Thursday, May 19, 2016

Orland Raceway Rises From the Ashes Once Again And More

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Orland Raceway Rises From the Ashes Once Again

The tales of the demise of Orland Raceway have been greatly exaggerated. When Adam Zachary chose to walk away from the track at the end of last season, it looked as if racing was done in Orland. The Glenn County Fair Board had decided to put a soccer field right next to the race track. Word was that the fair board was receptive to having racing this season, but Zachary had other plans. Enter the new promotional team of Rich Hood and Nathan Skaggs.

There was word of a few racers who were looking to take a shot at running the track.  At the May Fairboard meeting, Hood made his presentation.  Rich has been a competitor in Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks in recent years and is one of the more respected people out there.  Joining him in this endeavor is Nathan Skaggs.  Skaggs has competed in the track's Mini Truck division in recent years.  The news of the two local racers taking charge of the track is be welcome among the competitors.

Adam Zachary never quite could establish a program at the speedway. In fact, car counts plummeted in some of the divisions following the departure of previous Promoter Mike McCann. Zachary was making decisions that were controversial to the racing community prior to deciding to leave in March of this year. He did not have the Wingless Sprint Car division included on the 2016 schedule that he announced. There was also the merger of the Mini Stock and Mini Truck divisions into one class. In the end, he decided to walk away.

There were some bright spots in the 2015 season, including the Hobby Stock division. It seemed as if the car count held steady at ten to a dozen race cars per race. The fact that the Mini Stock division and Mini Truck division usually had about four to six cars each made the decision to merge the two divisions easier. Though there were some grumblings from drivers in the Mini Stock division about running with the heavier Mini Trucks, it appears as if the new management will be continuing with that idea.

It also appears as if there will be no Wingless Sprint Cars on the schedule. The goal in mind right now is to get race cars back on that race track, and the new management is doing everything they can to make that happen. The 10 race schedule has an option for more races, and it begins on June 4th. One of the things that has to be done, in order to accommodate the soccer field, is they have to have racing on Sunday afternoons and Friday nights for most of the season. This is because soccer will be played on Saturday nights when the field is usable.

The story of Orland racing has been a rocky one. Racing has a history in the town going back into the 1970's, but there is a revolving door when it comes to promoters. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, there was Sprint 100's leadfoot Doc Bogart. It wasn't a bad program, but his run came to an end by the mid 1990's.

Then came Paul and Carol Turner. By the end of their tenure, which produced some great results, they were ridiculed by some in the racing community.  However, nobody can deny the success that that program had in the early days. So successful were the Turner's when it came to the staple Mini Stock, Mini Truck in Hobby Stock divisions that they ventured into Modified Mini Stocks and Wingless Sprint Cars. They created a healthy Sprint Car division that had 27 cars for one of the Harvest Classic events. In the end, when the money dried up, the Turner run came to an ugly end.

The problem was, everybody after them seemed to struggle to get anything established. The track even remained dark for a year. Nobody can be faulted for going in there and trying to do something, because at least somebody was putting race cars on the track. When veteran Mike McCann came into the picture in 2013, he attempted to give some stability to the program.

McCann's budget had been exhausted by midway through the 2014 season, though it appeared that the program was about to turn the corner. The lack of cooperation from a group that had rented the fairgrounds for a car show led to having to cancel a big open wheel event that he had planned. It also hastened his decision to walk away. McCann admitted that the board was supportive of his efforts.

It was actually thought that this track was going to be closed permanently when McCann walked away, but Adam Zachary entered the picture. Right from the beginning, Zachary struggled to establish a crew to run the events. The Mini Stock and Mini Truck drivers never really got on board with him, and the Wingless Sprint Car drivers became unhappy when their purses were cut. The 600 Micro Sprint and 250 Outlaw Kart divisions never quite jelled the way he would have hoped. However, the Hobby Stock division showed signs of life. The little car counts and the lack of attendance made it easy for Zachary to walk away rather than give the 2016 season a whirl.

This left the race car drivers in Orland scrambling to figure out where they were going to race. A few racers have headed for Marysville and Chico, but a majority of competitors ended up parking their cars. In fact, many people thought that racing in Orland was actually done this time. Negotiations to save racing in Orland have been ongoing for months, and a break in the negotiations finally occurred just within the last week or two.

