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New Oklahoma oval tops U.S. track developments

January 25, 2012, 9:31 am
From staff and contributor reports
Oregon's Willamette Speedway began improvements last fall. (raceimages.net)
Oregon's Willamette Speedway began improvements last fall. (raceimages.net)

After a single season as the owner and promoter of the Race Brothers Show-Me Racin' Series, Bill McMurtrie has decided to also add the title of racetrack owner and promoter to his resume.

McMurtrie of Bartlesville, Okla., who purchased the 9-year-old Show-Me Series from founder Ken Essary prior to the 2011 season, will have the help of his brother Robert in his latest venture. The two veteran racers are nearing completion of a new dirt oval on 200 acres of family property in northeast Oklahoma and plan to open the yet-to-be-named track in May.

“Bill and me both know there’s gonna be a lot of work with this deal, but we believe it’s the right place and the right situation where a racetrack can be successful,” said Robert McMurtrie, who along with serving as the new track’s promoter will join his brother on the Show-Me Racin’ Series as the tour’s race director.

Located on Highway 123 in Bartlesville, the track will host four divisions on Friday nights. Weekly events will be highlighted by Late Models running under rules similar to the Show-Me Racin' Series. The brothers also plan for the track to serve as a home base for the regional tour with sanctioned events at the track at least once every month.

In designing the track surface, the brothers patterned it after Mid-America Speedway in nearby South Coffeyville, Okla. With an 80-foot-wide racing surface, the track will be a third-mile in length around the top of the track and a quarter-mile around the bottom. The red-clay surface will be banked between 12 and 14 degrees.

“We based it on the size of South Coffeyville, but made it a bit bigger,” Robert McMurtrie said. “We think that’s a good shape for a track and we’ve got some really nice material out there we’ve had tested. We feel pretty confident it’s gonna make a great surface for some good racing.”

The brothers are looking to possibly add other special events to the new track’s schedule, but for now their focusing on “getting the track in working order and putting on a great weekly show that keeps fans happy.”

“Once we get open and get going, we’re gonna look around and possibly add some other specials,” Robert McMurtrie. “We don’t know exactly what all we’re gonna do yet, but we’re extremely excited to get started and get racing.” — Joshua Joiner

Other news of dirt track upgrades across the United States:

WILLAMETTE’S SECOND-YEAR OWNERS MAKE UPGRADES: As they prepare to enter their second season at the helm of Lebanon, Org.’s Willamette Speedway, track owners Jimmy and Jerry Schram are in the midst of an extensive facelift to the third-mile track and its surrounding facility. What began as a simple plan to widen the track’s front straightaway has evolved into a major undertaking that includes among other improvements a new guardrail and catch fence all the way around the track, new concessions and restrooms, a new scoreboard and all new lighting. The pit area has been moved out of the infield to beyond the back straightaway, making room for a go-kart track in the infield. The new pit area has been covered with gravel and has water and power hookups every 25 feet. The track is also in the process of taking out the top row of the general admission grandstands to add VIP suites. Among other special events for Late Models, the track will host the Clair Cup in July. The $5,000-to-win event, formerly known as the Clair Arnold Memorial, honors the long-time track owner who died in 2009. The World of Outlaws Sprint Cars will also make their first visit to Willamette this year. — Joshua Joiner

TENNESSEE TRACK OPENS UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT: Spring City (Tenn.) Raceway, located just off I-75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga, is planning a full schedule of weekly racing for the 2012 season under management by accomplished east Tennessee racers Raymond Shepard and Danny Jones. The quarter-mile oval, which opened for the second half of 2011 under promoters Tim and Angie Kyle, will host races each Friday with Limited Late Models headlining a seven-division program. Shepard and Jones have tabbed Markus Hankins to serve as race director for their facility. Hankins brings experience from a number of positions he’s held at nearby 411 Motor Speedway including track announcer and public relations specialist. He plans to continue in his duties at 411, which races on Saturday nights. “We’re hoping to put together a few special races in the season,” Hankins said. “And we’re definitely going to have some things in store for the fans.” — Richard Allen of TennesseeRacer.com

