Racing Is Bumpy For Drivers, But Canadian Amber Balcaen Has Big Challenges

Racing is expensive. The price to keep a car and driver racetrack-ready is terrifying. For the right company, it is worth the cost. By sponsoring a driver, you get two to three hours of engaged marketing each week on a massive billboard. More importantly, you get a brand ambassador.

These are the points that Amber Balcaen is currently making to businesses and persons of interest in her daily pleas and pitches for funding to get back on the racetrack.

"In order for me to be on the racetrack, I need to find sponsorship -- it costs a lot of money to race NASCAR," Balcean said. "To race in general it costs a lot of money, and I cannot be racing without the help of sponsors. So as of right now I don't have the sponsorship, so I'm not racing. Considering that it's my job and it's the only way I can make money because I'm a Canadian and living in the States on an athlete visa, it makes things very difficult."

Balcaen had a sponsor sign on the first race of the season, and a second sponsor came on board to fund the rest of the year. After her first race, the second sponsor did not come forth with its promised funding, causing her to miss the second and third races of the season -- so far.

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Balcaen was Rookie of the Year in the Whelen All-American Series last season. She accomplished this in her first year racing pavement while also claiming the honor of being the first Canadian female racer to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the United States. Balcaen is a third-generation racer but the first to leave dirt for pavement. Her success in the All-American Series led her to move up to K&N East NASCAR's regional series, putting her on a similar but different path than her father and grandfather.

"I'm now at the place where I'm making a name for myself and not in the shadows of my grandfather and my father," she said.

After the success of last season, Balcaen expected more sponsorship opportunities to be pouring in for this season.

"I expected from my on-track success and off-track presence that I would have a lot easier of a time getting a sponsor this year," she said. "I actually was quite optimistic about it. So the fact that I don't currently have one kind of surprises me. I know how difficult the racing industry is and I was definitely warned that this wasn't going to be easy, but I also didn't expect it to be this challenging, especially coming off last season."

Balcaen sees what makes her different in the field as a big opportunity for sponsors.

"I think it's a positive and an advantage because I stand out -- I'm something different," she said. "The marketability factor has increased, because I am different, being Canadian and being a female."

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Despite her financial woes, Balcaen does not regret leaving dirt sprints to race pavement. She also has some advice to those young girls and guys who are considering the same path.

"Ask a lot of questions, do a lot of research, and just try to get as much seat time as possible," Balcaen said. "Try to get in the race car as much as you can. I think just the more questions you ask and the more research you do is the best. That's kind of what I did; it's kind of like taking on any new project or starting a new business. A lot of it is trial and error but you try to set yourself up for the change as much as possible.

"You have to roll with the negatives and the positives."

Balcaen is aching to get back to the track and continue to pursue her passion. If funding comes up, she'll be back on the track in less than two weeks. Balcaen is in her 14th year racing and understands that the industry can be fickle and is willing to wait for her chance.

