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ARCA, recently sold to NASCAR, comes to Toledo Speedway Sunday

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    ARCA president Ron Drager, right, shakes hands with NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton at an event announcing the sale of Temperance-based ARCA to NASCAR.

    ARCA PHOTO

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    ARCA President Ron Drager speaks at a March press conference promoting the Menards 200 at Hollywood Casino.

    The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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    Harrison Burton won the ARCA 200 presented by Menards at the Toledo Speedway in May of 2017.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

A little racing series called the Midwest Association for Race Cars was founded in Toledo in 1953. John Marcum, a confidant of NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., was the brains behind the new organization.

It would mature into the Automobile Racing Club of America Series — ARCA, as it’s known today — and serve as a proving ground for such drivers as Kyle Busch, Sam Hornish, Jr., Benny Parsons, Ken Schrader, Kyle Petty, Casey Mears, and Justin Allgaier.

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ARCA president Ron Drager, right, shakes hands with NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton at an event announcing the sale of Temperance-based ARCA to NASCAR.

ARCA PHOTO Enlarge

After 65 years, the family-owned, Temperance-based business, which features a brand of stock car racing that harkens back to yesteryear, was sold to NASCAR in late April.

“I think the term that continues to come forward is sustainability,” said ARCA president Ron Drager, Marcum’s grandson. “The sport has changed, the industry has changed. It’s a lot more complicated and far more business-like, if you will. I feel like we’ve done a really good job as a small, private company with a handful of full-time employees all working really hard.

“But as I look around, I see full-time people in our building, there are full-time people with race teams — race teams have invested, in some cases, millions of dollars in equipment to run the ARCA Racing Series — I look at sponsors — we’ve got suppliers like Ilmor racing engines and General Tire — and I just start thinking about the number of people, entities, and relationships that would be affected if we didn't have a good long-term plan.

“I’m 58 years old, my kids have both worked at the race track, and they’ve enjoyed that. But they don’t want to run the business going forward. I just felt like it was time to make sure the ARCA Racing Series has a good, sustainable future.”

ARCA also owns Toledo Speedway — which will host the Menards 200 on Sunday — as well as Flat Rock Speedway in Carleton, Mich., which are not part of the sale.

RELATED: Decker brings star power to Menards 200 ARCA race

ARCA and NASCAR have enjoyed a long-standing cordial relationship and been unofficial partners for decades. The announcement of the sale brings the two largest and oldest professional stock car racing organizations together under one umbrella.

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ARCA President Ron Drager speaks at a March press conference promoting the Menards 200 at Hollywood Casino.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
Enlarge | Buy This Image

ARCA uses cars similar to the top two NASCAR series and competes on every type of race track imaginable — short tracks, dirt tracks, superspeedways, road courses, and 1½-mile tracks. There are several races throughout the season that are conducted on NASCAR race weekends at the same track.

“This is one of the most exciting announcements we’ve had in our lifetime,” NASCAR vice chairman and executive vice president Jim France said. “The ARCA organization has been closely associated with the France family before there was a NASCAR and before there was an ARCA. It’s a big moment for stock car racing in America.”

Drastic changes are not expected, at least not in the near term. The 2018 and 2019 seasons will not be impacted. A plan for 2020 and beyond is being formulated, but Drager said it’s currently business as usual.

“And that’s been reassuring to people. I do really feel like it’s the best way forward,” he said. “The reaction has been one of surprise. There are always these ranges of emotion — surprise, concern, and, in some cases, fear and uncertainty.

“Personally, it was difficult just because of the long tenure. But from a business perspective, it was not difficult because where we’re going, where we will call home. Bill France, Sr., and Annie France were personal friends with my grandparents. They raced against one another, they traveled together, my grandparents went down and helped the Frances put on the races on the beach before there was a Daytona International Speedway. So it's almost like coming back home after all these years. From that perspective, it’s comfortable.”

Speculation is rampant NASCAR’s developmental K&N Series will be nixed, and ARCA will fill the void. Not to go unnoticed is the elephant in the room — constant chatter about a possible sale of NASCAR. How that would impact ARCA’s future is unknown.

The series, dating to its founding, has produced great racing. The current crop of drivers is no different. The setting is more intimate and the races often are more competitive than in the Monster Energy Cup and Xfinity series.

A staple of ARCA is the half-mile oval northeast of downtown. The upcoming Toledo Speedway race has long been one of the most important dates on the ARCA schedule.

“It brings a major-league feel to a local track,” Drager said. “We allow folks to walk on the race track and meet the drivers and touch the cars. And when you go up and sit in the grandstands, you can watch a live pit stop unfold. You're looking right down on it, it’s not a long distance. You can hear the air guns running, you can smell the rubber burning. I just think it’s a really cool experience. It’s something that’s very exciting and colorful. Everyone should try it once. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. But it’s pretty exciting.”

Contact Kyle Rowland at: krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.

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