My Trackchasing History
From the travels and adventures of the “World’s #1 Trackchaser”
I get this question a lot.
One of the questions I get most frequently is “Why trackchasing? Why do you do this?” Most of my “civilian” friends think this is a “racing only” hobby. That is not correct. Yes, I love watching racing. I’m an oval track fan. My favorite track has always been a high-banked dirt oval where stock cars or wingless sprint cars and midgets can run side by side. I’ve learned to like competitive figure 8 racing at county fairs as well.
However, there are several forms of racing I don’t care much for. Follow the leader oval racing where the fast cars start up front is a bummer. Figure 8 races that are essentially mud bogs don’t float my boat either. Finally, road courses, where the cars disappear from sight for long periods of time are real snoozers too.
However, if I had to tell you what really motivates me to trackchase as much as I do it wouldn’t be just for the racing. Equally as important, and often more motivating are the logistics of trackchasing and the travel involved. Take a look at my track list. Close your eyes and imagine what it must have taken to plan and complete some of these trips. Many times it required an overnight drive. Sometimes I would spend the night on an airport floor.
I love to travel. I never traveled any as a child. Maybe that’s why I like to travel so much today. In any given year I will travel nearly 250,000 miles. That will include staying in hotels for about 140 nights, flying on more than 200 airplanes and renting more than 50 cars every year. I don’t just do this for a year or two. I’ve been doing it for well over forty years in business and now with my trackchasing hobby.
There is a competitive aspect to trackchasing as well. I started out as a racechaser. That meant picking the races where my favorite drivers would be racing. Somewhere along the line I decided I preferred traveling to a track for the first time rather than going back for the tenth time.
Some trackchasers might dispute this but the racing part of trackchasing is all about the “counting”. Don’t listen to what they say watch what they do. Trackchasers will spend hundreds on gasoline to get to a new track located in the middle of nowhere that might offer little entertainment value. Why? So they can “count” it. If they couldn’t count it they wouldn’t go. A true trackchaser would drive right past the very best racetrack in the country and then continue another 300 miles just to get one more track added to their list.
The demographics of the normal trackchaser is most unique. Nearly every trackchaser I know is a single male or a married couple without children. When you think about that it makes all the sense in the world. It would be difficult to have a “nuclear” family life with little league games, ballet recitals, birthdays, weddings, grandkids and the like if all of your free time was spent at racetracks.
I am one of the very few trackchasers who is married with children and grandchildren. This unique situation is how Carol gained the nickname, “Trackchasing’s First Mother”. This makes trackchasing travel tricky so as not to shortchange my family. As you will see when our kids were young there wasn’t much time for trackchasing. For more than ten years, while I was coaching little league baseball and basketball I made it to only about ten tracks per year.
As our kids grew up and went off to college I still couldn’t trackchase as much as I wanted. There was no way to justify working all week and then leaving my wife behind to go trackchasing every weekend. However, in 2002 I retired. Now I could see Carol 24/7 during the week and head off for a weekend trackchasing pursuit.
Today I’ll average some 140 nights a year on the road. Carol will tag along some 60-70 nights each year. I’ll travel nearly 250,000 miles and she’ll cover about 100,000 miles every year. Most of our travel distances will be in an airplane. Our location, just 74 miles from Tijuana, Mexico is not very conducive to driving to where most of the U.S. track are located in the Midwest and East.
For me trackchasing is fun for three reasons. I like racing, I like planning the trip and I like seeing and experiencing all the fun things there are to do in the 50 states we have visited and the more than 80 countries that have accepted our passports! As long as we have health and the funds to get on down the road we’ll keep doing this.
When I first became a racing fan I didn’t even know what trackchasing was.
During these two decades I didn’t do any trackchasing to speak of. My track totals by the end of the 60s numbered about five. I spent most of my racing time at my home track the Peoria Speedway. I love the racing there. The track was a high-banked quarter-mile dirt oval still my favorite today.
