Written by Susan Wade.
Old Bridge Township Raceway Park is acres of asphalt, concrete, steel, metal, dirt, mud, and trees near the New Jersey burg of Englishtown. But to Dave Hance it’s youth, adventure, sentiment, nostalgia, grassroots racing, dreams, and fulfillment.
“When I was 15 years old, I went to that place without a driver’s license, and my friends and I took an old Buick that my older brother loaned me down that track. He never knew it, but we did it. We took that Buick down that track more times — we drove the wheels off that thing. Then we all piled in the car and drove all the way back to New York City,” Hance said with a laugh and a sense of longing. “So the track has tremendous, tremendous sentimental value.”
That’s why he has been hurting since making a decision late last week to end The Shakedown Nationals. The Northeast drag race has grown from six cars 10 years ago to a East Coast classic with worldwide acclaim that attracted more cars than some NHRA and ADRL events, along with top outlaw, street-legal drivers.
But Hance is giving it up, he said Thursday, because he and Raceway Park cannot agree on terms for a 2013 edition.
“At this moment there’s no desire to do anything anymore,” he said. “I can’t put myself and my family at risk. The [sensible] risk-reward [ratio] is not there.
“I feel we need to work out a more equitable distribution of the income. They were not willing to do that,” Hance said. “Moving forward, we accepted this loss.”
The Oct. 12-14 10th anniversary Shakedown — under the banner of “The Shakedown Nationals” rather than the traditional “Shakedown at E-Town” — resulted in a financial setback, in large part because of a six-hour delay because the computer/electrical systems crashed during Saturday qualifying.
Hance said he sought a lower track-rental fee for 2013, because his research has proven to be — by his estimation — about “three times the cost of any other place.” He said the reduced fee he requested is “still above market value.”
Raceway Park’s response, he said, was that “they are unable to accommodate me. With that and knowing that I took a loss, they couldn’t help me out with that. I would have thought that they could have given me at least a 10-percent discount after that fiasco with the timing systems. It was maybe not their fault, but it’s their place. They should give some kind of concession. They offered nothing, did nothing.
“Going forward to next year, we’re not able to adjust anything off, so it was not a good business plan or business model for me. I’ll just move on,” Hance said.
Shopping the event to other tracks is something Hance said he is not interested in doing at this time.
“I’ll never say never, but it’s very unlikely I would take this race anywhere else. For years I said I wouldn’t, and there’s no desire,” he said.
“Some of the employees I’ve known since I was in my early 20s,” the 44-year-old Hance said. “I just have an attachment to the place.
“It’s good to be done. I just really loved doing it at that track. I don’t know what the hang-up is on that track,” he said, “but it makes it all worthwhile. Going someplace else, it doesn’t have the same feel. And I know it doesn’t really make sense, but that’s how I feel.”
Saying, “I guess it’s not a two-way love affair. It’s a one-way love affair,” Hance shared with Competition Plus what he wanted for the Shakedown to continue and why, how he feels about his decision in retrospect, and what he takes away from 10 years of his race’s explosive growth and record-setting performances.
“At this moment there’s no desire to do anything anymore. In fact, I was just thinking how nice it’s going to be in August — because August, which is six weeks before the event, is when we start to work hard on the event. And every summer, in August, it’s all about the race. And now I’m going to have a nice August and a nice September. It has been a lot of years since we’ve had one, an August where things were carefree. It’s like a load off my back. I need a little bit more of a break.”
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“You have one lady, Michelle [Marchese], working on it part-time and myself working on it part-time. So what happened [at the Oct. 12-14 Shakedown Nationals] is all the more impressive, when you consider this not a whole team, not a full slate of employees. It’s two people who love it to death and are doing the best they can, with some friends stepping up and giving us a little bump here and there. We couldn’t do it without Michelle and Eddie Krawiec — and they both do vastly different things. Michelle’s job leading up to the event [and throughout and afterward] is critical. And he takes charge of the situation. It was nice working with [Raceway Park co-owner] David Napp. I felt comfortable with him being in charge in the tower.”
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“For 10 years, and for the 10th year for the event to be what it was — wow. It was a great event — I would venture to say it could be considered the top independent — non-ADRL, non-NHRA — drag race in the country and maybe the world. Do you know of another stand-alone race that has everything from Pro Mod down through 8.50 Index, something for everyone? If you had a car, you fit somewhere. We even had motorcycles. And no class paid less than $5,000. I don’t know of one.”
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“Who knows? The track may continue on with it. They have the weekend. They might not call it that [The Shakedown Nationals], they might drop a few classes, but who’s to say that the track is not going to continue it?” Competition Plus: How difficult was this decision?
Dave Hance: “It was a tough, tough decision. I thought about it when I realized I took a loss. I said I’ve got be done with it. How can I work hundreds of hours and just come away with nothing? And not only come away with nothing but have to pay out of my pocket? So I was going to be done there. But I said, ‘Let me try, moving forward, to make a deal for next year so I have a better chance of this not happening.’ They came back, cold as ice, with ‘We cannot accommodate your request.’
