In light of the recent announcement by Carl Weisinger that this year’s World Street Nationals has been postponed until 2012, we reached out to the popular track owner to hear the rest of the story. We discussed all sorts of things, from the economy and politics to his first race car. Let me start this off by saying the man has been around racing and assorted tracks since 1961, is a former record holder and many time class winner in Super Stock Eliminator, and got his start paying to get in, working the lanes and even wrapping hot dogs just to be around the sport.
DZ: Carl, I’ll start off by asking you what made you come to this decision?
Weisinger: Well, it really is simply a business decision. I went back and forth with this for months, but feel like it’s the right thing to do. With the national economy clearly in such turmoil and the local economy taking a big hit, losing 7,000 jobs at the Cape after the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program, I feel things are just very uncertain for the event in this climate. Travel costs are up and committing the resources for many racers is becoming more and more of a problem. I really don’t want to hold the World Street Nationals if I’m concerned it won’t be the premier event racers and fans have come to expect through the years, so I decided to postpone the race until next year and revamp some things.
DZ: I see in the press release you mention too many classes and too many rules. Are you thinking about switching up the classes for next year?
Weisinger: I’ve thought a lot about what to do. Some classes have split and developed so many rules you need a lawyer to figure it out. Not with our rules but some other events. I think it’s better to keep it as simple as possible, especially for a single event like we run here. So with that in mind, we’re pretty definite on Super Pro Street, Heavy Street, Extreme Import and I’m looking seriously at an 8.50 index class next year.
I’ve always been impressed with that class at Dave Hance’s Shakedown At E-Town and feel it allows many different cars to compete with each other that normally wouldn’t have that opportunity, and it still allows for fast and exciting racing. Off the pace big tire cars, Drag Radial cars and Outlaw 10.5 cars can all race and have fun doing it in that class. Plus, the class would feature a $10,000 to win payout. While it’s not all about the money, it never hurts to have a good pay day in addition to the jackets, trophies and gifts.
DZ: Wow, so no 10.5 or Drag Radial in 2012?
Weisinger: I wouldn’t say that positively at this time. The Outlaw 10.5 class has struggled with car count in recent years with really only a handful of competitive cars, including here with only nineteen entries last year. I would say it’s a wait-and-see attitude right now for Outlaw 10.5. We may take a much harder look at the 275 class, but, at the World Street Nationals, running eighth-mile only means one is half way to the finish line.
DZ: The NMCA, NMRA and other series’ car counts have faced significant drops: do you think the economy is killing the series or are bigger picture things at work here?
Weisinger: The overall economy is of course a factor. But, the individual racers’ financial status is also. This eventually always happens with true heads-up drag racing, regardless of the class. As I may have stated already, there’s also just too many races for all of them to survive.
DZ: On the topic of the economy, besides racer expenses, what other economic factors weigh your decision?
Weisinger: Really, there’s just a sour atmosphere and uncertainty in the country and across the world right now. People are unhappy with government, both national and local, they’re unhappy with the President, services and wages are being cut, people are losing benefits and jobs. I almost feel having the race would be like a birthday party at a funeral. I should also say now that I’m considering waiting until after the election on November 6th next year to hold the race to see how things shake out.
DZ: How did you get started in drag racing?
Weisinger: I bought a ‘40 Plymouth coupe in 1961, and it was my very first car: a 6 cylinder stick shift. In June of ’61 I raced it for the first time and got beat by a VW bug. The car had sat for a while and a leaky rear main seal got oil on the clutch. A friend and I took a week to change it out because we barely knew what we were doing. I took it back to the track for the next race and beat the bug this time, came home with a trophy, and I’ve been at it ever since.
DZ: Great story, so how did you get started working in the business?
Weisinger: I started working at Orlando in 1972. I paid to get in and would work the front of the lanes pairing up cars, checking seat belts, ans things like that. Back then the racers just picked who they would race; it was a game in staging with some folks hanging back. One night the action had just stopped and I went to the front of the lanes and pointed a pair of cars to the burnout box and which lane to go to and they did it. They thought I worked there and did what I said. It was quite a while before I became part of the crew. My first “pay” was getting in free.
DZ: When did you get involved with race promotion then?
Weisinger: I promoted my first race at Lakeland Dragstrip in 1976. It was the first bracket race in the southeast to pay $1,000 to win. I was hoping to make maybe $2,000 on it but ended up making about $9,000 after I paid everyone but the winner double what I had posted. Even the track workers got double. $9,000 was as much as I had made the whole year prior. After that I wound up managing the Orlando Speed World track, had a bracket series at different tracks and then went to the Jackson County Sports Park in Oregon for five years.
I had extensive experience racing and thought I knew how to run a track; turned out I knew a whole lot less that I thought, but it worked out and I got experience doing it. Then in 1985, I got a call from Dick Moroso. He had just leased the Miami/Hollywood track and wanted me to come down and run that facility and Moroso as well and I did that through mid-to-early ’86. My heart was always really in the Orlando track though. Billy Herndon and I got together on a deal and I was back in Orlando. I was working for Billy when he sold the track to the Hart family from New Smyrna. They had absolutely no interest in running anything except the stock car track and I signed a lease with them the day after the sale closed. Billy had fired me several times anyhow and with the lease I felt more secure.
DZ: That’s certainly a rich history, how do you see the future of drag racing right now?
Weisinger: That’s tough to say; there’s a beginning and end to everything, which is not to say there is no future, but new things will come along and old things will cease within the sport as they always have. As for me, it’s no secret that I’m wanting to retire soon. The natural progression would be for my son Randy to take over the deal and run with it. But, Randy has been here for over two decades as well and he may want to do something else. Randy is 42 years old and regardless of what has happened from injuries to arguments with me – and we’ve had some real doozies – he has never missed a race day here.
Ironic, but 42 is exactly the age I was when I signed the lease back in 1987. I personally don’t owe anyone a dime and got my first Social Security payment last month. I’ve never played a game of golf which I’d like to try and I want to spend more time messing with my small collection of cars. Dan O’Connell is updating a 600-cubic inch Camaro I have, there’s a 69 Camaro SS/BA car of mine my friend Tom Callis has been running, I finished a SS/JA ’64 Plymouth last year, we’re working now on a 1965 Plymouth Hemi car, three 1940 Plymouth Coupes and a couple other smaller projects. I may not have enough available time to retire.
DZ: Retire? Care to expand on that?
Weisinger: Our options are open at this time. There are several people that have contacted me about buying our extensive inventory of equipment and taking over the lease. There are a lot of dreamers out there; a lot that can talk the talk but can’t walk the walk.