My family and I would arrive before the gates opened. We would buy our tickets and scurry up to the top row to reserve our seats. Then we watched the pack the track, time trial and race three heats, a consi, semi-feature and feature event for two classes….the professionals and amateurs!
Things have changed from those days. I do my best to avoid track packing and time trials. You’ll be hard pressed to find a track that runs just two divisions. Most nowadays have 5-7 or more. During my Peoria Speedway days I knew the name, car make and number of every driver at the track. As a trackchaser often times I won’t know the name of a single driver that I will see racing that night. That’s a drawback to trackchasing.
I was busy working in the 70s. There wasn’t much time for racing.
During the 70s I began to add to my track totals by traveling all over the Midwest in search of the very best races. I began my business career on July 3, 1972. My sales territory for the Richardson-Vicks (makers of Vicks cough and cold products, Clearasil, Lavoris, etc) included Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa. Mid-week racing was hot and heavy all over Eastern Iowa during the summer. “Some how” my sales calls seemed to coincide very well with the big late model shows that Iowa is famous for. By the way, are traveling extensively in all 50 states I still maintain that Iowa has the best dirt racing of anyplace in the world.
During the 70s I graduated from college, joined the U.S. Marine Corps, got a job, was promoted from Peoria, Illinois to Cincinnati, Ohio, to Phoenix, Arizona to Mission Viejo, California and to Ridgefield, Connecticut (corporate headquarters: Wilton, Connecticut). It was a busy decade. To top it off Carol and I had three children during the 70s!
By the end of 1979 I was thirty years old. I had seen 71 tracks. During this time I never thought to record the specific dates when I first saw each of these tracks. During the 70s our “home” track moved from the Peoria Speedway (IL) to Queen City Speedway (OH) to Manzanita Speedway (AZ) to Ascot Park (CA) and finally to both the Danbury Racearena (CT) and the Orange County Fair Speedway (NY).
With a growing family there still wasn’t much time for racing.
The 80s decade would find us finally settling down compared to the 70s. In 1980 we moved from Connecticut to Illinois. In 1983 we moved from Illinois back to California where we reside today. At the beginning of the 80s our children were aged 2, 3 and 5. By the end of the decade they were 12, 13 and 15. During that time my weekends were spent going to soccer games, school plays, little league games and camping with our Starcraft popup camper. There wasn’t much time for trackchasing.
I started the decade with 71 tracks to my credit. I ended the 1980s with just 181 tracks. Being a family man I averaged a low ELEVEN tracks per year. I sometimes wonder what my track totals today might have been my “demographic” had been more consistent with my fellow trackchasing competitors. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the family life then and I love it now. I wouldn’t have given up a single Saturday or Sunday at one of the kid’s activities.
By the end of the 80s I had seen racing in 48 states and two foreign countries, Canada and Australia. I still needed to catch a race in Alaska and Rhode Island to join the “50 state club”.
There were some lean trackchasing years in the 80s. My best year was 1982 when I added 19 tracks to my list. In 1989 I added only two. Contrast that to my record-breaking year of 2005 when I saw 182 new tracks. To be accurate I was still seeing races in the 80s but more as a “racechaser” than a “trackchaser”.
Maybe I had a future in trackchasing?
At the beginning of the 90s our kids were aged 13, 14 and 16. By the end of the decade they had gone off to college (all three graduating from UCLA) and started their jobs. This freed up some time for trackchasing. However, Carol couldn’t go on every trip. I never felt comfortable working some long days and being away from home with business travel and THEN leaving Carol on the weekend to go trackchasing. It just didn’t make any sense to me to be gone from home for work during the week and then take off trackchasing on the weekend without my wife.
I began the decade with 181 tracks. By the end of 1999 I had a cumulative total of 405 lifetime tracks. During the 90s I added 224 track to my list. That’s an average of just 22 tracks each year. To some that might seem like a lot. In 1990 I saw racing at only two new tracks. Contrast these results to my post-retirement years of averaging well over 100 tracks each year. Family was as important then as it is now.
