Never Stop Driving #48: Dreamers

Sam Webster Micro sprint on dirt exterior front three quarter sliding Never Stop Driving lede bannered
My 13-year-old son in a micro sprint. Cameron Neveu

Anyone who thinks automotive enthusiasm is dying should have stood with me in a muddy field this past Sunday. A trio of cars flashed by, bouncing through the divots of an improvised race course, the tires made slick by the slop filling the treads. Each driver wore the reflexive and joyous grin of a child.

I was in Jackson, Michigan, some 90 miles west of Detroit, trying to salvage my son Sam’s nascent racing season. Last summer, we’d spent many Saturday nights at the banked eighth-mile dirt track that’s next to the muddy field, running a pair of primitive race cars called micro sprints. Two months ago, the track unexpectedly announced that it would not run micro races this year.

That caught me, as the saying goes, with my pants down. We so loved our time at Jackson Speedway, which is conveniently located less than an hour from our home in Ann Arbor, that I bought two newer micros, with plans for an even bigger 2023 season. I had not yet sold the original cars so when the track posted the announcement on Facebook, four micros were crowding the Webster family garage. What to do, what to do? The next closest venue is some 200 miles away which meant selling the two older cars locally was going to be more difficult than I expected. Furthermore, Sam and I now faced long, gas-consuming tows and hotel overnights, but when you share a passion with your kid, you dive in.

Long story short, we’ll still race this year, but not locally or as often as we hoped. In April, Sam practiced at two dirt tracks near Fort Wayne, Indiana. For some reason, micro sprint racing is nowhere in Michigan but everywhere in neighboring Indiana. The two tracks were just 30 minutes apart yet both had healthy crowds of participants and spectators. I’ve come to love local short-track racing for many reasons but mostly because of the family atmosphere. These tracks are so often the community centers of small towns.

Meanwhile, Jackson Speedway is evolving, but to what is not yet clear. This past Sunday was an open house, a come-bring-your-ideas meeting with the new group that’s running the track. They’ve changed the name to Midwest Motorsports Complex and created a theoretical map of the property’s future that includes motorcycle tracks, a 2.7-mile road course, car condos, and a clubhouse.

The proposed Midwest Motorsports Complex MMC

Someone had taken a grader to our cherished dirt track and removed turns one and two. After talking to the new operators, I knew we would not be racing micros there this summer. A few of my fellow micro racers, who had also come to lobby, soon left. I stuck around. Only a few gray beards like me were among the 20 or 30 people on hand. Someone drifted a modified Nissan 240SX around the tight, concrete kart track.

Stu King’s one of the folks trying to make a go of the place. As near as I could tell the current owners, a group of five, want to sell. The potential buyers, King and his group, aren’t sure if they want to buy so they all agreed to experiment this year and see what happens. King, who gave me a ride around the newly cut dirt road course, brings a passion for rallycross. Another partner, John Craddock, owns Café Racer, a motorcycle repair shop, which will bring in the two-wheeled crowd.

The model for this venture and a name I heard several times is YouTube sensation Cleetus McFarland, who owns a Florida track where he creates many of his videos. I’ve never met McFarland, so I can only admire him from afar: He’s a motorsports P. T. Barnum, spreading the joy to younger generations via unpretentious cheap racing. We’ve covered his events several times via a Larry Chen video, an article on a burnout contest, and another on a Crown Vic race.

The McFarland model for track ownership requires a full-time obsession for generating content, a cash runway to live off while you build an audience that generates dollars. Then you buy a track. Or something like that. There is no one model in today’s digital world.

Oh, man, if only I was 30 years old, didn’t have kids, and had some savings, I’d live in a trailer at the Midwest Motorsports Complex and make a go. I once proposed a similar idea only I wanted to turn Detroit’s City Airport into a car Shangri-La. Later I created a test track at the airport. While I’m sad we now have long drives to race our micros, Jackson could well turn into something we like even more. It just might take some time.

There was a lot of contagious enthusiasm in the small group. Everyone had ideas and who could say what would or wouldn’t work. I suggested we run my own pet obsession, off-roady single-seaters called Crosskarts, and the crowd lit up. We could do a group buy, I said, as I know people who import them from Europe. Three raised their hands. I later learned that a new Crosskart costs about 50 grand. When I shared that news, my once airtight plan went poof.

Have a great weekend!

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    We’ve had at least one 1/4-mile dragstrip and two oval tracks (both paved) go away in my area since I was an active racer. Only one of each remains – although they both seem to be going strong. Even Cleetus has faced challenges to his track due to infringing development. Sorry you and your son have to trave so far to race, but good on ya for keeping him in the seat no matter what it takes. Those days spent together will last a lifetime in his memory, and certainly will serve to enrich your relationship. I hope the local track plans pan out and that it creates some new opportunities for you and the locals who will miss the micro races.

    I just love your newsletter. I am from the French speaking province of Quebec and I publish my own «blog» that looks like yours ( but deals mostly with car reviews (and some racing, modeling, shows, events…). Thank you very much as I am suscribing to yours!

    I grew up one mile from Lebanon Valley Upstate NY (1/2 mile high bank clay oval and 1/4 mile dragstrip) and spent many a night (Saturday – Dirt) and Sunday (dragstrip) through my youth into early adulthood. Really was small time USA and really was a great time growing up in the area. It certainly gets in your blood. Continue with the racing your kids will have great memories with Dad !!!!!

    I have a suggestion you might want to explore but it would require crossing the border. I live in Chatham Ontario about 45 mins east of Windsor. A little west and south of us is a dirt track called South Buxton Raceway. They race every Saturday night May thru September. The track was just taken over by new owners two years ago and they did an amazing job reconfiguring the track to make it safer as well as much better racing. You may want to contact them to see if they would be interested in running a Micro sprint program. I know it would involve crossing the border but it would be a lot closer. It can’t hurt to ask…..all they can say is no!


    One big reason so many tracks are closing is ever-increasing land values. Over the last 40 years I’ve watched as different small tracks, both oval and straight-line, were closed and the properties sold for development. In other cases, developers build large numbers of homes too far away visually from the track, where the buyers didn’t know a track was close, only finding out when the next track day is held. Then they go and complain to the local or state government about the noise.

    To compound that situation is a lack of time. I have vintage car friends all over Europe, and they often tell me Americans are too busy working, and even when they play, they work too hard at play. The average American family has very little time for simple unplanned play activities. It takes a lot of time and effort [I’m not telling you something you don’t know!] to commit to racing vehicles of ANY type, especially when the driver is your child. I’ve seen families who have large calendar books where family members enter all their plans and events, and blank pages are almost nonexistent.

    So activities like vehicle racing often fall to the wayside due to factors like high financial costs including travel for training and events, plus hotel, fuel, and food. When they compete with local sports and school events like band, music, cheer, or other after school time suckers, something has to give, especially if that family has 3 or more school age kids! Over the years I’ve heard friends tell me they can’t wait for their eldest child to get a driver’s license so they can be roped into taking their siblings to various events.

    When people ask me how I was able to go off to Europe or half-way around the world to look for cars to buy, and stay there searching for weeks at a time, I would tell them it’s because I’m self employed and have no kids.

    Boy, you’re right, Bill – we ALL need to plan some more unplanned activities in our lives! 😋

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