We have left Wisconsin after two solid months of racing and have traveled west to Montana for our visit to the Rocky Mountains. Once we got settled, we visited three dirt tracks, Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade, Montana; Gillette Thunder Speedway in Gillette, Wyoming; and Casper Speedway in of all places, Casper, Wyoming. We cover these three dirt tracks in this one installment because they are all dirt, something we have wanted to get to after all of that asphalt, and the last two tracks are very similar in the way they are run.
Our trip west took several days as we traveled almost 1,300 miles to our RV park situated in the woods outside Kalispell, Montana. Why Kalispell you might ask? Because we did a race there that I will talk about next month. Meanwhile, let's go over some dirt track information.
I want to note here that I rearranged the order of the tracks I'm writing about from the schedule so I could keep the dirt tracks together for this issue. The reason why lies in the fact that dirt racing is so different out here for several good reasons. One is that you don't really have large concentrations of population to draw both fans and racers from, so the fact that they exist at all is amazing and due to something we'll explore.
Most of these towns were established by early explorers and cattlemen who ventured into this dangerous Indian territory in the early to mid 1800s. There is still a sense of isolation out here unlike anything we see back east.
We have made it to the western part of the great Midwest where we will be visiting the tra
This track is located in the shadow of the Gallatin Field, a modest sized airport just 10 miles northwest of Bozeman. The significance is that I saw more private jets come and go from that airport than I have ever seen before anywhere. The attraction is the Gallatin river, with excellent fly fishing in the summer and Big Sky Ski area the big draw in the winter. So, the economy is doing alright here in this area.
The speedway was running Sprint Car races this Friday night and many of the teams came from far away. One team showed up from Petaluma, California, a town and racetrack we will be visiting this year for our AMSOIL CT Tour of the West Coast. And a local AMSOIL dealer was sponsoring the races for this date.
The NSA Sprint Shootout was the feature event and teams from eight states showed up coming from as far away as California, a journey of more than 1,000 miles. The other seven states included Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, Nevada, and Alberta, Ontario, Canada.
The Sprint Car teams who ran the special NSA Spring Shootout came from as far away as Cali
Dave and Sue Weisz run this track and did a great job of managing a large crowd and many Sprint Car teams. It was said that any time the Sprint Cars show up, the fans flock to the track. The other classes running in conjunction with the Sprints were the Street Stock and the Super Stocks that compete in the Wissota AMSOIL Dirt Track Series, the regular sanction for this track.
The track itself was in great condition, was a black consistency similar to our last dirt track, I-35 Speedway in Iowa. I said about that track, that I had never seen dirt so black. So, now I know it must run across the country at this latitude. Except for a brief time during the heat races, the track was dust free. That period was mainly due to having to wait till the sun went down to add water to keep it from drying out more.
This track has very nice grandstands too. The parking is large and would easily accommodate a full house. And on this night, it almost did fill up. Being out of town and alongside the airport, there is no objection to the sounds of racing. This is a real problem back east where urban sprawl has crept up on, and surrounded, many racetracks that used to be out in the sticks.
We see lots of interesting innovations when we visit so many racetracks on our Tour, but t
The Sprint Cars put on a great show, the fans were all pleased and we came away from the experience with a feeling that the show was a huge success. It speaks well of the teams and their passion for this kind of racing that they will travel these distances for a one day show. Long live Sprint Car racing.
Gillette Thunder Speedway
Unlike Gallatin, Gillette is more of a club sanctioned dirt track where the teams mostly are in control of the event. A president is elected and oversees the operations and policing of the races. The group is called the Gillette Stock Car Racing Association, or GSCRA for short.
The area around Gillette, Wyoming is full of natural resources. That large black strip run
The town of Gillette is out there in a very isolated spot along I-90, a highway that connects I-25 to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Along this interstate is a lot of nothing. I asked why a town of 30,000 people even existed way out here. The person I asked, one of the officials, pointed out to the north across some hills where I could see a large industrial plant of some sort, and a hill that had been cut away exposing a long, black streak.
"Coal?," I asked. "Yep," he replied. Just 50 or so feet under our feet runs a huge vein of coal that extends as far as the eye could see. Wyoming, and especially Gillette, supply some 35 percent of the nations coal, out-producing West Virginia.
There are also vast quantities of oil and methane gas, as well as uranium and precious metals in Wyoming. This town became "famous" for what has been termed by psychologist ElDean Kohrs, the "Gillette Syndrome." That is an attempt to explain the social disruption that is a result of rapid growth of an industry such as the coal extraction that cause boomtowns such as Gillette to appear.