I did add Alaska to my state list which totaled 49 by the end of 1999. I was still pretty undeveloped on the foreign country front. In 1999 I made it to my third foreign country for trackchasing, the United Kingdom. I loved their racing and vowed to return again.
One of my nearly full-time hobbies is financial planning. From my late 20s I began a robust financial plan that was designed to let me retire by the time I reached forty. Carol and I came from poor families. We each paid for our college education from college jobs. Carol and I graduated with zero debt. We were married at age 23 during my 10-day leave I following Marine Corps boot camp and before I returned to active duty. We paid for 100% of our wedding. Total cost was $500 U.S. of which $200 U.S. was generated via a loan from the bank!
This made the idea of retiring by age forty a very aggressive goal. Every time we relocated with a business transfer we bought a bigger ad more expensive house. We funded our kid’s college education at UCLA in full. We were just spending money too fast to reach my goal of retiring at such an early age. I wouldn’t be able to retire at forty but following the decade of the 90s it wouldn’t be long until I achieved that goal.
Less work and more play…is a good way to live!
The first decade of the 21st century would be one of transition. I was beginning to anticipate my impending retirement at the age of 53 in 2002. In the years of 2000, 2001 and 2002 I added 61, 70 and 76 tracks. My 2001 track total was increased by ten to eighty when figure 8 tracks were added as countable tracks. Trackchasers were allowed to count all of the figure 8 tracks they had seen prior to the rule being approved. This is called “retroactive” track counting. I was not in favor of retroactive counting but had agreed to follow the rules voted on and approved by the greater trackchasing group.
During my first full year of retirement (2003) I must have still been getting used to the wonderful lifestyle of calling your own shots every day. I added only sixty tracks that year. However, during the next three years (helped along by rotator cuff surgery that limited my golf) I saw racing at new locations at a record pace. During the years 2004-2006 I saw 127, 182 and 147 tracks respectively. My total of 182 tracks in a single season still stands as the most seen by any trackchaser. No one has ever come close to seeing the 356 tracks I saw in that three year period.
In late September of 2006 good fortune came our way. Our son J.J. became a commercial pilot. With that came “sponsorship” for his parents. If we were willing to fly standby we could fly just about anytime or anywhere that we wanted. Although we were saving big money on airline tickets the real benefit was the flexibility this plan offered. If it was raining in St. Louis. we flipped a switch and went to Buffalo. For the remainder of the decade we operated under this sponsorship program.
During the years 2007-2009, I added 160, 102 and 117 new tracks. Despite having sponsorship and the ability to fly when and where we wanted my cumulative totals never approached my record years in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
However, we were able to begin traveling internationally for trackchasing. At the end of the 1999 season I had seen racing in just three foreign countries. Just a decade later, by the end of 2009, my foreign country total had zoomed to thirty-two. The more I travel to foreign places the more I enjoyed it.
I had begun the decade with 405 lifetime tracks. By the end of 2009 I had seen a somewhat surreal number of 1,517 tracks. I often tell Carol that her track total of 350 or so sounds much more realistic than my total of more than 1,500.
It’s pedal to the metal now for the “World’s #1 Trackchaser”.
I’m in the midst of the current decade. I’m still seeing lots of tracks. From 2010-2012 I saw 95, 113 and 88 tracks. For the past several years I had established goals to spend time AWAY from trackchasing. I love trackchasing on many levels. However, trackchasing every weekend when there is a track to see (like some of my fellow competitors do) leads to a very boring and non-creative lifestyle in my opinion.
My foreign trackchasing continued unabated. By mid-2013 I had seen racing in 65 different countries. Carol’s total had reached 33 countries. My passport, with 48 additional pages added, looks like a small paperback book. The number of countries, that offer countable racing, was decreasing rapidly. Nevertheless, we’ll continue traveling both domestically and internationally as often as we want.
Sometime in 2013 I expect my sponsorship status to change and become more limited. However, as you can see from my 2004-2006 non-sponsored performance I can actually see more tracks than when I have a full sponsorship. With the free time afforded by retirement and the funds from a lifetime of smart financial decisions I’ll trackchase as long as there are tracks to see.