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Daren Friedman racing photo

Forrest's Daren Friedman races at Fairbury's American Legion Speedway in 2015. Friedman is among a number of dirt late model drivers who have left the competition side of the sport because of a lack of return on the work and expense involved in fielding a late model.

Country music superstar Trace Adkins found success with his melodious refrain of "I ain't never had too much fun."

Contrary to Adkins' crooning, grassroots level dirt late model competitors in recent years have discovered that there indeed can be too much of a good thing.

Like too much work requiring too many hours, coupled with too much out-of-pocket cash and too little return of any kind, to continue to pursue their passion.

"Everybody just kind of has the same attitude," El Paso dirt late model standout Ryan Unzicker recently told The Pantagraph. "It's tough, it's expensive, it's a lot of work and you begin to ask yourself if it's really worth it."

For a growing number of dirt late model competitors, it's not.

The result has been alarmingly anemic late model car counts (sometimes fewer than 10) at weekly series events this year — not only at tracks in Central Illinois, but far and wide.

"I've seen ups and downs (in car counts) before, but not as bad as we're seeing it right now," said Forrest's Daren Friedman.

Friedman is among the area competitors who have abandoned the fun and adrenaline rush of banging around on area, county fairgrounds bullrings on a weekly basis.

Although he still has a hand in the sport working at Dyer's Top Rods, a manufacturer of components for high performance motors, he walked away as a driver/owner a couple of years ago and doesn't foresee a return.

"Once you're out of it and have sold everything, it takes a lot to get back in," he said in a phone conversation Wednesday. "The costs have gone up tremendously and the increases are across the board. Fuel, tires, all of the 'consumables' have gone up.

"The race cars themselves, since the early 2000s to now, have more than doubled. The price of the engines has gone up, but not quite as substantially as the cars."

Friedman said, conservatively speaking, it costs at least $75,000 per year to field a dirt late model.

"Then you race for $1,500 a night. You could win every night (at Farmer City and Fairbury) and there's no way you get that back," he said.

Because that's pretty well understood (or should be) by those involved at the grassroots racing level, the key is cutting your losses. In essence, it boils down to how much you want to spend on your hobby.

"At one point, we figured that it would cost us $680 per night and that's if we didn't crash," Friedman said. "At that, you'd have to run in the top-three to break even."

From fourth on back, it then comes down to how much a driver/team is willing to lose for the fun and the challenge they derive from the sport.

That, almost as much as anything, led to Friedman's departure.

"I was spending a lot of money and not having fun doing it," Friedman said. "When we first started, that's all we wanted to do was work on the race car. We'd be at the shop every night until one o'clock in the morning. At the end it became, 'can I put this off until tomorrow?' It became like a burden.

"Then you suddenly find yourself at the track sitting in the car waiting to qualify, it's 100 degrees out, the sun's beating down on you and you're thinking 'do I really want to be here?'"

Entering a new season of life also led to Friedman's exit from behind the wheel. His three sons were growing up quickly and he wanted to spend less time in the race shop and more time engaged in their interests.

"In racing, you have to work all winter long at night to get stuff ready for the next racing season and in the winter they play basketball," he said. "In summer, you miss out on their stuff because you're racing."

To Friedman, racing simply wasn't worth missing out on watching his sons grow up.

Concerns about the amount of time and money allocated to a hobby are not unique to motor sports and Friedman is certainly not the first to grow tired of racing. 

Thing is, in the past when one guy would leave the dirt late model ranks another would enter. That's no longer the case.

"In the generations before us, it was all gearheads that got into it, people who worked on the cars themselves and had fun doing it," Friedman said. "The younger generation just isn't getting into cars like they used to.

"There's not an abundance of kids from 16 to 25 getting into racing at the local level and until the younger generation gets involved, I can see a continued decline."

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph. Contact him at byentes@pantagraph.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes

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