Widely regarded as one of dirt track racing's most ambitious promoters, Matt Curl says it's time to let things settle a bit at Fairbury's American Legion Speedway.
"We've spent nearly $400,000 with capital improvements in the last five years," said Curl, reflecting on his half-decade at the track's helm, as well as on a banner 2017 racing season that concluded two weeks ago with the inaugural Sprint Mania FALS Classic. He believes it's time to take step back from the major projects and let what's been done begin to pay off.
"We're just going to tie up a few loose ends (in 2018), a bit of landscaping, some new signs, but nothing major like we have been doing," Curl said.
Major improvements in recent years at Fairbury have included new seating and new retaining walls surrounding the track. A brand new restroom also was built behind the backstretch grandstands with the frontstretch-side restrooms totally refurbished.
The track began reaping some rewards of the work with a record crowd at July's Prairie Dirt Classic (PDC) World of Outlaws Late Model Series event, as well as a grandstand bursting at the seams for the UMP Summer Nationals race in June. Those events anchored a successful season at the venerable, 71-year old fairgrounds facility.
Other area tracks also are reporting solid returns from the season.
Lincoln Speedway enjoyed its largest crowd in track history in 2017 when the USAC National Midget Series joined the card with the UMP Summer Nationals on Fourth of July weekend.
"We ran out of parking, we ran out of food, we almost ran out of pit parking," said Adam Mackey of Track Enterprises, the Bob Sargent-run organization that promotes racing events at the Logan County Fairgrounds.
"We knew this was going to be huge, but a lot of times you expect the event to be really big and you sometimes end up disappointed. With this event, we surpassed expectations and we have to keep building off that."
Lincoln Speedway's prior largest crowd was three weeks earlier when NASCAR champion Tony Stewart brought his Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions Series to Lincoln, strapping into a sprint car and competing himself.
Farmer City Raceway is hoping to build a "signature event" with its running of the "Farmer City 74," a dirt late model special event launched in 2017 and won by Oakwood's Bobby Pierce.
Track promoter Lance Spieker was hoping to garner sufficient revenue from the race to make some needed improvements, including a scoreboard, a transponder system and some money for the end-of-season point fund.
They'll settle for sprucing up the restrooms at the facility while continuing to build toward fulfilling the wish list.
Spieker and the guys and gals at Farmer City have been doing a bang-up job in digging the track out of a pretty serious hole dug by its former promoter. It's sometimes been tough sledding the past five years, but they've been inching their way along.
"It seems like baby steps every year," Spieker said. "Every year has gotten a little bit better and overall, I'd say this past year was a success."
Expect more of the same in 2018 with some tweaks in the Farmer City 74 format being considered.
Fairbury tweaked its format for the PDC in 2017, altering the Friday portion of the two-day event to rave reviews. The track also began providing more variety with more open-wheel events.
Curl sees a great future for midget and sprint car racing at the track as area fans become more accustomed to the open-wheel product.
"It's obvious that we have a late model fan base at Fairbury and it's going to take some time," he said. "But they'll be successful because they put on some spectacular races this year. We couldn't have been happier with the excitement they bring and the level of competition."
That included reigning USAC National Midget Series champion Tanner Thorson of Minden, Nev., putting a last-lap "slide job to end all slide jobs" on California dirt track ace Rico Abreu to win the Lucas Oil POWRi National Midget League race in May.
The track also hosted a pair of MOWA winged-sprint car races, both won by California's Carson Macedo. Springfield's Korey Weyant and 2015 USAC National Sprint Car Series champion Robert Ballou were winners of the WAR East non-winged sprint car events at the track.
On the late model side, El Paso's Ryan Unzicker won the Fairbury weekly series title with Moweaqua's Shannon Babb (Summer Nationals) and New Berlin's Brandon Sheppard (Prairie Dirt Classic) splitting the special events.
Sheppard, 24, has had a remarkable 2017 season in the Rocket Chassis "house car." He's won nearly half (17-of-41) of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series events, including the PDC and the 75-lap Illini 100 main event in late March at Farmer City.
Sheppard also won five straight Summer Nationals races during a brief "vacation" from the Outlaws tour. The streak included the July 2 race at Lincoln that also saw NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader Christopher Bell grab the USAC National Midget Series main event in a blockbuster night of racing.