Monday, August 24, 2009

COMMENTARY: Welcome to Devil's Bowl

-by Justin St. Louis

This Vermont Motorsports Magazine thing was created to provide fans and racers with coverage in and around Vermont, blah, blah, blah, I've said that line a million times. Saturday night I went over to Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y. to catch NASCAR's Kenny Schrader racing in the Modified class.

At one point, a friend of mine said, "Hey, let's go to Devil's Bowl tomorrow," and, although I've written about D-Bowl a bunch this year, I hadn't actually been there in about, um, 20 years, and I thought it was a good idea to see the place and give it some legit coverage for a change. Sundays had been busy for me pretty much all summer for whatever reason -- work, a couple of other races elsewhere, family commitments, whatever -- but on this particular Sunday, I was headed a couple hours south in that direction for my sister's birthday party on Lake Dunmore, and the timing of everything was pretty perfect.

Mike Bruno was at Airborne on Saturday night and we talked a few times. Bruno is a Devil's Bowl veteran, and his towing company works the wreckers at the track each week. Toward the end of the night at Airborne, I asked him what the likelyhood of me getting in at Devil's Bowl on a media credential with about 18 hours' notice would be, figuring the answer would be "not very good." But Bruno said he would talk to Bruce Richards, the promoter of the speedway, and work it out for me.

And he did. At about 4:30pm on Sunday, I got a call from Bruno; he spoke with Richards and everything was all set, which I was very appreciative of. The plan was for me to meet one of Bruno's wrecker crew guys at the back gate at 5:45 -- because Bruno himself wasn't going to be there -- and, I think, I was to meet Richards and get the pass.

That's when it all fell apart, mostly because I'm an idiot.

After leaving Lake Dunmore, I boogied down Route 7. By the time I got to Brandon, I said, "Wait, this isn't right," realizing that Devil's Bowl was on Route 22A. I quickly shuffled around and found my road map -- yeah, I don't have GPS, I'm still on an actual paper map -- and recalibrated myself to get to Route 3, then Route 4, then 22A. But by the time I got all that done and arrived at the track, it was almost 6:30. Post time was in 15 minutes.

Slightly daunted, I slinked my way up to the pit gate sign-in window, where I met Cheryl. I explained my situation and told her about VMM, but, like I had feared, it didn't work. And I wasn't going to hunt Bruce Richards down because you just don't do that to a promoter when his race is about to start. Cheryl gave me some instructions about applying for a legit credential for next time and sent me on my way.

"No big deal, thanks," I said, and headed for the grandstand ticket booth, figuring I might as well watch the races and hang out with the regulars and try to learn something about the place.

The heat racing was pretty good, especially in the Modifieds. I took a few photos, met up with a couple of Thunder Road buddies in the grandstands, took some more photos, moved around to two or three different seats, took a video or two, made notes the whole time. Then, during the third Budget Sportsman heat, I see a Rutland County sheriff walking up through the grandstands... still walking... coming down my aisle... stopping next to me.

"Sir, you need to come with me," the sheriff says.

"Excuse me?" I reply, puzzled.

"There are no cameras allowed on the property, you need to either put that in your car or leave. Please come with me."

A bit, um, what-the-helled, I oblige the officer and am escorted through the gate and into the parking lot, where I am then followed to my car as I unlock it, open the door, put my camera inside, and close and lock the door. I am then escorted back inside the grandstands by the sheriff, who makes sure I don't make a run for it and go smuggle my own camera back inside.

"You know, this is a bit ridiculous," I say.

"I'm right there with you, I think it is, too, but it's their rule and it's my job to enforce it," the sheriff replies. "There's a big sign here with all the rules."

"Yeah, I must have missed it on the way," I say, reading the sign. Boy, did I. Not really sure how I missed it, but there's a rather large sign on the fence telling me what I can't do at Devil's Bowl.

"NO BLANKETS, NO CAMERAS, NO VIDEOCAMERAS" among other things. My bad for not seeing it.

I understand the no-blankets rule, as uncomfortable as it makes my rear end sometimes. People don't need to hog a whole row of seats. That's fine.

But let me ask you this: If you had a kid racing a Mini Stock at your local short track, wouldn't you want to take a few pictures for the family scrapbook, or a video to share with the grandparents living in Florida? How unbelievably unfriendly is that for fans?

Is this rule in place to force fans to buy pictures and videos from the official track photographer and videographer? If so, that's ludicrous. You might get one or two good shots from the photographer (at a buck each, or whatever they charge), but I seriously doubt that the videographer will focus on your favorite car during the entire race. Ain't gonna happen.

VMM takes photos of events, and not necessarily always the racing. Think of the shots in the photo albums that have been posted here. Fans, crews, drivers in the pits, officials, other photographers, and really, not a whole lot of actual racing. And usually a lot of the shots posted of race cars on the track are through a fence, which, honestly, who is going to pay money for a photo with chain link in the foreground? I wouldn't, and I took the freaking photo!