“I defended them like it was my own track. I defended that family like they were my own family. And I’m just another number, just another business associate? After 10 years you would think that there would be some kind of camaraderie, some kind of more personal [relationship]. But it’s just black and white, numbers. But that’s why I’m in the place I’m in.
“It’s got to be worth something. We represented them as best we could. Sure, there were problems, but we worked it out. They just knew we weren’t going to do anything to embarrass them or cause their track a problem or hurt them [or do anything detrimental to Raceway Park]. We had their best interest in mind when we did anything.”
CP: Why do you want to abandon The Shakedown Nationals so quickly after a 10th anniversary race that yes, had glitches, but did have entertaining racing?
DH: “I’m not going to say ‘abandon,’ but I just think I put my time in. There was no heads-up [drag racing] in the Northeast United States when we started. That’s why we started it. Heads-up drag racing in the Northeast is much better today than it was 10 years ago. We played a small role in that, and I’m happy.”
CP: Do you believe you are walking away as a success?
DH: “The race itself I consider a huge success. We sold 271 tech cards. So for 10 consecutive years, car counts were up. I believe this year it looked to be the biggest [Shakedown] crowd I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to a lot of races, and it’s probably one of the biggest crowds for a non-NHRA, non-ADRL race. It’s even better than the existing ADRL crowds.
“From a financial standpoint it’s a disaster. With the time I have in it and what I take out of it, it really doesn’t make sense. But it’s not about the dollar. It never was. Nevertheless, I don’t have to keep doing that. We gave, and that’s it.”
CP: Would you be interested in modifying your own program? Because a muffled 8.50 Index class is the only one permitted to run on Friday, would you be interested in trimming some of the classes for the sake of time consumption?
DH: “No. In all honesty, the classes that run Friday night were only 8.50, Radial Tire, Limited Street and X275. At the end of the day, they would end up with four and possibly five qualifiers between the two days. They don’t have to run Friday night. We were running 8.50, so we said, ‘Ah, let’s throw these guys in, too,’ just to get a few more spectators. But that’s not a sticking point and not certainly something that I have to have, although I liked having it. It’s definitely not something that I could not live without. I didn’t have it for many years. So that’s definitely not a sticking point.”
CP: It seems you and Raceway Park should be able to find a happy medium.
DH: “It’s a little bit difficult for me. It’s way too risky. I can’t put on a race and risk taking a loss. [I went for] reducing the track rental and letting me sell my own Shakedown memorabilia — which I should be able to do. They were generally not receptive to either thing and could not accommodate those requests. You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Wow. Is [the fee Hance is offering not enough] for a weekend? It’s probably double what every other track would get. It’s a busy concession weekend. They sold out of food. They sold out of T-shirts. Is it such a big deal to let Dave sell his own stuff? After all, they sold out at the end, just like in years past — and you can verify it — on Saturday almost everything in apparel they had relating to Shakedown was sold out. There was pretty much nothing left to sell on Sunday. [I wanted to] sell my own apparel, but apparently it was an issue.”
CP: How would you describe your mood now?
DH: “It’s a combination of somber and relieved.
“It’s a lot of pressure. I think we did a really good thing and we made a lot of people happy. It was a really good program. It wasn’t easy getting there. You worry about a lot of small details. It just becomes pressure. I don’t have that pressure, so I’m relieved. But also I feel bad for a lot of other people. It’s almost like somebody died. I spent 25 percent of my life working on this deal.”
CP: What made you happiest about putting on a Shakedown race?
DH: “Several things. But one of things I’d have to say was the records that were set. Every year, several door-car records were reset at Englishtown at The Shakedown. Our event provided records. The Pro Mod record — the quickest a door car has ever gone — happened at The Shakedown. That was Scott Cannon [who recorded a 5.738-second pass in 2008]. The 10.5 class was always a power. Even Radial (Limited Street) is running 4.20 now. That’s crazy. Everybody runs their personal best at this event, and that makes me happy. It’s some of the best competition in the world. I truly love the track — always have and always will. For years and years and years it has a special place in my heart. It really does.”
CP: So it’s simply an economic issue?
DH: “It’s just not feasible.
“There are some out there saying I got screwed. No, I did not get screwed, not by any means. I made the deal to do the race again this year. They did not hold a gun to my head. Did I think the track rental is excessive? Yeah, but I entered into the deal. My intentions were to still come out ahead and make a few bucks. I didn’t, but that’s not their fault. They honored their end of the bargain. Other than the timing deal, they gave me everything they promised they would. I did not get a screwing. It just didn’t work out for me. I’m moving forward. I tried to take the steps necessary to give me a better chance at being successful next year. And they were not able or not willing to change the terms on their end. That’s whole story there.”
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