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NEARLY ALL TEXAS ASPHALT SHORT TRACKS ARE GONE by Neil Upchurch My name is Neil Upchurch. Having been involved in auto racing for most of my 85 years and since I moved back to my home state of Texas in 1968, Ive been closely involved in Texas auto racing for the past 50 years. Frankly, Id rather go to the dentist than engage in all the research and preparation necessary to write an article like this. Regretfully, this will read more like an obituary since it highlights the last of the deceased Texas tracks. I am pleased to post it for readers on: www.lonestarspeedzone.com www.lonestarspeedzone.com The article is also available with several historic supporting photos on: www.texasprosedans.comwww.texasprosedans.com To all the folks who have been closely involved in auto racing this is a memorial about Texas and Southwest asphalt motorsports, a sport which is essentially gone, but not entirely forgotten because many Texas racers have dedicated themselves to their sport in so many ways. They spent their money, their hard work product and their completely involved skills necessary to support racing on Texas asphalt tracks. We regret all the money, time and work spent by car owners, drivers and crews and the support of loyal spectators. We also regret all the efforts and funds gambled and lost by the track operators (sometimes called promoters) for which most eventually came up snake eyes. It has been asphalt short track racings version of craps. Even though we all sincerely regret it, but wasnt it fun at the below listed area asphalt tracks? This is a list and story of the some of the closed or nearly closed Texas and southwest asphalt tracks Meyer Speedway, Houston (1/2 mile) - Started in 1959 and had one NASCAR Cup event in 1971 which included Bobby Allison and Richard Petty, James Hylton, Ronnie Chumley driving for H.B. Bailey, Tony Bettenhausen Jr. and Walter Ballard and Jerry Schild in a 300 lap night race which paid winner Bobby Allison only $2,000 in those days. It was promoted by Ed Hamblen and Bill France Sr. Later track history witnessed encroaching residential and commercial properties in Houston near Meyer Speedway at the intersection of South Main at Hillcroft. The track was closed in 1979 and subsequently demolished). Lubbock Speedway (1/4 mile) - The present track owner removed the asphalt in 1978. It was changed to a dirt track and was renamed Arena Park Speedway. In 2017 it was renamed again as West Texas Raceway and is still a dirt track). Southwest Speedway aka Airport Speedway, Amarillo (1/4 mile) - Due to low spectator attendance and diminishing car counts, the track permanently closed in 1989). Pan American Speedway San Antonio (1/4 mile) - The track opened in 1965. Ricci Ware took over promotional operations in 1966. He permanently closed his popular northeast track in 1978 while facing a driver boycott. Then the start-up of a brand new high banked half mile track 15 miles south of town and initially known as Hi Way 16 Raceway created unexpected business competition. In addition, encroaching residential properties near Pan American Speedway and diminishing car counts due to the boycott were among the reasons he permanently ceased racing operations). Twin Cities Speedway, Midland/Odessa (1/4 mile) - Following their ownership of Odessa Speedbowl which was active from 1959 to 1986. John Foster and John David Sr. formed a partnership and constructed the well-built west Texas facility in 1987. One All Pro race was held at the track. The TIDA Late Model Series usually visited three times a year. Both touring series attracted large spectator attendances. A continuing depression in the vital oil industry was felt by many business operations including the track which eventually forced closure. It was sold to a neighboring business which cleared the property for Big-Tex trailer manufacturing and storage. Sooner International Raceway, Altus, Oklahoma (1/2 mile) - An outstanding high banked track was built without walls except on the grandstand straight-a-way. Altus is small town very near the Texas border. It was close enough to be considered a Texas track. There were two tracks. A quarter mile asphalt track known as Altus Speedway was just across the highway from Sooner International Raceway. AS ceased operation to avoid direct competition with SIR. The local market was unable to support both tracts. The half mile SIR track also shut down and was flooded by rain water. The owners of Altus Speedway purchased Sooner International Raceway