PHOTO: An experiment held in early September has led to changes in the Sportsman division at Airborne Speedway. As a result, a newly created six-race mini series, dubbed “The USA/Canada Sportsman Master Series” will be held between Airborne and Autodrome Ste-Eustache, just outside of Montreal. (Leif Tillotson photo)

— by Ricky St. Clair

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Last season, Airborne Speedway welcomed eight Sportsman drivers from Autodrome St-Eustache, just outside of Montreal, to compete in a 50-lap Canadian/American challenge with its weekly J&S Steel Sportsman competitors in early September. Airborne officials elected to score the teams running eight-inch tires, primarily from Quebec, separately from weekly Sportsman drivers, who ran on seven-inch tires. The decision was made due to the significant speed advantage for the St-Eustache cars around the Airborne half-mile.

Over the off-season, Airborne promoter Mike Perrotte has altered the rules of Airborne’s Sportsman division — all cars will now run on an eight-inch tire. Also, in conjunction with the officials and Sportsman competitors of St-Eustache, a six-race series has been announced for 2012 with over $40,000 in purse money. The inaugural edition of the mini-series has been dubbed “The USA/Canada Sportsman Masters Series”.

“It all goes back to last summer when we had the experiment with St-Eustache,” Perrotte said. “There is a reason why we do things, and this is the outcome of that test. It was to see how those cars with those tires would work, and how our cars would stack up against them. Those (eight-inch) tires make those cars stick a whole lot better.”

The move to increase the tire width by one-inch was made to aid the stability of the cars, while increasing speeds, and improving the overall handling. Spectators can expect to see the cars traveling over a half-second faster.

“With any little contact, guys were on the edge the edge all the time, and they were getting wrecked,” Perrotte said. “Wrecks cost a lot of money, and it’s not fun for the fans to watch. The whole division was probably the worst last year than I’d ever seen it. I think this tire will make the cars handle better, and they’ll be going faster.”

The USA/Canada Sportsman Masters Series will see three 50-lap, $700-to-win races at Airborne Speedway, while drivers will venture an hour and a half north of the border for two 75-lap, $1,000-to-win races and one 125-lap race at St-Eustache. The overall champion after six races will collect an additional $2,000 through the end of the year point fund.

“Another thing that came out of this is the fact that now we have a six-race series with St-Eustache,” Perrotte said. “They’re great to work with. We’re going to have them back here next year three times, and our guys are going to go up there three times. It’s only an hour and a half away, so it’s not a big travel expense. We’ve got six races with over $40,000 in prize money, and a little point fund there with $2,000-to-win as well.

There was speculation that with the addition of the Sportsman Modifieds, and with car counts declining, Airborne would eliminate the Sportsman division as a whole. According to Perrotte, that’s certainly not the case.

“I think we’ve put more of a shot in the arm into this division than any other division this year,” Perrotte said. “By getting together with St-Eustache, it’s going to be a real neat deal. It’s going to add a nice flare to what we’re trying to do with that division and Airborne.”

Over the last two years, the marquee event on the racing calendar for the Sportsman division has been the 4-20’s. Despite the inaugural season of the six-race mini-series, Perrotte is hopeful for the third edition of the 4-20’s to be bigger and better than in recent years.

“We still want to do our 4-20’s here,” Perrotte said. “We’re working on sponsorship, which will pay more money than it did last year. The overall point fund and purse for these six-races is over $40,000. When you think about what these guys raced for last year, their regular purse was over just over $3,000.”

Airborne Speedway’s 59th season opener is slated for Saturday, April 29. The official 2012 schedule is slated to be released sometime around Christmas.