MORE UPGRADES FOR WEST VIRGINIA’S I-77 RACEWAY PARK: Entering their fourth year operating I-77 Raceway Park in Ripley, W.Va., promoters Kenney Newhouse and Craig Givens have once again made substantial upgrades to the high-banked 3/8-mile track and its surrounding facility. After adding a replay video screen among other improvements before last season, the partners have worked extensively over the current offseason to add more room in the track’s pit area, which was often overfull at events last year. They leveled previously unusable hillside to make extra room and used the dirt to fill in more space near the facility entrance. They also added 10 rows of terrace seating in the general admission area that can accommodate up to 500 more spectators. Other upgrades include additional clay added to the racing surface and a number of safety improvements. The track will once again host AMRA-sanctioned Super Late Models weekly as well as a Limited Late Model division for steel-head and Crate Late Models. Newhouse and Givens are currently looking at increasing the weekly Super Late Model payout, which paid $1,000 to the winner in 2011. The partners hope to add some special events to the track’s 2012 schedule, and with more facility improvements planned for next offseason they’re also looking to host a national touring series in 2013. — Joshua Joiner

DRY OFFSEASON ALLOWS UPGRADES AT HILLTOP SPEEDWAY: Nearly half of Hilltop Speedway’s 2011 events were washed out by rain, but the track crews have taken advantage of plenty of pleasant weather during the offseason to make a number of upgrades to the 3/8-mile track in Millersburg, Ohio. More than 400 tons of clay has been added to the racing surface and higher guardrails and catch fencing has been installed around the speedway. The track is also in the process of adding more grandstand seating and renovating the concession stand and officials tower. The track is also working on an updated website. Hilltop’s 2012 season will start March 31 with Super Late Models highlighting six divisions. — Mike Swanger of Hilltop Speedway

HECKENAST FOCUSING ON JOLIET OVAL: After considering to reopen Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway for special events in 2012, track owner Sherri Heckenast has decided instead to concentrate on a track closer to her Chicagoland home, Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill. While KLMS, in Calvert City, Ky., is for sale with a few potential buyers, Heckenast said she'll promote demolition derbies in Joliet for the third straight year in 2012. She has tentative plans to bring oval track racing back to Illinois facility that "never really took off" after sporadic Late Model events a dozen years ago. The track needs new clay and Heckenast hopes to have something more concrete to announce in a few months. Route 66 Raceway is primarily a drag racing facility that sits adjacent to Chicagoland Speedway, which hosts an annual NASCAR Sprint Cup event. — Todd Turner

BATON ROUGE INSTALLING NEW BLEACHERS: Baton Rouge Raceway in Baker, La., ended the 2011 season after dismantling the old wooden bleachers, and the project to replace them with new steel bleachers is under way. Wet weather has delayed the renovations but the home track for Late Model's Southern United Professional Racing tour should be complete by March. The new grandstands at the 40-year-old track will hold about 2,400. The track, owned by SUPR founder Donald Watson since 1983, also has drawn up plans for new restrooms, but that project will be for a later date. — Bryan Wimberley

OTHER TRACK NEWS: Second-year promoter Joe Jackson has added motocross and go-kart tracks on the grounds of Beckley (W.Va.) Motorsports Park. Along with weekly action, Jackson, who took over the 52-year-old track last July after previous promoters Jim Williams and Ken Williams closed the gates, has tentatively scheduled a Super Late Model event for June 15-16 that will pay either $10,000 or $15,000 to the winner. ... Thunderbird Speedway in Muskogee, Okla., has added a Limited Late Model division to its weekly division lineup. The half-mile track will open its season in April with the inaugural Charlie Fulton Memorial. The $5,555-to-win MARS DIRTcar Series event honors track co-owner Charlie Fulton who died in November. ... I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., will shift its weekly racing events from Sundays to Friday nights for the 2012 season. Weekly action will once again include NASCAR Late Models running for $900 to win and at least $125 to each starter. ... Columbus (Miss.) Speedway will bring back a pair of memorial races under new promoters Jeff Greer and Mike Mauldin. Both the James King Memorial and the James Nickoles Memorial return to the track’s 2012 schedule after both events took a multi-year hiatus. Both races will pay $2,500 the winner and will be sanctioned by the Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series, which returns to the track for the first time since 2008.

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