The 2017 racing season at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway ended the same way it started — with a rainout.
It was one of the most challenging seasons — in terms of weather — for Chuck Deery since he took over as the track’s general manager in 1987. Of the 30 events on the schedule, six were totally rained out. Of the remaining 24 events, 15 were plagued by moisture, Deery said.
It was an eventful season — when races were held — as newcomer Nick Panitzke of Lonsdale, Minn., unseated four-time defending track champion Steve Carlson of West Salem for the Tobacco Outlet Plus Late Model track title. That championship, almost fittingly, was cut short as the final 40-lap season finale was rained out.
In fact, two of the first four days of the 48th annual Oktoberfest Race Weekend were rained out. And Saturday’s Oktoberfest Race program wasn’t able to get under way until 9 p.m. because of rain.
“It was the worst summer, weather wise, that I have ever had,” said Deery, who had the season-opening Frostbuster Special rained out on April 30, then the season-ending street drag “Bracket Nationals” washed out on Saturday, Oct. 14.
“We rained out (completely) six events, and 16 others had moisture before, during or right after.”
The season’s biggest event — the Oktoberfest Race Weekend — was also plagued by heavy rain, but did finish strong with a crowd estimated at 4,500 turning out for the final day (Sunday) of the highly popular event.
“It is an emotional letdown as everyone gives something up to make it (Oktoberfest) happen,” Deery said. “It is a big deal for racing throughout the upper Midwest as a lot of teams gear up for it.
“It is an emotional letdown if they don’t get to race.
“To finally get cars on the race track Saturday night and Sunday, to get those programs in, even abbreviated, it certainly helped. A lot of people appreciated that they were able to see some racing when it looked like it would not happen.”
Losing two full days of Oktoberfest Racing was a financial hit, Deery said, comparing it to a retailer losing two or three days of sales before Christmas. While many fans have asked why those races are not rescheduled, he said there simply is not enough time to make it happen.
“We are seasonal business that only has so many days to generate revenue,” Deery said. “Once they are gone, they are gone. My experience though years — over and over — is never double your loss. You would double your loss by offering reschedule race dates.”
So while there was some juggling of the Oktoberfest Race Weekend schedule, there simply wasn’t time to reschedule the large number of races that were lost. That doesn’t mean the staff didn’t try to rework some things, as they did, Deery said.
There was, however, a silver lining to all the rain.
“We did learn a lot from this (Oktoberfest) Race event. It was, ‘If this ever happens again, we can do this, or try that.’ We have developed some different procedures and did some things differently (because of the rain),” Deery said.
“We did transponder qualifying, where we had a bunch of cars on the track (from different divisions). It might be something we do permanently down the road, so it wasn’t all negative.
While it was a challenging season, Deery said he and his staff are already planning the 2018 season.
“We had our (post-Oktoberfest) meeting and there was more positive than negative on everyone’s position. It (wet weather) stinks, but we are not walking away from the season with our heads hanging low,” Deery said. “We don’t complain about the summers that are dry, so we won’t complain about this.”
SAUTER STILL TRUCKING: Johnny Sauter, a Necedah, Wis., native who cut his racing teeth at tracks such as the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway, is right in the thick of the Camping World Track Series championship.
Sauter, who won the Oktoberfest 200 on Oct. 8 at the Fairgrounds Speedway, is in second place in the Truck Series season points standings. He has 3,027 points, 20 behind leader Christopher Bell.
Sauter has won two races in 19 starts, and has nine top-five finishes and 15 top-10 effort. He has 27 playoff points, 20 behind Bell, who has won five races this season.
Sauter is coming off a 12th place finish at Talladega, and is gearing up for the next truck race, which is scheduled for Oct. 28 at Martinsville Speedway. There are four races left in the truck season.