With time being a major factor, the new promoting team is wasting no time trying to put a program on the race track. They are going with the basic divisions that Zachary had planned to run this year, and they intend to have the race track ready to go in June. While the dates are booked, the question remains the same as it was when Zachary had the race track. Will anybody support racing at the track this time?

It is known that there are several Mini Stocks and Mini Trucks in the area to go along with the Hobby Stocks. By all rights, all three divisions should have a double digit car count for every race. The lack of stability that the track has had over the last decade led to some racers going to Chico. The management team will have to see if they can win some of those teams back. So, what will be different this time around?

The bottom line is if the management team can't win the hearts and minds of those racers, racing doesn't have much of a chance. You can't continue to put race car programs on the track with a half a dozen cars, knowing that down the road in Chico there are cars. The fact that they know there are parked cars in the area has the management team hoping that they can get them to come back.

That puts the ball back in the court of the racers. And, they have to ask themselves, how badly do they want racing in their home town? If they don't get on board and support with their race cars, the show doesn't have a chance. There may be real valid reasons for some of these racers not to have supported the track in recent years. Perhaps they should be willing to give the next management team a chance. If they don't, it seems less likely that the track will get a chance next time. The new management team could very well be Orland Raceway's last hope.

The first order of business is to make the facilities usable. This includes making a racing surface that won't be rough on the cars. The next order of business is to get the word out to the racers and fans. The racers need to know the schedule and when those race dates are. Then, you have to hope that the racers haven't booked other things in a way that impedes their ability make it to these races. All track management can do is give it their best effort. If they give a serious and sincere effort, hopefully the people will give them a chance.

In these difficult economic times, some people say that Orland racing is dead already. Others believe that it will take the right management team to make it happen. Is this the right management team? The fact is, we're running out of options. Whether they are the best team or not, they may be Orland Raceway's last hope to keep it alive. And, the one thing we always say is as long as the gates open at the race track, there's a chance for good things to happen

Breathing new life into Orland Raceway

We already know there's a soccer field on the Glenn County Fairgrounds facility in Orland. The 1/5th mile dirt oval track is on life support, and it's days could be numbered. However, this doesn't have to be the end for this race track. We now know that we have a new promoter, and we also have a new schedule.

To make racing happen once again, however, new promoter's Rich Hood and Nathan Skaggs were forced to make some compromises in scheduling, meaning they will have some Sunday afternoon and Friday night shows. This had to be done as a way to make racing happen again. If it's between nothing and this, the racing minded are going to do this.

Ultimately, the key to Orland Raceway surviving has to do with getting fans to attend the races. You need to justify the existence of this race track by having fans out there willing to pay to spectate. To get the fans to stay, you need to get the racers to come out there and put on a show for them. What you don't need is four car divisions out there on the track. The fans want to see a show.

Right out of the gate, you want to encourage the race car drivers to come back. Personally, I would like to see loose ends for 2015 tied up. What this really means is the 2015 champions should be crowned and acknowledged. I understand that this was something former Promoter Adam Zachary should have taken care of, but he's not there now, is he? I also understand that this is another expense that the new management may not be interested in covering.

Why would new management even want to do this? As a way to build good faith with the racers. You don't really even have to get a bunch of trophies. One way to do it would be to get the champions trophies, and if you do second and third place awards, give them nice plaques. At least give them something. For the most part, the Top 3 drivers in the point races in the various divisions were supportive of that race track. Sure, that's the previous management's business, but the racers are still the same. Find somebody willing to sponsor it and make it happen. The champions could be crowned right in front of the grandstands during the Trophy Dash presentations.

Putting cars out on the race track is the key to the survival of this race track. Without cars, nobody will bother to show up. The track was on the verge of something special with the Hobby Stock division. They had momentum and double digit car counts for the last four or five races. Can they keep that momentum up?

Hopefully, the new management has the list of drivers who earned points last year, and they have their phone ready. Each driver who competed in the Hobby Stock division last year, and every division for that matter, should be called. Let them know that they are wanted back out at the race track. Can Hobby Stocks continue the momentum they had last year? With racing season starting at other tracks already, it will be a challenge, but you have to try.

Adam Zachary was about to do something that the Mini Stock and Mini Truck drivers did not like. When he put the original 2016 schedule together, he decided that the Trucks and Mini Stocks would be running together. Orland Raceway was the last track standing that had its own individual Mini Truck division that was separate from the Mini Stocks. This was a tradition that went back into the 1990's. It was Orland that actually inspired tracks like Merced, Antioch and Altamont to have their own Mini Truck divisions.