to avoid future competition and later reopened the half mile track as a better venue on which to conduct major events such as TIDA Late Model Series races. The nearby airport eventually purchased the land. Sooner Intl was leveled in order to provide safer takeoff and landing zones. Texas World Speedway, College Station - The Texas Race of Champions and Texas Grand Prix was run on the 1.9 mile road course and 1/1/2 mile infield oval. Some national names that raced in the Texas Race of Champions included Terry and Bobby Labonte, Bobby, Davey and Clifford Allison, H.B. Bailey, David Starr and standout road racing star driver Tommy Riggins. Also, state short track Texas stars Ed Sczech, Jimmy Finger, Freddy Fryar, Slick Yoemans, H.B bailey, John Newlin, Howard Willis III, Leroy Farmer, Tommy Grimes, David Starr, Rick Rapp, David Umscheid, and NHRA Funny Car and Pro Stock driver Johnny Gray competed in TROC road races. The Texas Grand Prix was held in the fall. Both races routinely drew fields of more than 55 short track late models and another 100 support class competing cars. The two most anticipated racing events in Texas were conducted over a 20 year period which started in 1976 and ceased in 1996. TWSs days are numbered as it is expected become a large residential community. San Antonio Speedway (1/2 mile) - A group of 30 investors formed and quickly built the high banked track which opened in late 1977. A seven race season was conducted. The track champion was a young driver from Corpus Christi, Terry Labonte. The track was initially known as Hi Way 16 Raceway, but through the years, frequently changed names when lease holders and management changed. During the off and on again managements and seasons two celebrity promotions by owner Frank Howell presented NASCAR drivers in races won by Terry Labonte and Jimmy Spencer. The line ups included Harry Gant, Dale Jarrett, Michael Waltrip, Ernie Irvin, Rusty Wallace, Kenny Wallace, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnet, Eddie Bierschwale and Derrick Cope. Special events included a 7 All Pro Series races organized by Bob Harmon. 30 TIDA Late Model Series races were run by TIDA Founder Neil Upchurch and officiated by his crew. Both series created full spectator capacities in the 5,000 seat grandstand. In 2007 and under its last name as San Antonio Speedway, the city of San Antonio Extra Territorial public safety standards extended to the track and superseded Bexar county laws. Costly repair estimates dictated by city regulations exceeded the current lease holder Terry Dickersons budget. He called a drivers meeting after only a two weeks of a season and announced SAS was closed. Finally, in 2012 Unique Track Solutions headed by Brian Bohlen and Chris Saathoff leased the track from the Lillian Reeh estate, cut high grass and weeds, made several much needed repairs and ran five races using generator lights, concession food trucks and portable toilets. The first race drew a huge turnout but experienced declining cars counts and spectator ticket sales at the next four races. In 2013 Brian Bohlen announced that San Antonio Speedway was closed again. Since 2013 the fastest short track oval in Texas has again permanently remained unmaintained and without the sounds of racing engines. It remains silent, except for the howl of a Texas Coyote or the occasional rattle of a snake. Red River Speedway, Wichita Falls (1/4 mile) - The track originally opened in 1974 as the Pleasant Valley Speedway. It had sporadic runs over the years under different promoters. After several changes in ownership and managers, one last ownership group made major asphalt improvements to the pits and service roads, but spectator success didnt happen. The track no longer races on asphalt. New owners plowed it up and removed the asphalt and changed it into a red clay track in the summer of 2014). Longhorn Speedway, aka Austin Speed-O-Rama (1/4 mile) - Austin Speed-O-Rama opened in 1960. The track was built by the Father/Son team of A.B. and Louis Wusterhausen. The track counts among its competitors A.J. Foyt in Midgets, Bobby Allison competed in an AMC, Texas and Southeast Legend Wayne Niedecken in the Modified tour. Jack Bowsher, Charlie Glotzbach and Dick Hutcherson all won ARCA Stock Car races at the track. ARCA and USAC Stock Car standouts Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott raced at Speed-O-Rama. Well known Texas drivers who came to Longhorn Speedway and competed and won titles included Late Model track champions: Temple Texas legend Modified driver Bill