erie Speedway is not exactly a stone's throw from Buffalo. It's location in Northeast, Pa., just off Interstate 90 near Erie, makes it accessible to this area's fans and competitors.
Does this NASCAR-sanctioned asphalt track that is enjoying it's 10th anniversary have a connection to the Buffalo area?
"Definitely yes," said Branden Kaczay, the track's vice president of business operations. "Last year we drew the largest average crowds in our history for our weekly stock car shows of about 4,000 fans per week, and, so far this season, we are currently on pace to break that due to the fact we're getting an average of 4,500.
"We've discovered that for the last two seasons about 35 percent of the cars on average per show in our parking lot have New York State plates. I believe it follows that most come from the western part of New York."
Car counts are improved at Lake Erie and more Buffalo area drivers compete during the season at Lake Erie then in the past.
When the track's premier division, the NASCAR Late Models, run a 75-lapper, the car count overall is nearly 30 with almost 10 from Western New York competing. When a regular 40-lap event is run, Kaczay admits that the count shrinks to about 15 overall on average with a few from this area participating.
"We do get less cars for our 40-lappers but it only makes sense that we're going to get more cars for the longer distance races because drivers get to use their equipment for more laps, making a 75-lapper more worthwhile for them and also the purse is bigger along with the prestige that goes with winning a longer distance event," Kaczay said.
Kaczay has been on the Lake Erie staff since the track was constructed in 2002 and has held his current position since 2008. He remembers when the speedway drew very few fans and cars, but he says that a work-in-progress marketing plan has made them more successful.
"You know that just because we built a $12 million facility here does not automatically mean the fans and drivers will come," said Kaczay. "For a long time they didn't. We knew that it would be tough because we built an asphalt track right in the middle of an area where dirt track racing has been successful for years.
"We decided that instead of being a motorsports facility, we'd take the approach that we are a motorsports entertainment facility. Call it the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) approach. We have good racing here but we mix pyrotechnics, music and special effects into all of our shows.
"When the cars come out to race we have flames shooting off the backstretch wall and flashes and fireworks and other special effects. Each division has a theme song that blast on the p.a. When cars get up to speed, that sensation just adds to it.
"We built a 3,500-square foot Kid's Zone play area. We like the die-hard race fans and we like to please them but that's not our main concern. We really try hard, instead, to create an atmosphere to capture the casual fan, who is not necessarily a race fan but rather just looking to be entertained. Once they see the fast cars it gives them the total package. Every race night concludes with a big fireworks show which is very important."
Speaking of fireworks, Kyle and Kurt Busch have been known to create a few of their own in the NASCAR world and both will appear at Lake Erie on Saturday. Kurt will sigh autographs and race announce while Kyle will sign autographs and race in the NASCAR Late Model race.
"In July of 2010, I went to Delaware Speedway in Canada to promote our track and Kyle Busch was making an appearance there that night," Kaczay recalled. "I met him and talked with his rep from his marketing group that night and in the months ahead we began to communicate about the possibility of bringing Kyle to Lake Erie and we also decided why not get Kurt too."
Discount advanced sale tickets to the Busch brothers appearance are available by calling (814) 725-3303.
Elsewhere, the McKean County Raceway in East Smethport, Pa., hosted the very popular traveling World of Outlaws Late Model Series last Wednesday night, and the event was a big success.
A solid field of Late Models was on hand and the event was enjoyed by perhaps the largest crowd in track history which included several Buffalo area fans.
It was just a few weeks ago that the World of Outlaws was booked into McKean and the speedway management team of Rod Biehler, Ken Leet, Tom Gleason and Rich Yeager and their officials did a great job of planning and executing the event.
This foursome has proved to be very capable promoters. McKean has been thriving with much success the last few seasons.