Traditional Sprint Car FanSite

See You At The Races!!!

by Tim Kennedy

Los Angeles, CA - June 10, 2005. - A surprising announcement on Wednesday, June 8 at the Buck Owens Crystal Palace in Bakersfield shocked the racing world. Mesa Marin Raceway vice-president Larry Collins addressed about 100 attendees at a media
luncheon and told them the 2005 season will be the final season for the 28-year old paved, half-mile banked oval. The 28th annual October Classic will be the last event at the Kern County track. Marion Collins, the 68-year old patriarch of the Collins clan built, owned and operated the track in northeast Bakersfield from day one in 1977. It was a labor of love for Marion, his wife Shirley and their sons.

In his remarks, Larry said the family never solicited offers for their property, but they had received numerous offers over the past 18-months. The Collins' realized Marion and Shirley needed to slow their pace and enjoy life without the pressures of operating Mesa Marin. Marion is a hands-on owner the way track builder/owner/operator Earl Baltes, 84, was through 2004 at his Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, OH. The Collins family realized that if Mesa Marin was operating Marion and Shirley would be involved actively. Reportedly, land near the track is selling for $100,000 an acre, so the sale of 40 acres could be worth $4 million. The reported assessed value was $1.9 million for 2004-05. More than 3,400 homes are already planned in the rolling hills north and south of the track. With the sale of 40 acres the northeast area likely will have an additional 5,000+ homes and condos in coming years.

A lucrative offer for their property came to them from a housing developer and the Collins family decided the time was right to retire. They collectively made a business decision to sell 40 of their 56 acres, including the race track land. The Collins family will keep the land beyond the backstretch where racing shops are located. Home building in the area has encroached on the Mesa Marin property for years and resultant complaints about track noise have resulted in friction. City Hall politicians had to listen to voters and the track's conditional use permit was not guaranteed. It seemed like legal battles and
efforts to reduce noise would be necessary to keep the track operating indefinitely and it could be a losing battle with so much residential housing coming into the area.

The decision to close Mesa Marin was a tough one to make because it affected many people. Fans, racers, track staff (15 full-time and 80 to 120 part-timers on race day), racing-related firms and businesses, such as driver Dan Holtz' race driving school at Mesa Marin, are affected by the loss of income or entertainment. Additionally, area hotels/motels, restaurants and gas stations will suffer revenue loss from the lack of out-of-town visitors to the track for races. The unique racing series for area high school students and their advisors, in which schools competed as teams for points, will be left homeless.

The loss of Cajon Speedway, a 3/8-mile paved track in El Cajon (eastern San Diego County) earlier this year first hit the California racing community. Now the loss of Mesa Marin following this season will hit racers hard, especially NASCAR stock car competitors and fans. When a track closes for any reason it hurts the business of racing for all tracks in some way. Each track develops drivers, crew members and fans. They also travel to other tracks at times. Irwindale Speedway is the closest half-mile paved track to Mesa and is located 130 miles south of Mesa Marin. The two tracks have cooperated in recent years at season-end by staging a two-race late model championship series with a race at each track for an overall winners' trophy and special point payoff funded by each track.

Irwindale Speedway general manager/COO Bob DeFazio issued a statement on June 9 about the closing of Mesa Marin. "We were all saddened to hear the announcement of Mesa Marin Raceway's closing at the end of this racing season. Mesa is a distinguished short track, one that has nurtured a lot of great racing and great drivers over its 28-year history. Its loss will leave us to carry on the important work of presenting top quality NASCAR short track racing in the south-land," DeFazio said.