White who won the LM Championship in 1973, Glen Schwabe in 1974, Freddy Fryar in 1978 & 1979 won the Late Model trophy with Slick Yoemans earning the title in 1981 & 1982. Steve Klestinec won the 1976 & 1977 Limited Sportsman title. Other well-known and winning LM drivers included Jimmy Finger, David Umscheid and Leroy Brooks. Retired driver Jake Wallace served a term as track manager in conjunction with the Capitol Area Racing Association for several years. They were succeeded by former Austin drivers Alvin Stewart and David Trueper who renamed the quarter mile track Longhorn Speedway and served as promoters for ten years. The track hosted Twenty Seven various length TIDA-LM races. The final TIDA Late Model Series race was won by John David Jr of Odessa on October 4, 1997. When Stewart learned of the construction of Thunder Hill Raceway in nearby Kyle, Texas, he determined it was time to return to the drivers seat of his race car. Various people like Sam Hill and later the Chambers family signed leases with then owner Maxine Kissman and tried their hand a track promotion. The gates finally closed for the last time in 2001. Thunderhill Raceway, aka Central Texas Speedway, Kyle, TX (3/8 mile) - THR opened its doors April 18, 1998 to a capacity crowd and was the first new race track in the Austin area since Austin Speed-O-Rama opened in 1960. The track was the product of the initial track operator Brian Callaway. Callaway designed THR after he travelled the country as the owner of short track race car. THR was the result of the tracks which impressed him during his travels. The sweeping curved front straightaway and a front straightaway-only retaining wall were new concepts at that time. Jim Lynch became his business partner. Lynch, a longtime business owner in Cedar Park, shared the successful business concept with Callaway who operated several Austin car wash locations. Special events included several by the present F 1 race promoter at Mexico City, Tavo Hellmund. He promoted NASCAR West Series events from 2006-2009 which drew sell-out crowds and USAC Midget races. NASCAR drivers appeared in non-competitive races, Terry LaBonte at THR and Martin Truex Jr. at CTS. There were two "Texas Big Shot 250" Super Late Model events held in 2000-2001 that drew the biggest names in late model U.S. racing. The races were won by Chris Davidson and Wayne Anderson. In the mid 2000's Mary Ann Naumann became track GM and later took over as primary leaseholder operating many successful years, until the end of the 2012 race season. Tim Self obtained the lease and changed the name to Central Texas Speedway from 2013 through the final event held at the speedway on November 12, 2016. He vacated his lease in late 2016. Hundreds of car owners and drivers who had loyally supported CTS were left on jack stands without a Texas asphalt track upon which to race. In a May 3, 2017 front page story in the HAYS FREE PRESS NEWS DISPATCH by Moses Leos III, he quotes the owner of the CTS property Rick Coleman, Tim Self came to him and gave up his lease 15 months before it expired. Coleman said he didnt seek another suitor, as he feared the legal liability a racetrack presents. Land owner Rick Coleman ordered the Central Texas Speedway portion of the facility demolished. Note: The Texas Pro Sedans 4 Cylinder Stock Car Series completed 41 years and over 600 races across Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico. TPS suspended all 2017 racing when TPS ran out of tracks after Central Texas Speedway closed in late 2016. Corpus Christi Speedway (1/4 mile) - CC Speedway was cut out of a corn field by Bill Carlock and became a flat ¼ mile dirt track that featured racing starting in 1945. It is the oldest track in Texas. Shorty Rollins was the first Corpus Christi driver to make it to the national stage. He won the NASCAR Rookie of the Year title in 1958. He also won a NASCAR National Convertible Race in 1959. Track owner Dick Lundstrom held a race called The Fabulous 500. It was actually 500 laps on the quarter-mile track. Cars came from as far away as California for the $5,000 to-win event. 