Buoyed by a wave of momentum created by capital improvements and a commitment to local drag racers, officials at Empire Dragway in Leicester are eager for the 2019 drag racing season to begin.
"We're concentrating on our local bracket racers," said Patrick Budd, who is in his third season as general manager at Empire. "This is not a huge metropolitan area that can host multiple mid-level shows and have real successful attendance. We're just not a huge market, but if we treat our local bracket racers right, and we have some unique events for racers in class racing and then race some heads' up stuff sprinkled in, that's our season."
Opening day is scheduled for April 27, with the test and tune class that weekend. The first full program points day is scheduled for May 4. The schedule runs through the final points race Oct. 5, with the final test and tune Oct. 26. There could be some revisions, but Budd said the schedule is largely set. The full calendar is available at empiredragway.com.
Empire is a one-quarter mile strip that also hosts shorter one-eighth mile competitions on occasion.
"Our test and tune Friday nights this year has a new class, Strictly Street, that seems to be picking up," Budd said. "You've got to have an inspection sticker and be a real street car. So our Friday programs are run on the quarter-mile and our Saturday points programs are on the one-eighth mile. To that end, we have 750 feet of virtually perfectly flat concrete that we added to and massaged last year at a huge expense. But what we've now got is a track that is really consistent and one of the faster tracks in the east."
Budd raced at Empire from 1988 to 2010 and said insuring the track's success pushes him.
"I wasn't a normal weekly racer there, but the place means a lot to me from a long time ago," he said. "I went from driver to team owner to track administration along the way. ... If you're going to have any kind of longevity in this career, you'll eventually have to move over to the administrative side. Plus, I was not talented enough as a driver to cut my own path that way. Now I like track prep and administration."
For the last few decades, Empire has been one of two local drag strips to run within an hour of Buffalo proper. The other has been Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway. With Lancaster owner Gordon Reger not planning to open Lancaster this season unless the track is sold, Empire might be the only place to watch drag racing in the area this season.
Traditionally, Lancaster runs its weekly points shows on Fridays and Empire races point shows on Saturdays. Budd said that it will not be good for anyone, including Empire, if Lancaster is closed.
"We're just trying to serve the market properly," Budd said. "It's not good when a track closes and if you work for another facility, you don't look at that closure as a positive. It's truly a negative because there's less opportunity for the racers to do their thing. So when people start coming to Empire, it's a little different. We race on Saturday instead of Friday but we're going to do everything we can to make sure that anyone that is displaced feels that this is their new home.
"We hope that Lancaster runs because a stronger racing market is better for everyone. The after-market businesses sell more parts when people are out there racing more often. People are buying new trucks and trailers, which allows the car dealers and trailer salesmen to do better business as well. The health of area drag racing is the No. 1 thing. If it should happen that we're the only game in town, we feel that we're ready for it. We have a large enough facility and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that everybody feels like they've got a home, not just a track.
"I'm extremely lucky as an employee and I really mean this, to work for (Empire owner Jerry Scaccia). It's not often that you get the opportunity to try to drive a place to be successful rather then just trying to see a place break even."
On the radio
Beginning Saturday, local racing media personality Dave Sully hosts "The Speedway Report" at 8:30 a.m. on WWKB 1520-AM, during the Dr. Jay Richards Show.
Also on the air, race announcer/media relations official Dave Buchanan hosts "Fast Track" at 11 a.m. Sundays on WGR 550-AM.
Ransomville Speedway is doing something unique this season by naming a racing event after a fan. The "Super Fan" Joseph Scholtisek Special, a DIRT.car 358 Modified $2,000-to-win event, is scheduled for July 12. The event is a living tribute to Scholtisek, who attended multiple races over many years throughout the country and considers Ransomville his "home track."
In 2013, Scholtisek logged 18,470 miles to attend 134 race events and was named that year's National Speed Sport News Gary Jacobs Super Fan of The Year. Multiple health issues have restricted his racing travels since.