The concern of the race car drivers on the Facebook page when Zachary made that announcement was that the Mini Truck drivers would be too rough, and their trucks would tear right through the bodies on the Mini Stocks. However, I certainly see Zachary's point. You have 4 or 5 vehicles showing up in each class. Put them together and you have 10. A10 car show is certainly better to watch than five cars in each division.

It's kind of sad to see what has happened with the Truck and Mini Stock divisions. The Mini Stock program at Chico and Marysville has been dropped. The only reason Chico ever had a Mini Stock program in the first place was because the drivers in Orland had no place to go at the time. Chico management was welcoming to them. At one time, a few Mini Truck shows were even booked at Chico, because that's how many trucks there were.

There are still enough Mini Trucks and Mini Stocks sitting in the fields in the Orland area to bring out double digit car counts in both classes, but building the car count up will be the challenge. The easy solution is to run them both together for now. Personally, I'd like to see individual divisions, but we need to get the vehicles out there to make that happen. Also, I know there were people who didn't want Marysville cars to come racing, but if those drivers show up at the gates, let them in. They will likely only be there a few times and won't be a factor in the point race, but they will put on a show for the fans.

It really comes down to building up car counts, and that was one of the reasons why past Promoter Mike McCann booked the 600 Multi Sprint division at the track. Adam took it up a notch by booking the 250 Outlaw Karts. At times, these divisions had six to eight cars, but these classes are still a work in progress. Orland seems to be a nice track for both of these divisions as a 1/5th mile oval. We'll have to monitor the situation and see what happens.

At this point, you have four divisions booked for the speedway with the merger of Mini Stocks and Mini Trucks. Wingless Sprint Car fans are wondering where their race dates are, and there have to be a few Sport Mod fans wondering if the division could be added at Orland. That division is starting to explode. Let's not forget the idea that there are Street Stock drivers who would love to come up a time or two as well.

I am of the opinion that Orland Raceway needs cars, and the Sprint Cars have been a part of this show for about 15 years. The new management is simply following what the previous management had done. The previous management did not have any Wingless Sprint Car dates booked on their schedule either. However, I know there are probably 12 cars sitting in the area, so something should happen. These Sprint Cars can bring the fans in.

And bringing the fans in is what this is really all about. Personally, if you've got a half a dozen Street Stock drivers wanting to come up or any other division with a half dozen cars, there's no reason not to book them. Setting a realistic goal, I'd say 30 cars in the pits to start with is doable. If you are running a four division show, you'd like to have 40 cars at least, and considering the merger of the Mini Stocks and Mini Trucks, I'd like to see it go higher than that. But, I'm trying to be realistic here.

Now, I know there are some people who say Orland Raceway might be a dead entity. Let's be honest here. That track has struggled to come back to life ever since the Turner's walked away. Paul and Carol had something special going on there for quite some time, though the love affair with the racers probably ended during the last one or two years that they ran the place. Still, when it was good, it was one hell of a show. And, it can be brought back with the right effort.

I would favor certain promotional efforts as soon as it is possible. Bring the Harvest Classic back at the end of the year, for instance. See what's left of the Enduro group that came up there and brought a dozen or so cars. Maybe that's possible. Match races and whatever else you can think of to attract attention.

You want fans back at the track. You need fans back at the track. I would favor guerrilla marketing tactics. I'm not sure how the area is about things like this, but you can plead ignorance the first time if somebody gets upset. I would create a flyer and staple that flyer to telephone poles in town. Orland Raceway is back! Come out and watch a show. Put flyers on the windows of cars in parking lots. Get to this. Make it happen.

One thing I spoke with Mike McCann about is the idea that there is a large Hispanic population in Orland. Therefore, you need to sell the racers to them. If there is a Hispanic racer in the field, hype them up in any media that goes out to the Hispanic population. Also, start looking for an announcer who speaks Spanish. Maybe it's a second announcer that can say a few words to the fans on race night. Why? You want to try and get fans back in the stands, and this a group of potential racing fans. They may not even know the track is there.

Start putting some promotional tickets out there. You can go through services such as Race Print as Jeremy does some really nice work. Or, you can make up your own special passes. Anybody with a Microsoft Publisher program can do that. Start giving out passes to people in different areas. Now, I'm not suggesting you give the show away for free, but until somebody knows what's going on out there, they're not inclined to show up and watch. Get them out there, and get them hooked. Plus, you can sell them a hot dog and a soda while they're there.

