I-77 Raceway Park promoters continue track revival
By Dustin JarrettDirtonDirt.com correspondent
Every off-season, countless dirt tracks across the country brainstorm ways they can increase their car counts, gain new fans, and improve their overall image and reputation. Over the last three winters, perhaps no track has done more of this than I-77 Raceway Park in Fairplain, W.Va.
“The biggest changes are happening right now,” I-77 promoter Shon Parsons said. “The fans won't recognize this place when they see it in a few months.”
Some three years ago, when Parsons was asked to join the staff at I-77, he saw a track that was seemingly down to its last breathe. As a matter of fact, I-77 actually closed down halfway through the 2009 season.
“Attendance was down and, of course, the economy was crashing,” Parsons said. “The track had decided to eliminate the Super Late Model class and saw a huge decline in interest. The facility was aging and, to be honest, many people felt the track was done.”
At the time, new owner Kenney Newhouse of Elkview, W.Va. knew it was a make or break period for the facility. Newhouse made the decision to partner with Craig Givens and bring Parsons on board to promote. KN Motorsports was born and immediate facility upgrades began.
A racer himself, Newhouse began “rebuilding” the 3/8-mile oval one step at a time with the things he knew best. Solid track prep, guaranteed purses, and relationship building with teams and sponsors were Newhouse’s No. 1 priority.
“Things were slowly starting to take shape, however, with the economy in such turmoil and the track’s previous reputation, the positive turn was slow and hard,” Parsons said. “Sponsors were slow to help at the track because so many promoters were coming and going. Fans were excited about the new direction but were cautious because they had heard this same story before. Even so, KN Motorsports continued to build a foundation and work hard to rebuild an icon of dirt racing in West Virginia.”
Changes and upgrades during the offseason are typical at any race track and I-77 is no different. During their first winter as a team, KN Motorsports made minor upgrades to the bleachers and lighting and did a “tremendous amount of work to the track,” according to Parsons.
With seating being on a high embankment above the speedway, I-77 was a track where it was difficult to see the cars as they passed by on the frontstretch. Because of this, the KN Motorsports crew cut away parts of the hill in front of the stands. “After that, you could view the entire track from any seat in the house,” Parsons said.
With several tracks within a 100 miles of I-77 Raceway Park, the promotional powerhouse also began working with neighboring tracks in an effort to “build a schedule that didn't overlap events” and to “build true relationships in the racing community,” as Parsons put it. Last winter, KN Motorsports continued their commitment to capital improvements.
“We upgraded our payout tower, put in a new pit concession stand, and continued to rework the electrical system,” Parsons said. “In addition, we did a tremendous amount of dirt work, and built a completely new guardrail around the track. We also put in a new LED caution light system, built new pit seating, and installed a new PA system. And, probably the biggest improvement of all, we installed an instant replay system in the booth with a high definitely camera to be able to replay close finishes and, when needed, replay accidents on the track to be able to assure our fans and drivers that correct calls were made.”
In 2011, KN Motorsports finally began to see the fruits of their labor in what was arguably the track’s most successful season in over ten years.
“Fans and drivers finally began to notice that Kenney and Craig were living up to their commitments,” Parsons said. “In return, we had a highly successful season last year with more big races and special fan promotions.”
This winter, KN motorsports has been hard at work with even more upgrades, improvements, and big races.
“This winter, the pit area at I-77 has been completely reworked,” Parsons said. “The size of the pits has been doubled and we can easily hold over 200 haulers how. In addition, the seating has been completely reworked as we’ve adding well over one thousand to our seating capacity. These two changes alone will allow us to host bigger events for our fans and drivers.”
“Basically, every inch of the facility is being reworked to add to the fan experience,” Parsons said. “Everything from the concession area to the parking area to the new terraced and benched seating on each side of the grandstands. We’ve added new bleachers, we’ve installed a new electrical system and wiring, and we’ve put a completely new coat of clay on the racetrack.”
Parsons continued, “We just unveiled our 2012 schedule and we’ve already got several big events planned. We’ll kick our season off March the 31st with a test and tune and, on April 7, the fun begins with a $3,000 to win Super Late Model show. In addition, we will continue our working relationship with (Friday night tracks) Skyline Speedway and Beckley Motor Speedway to provide our racers with opportunities to win bonuses by supporting the tracks.”ï¿½
As for the rumors of other big races being held at Fairplain, W.Va. oval, Parsons simply said: “We’ve heard those rumors too and, hopefully, we’ll be able to make some big announcements soon.”
“I can promise you this,” Parsons added, “we are going to continue working as hard as we can to make sure the racing experience at I-77 keeps growing for our fans and drivers. I-77 is like a new racetrack ... a brand new facility. It's going to be state of the art all the way down to a new stadium-style seating system. All of the improvements and hard work by Kenney and Craig makes my job as promoter extremely easy. Kenney Newhouse and Craig Givens are the true heroes behind I-77 Raceway Park.”