At the midway point of the 2018 season at Freedom Motorsports Park, owner/promoter Bob Reis was contemplating whether he had enough financial reserves and personal momentum to finish the year at the Delevan dirt track.
Plagued with smaller fields of cars and weak attendance on most nights, Reis was trying to find a solution that would lead to greater prosperity. He knew there had to be an answer so he played a hunch.
Reis changed the headlining class to the Super Late Models for 2019 and the early returns look promising after two races.
Reis, who purchased Freedom in 2015, launched an experiment of sorts in 2016 by running occasional Super Late Model specials sprinkled in among the weekly non-Super Late Model races. The Super Late Model events have produced the biggest crowds, nearing the grandstand capacity of 1,000 and many more fans than the weekly non-Super Late Model headlined races.
"I've been doing these Super Late Model races as specials since 2016," Reid said. "I did one the first year, then we had three the next year and I upped it to four last year. I did not have one bad Super Late Model show. The grandstand crowds were good.
"The area was telling me that they all want to see the Super Late Models. These first couple weeks are proving that. I dabbled with the Super Late Models the last three years and now I've dove into them full time."
In the past two years, Reis has featured the Outlaw Modifieds as his premier weekly class with an average of 12 cars at each event. When the Outlaw Modifieds raced at Freedom, the grandstand was rarely filled to more than half of capacity.
During this offseason, Reis decided to oust the Outlaw Modifieds and anoint the Super Late Models as the regular premier division at Freedom. The track had 14 Super Late Models and a half-filled grandstand opening night May 17, but when the popular ULMS Super Late Models arrived there May 24 for the Ron Baker Memorial, 19 cars made the call and the grandstand was full.
"Changing to the Super Late Models this season is probably the best thing I've ever done," Reis said. "The opening week this year ended up being a rain-out make-up race. We had soft grounds due to the rain along with a sketchy weather forecast for that night and we had a pretty good grandstand and a decent car count. I wouldn't say it was over the top, but I would say for a new weekly class it was OK. Then May 24, we had the ULMS show and we added five more cars to the count. The stands were absolutely packed.
"It wasn't the highest attended show that I've had but it was within 50 or 60 people of it. The back gate was huge. That's what this place needs all the time. Our second week this season, every one of our classes had almost double of what we had the first week this season. We had 90 cars total for the five classes combined on May 24.
Reis also said he's filling a void for Super Late Model fans because two of the more prominent tracks that featured Super Late Models, Little Valley Speedway and McKean County Raceway in East Smethport, Pa., are no longer open for racing. Stateline Speedway in Busti continues to be a hotbed for Super Late Model racing on Saturday evenings.
"A lot of the guys that race Super Late Models at Freedom on Friday nights also race with the ULMS," Reis said.
Reis also has cut the number of shows to 10 after running 14-17 shows per season in the past.
"I'm happy with the shorter schedule," Reis said. "If you look around many racetracks are not adding races but rather trimming them down. There's a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar and I think actually doing less races but making them a little bit bigger events with a little more people every time you do a race is more economically feasible than trying to run a 16 or 18 race season.
"For the rest of the season, I'm just going to follow through with my original plan. I'm just going to concentrate on what will make Freedom better and not worry about what the other tracks are doing and just run our program. As far as the rest of the season, there's two or three more Super Late Model teams that weren't even ready yet.
"I think our Super Late Model car count will settle out in the high teens. It's taken me the five years that I've been here to make the Super Late Models a permanent fixture at Freedom, but I think this is going to do it now."
The BEI Lightning Sportsman Series joins the Super Late Models at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Freedom.