The bottom line is that this race track has fallen on such hard times that it's going to take a lot of work to do this. I'm not even sure what the status of the management contract is. Are we talking year to year or is it a 3 or 5 year deal? There may not be a lot of time to make this work, and you need to start jumping into things now.

When I was at Chowchilla Speedway in the very beginning, Tom Sagmiller relied on volunteer help and a $5 ticket. In the long run, I think you need to be paying people to do certain things, but in the short term, anybody that cares about their race track that wants to help should be encouraged. I think anybody that cares about that race track wants to see it succeed.

There are probably several racers with one grudge or another against Orland Raceway. There have been some difficult times in the last 10 years trying to get that track back going, but this is new management. If you have a car that you can run, get that car out there. Give it a chance. It's not a cheap proposition to run a race track, and the promoter might run out of funds soon. The more money coming through the gates, the better it will be for the promoter to keep this track going this year and beyond.

I know that a couple years ago when Mike McCann had the place, he had a specific budget in mind to run this track. It was a tough situation. He had a three year plan, figuring that the third year would be the year he might start to turn a profit. Midway through the second season, the money started to run out, but Mike felt that they were just about ready to turn the corner. It was so close.

I know there are some people that want to point a finger at Zachary and hate him over things last year, but at least he opened the gates again. There were people that thought that Mike was the last chance to run that race track and it would be done after that. The fact that it had a 2015 season is at least a little bit of an accomplishment for Zachary. And now, we have a 2016 season. Orland Raceway has a second chance. Or would that be 3rd or 4th by now? How many chances do you think the track will have before the soccer field encroaches on the track itself?

The key is getting the race car drivers on board. Anybody with a race car should be encouraged to come out there and race. You have to put on a show worthy of selling tickets. Then, you need fans, and you need as many as you can get. There should be an Orland Raceway awareness campaign going on right now. When talking about a media campaign, I know that things can get very expensive.

Newspapers sometimes want you to run an ad with them before they'll give you even a little bit of space. Radio stations want money for those commercials. However, if you work out a trade, things can get a little bit cheaper. The newspaper? How about putting a billboard in the infield for the newspaper? The radio station? Same type of thing can happen there. Work out some trade deals.

Then, you need to put together an informative website. I still sit on a lot of historical information I would be willing to share. I have several past champions and point lists on file. I have continued to ghost write for Orland and plan to do so to this year as well. However, it wouldn't take much for somebody to step forward and begin to write articles for the track.

As part of the DCRR Racing Media thing that I'm developing. I'd be willing to offer advice to anybody that wanted to become a writer there. It's really not as hard as some people think. I can help them find places to get the articles posted. I can offer advice on how to get these articles written. I can still do my stuff, but basically I use the history of the track and the statistics of the current racing season for my articles. Somebody out there watching what goes on and taking notes can write a much better article. If they don't know how to, I could certainly help them figure that out.
Orland Raceway should have a person right now putting stuff out there. If they can tie that in with the person that's out there announcing, even better. Mike had a guy that was out there helping him, and he announced the last season for him. I certainly think he would be capable of doing it. His name is Elijah Jones. The race tracks that have the announcer/writers in their midst know how lucky they are. It's becoming a lost art.

The media person can hit the ground running by getting stuff out there on social media and any racing news sites or local newspapers that will print stuff. You can use a combination of written word and printed media and various sites on the internet. Create a buzz.  Make Orland Raceway the place people want to be. The hardcore race fan will have two race tracks to go to every weekend now with Chico and Orland.

If there's a photographer in the area, get them involved. You want pictures of those race cars out there. The photographer might need to watermark their pictures to protect their copyright or whatever, but get the pictures out there. Personally, I think a few pictures should be released without watermarks every week, and the rest should be out there watermarked, because your photographer should make money. It ain't cheap but they do it, and they are providing a service that helps the race track.

There is also the use of video. Put some video footage of the racing that's going on out there on the internet. When racers and fans are looking for a place to go, they will get up on the internet at places like YouTube and see what's out there. So, when they see some recent footage of the race track, that might encourage them to go to Orland Raceway.

The management is getting off to a late start, and they are lucky to be able to open the gates at all. It's only about a one month preparation time between the time that they got the track and when it opens. They have a lot of work to do to get this thing right. The racing community needs to rally behind Orland Raceway, or it won't last long.

