NARC NEWSLINE – APRIL 4, 2023, By Jim Allen … Let’s be honest, motorsports have taken some serious blows in the past three years. First, we got hit with COVID-19, then a totally unexpected tire shortage, and now a lunatic Mother Nature of California acting like she’s got the world’s worst case of PMS. The Golden State headlines are dominated by record rainfall, storms, and flooding that has forced the cancellation and postponement of many racing events. Meteorologist’s call it an “Atmospheric River.” I think I speak on behalf of everybody reading this column when I call it a “pain in the butt.”
It’s one thing to rain, but to have so water that most dirt track infields resemble fishing ponds doesn’t work. There is literally no place left for it to drain. Social media is loaded with track photos showing newfound lakes, ponds, swamps, leaking levees, and flooding. The Tulare Fairgrounds is now a disaster relief center for animals after a recent levee break. The Kings Speedway overflow pond is full and there is no place to pump the water unless the neighboring airport wants to start practicing water landings. The grounds surrounding the Stockton Dirt Track resemble swamp lands in Florida and I’m waiting for an alligator to crawl up to the staging area. Then there is Silver Dollar Speedway where haulers entering the pits would be like a tagline for a horror movie: “They all went in, but nobody came out.” It’s more suited for Monster Trucks. And for places like Petaluma, Merced, Antioch, Watsonville, Placerville, KCRP, and Santa Maria, pumping water is part of the morning ritual.
In the meantime, racing teams are getting anxious, promoters wonder when it will end, and fans are enduring some serious withdrawals. And the main reason we dislike it is because we can’t do anything about it. It’s totally out of our control. Don’t you hate when that happens?
Promoter Tony Noceti was all geared up for his big April 1st Asparagus Cup at Stockton but got cannonballed in the days leading up to the show, completely drenching the place. He held out for as long as he could but was forced to pull the proverbial plug two days before the show. At that point, social media lit up like the press coverage of Donald Trump going to New York, proclaiming the show should be moved to Placerville Speedway or Kern County Raceway Park. Contrary to belief, we looked into one of those options but with just 48 hours’ notice, it just couldn’t happen. Contrary to belief, racetracks gear up for events, not just open the gate on race day and hope there is beer and food and people to work the facility. Then there is the other wild card and that is the racer and the fan correlation. We know 100%, beyond a reasonable doubt, that most teams will show up naked to race lawnmowers in the snow. One thing they don’t do is race for free and without a large crowd, the promoter’s wallet would bleed red ink like it was in a spaghetti strainer. That’s not a workable scenario. So now, we just wait.
HEY JIM, DID YOU MENTION SANTA MARIA? By design, I actually did. Many of you are asking questions about the beleaguered facility. Is it still open? Will NARC go there again? Is the track up for sale? I heard there is five races scheduled this year – is that true? And your answers are … SORT OF, WE WANT TO, YUP, and PROBABLY.
But seriously, what is happening at Santa Maria Raceway would make Doug Fort roll over in his grave. What most people think is that the encroaching housing development hates racing, and the track is being sued into non-existence. While there is some truth in that statement, it’s really not that way – in a twisted sort of way.
Let me explain: What the housing development has a problem with is the other “entertainment activities” that take place at the track. And we are not talking about something underhanded like a gambling hall or a strip club. Promoter Nick Duggan and his group of track investors had great plans for the iconic facility and discovered a gold mine opportunity by adding “Mexican Rodeos” to the mix. It would help make ends meet in a tough business. To put the Mexican Rodeo’s in real world terms, it’s are absolutely huge. They literally make a crowd at a World of Outlaws show look like small family picnic. SMR was literally packed with families enjoying the rodeo, live music, and other related activities. And they left the place cleaner than when they found it. That’s a WIN that also happens to reel in local community involvement and support for the facility.
According to legal documents filed by resident lawyers in the neighboring subdivision, it was stated that the Raceway needed an “entertainment license” if they held any activities besides racing. Not to mention, they also want to require a $100,000 EPA Study to make sure the ground was safe for farm animals and touring rock bands. So, the track went to PLAN B in an attempt to placate the locals. Duggan & Company did the right thing and secured the license and incorporated a little “off-road racing” into the next two Mexican Rodeo events. Sounds reasonable, eh? The best of all worlds, right? NOPE! The homeowner’s association felt that effort bypassed the intention of what they were trying to accomplish and stated there wasn’t enough racing to make it a “racing” event. Somewhere in the middle of all that, they also wanted half of the revenue from those events. Shortly thereafter, the aforementioned entertainment license was rescinded by San Luis Obispo County officials and the track was fined $25,000. Man, you can’t make this stuff up!
