An Intern’s Take on New Egypt Speedwayerik158@gmail.com
Saturday Night’s Alright for Racing: The Dirt on what it Takes to Manage a Racetrack
By: Bill Romba
Six Flags Great Adventure is one of the biggest attractions in the Monmouth County area and it’s located on County Road 537. However, there is another destination for people in the area to spend time with their families and friends just up the road from the popular theme park. If you drive past Great Adventure, make a left turn onto County Road 539 and drive a few minutes, and you will see a large open field on your left.
Located in front of a forest of pine trees is a large dirt oval, surrounded by towering metal grandstands and lights that brighten up this clay circle when those grandstands come to life every Saturday night.
This modest, unassuming attraction is the New Egypt Speedway and it is a must visit for race fans in the area on Saturday nights from April through September. Because the track hosts events for half of the calendar year, there is a lot of responsibility for making sure everything runs smoothly. These responsibilities usually fall on the shoulders of General Manager, Allyse Wolfinger.
Wolfinger, a 27-year-old graduate of Albright College in Reading, PA, with a degree in Communications, was behind her computer, trolling websites and message boards for fan reactions to the previous night’s event when I entered the track’s office. As she sat behind her keyboard, which was branded with a red 88 and the same colors as NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s race car, it became clear that Wolfinger was in the right line of work.
While many Communication majors dream of writing for publications like the New York Times or the Washington Post, Wolfinger told me she has always been a race fan and, because of this passion, she has “always wanted to work in the racing industry.”
“At first I wanted to be a NASCAR journalist,” said Wolfinger. “But with the downfall of print media during my sophomore year in college, I added public relations as a backup. When I graduated college I applied (for) and received an internship with (New Egypt Speedway) and was later hired as the Office Manager. I figured working at the Speedway would be a good resume builder to continue on to the NASCAR ranks that I aspire to.”
However, she also made it clear the grass roots atmosphere at New Egypt Speedway is much different than the glitz and glamour the big money NASCAR circuit provides.
“Being the General Manager is quite a job since we don’t have the funding to hire any type of assistant,” Wolfinger said. “I am responsible for all the finances on a race night as well as coordinating personnel, running the office, doing fan promotions, keeping the drivers in check, doling out any penalties that are assessed, making sure out first aid crew is at every event, and anything else that comes up.”
And that’s just on a Saturday night. “During the week I am responsible for finding sponsors; coordinating non-racing events like Mud Hops, Mud Runs, and Paintball Tournaments; finding promotional opportunities like car shows, open houses, grand openings, etc. I am also responsible for all State Police paperwork, as we are governed by them.”
While Wolfinger has always had a passion for racing, she has also had a passion for helping others, as she mentioned her college internship with the Special Olympics.
“I have always tried to be a charitable person and when I was searching for internships I just happened to find the application for the Special Olympics,” she said. “ I figured it would be a perfect fit because I like to help people and the internship was in my field of study.”
Wolfinger also said that she gained much more than college credit from her practicum. “My experience was absolutely amazing and so inspiring. To see the generosity of donors was wonderful. I learned so much from the director of their public relations department, as far as finding media coverage and developing strategies for different events. It was an incredible experience and I learned from the staff, as well as the athletes.”
After her time at Albright, Wolfinger began working at New Egypt in June of 2009 as an intern. Back then, her responsibilities were a tad lighter than they are today; handing out schedules to local businesses and running the office during Saturday night events. Now, five years later, Woldinger is responsible for making sure these Saturday night events go off without a hitch.
“The first thing I need to do is make sure the track conditions are good for both the drivers and the fans in the stands by making sure the surface is smooth and as dust free as you can make a dirt track. We also have to make sure there is constant communications between all of our officials to keep the show moving, as well as make sure we line up the cars in the correct positions throughout the races and assess penalties for both on and off-track violations.”
But what happens when things don’t go smoothly? Wolfinger mentioned she has seen things get a little hairy in her five years at New Egypt. “The year I interned, we had a driver ram his helmet into our official’s head and knock two of his teeth out,” she said with a chuckle. “He was suspended by the State Police for the rest of the season.”
She also mentioned that during her first year at the Speedway, she and the rest of the track personnel filmed a pilot for a reality television show called “Jersey Thunder.” The aim was to show the ins and outs of running a race track and what goes on at the Speedway behind the scenes. The show was never picked up, but she did mention the pilot episode is posted online.
Racing at the New Egypt Speedway may look like a simplistic, uneventful way to spend a Saturday night, but there is clearly a lot of unseen work that goes into putting on an event. However, Wolfinger says she enjoys the challenge and that it’s all worth it to see fans come to watch and enjoy the finished product.
“The best part of my job is the challenge. To continuously come up with new ideas to keep the regular fans coming and attract new fans, that’s the best part of this job for sure.”
For example, Wolfinger mentioned the different theme nights that the track holds, such as NFL Night, First Responders Night, and Beach Party Night, and that they are always a big hit with fans. She also mentioned the track’s annual silent auction for the Wounded Warrior Project, as well as their “Christmas in July” toy drive benefitting Toys for Tots. Both of these fundraisers also generate a large crowd because, “fans always turn out in large numbers to donate to these great causes. We’re fortunate to have a very charitable fan base.”
Clearly Wolfinger knows that, because the Speedway is not in the same league as the theme park up the road from them, it is the fans that keep New Egypt up and running. “We’re a small operation, so without the fans and drivers showing up on Saturday night, we’re nothing,” she said. “Making sure the fans have a great time is what it’s all about for me.”