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Economy not a factor at Lancaster track

The economy may be killing some sports, but at least at Lancaster Speedway, there seems to be an immunity.

Fueled by cheap tickets and a lack of alternative entertainment, the crowds at the historic half-mile are as strong as ever.

"I took my grandkids to the movie the other night, and by the time we bought tickets and food, it was 60 bucks for two hours," said Bruce Arrants, Lancaster's veteran race director. "Here, you know you can buy four tickets for us and buy four baskets of food, and you're only out $40 for five hours.

"That's a big deal for the people who come here every week."

That's not to say the economy hasn't slowed some aspects of the racing business, particularly for the cars that don't win on a regular basis (you get $100 to start and $1,000 to win the Late Model feature, after paying your own way in).

Track owner Doug McManus said that if a car blows an engine or needs major repairs, some owners will have to sit out a few weeks before returning.

Otherwise, the crowds are steady. McManus won't get into the numbers, but it costs him around $16,000 to open the doors on a Saturday night, between the purse, insurance and paying his staff. He's making enough profit to keep it going, when other dirt tracks aren't as fortunate.

Chester Speedway suspended operations for the year, and names of defunct tracks roll off Arrants tongue at an alarming rate: "I-20 down in Columbia, Riverside they sold to make a golf course, Antioch, Buffalo, ..."

Clint Elkins, who promotes a Friday night card at Carolina Speedway (just across Lake Wylie in Gaston County) said his attendance was up 40 percent over the past three years, as they've had a resurgence.

"To be honest, the economy's been pretty good for us."

For drivers, the cost of gas is nominal. Rock Hill's Andy Hodges said he might go through six or seven gallons of $8 per gallon racing fuel, but parts and labor keep them scrounging for sponsors. He said you need to stay in the top five each week if you want to stay ahead of expenses.

A good sponsor will kick in as much as $10,000 for one of the top drivers, but the guys who race these cars after paying $20 to get into the pits aren't doing this for economic reasons.

"You ain't going to make any money off this deal, but if you run good, you can about break even once you get the car built," said driver Brandy Baker. "The economy hasn't made that much of a difference to us really, but money's not why we're here.

"The people who run here love the racing, and so do the fans."

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