Arena Racing brings fast-paced excitement into a family atmosphere
– BY DANIEL JONES –
That’s all it takes for an ArenaCar, half the size of a NASCAR, to circle an indoor track not even a tenth of a mile in length.
That’s plenty of time to get the essence of the league, says Ricky Dennis, the creator of Arena Racing USA. It’s 14 cars driven by both children and adults, racing at 50 miles an hour, while ramming, flipping and even wrecking each other for some of the $50,000 in cash and prizes spread over the course of the season.
“We have an awful lot of wrecks; we’re a contact sport,” says Dennis, 53, son of former NASCAR driver and Richmond native Bill Dennis. Cars occasionally flip, but most often roll over and drive off. Injuries are nonexistent.
All this happens while the audience sits startlingly close to the action.
“And,” Dennis adds, “the best part of all this: Richmond’s the only place in the world where this is going on right now.”
GET UP TO SPEED
The concept of an indoor stock car league came in November 1992. “I was at my first hockey game,” Dennis says, “but I couldn’t stop picturing race cars going around a racetrack where the ice was.”
Then at a trade show at the Daytona 500 three months later, Dennis noticed a small car about the size of what he imagined circling the ice rink that day. He used it as a prototype for a ministock car that could be raced indoors.
Before long, the ArenaCar was designed. At nine feet long and just three feet high, it is much smaller than a NASCAR Sprint Cup car. And weighing just 740 pounds (including driver), it is but a fraction of its NASCARs counterpart’s 3,450 pounds. Still, with a 22-horsepower (vs. 750- for NASCAR’s), rear-mounted Honda engines, it is capable of going 115 miles an hour outdoors, though slower speeds are maintained during the race.
A wooden track was built, and the Pepsi Racing Series held 14 events during its 1993 season at the Richmond Coliseum.
But the next year, due to a noncompete clause with Richmond’s hockey team, and a general lack of his own experience and funding, Dennis says, he took the league east to Norfolk. In 2002, the series name was changed to Arena Racing USA.
BACK IN THE RIVER CITY
In 2011, with pro hockey gone, Arena Racing USA returned to the Coliseum and a half-million dollar steel and aluminum track. Meanwhile, other similar racing from North Carolina to Michigan has come and gone.
By now, Dennis had secured investment and partnership commitments from key players in the motorsports industry: legendary head coach of the Washington Redskins Joe Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing (BOOMER cover subject, April-May 2009); Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries; and Gary Becker, formerly of PACE Entertainment and PACE Motorsports.
Then for this season, the second one back in Richmond, Dennis got a business mentor in James E. Ukrop, former chairman and CEO of Ukrop’s Super Markets (BOOMER cover subject, Oct.-Nov. 2009).
Each event in the 2012-13 season, which ends April 20, showcases four races (200 total laps) for the two age classes: 9-13, and a Pro class for ages 14 and up. Some drivers have been as old as 73.
Why would you want to see youngsters racing cars not much bigger than themselves? Because the league has produced at least one NASCAR pro, Chesterfield County native Denny Hamlin, who was with Arena Racing for the 2002 season, that’s why. Drivers Tony Stewart and brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch have also made appearances in the league.
“It’s a very fun night out. And it’s family-oriented, too. It’s not too loud, there are no fumes; there is no smoke,” Dennis says. Not even earplugs are required. “I’ve been to most every racetrack this side of the Mississippi, and this is by far the most competitive racing I’ve seen. … I believe we are part of something everybody in the Richmond region can be proud of.”
Admission is $14 fo reserved seating, $12 for adults, $7 for children 12 and under, and $10 for seniors and military. Teams with their own car can join. For more information, visit @arenaracingusa.com.
Daniel Jones is BOOMER‘s editorial assistant. Contact him at Daniel@TheBoomerMagazine.com.