IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
THE SEARCH FOR ANOTHER RACING FIELD OF DREAMS
THE SEARCH FOR ANOTHER RACING FIELD OF DREAMS
It's an alarming trend in the Bay Area. They want to shut down our little Saturday night dirt tracks. At the end of the 1988 season, they got the popular Baylands Raceway Park. At the end of the 1999 season, San Jose Speedway was next. Prior to the 1998 season at Antioch, the local neighborhood whiners showed up to a Fair Board Meeting to voice opposition to the race track and were met head to head not by track regulars or even management but several members of the popular traveling NCMA Modified Sprint division. Prior to 1999, Watsonville Speedway faced threat of closure because of it's expanded schedule plans. All this points to the obvious conclusion that a few people out there want to shut down our race tracks.
However, in the Bay Area, there has been an increase in car count. In fact, Watsonville and Antioch have had increases in car count, and though not as big as it could be, Petaluma is holding its own. In the midst of this, there is a quiet movement towards opening up more race tracks to capitalize on the growing popularity of the sport. Our two flagship Bay Area dirt tracks, Watsonville and Antioch, are filled to capacity with divisions at the moment. In the South Bay, the rumor mill turned quite rapidly about a potential race track in city of Hollister, where the Hells Angels gather for a Motorcycle run once a year. The actual plans for how the new dirt oval would be built were reportedly approved, but the effort to start building got caught in red tape. Hollister Speedway appears dead at this moment.
The second effort may still be in the pursuit stages right now. Somewhere between Morgan Hill and San Jose, they would love to build a new dirt track for Saturday night racing. The "they" reportedly includes Watsonville Promoter Rick Farren. However, much like David Vodden's efforts to replace Baylands with a track in Vacaville, there is no news to report on this effort. Whether anything is in fact still being pursued is a matter of speculation as the people involved in this very real search have kept hush hush.
The East Bay, meanwhile, has had its share of rumors to go with. For a brief period in the late 80's there was talk of a new track on the other side of Antioch. Of course, houses went on that very valuable piece of real estate instead. That also demonstrates one of the big problems in getting a new track built. Most of the prime pieces of land fit for building end up with houses or stores on them. Then came a hot rumor in 1999 that on the site of the old Martinez dump an area businessman was considering building a Raceway Park complex. In the face of all the effort it would take to make it happen, this person balked.
However, two tracks within 30 minutes of Antioch got this reporter's attention. What made them even more interesting was the fact that the property exists and is being used for motorsports competition. In August of last year, The DCRR caught up with a man, who for the purposes of this article we'll call Joe. He has asked to keep his anonymity for various reasons. This person had an interest in putting Stock Car races on at a track on the edge of Brentwood and Byron called Sand Hill Raceway, a property owned by Tom Anderson.
Joe had a group of a half dozen investors behind him for this proposed Stock Car track. "We had a pretty good idea of how we were gonna do it, " claimed Joe. "We would have been able to start racing within four to six months of an agreement."
He acknowledged that there was much work to be done there. "They have cut a quarter-mile dirt track out there, but that's all that's there, " Joe explained. "They have plenty of property, and the track could even be moved if needed. They have some seating, but we'd need to bring in more. We would start with day races, but we'd need to invest in lighting if we were to move to night. We'd have to build virtually everything, but we had a few ideas on what minimum we could do to get started. Like I said, there's a lot of work to do, bit it's doable."
As for what a person might have seen had Sand Hill Raceway become a reality, "We probably wouldn't have run all the classes Antioch has and some would have been occasional classes, " said Joe. "Money is the biggest issue, and you need to be able to afford what you have. Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks, maybe an Enduro or two would have been scheduled. Depending on sponsorships, we might have booked the Grand American Modifieds or the NCMA Modifieds for some dates too. We'd probably start with Sunday afternoon races, but eventually would have gone Friday night."
The ideas that Joe put out in our more than two hour conversation that August afternoon were intriguing, to say the least. So, why wasn't it going to happen? "Basically, they didn't want to risk what they already have by going to the county to ask for more, " claimed Joe. "It would have meant going through a lot of red tape, and there's issues that have hurt them in the past. I think something could happen out there if they really wanted it, but it's up to them I guess."
Needless to say, this interested The DCRR. Sand Hill Raceway has been in existence for many years. It's claim to fame is the annual New Years Hill Climb for Motorcycles. In the 90's, Anderson was interested in getting into Kart racing and Mini Sprint racing. With the help of some racers, a nice one-sixth mile dirt oval was built back in 1993. The San Jose Kart Club raced at Sand Hill during that time. There was also Mini Sprint racing, and even a few Dwarf Cars and Legend Cars showed up to practice. Two drivers trying to climb the ladder in racing, Brandi Ford and Chris Wadsworth, started racing in Sand Hill.
