Extreme Makeover: The Syracuse Mile Edition

Super Dirt Week Track Prep
Super Dirt Week Track Prep - Bill Moore Photo

Weedsport, NYSeptember 23, 2010 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing Northeast PR Director

For the next three weeks an experienced crew with decades of knowledge about racetrack preparation will work virtually non-stop at the New York State Fairgrounds “Moody Mile” to give the hundreds of Super DIRT Week competitors the best racing surface possible. When it’s time for the green flag to wave at 2 p.m. Oct. 10 for the SEF Small Engine Fuels 200 Presented by Ferris/Snapper/Simplicity, instead of shouting “move that bus” like the popular home makeover show, it’ll be “start your engines.”

The leader of that team is Mark Kolceski, who in 30 years of preparing racetracks in the Northeast has heard it all but knows what works to give racers the best chance to put on a show for the fans.

“There’s never too much talk if the track is good, certainly a little more if there’s a problem,” said Kolceski, 57, who spearheads the grounds crew each year hoping for good weather, safe track conditions and fans already talking about a return visit next season. A local resident of the fairgrounds home in Solvay, N.Y., Kolceski worked the first NYS Fair Labor Day Championship promoted by DIRTcar founder Glenn Donnelly in 1972 and since taking over the track in ’79 has turned more laps on the storied speedplant than five-time SEF 200 champion Brett Hearn himself. “I remember Joe Plazek setting fast time to win the pole and saying it was the worst track he’s ever been on. Another time Tim Fuller even came over and whispered, ‘this track is too fast.’

“Weather is always the biggest topic this time of year, but it’s what we get now more than later that’s more significant. You have to be able to work on the track well in advance to get the surface under control. I don’t really mind some showers early during DIRT Week, once we get things sealed it’s really just a matter of keeping it smooth,” remarked Kolceski, employed by New York State until his retirement at the end of 2009.

Kolceski has already begun to mold the Mile in anticipation of the 39th Annual Super DIRT Week, Oct. 6-10, at the historic Central New York site. The headline Super DIRTcar Series SEF Small Engine Fuels 200 Presented by Ferris/Snapper/Simplicity is slated for Sunday, or 10-10-10.

“I used to start right after the Labor Day race, now it’s around the third week in September we get on the track,” said Kolceski, who since 1976 has also helped maintain nearby DIRTcar tracks Cayuga County Fair Speedway in Weedsport, Rolling Wheels Raceway Park in Elbridge, and Canandaigua (NY) Speedway. “Back when they used to have horse races (2004-05) I remember about 400 or 500 tons of stone dust being laid down. There’s still some out there today, but the track doesn’t get nearly as hard anymore.”

“Whatever the surface on race day you’ll still get a different opinion depending on preference. Some say too hard, other racers find it a little soft in spots. Then it’s too wet until it dries out and you get some dust. Most of the time it’s not tacky, sometimes slick, but as long as its smooth I don’t mind,” said Kolceski, who remembers winning driver Gary Balough and chassis designer Grant King racing their rental cars one summer day in the 1970s on the dust-ridden mile when nobody was supposed to be watching.

Bearing witness to all but a handful of Super DIRT Weeks since the inception in 1972, Kolceski is quick to recall the treacherous track conditions that arose a year ago that only winner Matt Sheppard seemed oblivious to on Super Sunday.

“Last year was one of the wettest Septembers ever around here with rain falling both before and during Super DIRT Week,” Kolceski noted. “What most people don’t know about is the big Tractor Pull that was held Sunday before Labor Day. And for that event the track was dug deeper and farther into turn one than ever before. With the tractors normally running low and more in the middle of the front straightaway, they were given the opportunity to go further into the turn from top to bottom. The rain kept us from getting enough work done on the track and when October finally arrived it turned out to be too late to salvage an all-around smooth surface in time for the biggest race.”

Joined by fellow grounds crewmen Eric Fink and Pat Olmstead, Kolceski turned trackside for the first time on Sept. 20, putting in a full nine-hour day watering, grading and rolling the Syracuse Mile. The same process will be repeated over and over until the first cars hit the track for ‘Happy Hour’ on Wed., Oct. 6.

“Since I started there have been so many improvements made over the years with car technology, we’re always hoping for some kind of advancement in clay that can keep up with the Modifieds,” Kolceski added. “Yet whatever formula you’re dealt with, weather will always dictate the final outcome. When to water and how much to put down is the guessing game you play all week. The sooner we can get it packed down the better. That takes the guess work out and makes it easier every day after the rest of the week.”

Only two weeks remain to order tickets for the greatest spectacle in Big-Block Modified racing. Advance sale tickets can be ordered online at www.superdirtweekonline.com or by contacting DIRTcar Racing Northeast Headquarters at 315-834-6606. More information can also be found at www.superdirtcarseries.com and www.dirtcar.com.

DIRTcar Racing Northeast main office is located in Weedsport, New York on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds, home of DIRTcar All-Star Weekend in July. DIRTcar Northeast’s crown jewel event —Super DIRT Week at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse runs annually in October featuring Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series events for Big-Block Modified, 358-Modified, Sportsman and Pro Stock divisions. Ticket and schedule information is available by contacting the Weedsport office (315/834-6606) during the day or logging into www.allstar100weekend.com and www.superdirtweekonline.com anytime.

The Big-Block Super DIRTcar Series is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Hoosier Racing Tire www.hoosiertire.com, VP Racing Fuels www.vpracingfuels.com and GM Performance Parts www.gmperformanceparts.com. Promotional partners include the University of Northwestern Ohio www.unoh.com and Chizmark & Larson Insurance www.chizmarklarson.com, and contingency sponsors are Bicknell Racing Products www.bicknellracingproducts.com, Bilstein Shocks www.bilstein.com, KSE Racing Products www.kse-racing.com, Motorsports Safety Systems www.motorsportssafetysystems.com, MSD Ignition www.msdignition.com, Penske Shocks, www.penskeshocks.com, Racing Electronics www.racingelectronics.com, Vicci Racing Apparel www.vicci.com and Wrisco Industries www.wrisco.com.