“Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports,” Ernest Hemingway was supposed to have said. “All the others are games.”
Whether you agree with that sentiment, one thing is certain: Some people have a need for speed.
If you’re not going to manifest that need behind a wheel, there’s no better place than the grandstand of a racetrack like Toledo Speedway, which counts on spectators who like their sports fast and furious.
On Friday, the 5,500-seat speedway kicks off its summer schedule of Friday night races, bringing together a variety of cars and drivers seeking glory on the oval track.
Doors open at 5 p.m., with time trials for Sportsman, Figure-8, and X Cars at 6:30 p.m., and the main events to start around 7:30.
Toledo Speedway is an ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) track, which general manager Scott Schultz describes as a minor league for NASCAR. The vehicles are standard or modified stock cars, and the drivers at this level are an unusual combination of professionals and amateurs.
What makes it a sport, says Schultz, is the entertainment factor: Toledo Speedway and other tracks draw spectators across all age and income ranges, including many families.
“This is great family entertainment,” Schultz says. “We pride ourselves on the cleanliness of the facility. We have Scout Nights, Kid’s Night, and Christmas in July. Parking is free and hot dogs are a buck and a half.”
Like its sister track Flat Rock in Brooklyn, Mich., the speedway is a short track, meaning less than 5/8 of a mile in length. You won’t see any Indy Car shuttle launches there, but you will see speeds upward of 140 mph.
The general manager explains that while the vehicles all have stock car bodies, they can otherwise be quite different.
“Sportsman has a late model stock car body on it and a 360-cubic-inch engine and 8-inch tread tires,” he says. “X Car is basically a mishmash of different types of race cars that all compete in the same division and follow some simple rules [for example, everyone must have safety equipment]. Then we have Figure 8, which is pure entertainment. [Cars] race on a figure-8 track that’s been a fixture at the speedway since 1965. Instead of a roof, they have the option to put a wing on them.”
Whether amateurs or professionals, the drivers have a clear incentive: money.
“We have a purse every night,” Schultz says. “It's a very expensive hobby, like owning a boat or a hot rod. The purse varies from $10,000 to $65,000.”
A love of money and excitement notwithstanding, the drivers seem to follow Mario Andretti’s maxim: “If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough.”