Midget-car racing returns to Boardwalk Hall this weekend as a cheaper alternative for drivers and fans stung by a harsh economy.

“Whenever the economy is bad, this type of racing has done well,” Len Sammons, promoter of the Atlantic City Indoor Race, said Friday, the first day of the competition.

Today’s economy affects everyone in motorsports, from NASCAR drivers all the way to their three-quarter midget car counterparts racing this weekend. NASCAR and major open-wheel series have struggled to find sponsors and fill grandstands, and some teams have shut down.But Jim “Timex” Morgan, one of the most popular drivers in the midget-car circuit, says he’s seen his sport’s popularity rise in recent years. According to Morgan, the growth is due to some higher-profile owners and sponsors attaching themselves to the midget-car series.

“We’re getting a lot of big names who can’t afford to race in other leagues, so they come here,” Morgan said. “When a big name comes on, usually others come on. The economy has helped this class of racing a lot.”

Morgan has arguably the biggest sponsor in the race, Dunkin Donuts. Morgan signed an agreement with Dunkin Donuts this season and unveiled the DD logo on his car on Friday, as well as a special Dunkin Donuts two-seater midget car.

Watch the video from the front seat of the Dunkin Donuts sponsored Midget Car:

Midget-car racing faces the same sponsorship struggles as the bigger series, but Sammons said his events are succeeding anyway

He said affordable tickets and a family-friendly atmosphere are the keys to his events’ success, even for those, such as this weekend’s, that lack a title sponsor. Tickets to midget-car events typically run between $15-$30. In many outdoor racing venues, fans can bring their own food and drinks and most parking is free.

Official attendance figures at Boardwalk Hall were not released, but on Friday, the lower seating bowl was mostly filled. Tonight’s racing typically draws even more fans.

“It’s really reasonable entertainment for a family,” Sammons said. “For the most part, other than the cost of the ticket, you don’t have to spend any more money if you don’t want to.”

Mike Lichty, owner of two midget cars and driver for two other teams in other series, has had his share of challenges finding sponsors in recent years.

“Sponsorships are very tough. Everybody wants to keep the money in their pockets, ” said Lichty, a native of Innerkip, Ontario, who is competing this weekend at Boardwalk Hall. “But there’s still money out there. There’s companies out there that are willing to spend it so you’ve just got to find the right person.”

Press of Atlantic City