The good news is because the Raceway was an established facility, several local establishments went to bat for the track, including the police and fire departments. They wrote letters and eventually, the fine was dropped down to $5,000. While that was good, it’s still a fine for $5000. Just pile that on top of the other $200,000 in legal fees and just about anybody of sane mind and body would wonder why Duggan didn’t invest in a Quick Quack Car Wash instead. To put those expenses in perspective, that would take a few successful racing seasons to recuperate – and that is if nothing else goes wrong.
At this juncture, the track is still up for sale. If you have $2.7M burning a hole in your pocket or laying around in your 401K, Santa Maria Raceway could be the business of your dreams (or nightmares if local lawyers continue on their mission.) But don’t wait too long because the land may be more valuable than the track itself. A storage unit company offered $1.8M and wanted one-year of due diligence to make sure they were not assuming an assortment of hidden liabilities. That didn’t get accepted.
Camping World also stepped up to the offer table with $2.2M, which also included an extended “no racing” holding period. However, that offer got pulled back when it was discovered the facility is geographically in a flood plain. To build a Camping World would require prior approval by … you ready for this … FEMA, Fish & Game, and the Army Corp of Engineers which maintains and fixes any levee issues. Then there is the ultimate trump card. It’s called CEQA, which is the California Environmental Quality Act. It requires state and local government to inform decision makers and the public about potential environmental impacts of proposed projects and to reduce them. So based on that statement which I borrowed off Google, if we all step back for just a second and take a deep breath, it’s actually easier to keep Santa Maria Raceway a racing facility than to actually build on the property. They just can’t do rodeos, concerts, gambling, flea markets, or strip club related activities.
In the meantime, track manager David Castaneda has scheduled a few events in an attempt to keep the track relevant. While this is going on, legal expenses, fines, and property tax bills still need to be paid and facility maintenance needs to keep moving forward. It might not be a winnable battle.
Castaneda, who actually received a few death threats when the track was initially closed, has a handful of USAC/CRA events scheduled this summer (hopefully). The ownership group is also open for a third-party to come in and promote an event on their own. There have been a few inquiries, but nothing serious yet. Could it be that they are leery of possibly becoming a defendant on a legal document?
Does this answer all of your questions, or just leave you shaking your head in disbelief? I can see the heads shaking now! No, this isn’t another April Fools story, this is the real deal! If we think that the likes of Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are going to ante up millions to buy tracks out of the goodness of their hearts, it probably isn’t a realistic expectation. In addition to being successful race car drivers, they are successful businessmen. Most investors demand a return on their initial investment within a five-year period. A $2M racetrack purchase equates to cashing out $400,000 a year. That might happen at a Knoxville or Eldora, but probably not at a dirt track in California. If our racetracks were netting $400,000 per year, we would see Tony Noceti, Scott Russell, Steve Faria and Rick Faeth and others lined up doing the doing the “happy dance” on the front straightaway. (I apologize for that visual.)
Now you have to admit, after reading this, the problems at Calistoga Speedway don’t seem so bad compared to Santa Maria. The reality is there is a lot of work to be done and it’s not just at those two tracks. Perris Auto Speedway is located smack dab in the middle of a proposed State water project and a legal battle related to make the Perris Dam more earthquake safe. State officials want to close the facility to do the work with the promise it will be completed by 2025. Sure, you betcha! And I’ve got some swamp land at the Stockton Dirt Track I would like to sell you or review the timeline and budget of something called the “Bullet Train to nowhere.” (For news on the Perris situation, go here … https://www.pressenterprise.com/2022/09/04/perris-dam-project-threatens-perris-auto-speedway-fairgrounds-businesses-lawsuit-alleges/)
We also heard through the grapevine that several hotel chains are drooling over the property that is now Ventura Speedway. Ocean views and a beach just 100 yards from the front lobby is in the Embassy Suites business handbook. The bottom line is we can only dream about some big motorsport icons coming in to purchase Calistoga Speedway and restore it to its 2019 pre-covid luster. Or maybe a race fan will win one of those gigantic billion-dollar Powerball lotteries and take care of everything. It’s probably has the same odds.
