May 19, 2017 12:01:32 AM
By DAVID MILLER
Special to The Dispatch
Rod Taylor has experienced the peaks and valleys of managing a racetrack in just a few short months.
Taylor, who manages Columbus Speedway, has had one race washed out and a World of Outlaws show pulled and moved to another track. He's had nights where car counts have reached the mid 70s, and other nights when roughly 30 show.
And each Friday night has presented different challenges in track preparation.
Ahead of tonight's $5 fan appreciation schedule, though, it's "so far, so good," Taylor said.
"Overall, we've had some great racing and some good close racing in all divisions," Taylor said. "Track prep has been a learning curve, and that will continue throughout the summer months. We're just trying to weather all of the graduations this month."
Taylor said the month of May challenges track promoters because end-of-school activities negatively affect car counts. Plus, Market Street Festival takes place in May, which impacts scheduling for both Columbus and Magnolia Motor Speedway, though Taylor scheduled a race on Friday night.
Car counts have also been impacted by low turnout in NeSmith-sanctioned races, from Late Models to Street Stocks and 602 Sportsman, Taylor said. But it hasn't been exclusive to Columbus, which is one of just a few tracks that run on Fridays.
"From the emails I've read and what (Magnolia owner) Johnny Stokes and I have talked about, there just haven't been a lot of cars showing up," Taylor said. "For a lot of people, they're just now getting their cars together. Chance Inmon won (602) at Magnolia last week, and that was his first time out there.
"You also got a lot of tracks opening up that are experiencing low car-counts, like North Alabama that just opened up ... they had 12 or 13 cars overall at their last show."
Taylor said the ideal car count for a weekly show is in the 60s, and he's confident Columbus will meet that average this season. The slate is buoyed by the recent addition of the Late Model Stock division, which adds between seven and 10 cars each night.
To aid in raising car counts, Taylor said he will begin offering double-points nights for NeSmith division in the coming weeks to help compensate for recent rain-outs at Columbus and other tracks.
"We'll run two features for each of the divisions and will probably break it up and do it three separate races because of the expense," Taylor said. "We've also had folks calling from Culman and Decatur telling me they're coming over tomorrow night. We had some cars from Talladega because of a rain out over there. They said they loved the racing and will definitely come back. That's a positive sign there. Word is getting out."
Taylor said he speaks frequently with Stokes, who used to be track promoter at Columbus, about the nuances of prepping the surface, which, at times, has been dusty, rough or too wet. He's also talked with Stokes and track promoters at Whynot Motorsports Park in Meridian about working together to improve scheduling, which can help avoid some of the overlaps they've experienced this year.
This year's schedule will mostly remain intact, though Taylor has been in talks to add another Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series race and a Hoosier Tire kart race.