As the sun sets, the racing action is just getting started on the first night of racing at
It's never easy starting a business, just ask anybody who has ever made the attempt. Some businesses carry fewer risks than others, and in this economy building a new racetrack could very well be at the top of the pile when it comes to riskiness. But that didn't seem to matter to Queen Creek, Arizona's Jonah Trussel. He's the owner of ET MotoPark, a mixed-use dirt racing facility that includes a motocross track, a sand dragstrip, and an RC car track. And now Trussel has just added a 3/8-mile dirt track to his facility, called Arizona Speedway.
The decision to build a dirt circle track didn't take place over night. The situation and the conditions had to be just right. If we look at the recent history of the metro Phoenix area, one of the last Grande Dames of dirt track racing, Manzanita Speedway closed down and sold in 2009. It wasn't going to stay a dirt track; its future was going to be a 15-acre parking lot for cranes, large trucks, and other heavy equipment.
In the past there was a motocross practice track at the east end of ET MotoPark, a mixed-u
With that event, there was a 1/2-mile hole in the dirt track market in Phoenix and it wasn't going to be an easy act to follow. There was a good deal of opportunity in the somewhat controlled chaos that occurred when Manzanita closed and the land sold. As we all know, out of chaos comes great opportunity. Jonah wasn't a stranger to risk and he was ready to step into the fray. This was his opportunity to take. The Arizona Speedway project was launched.
What followed was a long process of complex negotiations with Pima County about noise, dust, crowd control, safety concerns, and a plethora of other issues that needed to be addressed and solved. While this wasn't an easy process, it wasn't Jonah's first dance with state and county governments. Experienced in dealing with them thanks to his existing facilities, he even kept the motocross track, the sand drags, and the RC track all running during the licensing and permitting process for the oval track.
A view of the RC track that is part of the ET MotoPark complex.
During this process he was able to purchase some of the infrastructure that was once part of Manzanita Speedway, such as portions of the bleachers. Now, just having the stands, some fencing, and the right documentation from the county government do not a racetrack make. It takes a plan, and Jonah was a man with a plan. First up was the design of all the fan necessitities—such as stands, restrooms, a snack bar, and a place to work on the cars.
The track went through a number of mental and paper renditions prior to starting any movement of earth. The track, pits, and stands were all going to be located in what was previously a practice track for the motocross track, an area just east of the sand drag track.
Once the dust settled and the tractors completed the dirt work, what was standing in the location of the practice track was a 3/8-mile oval, with fairly steep banking and the back straight about 3 to 4 feet higher than the front straight. From the grandstands, the spectators would have a clear and uninterrupted view of the racing surface. This was going to be a fast joint.
What looks like the remnants of a tornado touchdown, is a portion of the bleachers from Ma
Trussel kept the infield flat so that he can add a smaller track as the facility grows. There was some talk of a Speedway motorcycle track or possibly a flat track for motorcycles and quads—something that has been a missing component of the Arizona motorcycle racing scene for many years.
With the track surface completed, it was time to invite the racers in the area to come out and lay down some laps. The first practice was well attended. There was a broad spectrum of racers out to give the new track a try and see just how racy this joint was going to be. About 85 cars from the Street/Pure Stock, ProMod, Dwarf, Sport Modified, and Modified ranks showed up for the session. There was even one Super Late Model. What was the verdict? The racers loved the track.
The view from what was between Turns 1 and 2 at Manzanita Speedway. The Palo Verde tree in
The first section of the former Manzy grandstands gets a new lease on life at the Arizona
This is the first view that many of the racers saw of the track as they walked up to the e
Notice the size of the corners and the width of the track; this will be one racy place.
There were an abundance of smiles as the cars exited the track. The track is wide and there is plenty of racing room. There were some comments about the lack of clay but that was an issue whose solution was already in motion at press time. Jonah was negotiating with the same supplier of the clay that was used at Manzy. So, as the infrastructure to support the track was improving, so would the surface of the track be on its own improvement plan.
The overall comments from the racers were, "The track is fast," "It is wide and it is going to be racy." Overall, the racers were very enthused. Even with the lack of a significant amount of clay, the surface was starting to take rubber and it was still relatively smooth at the end of the day's practice. There was a good amount of track time given to each division so everyone had the opportunity to form an opinion.
But for the track to be a viable commercial entity you would have to have fans show up in a greater number than the racers. The first race was held on April 2, 2011. It was a clear day with very little wind and just a bit on the warm side. It would turn into a perfect evening for a race. It was a great show; the racing was close, fast, and just what the doctor ordered for a town still reeling from the loss of Manzy.
The pits on practice day were packed. There were four rows like this all packed with haule
On race day, the track was buzzing with activity, and both on- and off-track action that ran right down to the wire. There was a crew of electricians completing the wiring on the lights and double checking everything to make sure that the lights would be operational. There was a crew following the electricians, they were aiming the lights and doing the final double checks. There was an army of staff members all over the track assisting the fans and the racers.