Now the purpose of sharing all of this information is not to get you depressed or upset. Just know that your beloved racetracks are under attack and promoters are fighting hard to save them. Some of those promoters are literally backed into a corner.
If you really want to step up for dirt track racing, we need you to sit down – like in a seat at your local dirt track on race day. And while you are at it, bring a friend, or two. We need packed grandstands at every motorsports event in California. Maybe then, somebody will take notice and realize that the racing community pumps a lot of money into the local economy, and we are one of the best marketing demographics in the U.S.A. Amen!
NARC NOTES: Fire suppression systems are mandatory by May 1st. An informal poll of NARC regulars show most are way ahead of the curve and are already installed. … It sure is nice to see racetracks finally offering “SEASON PASSES” to diehard race fans. … Joel Myers Jr. is taking no prisoners in New Zealand these days. He is winning everything back there and hopes to parlay that into a few NARC victories this season. … Along those lines, there are a ton of young drivers on the NARC tour looking to take the next step in their careers. Who will win their first NARC feature event of their career this season? Your choices are, in no particular order, Dylan Bloomfield, Max Mittry, Blake Carrick, Kaleb Montgomery, Joel Myers Jr., Tanner Holmes, Nick Parker, Tanner Carrick, Cole Macedo and Joey Ancona. That is one heck of a heat race if you put them all together. …
… We welcome some new sponsors to our ranks this year including NAPA Auto Parts, Beacon Wealth Strategies, Williams Roofing, Diversified Machine, LifelineUSA, & D & D Roofing. We couldn’t do it without them. If you have a lead on a presenting sponsor for our series, please contact me. Please support those who support sprint car racing. … As you may have seen, Ben Deatherage is our new Media Specialist this season, replacing Alex Nieten who now works for the World of Outlaws. He has already created some great marketing pieces and authors a new column called “NARC BY THE NUM*ER5! Make sure you check it out. You can also listen to his Inside NARC interviews online and his multitude of interviews on Highside Racing Promotions. … You can catch NARC on Floracing, but as I stated earlier, we really need you at the track. … Tim Kaeding needs a full-time 410 ride. … It is going to be nice to see a little more of Andy Forsberg and Sean Becker this season. Both have more 410 events on their schedule. … Let the High Limit races begin! … For those of you who may be interested in some golf during the Fastest Four Days in Motorsports adventure, send me a DM. I’m planning to fill in some downtime.
And finally, we’ve got a ton of racing coming up. Peter Murphy is hard at it to make sure Kings Speedway is race-ready for Saturday’s (4/8/23) $10,000 to win Anthony Simone Classic. The pit area might not be perfect when we arrive, but the alternative is sitting at home surfing crap-shows on Netflix for the 300th time. I’ll take racing for $10,000 Alex! This show also includes a 15-lap non-wing NARC feature.
By the way, if you get a chance, make sure you stop by the NAPA Auto Parts store in Hanford between 10:00 a.m. and NOON on Saturday. Our two-time NARC champion Dominic Scelzi will have his hauler and car on display and will be signing autographs. And … possibly handing out some free stuff. The address is 380 W 8th St, Hanford, CA 93230.
We follow up the Simone show with the highly anticipated Dennis Roth Classic on April 14-15th at the Thunderbowl Raceway. The winner will walk away with $18,383 on Saturday night. The extra $83 comes via a contribution by Brad Kennedy in case you were wondering. Look for Roth Motorsports to have two or three cars running in the event. By the way, in addition to the enhanced purse, individual event winners take home a Roth ice chest full of meat. Fast time is worth 10 lbs. of New York Strip. Heat race winners take home 20 lbs. of Tri-Tip. And the Dennis Roth Classic winner will be loaded up with 30 lbs. of Ribeye. Of course, the Sunnyvalley Dash winner takes home 10 lbs. of the best bacon on the planet. A clean sweep of the program comes with a free cholesterol check.
We conclude the month of April – Mother Nature permitting – on April 29th. The NARC 410 sprint cars will be returning to Antioch Speedway for the first time since 2017. Everybody is pretty stoked about the Contra Costa County Clash. We will see you there!
Coming to you live from Auburn, CA. See ya.