The track came in well with only a few ruts to negotiate. The Sprint Cars always bring a l
So, we now know why Gillette exists. And it is better off than the rest of the country as far as income. The average mean income for an individual in Gillette is around $70,000 and the average family income is over $78,000. Compare that to the U.S. averages of $47,000/$65,000 and we can see where there is a lot of money flowing from the ground in this isolated city.
Gillette Thunder runs under the rules packages of the Wissota AMSOIL Dirt Track Series but most of the officials wore IMCA shirts—ironic I know. Teams who run here on Saturday night also run at Casper Speedway, a Friday night track. With so few tracks around these areas, that makes it nice for the racers.
Notable classes that run here include the Mod-4 class of Modifieds. This should be a growing class due to the low cost and availability of the engines. There were only about five Late Models, but a good many Modifieds this night.
Here we see the first of the heats and the dust. The track management told us that if they
There must be a shortage of water here because the track was one of the dustiest tracks we have seen, anywhere. As the night went on, it became less noticeable, but early on, I was thankful that the winds, which can get very high here, were coming from our backs while sitting on the pit grandstands along the backstretch.
That might explain the low crowd count in the regular grandstands. I only counted about 250 fans, or less. If the dust could be controlled more, they might attract more fans. The prevailing wind carries the heavy dust right over the main grandstands.
As far as the racing, it was great. A track like this with the wide open layout, medium banking and wide turns produces great competition with many lead changes. The racers who run here seem to really like the way it is managed and they feel accepted and welcomed.
Out in this forbidding country, the last thing you think you’ll see at the end of the seas
Almost 200 miles away to the south of Gillette lies Casper, Wyoming and the dirt track by the same name. This track sits way up on a hill overlooking a wide area, and is subject to some high winds at times. We parked our motorhome right in the pit area next to the track where our exposure, both visually and weather-wise was high.
This too is run like a club where they have elected co-presidents to manage it. Benji Bayne and Jennifer Borud held those positions at the time of our visit and they were aided by Lisa Herr who is the promoter. For 2013, Benji is the sole president.
I think these tracks are run this way because they only exist on car counts, not unlike most tracks truth be known, and the racers at some point in time realized if they did not control things, the track would just up and blow away, maybe literally.
Benji is from back east, Concord, North Carolina, to be exact. While there, he learned a few things about running a racetrack and making racers happy. He brought this knowledge all of the way west to Casper and it seems to be working fairly well.
Although the car count at Casper was not something to write home about, I got the distinct feeling this was not as much about the racing as it was about the socialization. These teams really interacted and had a ton of fun.
The Mod-4 class is interesting and I hope it catches on and grows. It is a great stepping
The racing seemed to go on forever mostly due to the large, nine class structure here. They included the Rocky Mountain Hardtops, Mini Stock, Hobby Stock, Mod 4's (a class Benji competed in), Midwest Modifieds, IMCA Modifieds, Dwarf cars, Super Stocks, and Late Models.
There are three sanctions that various classes run under which are the Wissota AMSOIL Dirt Track Series, IMCA, and CLMA or Championship Late Model Association out of Colorado. When I added up all of the drivers in all classes who have raced here in 2012, the total number came to 116. On this night we would see 51 teams competing.
The reason for the difference is because tracks have big, high paying events that draw racers from other areas on a special night. That is good for everyone because it does several positive things. It introduces new racers to your facility, it gives the local racers new and greater numbers of competitors, and it provides more competitive racing for the fans.
Each of these tracks support various causes. Here the Wyoming Fallen Hero’s Scholarship Pr
Doesn’t this just tell the whole story about this area. Beyond the open trailer is a vast
Casper Speedway attracted this well funded modified team. We usually see one or two of the
Remember that this area is the high desert of the Midwest and it is a different life out here. The people who race here work hard and they play hard. There's not much else to do in these sparse surroundings and most make the best of it when they can, while they can. Winters can be very harsh out here, not only for the cold, but for the high winds and blowing snow.
We enjoyed our visit to Casper and were welcomed with open arms. Lisa put a big ol' sign out front by the entrance fence stating, "Welcome Circle Track Magazine." The racing was very competitive, there was a good bit of fellowship, and everyone went home happy, something we like to see more often. I have learned that the club concept seems to work very well in certain situations.
Again we see the vintage class cars. It will be just a few years from now that no one will
There was plenty of racing action at Casper Speedway. The racing went on long into the nig
Here is our welcome sign that greeted us on our arrival at Casper. We couldn’t have been t
Next we travel on to our next KOA campground stop at Fort Collins, Colorado, and from there visit Colorado National and I-25 Speedway, two competing asphalt tracks that are promoted heavily. But first, we will detail our unique experience at Montana Raceway Park in Kalispell, Montana, a few weeks earlier. We have some very different and excellent promotional ideas to explain in our next installment. Stay tuned.