There were many questions to be answered and if a staffer didn't have the answer to a question, he or she was on the radio or a phone trying to get the answers needed to help a racer or a fan. In fact, the level of help and assistance that the staff was giving out made you feel right at home.
As I entered the track there was a woman named Stacy working the pit gate, who made sure that I had the correct press credentials and made sure that any questions I had were answered by the right people. There was a, "Hey, we are sure glad you came" vibe from all of the staff members. They all seemed to love that they were part of the first race night and they wanted to be sure that they were doing everything they could do to make your visit as positive as possible. It was very refreshing to be treated like company rather than just a paying customer.
Jonah Trussel is addressing the racers on the first practice day several weeks prior to th
The event was a huge success for Jonah and his team. The turnout was projected to be 2,000-2,500 people, but more than 3,300 people showed up for the night's racing. It was standing room only and the fans didn't seem to mind a bit. This was a great sign. There was obviously a hunger and the Arizona Speedway just might be the perfect menu item.
A key ingredient to a successful track is the food. And the food service folks didn't disappoint. They were serving up the standard racetrack fare—burgers, dogs, and beverages—but also had tri-tip and pulled pork sandwiches. And, they were giving out samples! The food was quite tasty.
While you were waiting in line for a beverage one of the food service staffers was walking the line and trying to help customers at the back of the line to help keep the process moving along so you could get back to watching the race and not miss any action. If you wanted to sit and eat, there were plenty of clean tables. This was the first time I had ever seen the food service folks at any racetrack be proactive and get the fans back to the stands quicker so they could watch the races. Nice touch.
Once the cars were given the green flag, the drivers wasted no time discovering the limits
When the Modifieds hit the dirt the line moved up the track and the cars got even more sid
Monkey bars are where you find them. Kids always seem to find some place play and give the
The day of the first race found the pits packed and the technical inspections going on. Th
I had the opportunity to talk to multiple fans while waiting, briefly—in line, and sitting down to eat—and they all were very impressed with the track, the people running it, and what they perceived as a good value for the money they spent to come to the track. Everyone I spoke with said they would be back to watch another show. They were all glad that the track was there. Many were confident that the track would be a first class operation in a reasonable amount of time.
The track had changed a bit from the practice day with the addition of an Armco barrier around it. It looked nice but now the racers had something to hit. Four divisions—Street Stocks, Pure Stocks, Pro Mods, and the Modifieds—put on plenty of close racing and the drivers all seemed to really like the speed the track was offering. It wasn't too fast and the size of the corners kept the track from becoming a dragstrip connected by two corners. The corners were large enough to really allow the drivers to keep a good bit of momentum into and out of the turn. The lack of clay didn't seem to hurt the track and how racy it would be throughout the night. Jonah and his team did a good job preparing the track. It wasn't too wet in the beginning and not too dry at the end of the evening; a great balance.
The winner of the very first race was Matt Martinez in the Stock Car division. The race was close in the early stages but as the second and third place cars started to race each other, Matt was able to pull away and take the win in the first ever race at Arizona Speedway. The fans went nuts and screamed like Matt had just won the Daytona 500.
Last minute preparations for the first race. The track was well prepared; not too much or
The opening of the Arizona Speedway was a fairly large undertaking. Jonah and his team did a very good job of taking a former motocross practice track and turning into a very good dirt track in what seemed like a fairly short time. This track will give the racers in Arizona a great place to race, and if the enthusiasm of the fans that night is any indication, they enjoyed the track just as much, if not more, than the racers.
Some of the fans expressed a bit of melancholy about the passing of Manzanita but they were very understanding when we started to talk about the economics of the situation. The fact that they were sitting at a new track was a very big positive. They have a good number of reasons to return and only time will tell if the level of enthusiasm will continue. Many a business start-up is marked with extremely high levels of effort, attention to detail, and outstanding customer relations. This is the point where the Arizona Speedway is currently standing.
The staff Jonah has assembled did a great job at making the fan and the racer feel at home and they offered a level of service that will keep them coming back for more. Looking forward, the fans and the racers have a place to go on Friday and Saturday nights that will offer a good value for the fan and racer alike. Arizona Speedway, the job was well done and should be a model for other people who would like to start a track.
Like most racers, no matter how much time you give them to prep the car there are still th
The show was run well and the schedule was maintained. These cars are waiting their turn t
The racing was close and exciting all night long. The racers did a great job of keeping it
And the winner of the first race at Arizona Speedway is Matt Martinez. This is a title tha
Richie Davis towed three hours from Springerville, Arizona, to win the first Modified race
As the sun set on Arizona Speedway's first night of racing, the future is bright indeed.