The news of Mesa's closing made various Internet web sites, the Bakersfield local newspaper and the Los Angeles Times on Friday, June 10. Bakersfield Speedway, a third-mile clay track in the north Bakersfield suburb of Oildale, remains in operation. However, the dirt track is not suitable for the NASCAR late models that compete at Mesa. Touring series such as the NASCAR Grand National West and Elite Division Southwest Series have been popular attractions for fans and competitors alike at Mesa for decades. ASA Speed Trucks and Davey Hamilton's Supermodified Racing League also have tour stops at Mesa. The loss of those annual races will leave holes in those schedules that will be difficult to fill without traveling great distances to non-California tracks. NASCAR Nextel Cup star Kevin Harvick, a graduate of Bakersfield's North High and the 1993 Mesa Marin track champion, will be competing for the final time at his home
track on Thursday night, June 23 in a NASCAR late model series "Firecracker 100". Hopefully, the announced closing of Mesa will lead to grandstands full of paying customers for the remaining races at the track, which is located on Highway 178 at the 184.

My personal recollections of Mesa Marin date back to the track's opening night, Saturday, April 16, 1977. The CRA sprint car series was the featured attraction and teams competed for a $4,000 purse posted by Marion Collins. The usual CRA purse in those days for a 30-lap feature at Ascot Park, El Centro, El Cajon and Manzanita (in Phoenix) was $2,750 to $3,500 with occasional spikes to $3,800 to $4,200 based on attendance percentages. As CRA publicist I did the story. The Collins clan remind me of Doug and Nettie Fort at Santa Maria Speedway, Joe and Rose Mattioli at Pocono, PA, and the late Paul Sawyer, the late Richmond, VA promoter who died at 88 on 2/26/05. They all cared about racers and fans and treated them as guests, long before track operators such as Roger Penske used that term for the backbone people who make racing popular.

Mesa's opening night CRA sprint car race attracted a full house of about 6,000+ to the gleaming new track in the then isolated remote hillside. Tommy Astone set the first fast qualifying time in a 33-car field and Clark Templeman, Jr won the first 30-lap main aboard Greg Cunningham's silver No. 20 paved track car. CRA returned to Mesa during 1977 five times --May 2, June 18, July 16, Aug. 20 and Sept. 17, The latter race had a 50-lap main event and a $4,320 purse. Car counts were 38, 30, 36, 31 and 31. Fastest qualifiers were Wally Pankratz in the No. 71 Greg Pieper rear-engine Chevy three times, Lee James and Rick Goudy. Billy Allen, Goudy (twice) and Lee James (twice) won the other mains. The six CRA features at Mesa had four winners for three car owners, Bill Pratt, Morales Brothers (2) and Cunningham (3).

Noteworthy events that took place at Mesa Marin: 1990 - Bill Vukovich III lost his life in a third turn sprint car crash. Saturday, Oct. 15, 1994 - USAC Silver Crown cars competed on Mesa's half-mile a week after the Sacramento 100 at Cal Expo. Paul Durant, of Fresno, was the fastest qualifier at 17.930 (100.390 mph). An 18-car field ran a 100-lap all green-flag race in 31-minutes and had a 96.289 mph average speed by winner Kenny Irwin in the No. 23 Wynn's Beast. Runner-up was Tony Stewart in George Snider's No. 11 Skoal Beast and Mike Bliss (No. 1 McClure) finished third. The top three went on to NASCAR stardom. Only Irwin and Stewart ran 100 laps and Bliss had 99. Jason Leffler and Jay Drake made initial S/C starts.

On the same night USAC S/C cars competed at Mesa I was present and witnessed the first ever demonstration race of what would become in 1995 the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The pickup truck racing on paved ovals concept was the brainchild of off-road racers Jim Smith (still an active NCTS truck owner of the No. 1 and 2 trucks), Dick Landfield, Jim Venable and Frank "Scoop" Vessels. Five or six trucks, included one driven by P. J. Jones, competed in an entertaining race. Trucks became NASCAR's third major national circuit in 1995 when the first race took place at the Phoenix paved mile during the annual Copper World Classic. The rest is history and the circuit is now a major success with drivers on their way to and from Nextel Cup and Busch Series racing. NCTS successes gradually moved the series from short tracks around the country to
major speedways. Long after most short tracks couldn't afford to schedule high-purse NCTS races, Mesa Marin and the Collins family annually hosted a NCTS race until recently. They brought in extra seating to help make the NCTS race financially viable. As one can see from the foregoing information, Mesa Marin is a storied track that will be missed.






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