Unfortunately, a few bad decisions caused unwanted attention to Sand Hill. A rave party drew about 4,000 teens and twenty-somethings July 4th weekend of 1997. Four people were suspected of overdosing on drugs and loud music played all night, riling the rural neighbors. Not long after that incident, more than 100 police officers descended on the Sand Hill Ranch Motocross track for an illegal race that drew numerous complaints from neighbors.
In light of these things, Sand Hill Ranch seems to be content these days to open six days a week for anybody who wants to pay to play around with their Motorcycle, Kart or Mini Sprint. It allows them to make a few bucks on the property. This reporter went out to visit Sand Hill and possibly talk with Anderson soon after the conversation with Joe. Unfortunately, a death in the Anderson family had Tom at a funeral. However, Kenny, the track maintenance man, was there and able to provide some insight to the situation.
As for the dirt oval track, "It is a true quarter, " said Kenny, "right down the center. We'll drop a load of water for you on Saturdays and Sundays if you come out. We'll really soup it down though, because it dries off fast. He cuts it about once a week. Right now, it's in pretty good shape. It's got a pretty good hard pack on it, so we don't want to cut it."
Will they try to run any races on it? "It would be up to whatever association, " said Kenny. "We'd lease the track out to somebody. We tried to Go Karts and tried to run a racing program. It's hard to keep so many people happy. Half the people want it this way and half the people want it that way. We don't have lights on it either, so that makes it rough."
What about a racing program for cars? "We can't run anything with a car motor out here, " claimed Kenny. "That has been pursued. Our land use is permitted for Motorcycles, and Motorcycle related activity. We had to fight hard just for that. You can't even run a Mini Stock or Hobby Stock. We've got these Mini Sprint Cars doing 95 to 100 miles per hour out there, and you get an old Pinto out there not even coming close to that, but they're a car motor. That's what they're looking at."
So, it's hopeless? "We'd never get that through, " claims Kenny. "I mean, if somebody wants to try and work the county, good luck."
Do Dwarf Cars and Legend Cars classify under the Motorcycle use permit? "As long as they have Motorcycle motors in them, up to 1300 cc. There's a program there to be had. There's another guy trying to pursue getting Flat Track Motorcycles out here. I don?t know if they could run a program with the cars, because they'd rut up the track too bad. There's also the Quads."
Following along with the theme that there are people who want to shut down race tracks, Sand Hill also has their problems. "We have one person out here, " said Kenny. "You'd be surprised what one person who has no factor in anything can do. We have to go to a meeting for review everything five years or so in front of the planning commission. All it takes is one kook there. They can put down $250 and they can really mess up your world. We had to make a lot of changes, and we were here seven years before she even bought the land and built her house."
"We moved the oval, " Kenny added. "It used to be over there. We had bleachers and grandstands and lights and everything. We moved it the farthest away we could get it from her. We've got all that stuff. It's still here. It's easily assembled. These grandstands came from a high school."
After the conversation, this reporter snapped several shots further showing the potential this land has to host a weekly Stock Car racing event. Whether that ever happens remains to be seen, but the odds seem to be against that. However, in light of the recent Delta Speedway decision to go Saturday night, a Friday night Mini Sprint program could potentially be successful and put together in a short amount of time.
In the process of learning about Sand Hill, rumors came about a new one-fifth mile track in Dixon at Argyle Park (See add in back). Coming home from the Reno Promoter's Workshop, this reporter got to make an unexpected visit to the Dixon property. Unfortunately, a camera wasn't available. What was discovered was a nice asphalt Go-Kart road course, that has been the stomping grounds of such racers as NCMA champion Scott Holloway. On the other side of the property, across a little lake, is an area for Motorcycle racers, a snack bar and further back is a nicely groomed, banked one-fifth mile dirt track.
Property owner Bill Campbell was on hand on this day, along with at least ten Motorcycle riders. Unlike Brentwood, the former West Capital and Vallejo Speedway racer revealed that he would be interested in holding Stock Car events at his facility in the future. In fact, Mini Trucks, Mini Sprints and even a Street Stock have already practiced on the track, open seven days a week. "If you call us in advance, we can groom the track for you, " said Bill. ?There's still more that we plan to do with it as the weather permits."
In the meantime, the track is open for people who wish to practice or test new motors prior to race day at their home track. The seven day a week schedule makes it convenient for any wishing to test their cars. The fact that a track at Dixon or even Brentwood exist should be enough encouragement for a person or persons interested in trying to establish a new dirt track in the area. With the right effort, as we have learned from the people at Chowchilla Speedway, you can make it happen.