Saturday, July 20, 2013

Orland Speedbowl's Best Days Can Still Be Ahead

I've been away for a bit.  Sorry about that.  It's late or early.  You don't want to know what time it is here, but I felt I needed to make a post.  My mind hasn't been on racing lately, and I'll admit that I've been so unfocussed that I didn't even feel like posting one of the things I have archived.  There's a lot there too.

But I feel I needed to make a point.  If you're an Orland Speedbowl competitor, I'd like you to pay close attention.  It's been tough times for racing over the last decade.  You guys know this.  Actually, one of the posts I've been saving talks about that very fact.  Many tracks have closed during the last decade and most reopened, including Orland.

We've even gained a couple tracks, like Stockton 99 Dirt, Hayfork Speedway and Rocky Hill Speedway in Porterville.

Here's the thing, Orland Speedbowl is a little gem that people tend to forget.  Racing in Orland goes back at least to the 70's, and this particular track started in the late 80's from what I've been told.  It has endured several promoter changes as well as closings and reopenings during that time.

The track's rep has been built on Mini Stocks and Street & Hobby Stocks during the last 25 years, and it was the first track in California as far as I know to feature the Mini Trucks.  In the late 1990's and on into the 2000's, the Turner family took the track to new heights, including adding the Spec Sprints and holding some big end of the year events.

In the end, the economy got the Turners, and some people conveniently forgot all the good they had done.  After a dark year, the track reopened and has endured a few promoter changes in the last five yeas.  The show has managed to go on, though the previous three seasons have seen maybe some things get less attention than needed.

Lest you think I'm attacking anybody, I'm not.  I appreciate all who tried to promote this little race track and keep it alive.  It's just that the enthusiasm of the racers and the desire to support the track has faded.  Enter a man who had been watching this place for several years, Mike McCann.

Let me tell you something about Mike.  I'm probably forgetting a lot, because he's done so much in the sport through the years.  He raced Super Modifieds for years, among other divisions.  And this Hardtop revival in California was sparked by he and Chuck Prather. 

Mike featured that division at Sunset Speedway in Oregon and was so proud of it that he brought the cars to California a little over a decade ago.  I was at Sacramento Raceway that weekend.  The next stop for the guys was, you guessed it, Orland.  Prather started a class the next year and groups in Northern and Central California started after that.

Mike was a Promoter Of The Year award winner at Cottage Grove Speedway in Oregon in the late 1980's.  He's had a hand in building up programs in Eugene and Banks, Oregon as well as Marysville.  He came back because he wanted to make a difference.  He could have walked away, but he loves building racing programs.  It's what he's all about.

And, he wanted Orland.  It was his choice to go after this track.  He looked at other opportunities.  He had a pretty good one with a rich tradition offered to him last year.  Where isn't important.  What is important is he came to Orland for one reason.  He wanted to restore the glory to where it was a decade ago and beyond.

But, this can't happen without the racers.  Mike has shied away from working series deals with other tracks, mainly because he's trying to build up Orland's base first.  When that happens, BIG things will happen at this race track.  He has a Hunt Series Spec Sprint race this weekend, and the plan is to get more in the future.

The problem I've noticed from afar is the drivers were given no real incentive to come back in recent seasons.  After the Turners moved on, the closest track, Chico, gradually added more of what Orland had that was unique to them.  First it was Spec Sprints, then Mini Stocks and then the Hobby Stocks.  The tracks ran on opposite nights, but drivers started choosing tracks.

This is not a knock against Chico.  In fact, who could blame any racer for wanting to compete at that track?  Adding to this problem was the fact that Orland wasn't keeping points until last season.  So for three years there were no champions crowned.  On this very blog, I did my own point race in 2010 to help hype this track.

I've been a fan of Orland Speedbowl since the NCMA was booked to race there in 1989, and that enthusiasm was heightened when they were the first track to follow Antioch by adding Spec Sprints in 2001.  The track is almost forgotten, but it shouldn't be.  There have been some good races and racers there through the years.

Guys like Jimmy "The Jet" Pettit, Mario Romano, Ken Lewis, Brad Ray, Zach Hackett, "Gentleman" Jerry Bartlett, Josh Jacobo and Jake Van Tol come to mind, but there are many others.  Lots of history.  Lots of great racing.  Excitement and drama.  It happened on that little one-fifth mile dirt oval.

Mike McCann wants to make it happen again.  He's followed through on the things he told the drivers he would do going into the season.  He resurfaced the race track and it's better than it's been in a long time.  He's open to suggestions on how to improve things further, and all options are on the table.

But, he needs the drivers support.  This is a new era in Orland racing history, and it could become the best one yet if the drivers come on board.  There are several good racers already on board, and the track will again crown champions at season's end.  But, more racers are needed and more support from the community in general.

This doesn't mean everybody has to suddenly do all the work for the track.  It simply means spreading the word about the races.  If you know of a car that needs work, help if you can.  Got a parked car?  Consider getting it out there.  Going to watch?  Bring a friend.  A race track is a community.  This means it needs EVERYBODY to make it work.

I think in many ways the track is going great.  It had fallen on tough times, so it's almost like it's at Square 1 at this point.  I'm hoping more momentum can be built as the season heads towards the stretch.  I think Mike has done some good things so far, but it can only get better.  More improvements can and will come if people rally behind the track.

So come on everybody.  This is your beloved Orland Speedbowl we're talking about.  Many great days are ahead if you give it a chance.  It's up to you!