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Little Valley throws red flag on 2018 season

For the 20 years since Little Valley Speedway reopened for dirt-track racing the fast one half-mile course has been promoted as "the track where the bold and the best come to race." That has changed. The track is now where the bold and best no longer race. At least for now.

Little Valley Speedway is located on the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds and promoted by that fair board and their president John Charlesworth. Last week, the fair board announced through their website in a one-line statement that "Little Valley Speedway will not be racing in 2018."

Several factors, most revolving around diminishing profits over the last few seasons, played a part in the decision. The fair board is taking a year off from racing and spending the next several months reevaluating the local racing climate to see if it feasible to reopen in 2019.

"Not racing in 2018 was a hard decision to make," Charlesworth said. "The first 10 years we made good money then it started going downhill five or six years ago, not just the last year or two."

Charlesworth offered many reasons as to why Little Valley has gone silent. When promoters run race programs, like any other business, they match their revenues against their expenses and hope for a profit. When profits go down or fail to exist, the track is often imperiled.

Little Valley is not alone in its plight as many speedways in the Northeast are suffering and are either closing, up for sale or cutting back on the number of scheduled races they will run this season mainly due to but not limited to fading public interest Also, the expense of fielding race cars has become too expensive for local teams who mostly race as hobbyists.

Charlesworth is not happy with the way Little Valley's once healthy car counts have dwindled on most race nights over the last few seasons. The drop-off varies per division.

Promoters depend on good car counts. Race teams pay pit and entry fees to participate in a night of racing at a local track such as Little Valley. This is refereed to in racing as the back-gate money revenue. Generally the more cars in attendance the more back-gate money is earned. Fewer cars can lead to financial troubles.

"We don't have the cars we used to," Charlesworh said. "In our early years when we had the 360 Late Models or Super Stocks as they were known back then at one time there were 130 teams competing across the region. Of course we didn't get them all at the same track on the same night but we had at least around 30 or so at our races here. That was our staple class because we always got a lot of cars. Then they disappeared. That hurt. We don't have nearly as many E-Mods around as we once did."

The Super Late Models have been Little Valley's headlining class for the last several years and due to driver retirements, high cost, drivers entering the less expensive Crate Late Model class and other factors, there are not a great deal of Super Late Models left in competition compared to several years ago. Little Valley once on average drew 25 or more Super Late Models per race and the average has been between 14-18 cars the last few seasons.

"The first night I ran Super Late Models here many years ago, I offered a total $5,600 payout and got 35 Late Models," Charlesworth said. "Last season, I offered a $12,000 payout and got 14-18. That tells you everything you need to know about the difference in today's Super Late Model racing."

It should be noted that Stateline Speedway in Busti as well as the ULMS series still manage to get respectable fields of Super Late Models at times.

"There are too many divisions in local racing now compared to years ago," Charleworth said. "Every time you create a new class you ruin it. You're basically not increasing the number of cars and drivers racing. All you're doing is splitting up drivers you have already racing."

Little Valley crowds have become progressively smaller the last few seasons. When grandstand crowds get smaller so too does the revenue from ticket sales, referred to as front-gate money.

"Eight years ago or something like that we'd fill the grandstand full every time" Charlesworth said. "Our covered grandstand holds 2,500 and with our auxiliary bleachers it was nothing to have between 2,500 and 3,000 fans here each race. Now we're lucky to get in 1,200 to 1,500 if that. I think interest in local racing especially among young people is lacking all over racing."

Little Valley runs only special-event racing, usually scheduling about four races on average each of the last several seasons. A high percentage of those events have rained out in recent years.

As head off a special-event-only track, Charlesworth has found it increasingly difficult to book quality race dates while trying to avoid scheduling conflicts with other local tracks that run pretty much weekly competition.

He also has to find racing dates that don't conflict with the many other non-racing events that take place at the fairgrounds, particularly the annual Cattaraugus County Fair.

"We've booked four races a year and I don't think we've gotten anymore then half the races in the last two or three years," Charlesworth said of his weather woes. "This year I did try to work in some races but I had to pick and choose and try to fit in races but it's hard to get the dates - at least dates that are any good. There is also 35 days this year where we have non-racing events at the fairgrounds. These events are profitable and nowhere near as expensive or time consuming to put on compared to the racing. They make a good profit with a lot less work."

Charlesworth says that Little Valley cannot reopen unless a new clay surface can be laid around the entire track.

Little Valley's ultimate fate will be decided in the months ahead.

"No matter what happens, for many years we've had a good ride," Charlesworth said.

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