Saturday, March 27, 2010

Closed Tracks: Thinking About What Could Have Been

The weather looks like it will cooperate for another weekend of racing in the area. Antioch, Watsonville and Chowchilla have already kicked things off and Petaluma is up next. I'm hoping for the best for all of them. Some of the numbers at Antioch weren't where I thought they'd be last week, but I'm hoping people just weren't ready yet and maybe thought they'd get a rain out to spare them. Hey, with money being tight for some people these days, I know that's a factor. So, I hope things pick up some with the Super Stocks especially. I'm sure it will.

It could be worse. Merced Speedway sits idle at the moment. Will there be races again on the track that goes back to the 1950's? I sure hope so, but it's gonna take some effort and patience. If it happens, it's going to take somebody who can regain the confidence and trust of the racers. I know money is tight down there, but let's be honest. That wasn't the only factor in the decline of car count in recent years.

Seems like when "they" have their way and shut down our beloved race tracks, the property just sits dormant for years afterward, leaving people to wonder what might have been. One of the things I've been working on in recent days is some history research through my old records. Baylands Raceway Park has been the subject. By the way, I think I have managed to track down the names of most of the champions and some point standings there from 1982-1988. Something may turn up here in a future blog.

They didn't just start building there when they closed it down. Makes you wonder what could have been. People worked hard to try and relocate, and it just wasn't to be. Vacaville, site of the old drag strip, was one of the prime locations. In the end, many of the divisions from Baylands found a home at Petaluma as the All Pro Series was born.

A writer/announcer I have a lot of respect for, Ron Albright, wrote a column about the time of the closing of Baylands talking about how he would drive past the old site of West Capital Speedway in Sacramento on his trips to Baylands. He mentioned that only then, in 1988, were they starting to do something with the property. So sad. It also really disappoints me that Sacramento Raceway didn't step up and make a home for the drivers. This simply should have happened, and there was plenty of room for it. Still is.

Back in 1993, I walked the track at Vallejo Speedway, almost 14 years after the roar of the engines died on that beloved race track. I had started attending races while Vallejo Speedway was still alive, but I never made it there. This was my first experience there. I actually made a web page about it with pictures of how it stood then. I need to put that back up. I really breaks my heart to think about a place with such a proud tradition ending up like that. Again, what could have been?

I have looked on the web, and houses fill that property now. Of course. Gotta build more houses and make more money. Who can even afford a new house these days? Now, Vallejo is going through rough times these days. I have to believe having a race track to attend would be good for people. Even bringing back the little track at the fairgrounds would be a good thing. Many times, you never get them back after they close them.

The one that really disappoints me is San Jose Speedway. Can you believe after all of the b.s. that went on there, somebody has built a 1/8th mile dirt oval on the property? Unbelievable. Take note Mini Sprint/Modified Midget clubs, maybe you can make a name for yourself there and help rebuild a great San Jose tradition of racing. Maybe.

It just pisses me off. I never felt like the last promoter there went down with a good fight in the end. At least it didn't seem that way to me. There were fans trying to take their case to the fair board, but track management seemed resolved to their fate. They were gonna start having rave parties on that property or some such nonsense. Yeah, just what the youth of today needs, but anyway...

What's funny is I caught word that people from the fairgrounds had approached Jim Soares about reviving the place a year or so after it was closed, so he went and took a look. Too much stuff had been removed and the place was a mess. Jim declined. Can't say I blame him. It would have been costly, and there would have been a lot of challenges.

You know, honestly, I think I used to sort of underestimate Jim. I always found him to be a hard guy to talk to, at least for me, with an interesting sense of humor. Some of the things he's said to me still stick with me. But, the man has been around, and I think that with the right backing he could have made it happen. A lot of racers have respect for him. Fortunately, he's at Petaluma keeping that tradition alive in the face of threats it has against it. If you live in the area and love racing, support Petaluma Speedway. It really is a nice race facility with a wonderful history.

So, two or so years later, they bulldoze those beautiful grandstands and San Jose Speedway is gone again. Why a 1/8th mile dirt oval now? Why not put something bigger in there? Of course, I know, property values. There's money to be made. Forget about a tradition of racing that goes back over a century in San Jose.

As I was looking at old stats and stories, I realize how many race tracks the Bay Area has had and lost. Even the memories and point standings are fading away. Places like Bayshore Speedway, Champion Speedway, Oakland Speedway, Contra Costa Speedway, Vallejo Speedway, San Jose Speedway and Baylands Raceway are all gone. If the ground those tracks were built upon could talk, think of the stories they could tell.

Who remembers any of this stuff anymore? I've been researching the Baylands information recently, the names on the Watsonville Hall Of Fame list. I don't even know why the hell it matters to me anymore, to be honest, but it does. I doubt many people even know who won the championships at these tracks 30 years ago, or even care at this point. What does that have to do with now?

But anyway, if you love racing, and I mean if you really do, take time to appreciate it while you can. You never know when it can be taken away. I guess one of the reasons I like this history stuff so much is that it adds a sense of importance or value and continuity to what is happening at the tracks on any given weekend. It can cause racers and fans to care about it just a little bit more, and maybe inspire them to be there more often. I don't see that as a bad thing.

Before I start to ramble on and on, I'll end this here. Just wanted to share a little of what is on my mind at the moment. Until next time...