This is just my opinion, for whatever it is worth. I believe they can do it, but the racers have to get on board with it. They have to get fans to come out there and watch this, and that might require discounts or free passes to help make it happen at first. Look at it this way, if there's a bunch of empty seats and only a hundred paid people attending, how bad does it hurt if you give out another hundred passes? At least you sell the food while they're there, and they come back and pay next week if they like what they see.

In any case, I'm just happy to see this race track open again. As I'm fond of saying, as long as the gates open at the racetrack, there's a chance for good things to happen. I hope they can make this the best year yet for Orland Raceway.

Saving Altamont Speedway
It was last year when the rumors started about Altamont Speedway coming back again.  The word was the pavement would get ripped out of the place and it would become a half mile dirt oval with a quarter mile in the middle.  Big Sprint Car races, Late Models and Modifieds too.  This would be the place in the Bay Area to go to for big races.  I guess I can let the cat out of the bag.  John M. Soares was the one looking at it as another place on which to hang the Oval Motorsports banner.  People still would have found a reason to hate the guy. 

I loved the idea.  Why not?  We lost San Jose.  Baylands is long gone.  Petaluma is there, but threatened.  Centrally located for the Bay Area, Sacramento and Valley guys.  This thing has much potential, and I think it would be supported.  There are issues. You need to find out if the county will let racing happen there, and dirt track racing at that.  I don't know if John got that far.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if he had, I might have heard about it.  He was so busy with the three tracks that he's forgiven if he didn't have the time to completely pursue this. 

Now, John was smart enough to know that work needed to be done and he'd go with union labor to get things up to code.  The bathrooms and other things need work.  The way I see it, do it right.  Hire union labor.  My dad was union, my uncle too.  I'm biased about that.  Anyway, the idea has seemingly faded away as an Oval Motorsports plan, but does that mean it's over?

I'm sure there will be some who say open the pavement track, and I don't disagree with that.  If I had my druthers, that pavement would get ripped out and we'd go dirt track racing.  There's a big problem facing Sprint Car racing now.  We are facing the loss of Calistoga, or the possibility that it becomes a quarter mile dirt track.  If either thing happens, it screws with some important Sprint Car history.  It really sort of depresses me to think about it.  Bonnie Chisholm was working hard to fight for Stoga, and nobody seemed to get behind her.  I think sometimes people take that woman for granted.  Racers need to understand they have an ally there who has done great things for the sport and preserving its heritage.

Anyway, I wonder if Calistoga racing money could be persuaded to head up the road to Altamont?  It's a half mile.  Louie Vermeil didn't have as big an impact there, but his memory could still be honored.  WoO, USAC, KOW and all of that good stuff could happen at this location.  Dry tracks?  I don't hear any Sprint Car drivers ever complaining about a dry track.  They hate hooked up tracks,  So, the surface could be to their liking as long as it was kept smooth. 

The other thing I hear is how hot it is in the day and windy at night.  Actually, it is.  I spent a few seasons there and was the track's reporter in 1997.  It's hot there.  In talking with Mike McCann, he proposed a wind breaker solution.  We sort of cover the top four rows of the grandstands in a way that doesn't impede the vision on the press box.  The place seats 5000 or so from what I've heard, and the cover would shelter 800 or so.  It's something at least.  You can't cover the stands due to the press box.  You would have to tear it out and rebuild it.  That may not be an option due to expenses and the fact that you just don't know how many years you'll have the place.

So, what I'm saying is Altamont Raceway is still sitting there.  It's been waiting for the next chapter of its history to be written.  I've always felt that there was more of a story to be told, like it wasn't over just because it was closed.  Somebody has to buy the place, and maybe there's some Stoga money willing to do that?  If that were the case, would the county let it come back again?  These are the unknown questions.

If it were allowed, you have so many potential races to look at.  The big Sprint Car and Midget shows are a given.  A big Stock Car type show as well.  Perhaps some other regular shows on the smaller track.  You have a press box to wine and dine big sponsors of the venue.  You can cater that.  Wine and dine the media to get some attention.  Is this far fetched?  We had a guy named David Vodden who made some good things happen once upon a time at Baylands and Petauma, so somebody could work with what is here to make it happen.  Am I dreaming?  Perhaps, but I am a dreamer.  I still don't think we've heard the last from this track.  Time will tell.