1970 was supposed to be the day dirt racing died. Instead, the wildly popular, dirt-flying sport has become more popular than ever. While NASCAR audiences are gradually dwindling, dirt racing is on a steady rise due to a number of factors. The sport that was once considered outdated and on its way out is now dominating the grassroots racing venues in every state in the U.S.

NASCAR racing used to be held on both paved and dirt tracks. In 1970, in Raleigh, NC, drivers darted around the oval track for the final time. The 23 drivers hung up their helmets for the dirt aspects of their NASCAR careers in favor of paved tracks. Dirt racing should have come to a screeching halt with the exit of such exalted drivers; however, many underestimated the popularity and practicality of dirt racing.

One the recession hit in the early 2000s, dirt-track racing began to experience increased popularity. While major league sporting events charged enormous prices for tickets and parking, dirt racing was and continues to be, affordable. Track upkeep prices are much lower than paved tracks, parking is cheaper or free, and the availability of tracks decrease travel costs. Not only was cost a factor for fans but drivers also experienced decreased costs. Hauling and dumping dirt is much cheaper (usually around $100 a load) than hiring a team to repave a ⅓ mile track. Some paved races would require drivers to buy new tires each week, which leads to much higher costs in the long run.

Track availability may be one of the top influential factors in the rise of dirt-track racing. According to the National Speedway Directory, in 2010 there were 752 operational oval dirt tracks while only 233 paved tracks. There are race tracks in every state and, in most states, dirt tracks vastly outnumber the paved. Fans don’t have to travel great distances as they do with NASCAR to see a wildly entertaining race featuring their favorite drivers.

Cost isn’t the only factor causing the rise of dirt-racing; a focus on the fans has led to enormous success. Dirt racing is very much a grassroots sport where it is tremendously popular with its following. Without those fans, the sport would not continue to thrive, so the organizations, drivers, and tracks hosting these races cater to their fan base much more so than larger major league sports. Tracks such as Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway allow kids under the age of 12 into their weekly races free of charge. After most races, fans are allowed into the pit to meet the drivers and see the cars, which almost never happens in larger-scale types of sporting events.

Dirt racing is making a comeback for a wide variety of reasons. It won’t break the bank, it’s a way to spend time together as a family, and it gives fans an opportunity to get up close and personal with the drivers they watch each week. While other forms of racing may be struggling to keep their fanbase, dirt racing is on the rise now more than ever.