Racing community loses a close friend
CARSON CITY – In the future, this location will be the site of homes. However, there were plenty of memories to go around as the racing community of Northern Nevada bid one last good-bye to an old friend at 1230 Race Track Drive last Saturday.
After 42 years, Champion Speedway opened its gates for auto racing for the last time and the stands were packed with fans for the Silver State Classic, featuring drivers from Northern Nevada and California for a 100-lap sprintcar feature race, along with the local Late Model Sportsman, Legends and Hornets divisions. Earlier in the day, drivers, officials and fans from the present and past had a chance to get together for a barbecue picnic and to share racing memories.
“There’s so many people I was hoping to see here, people who go way back,” Tom Shelton said as he visited with friends in the pit area where he has spent countless hours for more than 35 years.
Suddenly, Shelton smiles as he spots Fred Allen, who drove the No. 98 car at what was then known as Tahoe-Carson, or T-Car, between 1973 and ’84. He won championships in 1977 and ’80.
“I had to come out one more time to take a look,” said Allen, who now lives in Fallon. “I had a lot of fun and spent a lot of time out here. Our kids grew up out here.”
The track won’t officially close until after Sunday’s motocross finale.
The 45-minute drive from South Lake Tahoe to Carson City didn’t hinder local racing enthusiasts from pursuing their passion.
“It’s so sad because its been such a tradition there for so long. My fondest (racing) memories were in Carson City,” said former NASCAR Southwest Tour racer Lee Sutton of South Lake Tahoe. “That’s where I won my first race, my first trophy dash and my first main events.”
Way before Sutton began auto racing at the track, he dabbled in motocross.
“I’ve been racing something all my life, whether it’s been a bicycle skis, motorcycles or cars,” Sutton said. “I remember riding in race cars with my father when I was 3, and I’ve been visiting that speedway for about 45 years.”
Sutton, along with Jeff Tillman, Roy Testa and Boomer Schultz, formed the South Shore’s heyday at the speedway in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“All our roots started there and we always returned to race there,” said Sutton, who is contemplating resurrecting his racing career next year at Placerville’s dirt oval. “We all seemed to go our different ways, but I still think we all think about racing a lot.”
No motocross racer from the South Shore created more buzz than Danny Olsen. Olsen regularly won 125 and 250 cc races from Carson City to Placerville, creating a local following in the sport for the first time.
“He was the blue plate rider,” Sutton said, “but we all started in motocross and then raced cars.”
Cris Olsen married into the local motocross racing family and now has two young boys who compete in the sport. She enjoys the bonding and camaraderie that developed at the track over the years and is saddened by the track’s demise.
“It’s a really good family sports. It’s obviously dangerous, but the people we’ve met at the races are phenomenal and would go out of their way to help each other,” she said.
“We take it for granted that something like that will stay there forever.”
There are countless memories for Dave Lester – nicknamed “White Lightning” because of his red and yellow car with a white lightning bolt – who drove at the track between 1977 and 2001 and won four track championships. He remembers the old track, dating back to the days and nights when he was growing up in Carson City.
“I have a ton (of dreams and good times) More than I can count,” said Lester, who now owns Silver State Gymnastics in Carson City. “Growing up, at night I’d have the window open at night because it would be so hot and I could hear the cars from my bedroom. And that was back when there were no noise restrictions or curfews, so it was like listening to thunder all night long.”
Even before that, Lester recalls hopping on his bike and riding down to the track to watch the races. He even had a job when he was 13 sweeping up the grandstands on Sundays.
There was one other memory from that race, according to Lester.
“I finished ahead of Derek Cope, that’s when he was racing on the Northwest Tour, and he went on to win Daytona in 1990, so I was always proud of that accomplishment.”
Lester went on to become a three-time Nor Cal Pro Truck Touring champion between 1996 and ’98.
These are all memories from a time well before Mackena Bell was even born. The 15-year-old Carson High student has made quite a splash this summer, and on Saturday night, she was in position to win the Legends division to become the youngest season champion in the track’s history. She just wishes she could have gone out before this.
“I feel really honored to have been a part of the last season at Champion Speedway. I only wish I would have turned 14 a few years ago so that I could have run there more,” Bell said. “The great competitors I have raced with this year have made me work hard to stay in the points battle. Thank-you to drivers like Terry Madjeski, Lester Mitchell, Denny Hadler, Bobby Hodges and (South Lake Tahoe’s) Jimmy Klopp, to name just a few, for always keeping me on my toes and making this season so much fun for me.
“Thanks also to Dave Sciaronni for racing me clean when I won my first main event, a night I will never forget,” she added. “I was glad it was Dave I was battling with and his handshake after the race was really cool, too. I’m sure I will see some of them, if not all of them, at other tracks in the years to come. When that happens it will be cool to have the Champion Speedway group back together.”
The track has been such a landmark for so long, it almost seemed as though it would be there forever.
“I think everyone thought that,” Lester said. “I mean, it was just a fixture here in Carson City all these years. I think it truly is one of the finest short tracks – one of the fastest high bank quarter-mile tracks – anywhere in the Western United States, and we were everywhere.
“I think time will show this is one of those things you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore.”
Shelton has heard that another local track will be open for racing in time. But … “It’s not going to be the same,” he said. “The people, the competition, the adrenaline, there’s just something about this place. I just hate to see it go.”