–by T.J. Ingerson (@TJIngerson)
Stephen Donahue and Eric Johnson put on a show on Thursday night at Thunder Road in arguably one of the more thrilling Tiger Sportsman events this year at the track.
But, unless you were there, you don’t know about it. Heck, you don’t see any quotes. It becomes an afterthought point in stories written because it ultimately didn’t matter.
Donahue won the second of three 25-lap segments for the Tiger Sportsman in a side-by-side finish with Johnson, but only after he rebounded from a near-disaster with the pitwall early in that race. Donahue and Johnson then proceeded to trade lanes and lean on each other — repeatedly — in the edge-of-your-seat event.
Mike Martin celebrated at the end of the night after he posted wins in the other two segments — in finishes that weren’t even close. Donahue finished ninth overall with Johnson fared a little better in seventh, but ultimately, both were non-factors in the overall finish.
Why is the Donahue-Johnson thrilling race an afterthought? Because of segment racing.
It creates confusion. It seemingly creates a system where going for the checkered flag — which should be the most important end goal — is non-existent.
Look, I love the Milk Bowl. But the Milk Bowl is different. It should be the one time of year that Thunder Road uses any type of cumulative score event because it is such a famed event. It works for it.
It doesn’t work for weekly racing.
Thunder Road this season implemented weekly segment racing in the Tiger Sportsman divisions to help combat a lower car count. For full disclosure, in ten segment events, the Tigers have had seven different winners. But, Thunder Road is not the only track that has employed weekly segment racing this season.
It has been used at Speedway 51 it since its inception last year in the Tiger division, too, and that has since trickled down to their Late Models and Street Stocks. This season in the Tigers at Speedway 51, there has been two winners through eight races before a third winner broke through this past Saturday.
Airborne Park Speedway has gone to segment racing with their Mini-Modifieds this year. Devil’s Bowl Speedway also had weekly segment racing this summer with their Late Models and Renegades, but stopped after teams disapproved of it after a few races.
Does it enhance the racing? I don’t believe so. Does it improve the quality of the event? Not in my opinion. Veterans fans are confused with the overall scoring and, often, aren’t quite sure why the overall winner is the guy who won.
I was part of a Super Street team at White Mountain Motorsports Park in 2009 that saw the division go from weekly feature races with low car counts to segment racing. The driver’s disliked it and it produced the same result every week. It was ultimately changed back at the urging of the teams, and it produced some memorable finishes the remainder of the year.
(Including two results that I was on the losing end of)
Why is the idea to combat smaller car counts to give MORE racing that waters down the event. Why not cut the laps, give less time for the high point drivers to come from the back, and you might get better overall racing, more memorable finishes, and a better overall event.
Who remembers the finish from the Vermont Governor’s Cup just a few weeks ago that saw Scott Dragon and Nick Sweet finish inches apart? Who remembers the finish from the PASS North event at Oxford that saw the finish between Wayne Helliwell Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk Jr. be declared a dead even tie?
Now, who remembers the checkered flag finishes of segments of the Milk Bowl?
Imagine if the Governor’s Cup was run in segments. There is likely to be no memorable finish.
The Milk Bowl works because it is unique once a year that has the pageantry and history. The event format is well advertised and the scoring format is clear with great communication being given to fans on where drivers stand after each segment. And just like the Milk Bowl, Bear Ridge’s “Madness” events work well by offering something unique — once a year.
But seeing it every week makes it loses its luster and appeal. Drop the confusion and overthinking. Keep it simple. If fans have to think about who won a race every week and are confused by the end result, they won’t return.
PHOTO: The famed Tiger Sportsman of Thunder Road have run weekly segment racing this season to help combat low car counts, but that decision doesn’t sit to well with VMM Editor T.J. Ingerson. (Alan Ward photo)