In spite of the recession, Swims said the 2012 season has been one of the best ever for his operations in Rome and Woodstock’s Dixie Speedway.
The Lucas Oil Rome Rumble will take to the half-mile oval at 1900 Chulio Road at 7:30 tonight.
The headliner tonight is the Super Late Model Championship and its $10,000 prize, along with a full slate of Econo Bomber, Limited and Double features in Crate.
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., is looking to wrap-up his second straight Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series National Championship this weekend. Four-time series champion Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., leading Quarter Master Rookie of the Year candidate Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, 16-year-old phenom Tyler Reddick of Corning, Calif., Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., and Eric Wells of Hazard, Ken., are all expected to compete this weekend.
Swims said that he expects the crowd to number 5,000-6,000 fans for the event and said that race weekends mean a lot to the local economy. If Swims had his way, he’d like it to have even more impact because he’d like to add another 2,000 seats to the grandstands at Rome Speedway.
“I’ve been looking for seats for a year, and they’re real, real, real expensive,” Swims said. “I’ve been trying to find somebody who was maybe going out of business, because we really need more seats over there.”
Swims said that the Sunday night race will draw a large crowd because it is a national series event, but that it won’t draw the type of crowd that one of the holiday weekend events draw.
“It won’t be like when people are off Monday. I’m just being real honest with you,” said Swims.
Swims also operates the Dixie Speedway in Woodstock but is quick to point out that Rome is the best racetrack.
“Dixie will seat more people, and it will draw more people because it runs on Saturday,” Swims said. “Sunday night everybody’s got to get up and go to work Monday morning.”
He said that fans and drivers alike tell him that the Rome oval is their favorite.
The costs, benefits of racing
Swims said the cost of maintaining the track can run up in a hurry.
“It’s just a brick-type clay and its cracked up. I’ve put my knife blade all the way, four or five inches down in there, it usually takes 300,000 gallons of water to wet the track up here when its cracked like this,” Swims said.
300,000 gallons of water isn’t cheap, but it does make the track fast.
“When you wet that thing and get it ironed out, you just stand back and turn ’em loose,” Swims said.
The importance of the Rome clay can’t be understated because when Swims originally acquired the Dixie Speedway it had an asphalt surface. The dirt track racers didn’t like the surface, and he was having a tough time drawing drivers to make his events competitive, so Swims tore up the asphalt and brought clay from Rome to put down at Dixie.
He’s already spent a considerable a considerable sum sprucing up the speedway for this weekend’s events, which will be the culmination of the 2012 summer series.
The event will have an economic impact on Rome because the most of the drivers in the Lucas Oil Rome Rumble will be dirt track specialists from all over the country.
“We’ll probably have 50 to 60 late model drivers to get 24 out of,” Swims said. “It’s the biggest race of the year, the most prestigious race of the year.”
Most of the drivers who participate in the seven races at Rome this year are located within a 150-200 mile radius of Rome, but that some of the teams that will be at Rome tonight will have traveled from more than a thousand miles away.
“I’d say it would fill up all your steakhouses, all of your eating joints, and I’d say it would fill up your hotels and motels,” Swims said.
He noted that the event could have an even larger impact if it were not run on a Sunday, because a lot of local retailers are closed on Sunday.
“It definitely brings money into the county,” Swims said. “I wouldn’t know how much to say, but it definitely a good thing for the county.”
Just about anyone can understand how much money goes into a NASCAR event, and Swims said that the dirt track racers have similar events, if on a smaller scale.
“They’ve got rigs just like those NASCAR people have and some of those rigs are $300,000, top $350,000. The engines for those cars are over $40,000 apiece,” Swims said. “They’re 850-900 horsepower in those motors.”
The drivers that run the national series races have to get a large amount of money from their sponsors to be able to afford traveling all over the country and doing the week-to-week work on bodies and engines to remain competitive.
Then there are the fans that will pack the track Sunday night. Swims said the 6,000 or so who will pour in will shell out $25 for grandstand seats for the event and buy all kinds of driver related souvenirs, just like they do at Talladega, Atlanta or Daytona.
“We’ve had the best year all the way around that we’ve ever had,” Swims said. “I think its because people have got to have a little bit of entertainment. They’ve got to go out and relax a little bit.”
The dirt track entrepreneur said he does his best to keep gate prices down to make it affordable for the whole family.
“Of course when this type of show comes in we have to charge 25 dollars for the grand stand because there’s no way to pay out (prize money) if you don’t,” Swims said.
The grandstand seats at regular races typically cost $15 but Swims does offer folks a discount if they bring a Coca-Cola bottle top with them. He said that’s another reason for wanting to bring in additional seating to the Rome Speedway. More fans in the stands means he could afford to lower the price a little bit. (The larger Dixie Speedway typically charges $10 for grandstand seating.)
After the season
Once the Lucas Oil Rome Rumble is finished tonight, Swims will set about a task that he has eyed for a number of years. He owns about 165 acres between Chulio Road and U.S. 411 and has plans to develop a mud bogging complex and possibly a motocross track on property adjacent to the Speedway.
“The older I get, I can see we need other things for revenue to come in,” Swims said. “This place could be turned into a park. We can have different things here to create revenue for more than six or seven times a year. ”
“It’s been five years since (my son) Mike passed away (from cancer),” Swims said. “I’m just now getting to where I can start thinking about some of this again.”
The pain associated with his son’s struggle against cancer is evident, and it’s the type of pain that doesn’t go away quickly.
Maybe that’s why a businessman who has done all the field work, driven the motor grader and the water truck is ready to find some new dirt to turn, and perhaps, a few new dollars will turn up along the way.