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The 2010 season at Shasta Raceway Park, located on the Shasta District Fairgrounds in Anderson, officially commences on Saturday, April 3, with a program featuring five divisions of racecars, including open wheel midgets and late model stock cars. The grandstands open at 5 p.m. with racing scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
The season kickoff re-fires a racing tradition at the fairgrounds that extends back to the opening of a dirt oval in 1953. The track was paved before the 1973 season, and, in 2003, the track was lengthened a bit from one-third of a mile to three-eights of a mile. Despite its long history, Shasta Raceway has struggled to attract both competitors and fans of late, and current promoter Rick Faeth is the fourth different track operator in a little more than 10 years.
All of that makes Shasta Raceway Park similar to hundreds of other short tracks in the United States. While big time NASCAR racing was exploding with popularity during the past decade, many local tracks were simply trying to stay alive. Fairgrounds tracks in places such as Orland, Susanvillle and Yreka seem to be on perpetual life support. Other facilities have gone dark permanently.
Thankfully for racers, gearheads, fans and families looking for relatively affordable entertainment, Shasta Raceway Park remains open for business. I recently sat down for a chat with Faeth, a former midget racer and a Bay Area tech industry refugee who relocated to Anderson two years ago to take over the speedway.
What’s new at the track this season?
When you put together a schedule, that’s probably the most challenging thing you do all year. You have to balance the needs of the weekly program with the touring series and the novelty shows. This year, we’ll have the USAC sprint cars for the first time in five years. I believe sprint cars will be very successful on this track. They’ll be a hot ticket. That’s the same weekend as the Hot-O-Rama car show at the fairgrounds. On Memorial Day weekend, we’ll have the third annual California Vintage Nationals. I have a real appreciation of the history of auto racing. As long as I’m the promoter, we’ll have that event. We have the Airport Auto Brokers late model series twice this season.
Where did that series come from?
That used to be the NorCal Challenge Series. They are tour-type late models like those that used to run the NASCAR Featherlite series. There’s a core group of about 20 cars.
Does NASCAR’s success and television exposure help a short track like yours?
Not everybody is going to come to every race. You’re going to get people who like boat races or who like sprint cars. What we’re trying to do is let people know there is NASCAR-style racing right here locally. It’s important to point out to fans that we are not running on any Saturday nights up against NASCAR on TV.
This is your third year as promoter. What did you learn the first two years?
I’ve learned to delegate to key people and not do everything myself. That was going to put me in an early grave. I’ve got capable people, and it’s important for me to utilize them effectively. Adam Boddy and Kevin Cole are great examples. It’s really exciting to see those young guys go from being rock kickers on the cleanup crew to senior positions at the track. Adam is now my starter and Kevin is the assistant pit manager.
You had an open competition stock car show scheduled to start the season last weekend, but you canceled it. What happened?
It was certainly a difficult call. Spring open shows are part of the past. We suffered from local racers not having their cars ready, and an almost total lack of pre-entries.
An open comp show the first weekend of March used to be a big tradition at Shasta. It used to draw cars from all over.
Racers don’t travel like they used to. They stay closer to home. We’ll have a successful open show in the fall with 100-plus cars. It’s important for Shasta Raceway Park to have a successful full season, not just one big show.
What’s your biggest challenge this year?
The big challenge this year is the just like the last two years: to increase main grandstand attendance, convince people that car counts will increase.
Will car counts increase?
Yes. We’ll have 13 modifieds [up from 8 to 10 last season], 15 or 16 bombers. We’ll have a few more late models.
That’s good news. There has been talk for years about relocating the grandstands because they face into the late afternoon sun. Any chance that will happen?
Apparently the Earth rotated on a different axis when those grandstands were built [laughs]. Moving the existing grandstands will never happen. They are outdated. Probably the best we could hope for would be a new grandstand at the entrance to turn three. You can get modular grandstands these days. You start with 500 seats, and then add another 500 seats, and so on. There’s a possibility that could happen within five years. For the immediate future, we’re stuck with what we have.
Anything else new this year that you’d like to let people know about?
We’re starting a high school challenge with hornet-legal cars for drivers 14 to 20 years old. We’re using it as a gateway into racing. We’ll have four races, and drivers will represent high schools. We’re starting a new driving school here. My plan is that if we run the midgets on Saturday night, we’ll have a school with the midgets on Sunday. It’s another gateway to get people involved.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and a former correspondent for National Speed Sport News. He has spent most weekends for the past 40 years at a race track somewhere. He lives in Centerville and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.