John Barker - Bought and Paid For?
by Jack Smith
"John Barker is simply a paid hack who has no clue about the sport he has been covering for the last few centuries." Someone told me that recently. I could have said it but I didn't and I'm not telling who did say it. In a recent little ditty from John "the old codger" Barker which he laughingly titles "Highs and Lows at the Local Tracks in 2001", published by that tremendoulsy well known rag called the Lakeland Ledger, he rambles on about the greatness of USA International and picks a bone or two with little Auburndale Speedway. What a guy.
"USA International Speedway in Lakeland enjoyed one of its best seasons this year and continues to be the dominant Florida short track for racing." Oh really John. What makes USA International Speedway the dominant short track? What does this dominance entail? Did the Governor of the State of Florida come to USA International and spend nearly an hour on the front straight? No, I think that was that little underprivileged half-mile called New Smyrna Speedway. Did USA have any part of the Florida Triple Crown? No I don't think so. How many shows does USA put on each year? Thirty, Forty? How many did your local track put on this rainy 2001?
To compare the operation at USA International with the other short tracks in Florida is ludicrous and marks Barker as simply another racing reporter who knows how to do one thing: suck up.
USA International Speedway is a great racing facility, and the management puts on some excellent racing events. But it is, as everyone with a common sense and a little knowledge of Florida racing knows, not, I repeat NOT a Saturday night racetrack. USA puts on special events. It is not what anybody with a modicum of brain cells left would call a 'local short track'.
Auburndale is a quarter-mile local track, a short track catering to race fans 35-40 weeks a year just like Sunshine Speedway, Citrus County Speedway or any of the other regular Friday or Saturday local venues. These tracks bring in maybe 800 to 1500 race fans through the front gate, maybe 2000 once in a while and even occasionally some special event will prompt ticket sales of 3000 or more. They have small staffs, small budgets and small crowds by USA International standards.
USA International is closer to being like Homestead than it is like Auburndale, DeSoto or Charlotte.
Barker instructs us with his wisdom: "Meanwhile, racing at Auburndale Speedway is still a bit questionable, because strong management still has not taken center stage." Oh John, turn your hearing aid up for a minute please. WHICH LOCAL SPEEDWAY IN FLORIDA WITH NEW OWNERSHIP HAS STRONG MANAGEMENT THAT HAS TAKEN CENTER STAGE?
"One thing for sure is track owner J.T. Beard must step up and make some key changes regarding rules being the same for every driver in each class. If not, there's sure to be a driver rebellion of sorts." Oh Really John, are you telling us there is some perception of favoritism at Auburndale? You must have been spending time on the Auburndale message board lately. And you must also be ignorant of the fact that this perception of favoritism exists at every facility in Florida and probably the Country.
Poor Mr. Barker leads us down the road of ominous threats of closure of 'the little Speedway that could' with this little incantation: "The gates here could swing shut for good unless the entire Auburndale team is on the same wave length next season." John, what inside information do you have that you are not sharing with us uninformed race fanatics? Show me one track in Florida where the 'entire team' is on the same page, Johnny Boy. Show me one track where all the track officials are "on the same page or keep a closed mouth". Let us in on which tracks have no perception surrounding them that some drivers get special breaks.
You can't Mr. Barker because such Nirvana doesn't exist.
USA International doesn't have these problems because USA International doesn't have a Saturday night show with it's own officials etc.; the track simply opens the track for racing series to come put their own show. Of course you already know this John. You write this crap because somebody pays you to write this crap. In fact if you were being intellectually honest, you would be more likely to compare USA International to Homestead than to a local Saturday night short track. USA International's operations much more closely resemble in every aspect that one-mile venue. Compare those two operations and maybe USA stands up, maybe not.
The last race at USA, the USAR Hooters ProCup finale for 2001, drew quite a nice crowd, according to Barker over 7,000 fans. Little Auburndale Speedway, 30 minutes of winding roads and traffic away from the Big Track, also had a good crowd estimated at 2000 or so. The Auburndale fans were treated to a 23-car demo derby, a 17-car Limited Late Model race, and figure eight racing and generally had a lot of fun. After all the night was billed as "Fun Night" with the Winter Haven Dodge dealership spotlighted, and with the regular season already put to rest the previous week, the track champions were on the track in a sparkling new Dodge truck.
USAR Hooter ProCup Photos From USA International Speedway
Auburndale Speedway's Fun Night Photos
Both tracks, with completely different types of fans, had a great night of action. Having heard some nonsense about how Auburndale, unlike in the days of Martino ownership (and Auburndale fans know how strong that management was), no longer closes it's doors when USA runs an event, and how this will hurt the USA attendance, I waited in anticipation Saturday night for the attendance reports from our KARNAC reporters. I had predicted to a number of people that both tracks would do very well at the gate, as the audiences are as different as the shows they come to see.
Perhaps Barker is still irate over the outsider J. T. Beard buying the track. For those unfamiliar with the details, Beard bought the track, the property, and the whole shooting match. He's not leasing the place to make a quick buck. J. T. Beard is in fact looking to reduce his commitments to his other businesses so that he can devote full time to the track in 2002, and has made tremendous improvements to the physical plant while learning the inside of a stock car short track. New pavement, much better lighting and improved safety features combined with keeping the place clean and neat are some of the improvements Beard has made. For next year's season Auburndale has also made a strong commitment to community involvement and bringing many new sponsors on board. J.T. Beard has been quite clear in his statements about the kind of facility he wants. The emphasis will be toward putting on entertaining shows that draw a wider range of race fans and audiences.
Whatever the motivation for his drivel, Barker needs to get over it, grab a slug of Geritol, down a handful of Viagra and go spend some time at the little short track he loves to malign.
Next year look for an expanded schedule of activities at the awesome facility at USA International Speedway and we expect this time next year Auburndale will be celebrating a year that saw some challenges overcome, some more improvements in the racing operation. Just as will Charlotte County Speedway, Bronson Motor Speedway, DeSoto Speedway, Putnam County Speedway as well as others.
But you still won't be able to adequately compare USA with any of these.
Well, maybe John Barker will.
You can read his article here:
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