@AmberBalcaen10
AmberBalcaenRacing.com

H4: Women in Racing
Sarah Cornett-Ching
McKenna Haase

All-Star Circuit of Champions Taking 'Week-to-Week' Approach to 2020

Eric Walls, the director of the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions, is as anxious to go racing as his 410 Sprint Car tour’s drivers, team members and fans. He understands, however, that he’s unlikely to hear the roar of race car engines as soon as he, and everyone else, would like due to the coronavirus pandemic that has overtaken the country.While the 410 Sprint Car series owned by former NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart hasn’t yet announced any event cancelations or postponements due to the crisis, Walls admitted this week that decisions will soon have to be made on upcoming races starting with the April 10-11 Spring Nationals doubleheader at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park. He certainly wants to remain as positive about racing as he can be, but he knows the opposite will likely be the case with the series, which in 2020 has all of its events slated for live broadcast to FloRacing subscribers.“Yeah, we’d love to race,” Walls said. “But when reality sets in, let’s be honest, we’re not gonna race till May probably.”Walls is monitoring the ever-developing landscape on a “week-to-week basis,” keeping open a sliver of hope for competition to happen if the spread of the coronavirus were to slow enough for government and health officials to relax existing stay-at-home and mass-gathering orders that are keeping racetracks shuttered. But reports of positive coronavirus cases have been escalating in recent days — including in the states of Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania that are slated to host the All Star events scheduled for April — so a quick return to normalcy seems unlikely.“We love to race, and if we get the ‘all clear’ (from government officials), we’ll go racing,” Walls said. “But just for the safety of the fans and the drivers and everybody involved (in the running of a race), we’re gonna take this one week at a time and make sure everybody’s safe and ready to go back to action here.”Walls has been in contact with the promoters of the tour’s April events that begin with Attica and go on to Virginia Motor Speedway in Jamaica (scheduled for April 16), Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. (April 17), Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway (April 18), Bedford (Pa.) Speedway (April 19) and Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio (April 25). All the track operators have their facilities ready for what would be an attractive and lucrative stretch of racing for the ASCoC, but the crisis supersedes all the best-laid plans.According to Walls, the response he’s giving to All Star drivers who call looking for information on upcoming races basically tells the story of the circuit’s current status.“I’ve had a few drivers reach out to me, just for their travel plans,” Walls said. “A couple of our drivers fly to different places so they wanted to book their travel.“Not that I knew what was gonna go on as far as what the government is gonna do, but it was just my opinion to them that I certainly hope that April 10 we’re racing, but I’m a realist. I can’t see the government from state-to-state lifting this ban until later on in the season.“It’s just giving them my opinion on it and they can book their travel if they want to, but at the end of the day we’ve got to use some common sense when we’re looking at this too.”Walls is already scouring the 2020 calendar to consider makeup dates for races that might fall to the coronavirus situation. That includes the April 16 stop at Virginia Motor Speedway, a $12,000-to-win special that VMS and All Star officials worked together to schedule during the NASCAR weekend at nearby Richmond International Raceway — a weekend that NASCAR has already postponed to an undermined date.“It’s just going through the schedule to where we’re thinking racing is potentially not going to happen and trying to look down through our schedule and reschedule races,” Walls said.With the kickoff of the 2020 ASCoC season in February at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., and East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla. (both tracks ran two races), Walls started his second year as the tour’s director on an uplifting note. He never could have imagined having to deal with the unprecedented crisis that has presented itself, but he remarked that some trying stretches during his rookie campaign at the helm helped prepare him for curveballs thrown at him.“If you could look into the future, I guess (Ohio Sprint) Speedweek last year really groomed me into this position this year,” said Walls, a native of Chambersburg, Pa., who now lives in Brownsburg, Ind., near the Tony Stewart Racing shop that houses the ASCoC office. “With Speedweek, it was just rain every day. We got to the point where we knew we needed to race and Speedweek was a unique opportunity (with teams in one general area), so we started reaching out to racetracks and saying, ‘Hey, it’s not gonna rain there … do you want to race?’ We just took the schedule and moved it all around and got as many races in as we could.”Calling what has come up this year “a challenging time for sure,” Walls anticipates that he will have to do some creative scheduling once again this season. Adding races at tracks that are already bringing the series back later in the season? Extending the season past the planned finale on Sept. 26 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio? Everything might have to be on the table.“It will certainly be a unique year,” Walls said. “I think from not only our series but other series as well, including USAC and the (World of) Outlaws, you’re gonna see something different that no one’s ever seen before.“Our schedule’s a little bit unique. We go to a lot of the same racetracks at different times of the year, and we can certainly throw in an extra date here or there. But just looking down through our schedule late in the season, there’s not very many open weekends. And the open weekends we have built in, they’re for bigger races so our guys can go travel to race with different series. That’s something we built in there this year for our guys to go race for some bigger money in between during the season.“To lose some big money races this early on, it’s gonna make the season rough,” he added. “But I think we’re gonna motor through it and hopefully we can get to racing by the end of April or the first of June and everything goes smooth from there on. It certainly will not just be a flip of the switch (to return to normalcy for the country), that’s for sure. If I had to guess, it’ll be a slow process of going back to full time, but we’ll be ready when it happens.”

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Feeling like a blown-out tire from all the COVID-19 cancelations? Us too.