Anyway, on to the racing. It was pretty good -- Devil's Bowl is a fast, fast dirt track -- and qualifying was over quick. I'm talking Mods, Budget Sportsmen, Pro Streets, Limiteds, and the Mini Stock/Duke Stock feature -- all of it -- done in 40 minutes. Things were looking good.

An announcement came over the P.A. at 7:25 that said Modified point leader Kenny Tremont had broken an engine, and that we were now at intermission time. Five minutes passed, and I got up and walked around.

Devil's Bowl has this cool interactive victory lane thing behind the grandstands where fans are able to meet feature winners and pose for photos with the winners and their cars. It's a great idea. But I counted three fans with cameras, in addition to the track photographer -- when Mini Stock winner Erika Lilly was in victory lane. Whatever. Oh, and by the way, the family sitting next to me that the sheriff walked past to speak with me earlier? Yeah, they had a big ol' blanket laid out in the stands, one that they walked through the gate with, past the same security guards that busted me for having a camera. Just sayin'.

I wasn't hungry, but I figured I'd check out the concessions. There's this funny thing they do there that, again, makes no sense to me, where you have to buy "food tickets" at a window on one side of the midway and then walk a good 25 yards to another window at the other side of the midway to order your food and redeem your tickets. Seems like a lot of wasted time to me.

Ten minutes pass. Fifteen, twenty, thirty, and then raindrops begin to fall. Finally, at 8:00 sharp, the Pro Street feature rolls out onto the track. Green flag. Then, two laps later, the red flag for rain at 8:03. As the rain picked up, I headed to the car to stay dry. At 8:13, the announcer told everyone that the program was over and to come back for double features next week.

On the way home, I began to think about that 35-minute intermission. Why was the down time almost as long as the racing the preceeded it? There wasn't any sort of entertainment or side-show, or kids' rides or anything, so what gives? There was a water truck running laps around the speedway, but it wasn't laying water down and the clay surface looked pretty good. With bad weather in the area all day, you'd think management would want to speed up the show. Hey, just one more thing I don't understand about Devil's Bowl, I guess.

The jury is still out on whether or not VMM will return to Devil's Bowl before the season is out. I think a call to track management is in order, and we'll go from there. It's not the fault of the racers or fans that my first experience there wasn't very good. Heck, for the most part, it wasn't even the track's fault, either, it was mine. We'll see. I'd like to think I can forget about this first race. I'll try.


Anonymous said...

Dude, those might be the best photos you've taken all year. Seriously.

JPiche84 said...

Well done sir! I can't believe they wouldn't allow cameras!!! That's simply irresponsible. That's probably why people in Vermont forget Devil's Bowl is there... no picture evidence to confirm. I guess they don't want to be remembered or known around the state. Honestly... get a clue Devil's Bowl... who the hell do you think you are?

Nice replications of the events, Justin. I particularly liked when the rain came down so hard the cars were practically floating.

Justin said...

Ouch, GWC. At least Pich' appreciates good art. How was the rainout at Twin Sta... I mean, Canaan?

Also, I'll be glued to the computer Tuesday and Wednesday for your NHMS stuff. Hopefully there aren't any camera cops there to bother you.

Rick said...

Great photos. Welcome to the C.V.R.A. Same rules down at Albany-Saratoga. They had the food coupons way back in the late 70s early 80s when C.J. ran Airborne.
That being said. The racing on the C.V.R.A. is great especially at A-S. Its well worth the trip and the rules.

crashdamage1957 said...

I'm grinning ear to ear reading this. Dont get me wrong, I'm a DB fan and ive attended every race there this year, but all the observations that you gleaned from your first night there in 20 years are so spot on it isnt even funny. I love the racing, but the ideosyncracies you note are indeed a bit puzzling from the perspective as a paying customer. For a place that in many ways really does put the fans first, the descision making process ( or lack there of )that leads to the such unfriendly contradictions and inconsistencies boggle the mind. No bringing food or drink, obvious one there which you pegged, seems a petty way to get folks to patronize track conncessions to satisfy hunger or quench a thirst. I find the silly food ticket thing to be such a bother ,but we fans let it slide, perhaps its somehow more efficient to do it that way, tho its not re ally clear to me.But, then again, think of the bright side; the dude with his hands all over your track food hasn't also just handled money. i dont eat junk food anyway,so personally i just fast for the 3.5 hours that im there.I also find that your suspision of a link between the mechanical woes of the current point leader and the extra long intermission period may indeed be valid. perhaps the same would have been done for the guy who is 9th in points had it happend to him instead, but i doubt it.

Having said all that....I for one am planning a retun next Sunday nite to catch the held- over double features and the empire lightning mini sprints, becasue I must admit, i always leave the place with a smile on my face put there by seeing the great racing that the teams put out on the track.