Under a pinkish-hued blue sky as twilight set in on Saturday, the Prescott Valley Raceway reopened to the roar of engines amid a throng of eager spectators.
Following a two-year hiatus brought on by the closure of the adjacent Yavapai Downs horseracing track, drivers of mini-sprints, Challenge Cup, Copper State modlites and dwarf cars rechristened the raceway's dirt oval off Highway 89A.
Gates opened at 5:30 p.m. for the 7 o'clock racing, but it took little more than a half hour for the bleachers and the lower-level seating on the north end to start filling up.
"I've been waiting far too long for it (racing) to come back (here)," fan Kyle Yarbrough of Cottonwood said. "It's great for the kids. You get them into racing, and get them into hobbies I enjoyed as a kid."
Meanwhile, mini-sprint cars were participating in a practice session ahead of the heat races and the main event.
Over the next three and a half hours, enthusiasts were treated to a rollicking evening of fast-paced racing. Fans that stood behind a low concrete wall barrier on the track's northeast side occasionally felt dime-sized specks of mud spray up from the racers' tires and pelt them harmlessly as they churned past the turn.
For the reopening, PV Raceway General Manager Bugs Norbury said earlier in the week that he anticipated 50-60 racecars and 500-600 spectators in a grandstand that seats about 1,200.
The turnout was better than either he or new owner Gary Miller had anticipated.
"I'm very impressed with how the town has come out to support and enjoy the track," Miller said near the halfway point of the festivities. "It appears from my view that everybody seems to be having a very good time."
Fan Mike Herrera, 32, of Phoenix, who stood toward the top of the grandstand on the west side, was one of those visibly enthused. He donned a printed T-shirt with sprint-car driver Brian Hosford's name on it.
Herrera said the PV Raceway track looked smoother than in the past and he hopes it remains for years to come.
"It's fabulous - an hour and a half drive and you're in cool weather," he said, "and you get to watch sprint-car racing."
Second-year sprint car racer Joshua Shipley, 26, of Peoria, who rode here in a mini-sprint car prior to the shutdown two years ago, said he's trilled about PV Raceway's return.
Several drivers said they like Norbury and want to support him as well as owner Miller.
"It's fun and exciting, because this track has the characteristics of its own," said Shipley, who added that he has recorded four wins out of six Challenge Cup series races in Arizona this year.
"It's a change from the other racetracks here in town or in Arizona. This is a smaller track, and it's flat. It takes a lot of talent to drive on this track."
One of the primary reasons drivers like Shipley are excited about PV Raceway's reopening has to do with the shrinking number of options they have to race on dirt in Arizona.
Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Central Arizona Speedway in Casa Grande, Tucson International, and Thunder Raceway in Show Low are among the only counterparts to PV Raceway. Drivers prefer staying close to home for races because it reduces travel expenses.
"We like seeing tracks opening because it seems like a lot of tracks are closing lately (in Arizona)," said sprint-car driver Josh Pelkey, who competed at PV Raceway some three times before the shutdown. "It's giving us limited places to race. So when you see one opening up, it's a blessing. Hopefully it stays."
Another thing Phoenix-based racers like to see when they're racing is the 80- to 90-degree temperatures here during the late spring and summer months.
"We get out of the 120-degree weather and come up here in nice weather," Shipley said, "and have a nice night of racing."
Sprint-car driver Rick Shuman, 50, of Gilbert last came to PV Raceway three to four years ago and ran a mini-sprint. He hopes the track eventually garners a heightened interest in midget racing, which caters more to his background.
"It's great that they reopened it," he said of PV Raceway. "Our program was kind of sitting around. And we always told Bugs that if he ever got the thing back up and running that we'd come up and support it."
Pelkey, 39, who's from Peoria and has been racing sprint cars for the past 16 years, got his start in midget racing in 1990.
His uncle once raced sprint cars in the 1960s and '70s and introduced him to go-karts as a young boy before he progressed to bigger classes of cars.
Pelkey said tracks such as the one at PV Raceway offer him an enjoyment he simply can't get elsewhere.
"It would always be great to go in NASCAR and everything, but I don't think I'd have as much fun," Pelkey said. "I like the dirt flying."
PV Raceway will play host to its next evening of racing at 7 this Saturday, although gates will open around 5 p.m. Outlaw dwarf cars, hobby stocks, pure stocks and IMCA mods are expected to race.
According to the raceway's website, admission will be $12 per person for those ages 11 and up, while children 10 and under get in free.
Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Article comment by:
Why not interview some of the local drivers, my son races Dwarf Cars and would love to give an interview or how about an article to stir interest for our local youth (hint hint). Just great to have the Raceway open again.