The on-track action has stepped...
The on-track action has stepped up at Dixie Motor Speedway in Birch Run, Michigan. The track has added a 4/10- mile oval to its complex.
The movie Field of Dreams had it right. Build it, and they will come. Mike Kern had a vision for Dixie Motor Speedway in Birch Run, Michigan, and it stayed in his mind until the time was right. The existing one-third-mile track had been in existence for some time, but had been through its struggles. Kern, a former racer, and his wife, Krista, took on the challenge in their community.
"We lived here for 20 years," said Mike. "We knew the track needed some TLC and a homegrown operator. We'd seen the track run by a management group, but not anyone local. The promoters would just about show up on race day. For us, it's seven days a week."
There was plenty of growth potential, but the Kerns set about getting established. The sport is full of those who come in with big ideas, only to leave a few years later with less personal money and a bad reputation. It wasn't going to happen with Dixie Motor Speedway.
Promoter Mike Kern (right)...
Promoter Mike Kern (right) takes the time from a Friday night to pose with NASCAR driver Brett Bodine (center) and a sponsor representative. Personal appearances like Bodine's have given Dixie Motor Speedway fans more to see and do.
"We got advice from our Auto Value (auto parts) representative," said Mike. "He told us buying the track was a major expense and to go through with improvements before they are warranted would be wrong. It's taken us longer than we wanted to, but we wanted to be sure we were doing the right thing."
One of the "right things" was putting a new track together. Using as much of the existing track as possible, a new 4/10-mile track was wrapped around. But in creating the new track, there was a need for other improvements, such as lights and surface. The time had come to start the ball rolling for the track to open in the '03 season.
"We wanted to lay out a track that's racer friendly," recalled Mike. "We wanted to consider the veterans and the new guys. We needed a track that wasn't tight in the corners and didn't make you drag race in the backstretch.
"We shortened the length of the track three times in planning. In the process, we widened the turns and increased the radius to make the turns long and wide. It allows the racers more corner speed."
When the long summer days give way to evenings, racers need quality lighting to continue their work. Lighting was suspect, but the new light system is, in the opinion of many, like going from an oil lamp to a light bulb.
Construction crews carved...
Construction crews carved out the new 4/10-mile oval, which was built to give the lower-budget racers a chance to showcase their driving skills.
"The stuff we had here was overhead wiring and it was state of the art 20 years ago. It showed age. We were inadequate. In building the track, it was necessary to upgrade everything."
Fresh pavement, strong walls and fencing, and spectators amenities were all included in the plans. The track hoped to attract more traveling shows to give Dixie Motor Speedway's buying public a greater variety.
The return of Super Late Models to the track drew attention. Kern had raced against many of those still in competition and could tailor his plans for the racers' needs. When the first show was scheduled, he couldn't wait to show off the lighting system.
"That first night, we started the race at 6 and got out at 9, so we didn't turn on the track lights," Mike said. "The racers had wanted to see the lights. When they came back and we needed to turn the lights on, they were impressed. The feedback from the competitors has been great."
Paving crews lay a ribbon...
Paving crews lay a ribbon of asphalt on the new track. The wide track will require several more passes.
The feedback from the spectator side has been positive about the track and other moves made by Mike and Krista Kern. Intermission was eliminated in 1998 in an effort to speed up the program. Their Friday night weekly show jams in the action.
"We try to get people on their way home at a decent hour," said Mike. "We've found that the number of people waiting for the last race is increasing. We try to be community friendly. It may mean a little hit in the concessions, but that's the breaks.
"My job is to make them forget all their cares and worries when they pay to see our show. Even if their favorite driver doesn't win, it's successful if they forget their worries. We try to give them their money's worth. I try to be there at the end of the night to shake hands with the customers as they leave."
A new flag stand goes in place...
A new flag stand goes in place for the officials to monitor events on any of the track's racing arenas.
The track has maintained active community involvement with youth groups and civic organizations. "We have to remember the speedway has been here since 1948 and is part of the community. We have to think about what we're losing if it's not here. Some people take for granted that since it's been here so long, it will always be here, but that's not the case. The track leaving would be a loss for the community, so we want the track to be a positive part of the community."
The vision that drove the Kerns to the field of promoting is strong. "My wife and I saw this as a long-term involvement," said Mike. "We've been here eight years already. The community has come around. We always want to be good neighbors."
The combination of being a good neighbor and having a quality race facility and a convenient location is adding up to keep the long-standing track going strong. With its fresh vision, Dixie could set the standard for others looking to bring new life to an old track.