33 cars entered and were started three-a-breast just like the Indianapolis 500. The track operated under a different name when different leases came on and off the scene. The track was known as Speedway Park in 1983 & 1984. It returned to be known as CC Speedway in 1985. When Bob Harmons All-Pro national touring series came to town in 1984, they ran two 125 lap events called The Twin 125s. The first race went green for the first 87 laps with 28 All Pro Late Models on track. On the grid were local favorites Slick Yoemans, Rick Rapp and Terry Labonte plus Front Row Joe Nemecek and many more national stars and cars. The All Pro winners were Gary Balough from Florida and The Beaumont Flyer Freddy Fryar. In later years Terry and Bobby Labonte were other CC area drivers to make racing their appearance on the national stage and win the NASCAR championships. Other famous CC area racers at CCS include Slick Yoemans, Rick Rapp, Dub Rollins and James Mikulencak. A few other drivers who everyone knew were A. J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Lloyd Ruby, Greg and Chris Davidson and John Kelly. The current track owner Dan Monroe ceased operations after the final CCS race was held on November 8, 2015. Results records indicate that no CCS races were run in 2016. Local drivers believe that races are not scheduled in 2017 when Dan Monroe posted that the CCS grounds have been rented to a bridge contractor who is constructing a billion dollar bridge in Corpus Christi during the next five years. This is not a good sign Race Fans! Houston Motorsports Park (3/8 mile) Track owners are Graham Baker and his brother David Baker. The oval track has been closed for two seasons. The Bakers shared the following update: HMP was rented for six practice sessions by longtime Houston car owner Raymond De La Houssaye to sustain his project and determine if enough short track asphalt oval cars are race ready. Following a few practice sessions, a rental agreement was reached that includes two series races. The first was held July 8th with a large grandstand attendance. The second race is scheduled on September 23, 2017. The series is known as the Texas Asphalt Racing Series at Houston Motorsports Park. According to the Bakers, if the two races are successful, Raymond intends to schedule a full season in 2018 and beyond. Raymond De La Houssaye said, with over 100 registered in the primary four classes, Modifieds, Pro Late Models, Trucks and Super Stocks, I am prepared to have six to ten races in 2018. HMP is well-built oval and facility and is located in the largest Texas market of more than 5 million. It may be the last chance to save asphalt oval racing in Texas. To learn more about Texas Asphalt Racing Series at Houston Motorsports Park, log on their new website at www.texasasphaltracingseries.comhttp://www.texasasphaltracingseries.com[/url] So there you have it. The history of short track asphalt racing in the great Lone Star state of Texas has had some success, but has met many challenges and has made some business mistakes in the past 60 years. In too many instances, frequent changes and questionable track management has participated in some of the challenges while some of the mistakes were management missteps. Bad breaks, such as weather, were nearly always unpredictable. Promotional programs were Infrequent, cost much energy and lost a lot of paid advertising money and promotion energy. Race cars are an uncontrolled asset by any track or the race organizer. Car counts are the inventory which is for sale to the spectators. Car count in the pits is usually unpredictable. Any local track is a marketing gamble. The main problem for Texas local racing since the early 1950s has been a significant and frequent changes in the variety of entertainment opportunities which are available for public selection. Before television existed, short track local racing was a good place to go for Saturday night entertainment. Most Texas markets had not yet received major league sports. Tracks operated without much ticket sales competition in those days. Local newspapers accepted automobile racing as a legitimate sport and gave most tracks appropriate and needed promotion. Media coverage reduced as spectator and car counts grew smaller. For race car owners, auto parts to build and repair race cars were available at a bargain prices at the local auto parts store and were practically free if the racer knew the owner of a junk yard. A sponsorship trade out deal could be secured by painting the companys name on the car in exchange for free or low cost parts. That sort or sponsor arrangement became less likely because the sponsor knows fewer spectators will see his signage. As if the above reasons were not enough, consider the growth of television and the wall to wall telecast of every motor sports event which is available today on FREE TV. Major league racing, NASCAR, F 1 and IRL are all on TV and you dont even have to travel to the track or purchase a ticket. TV viewers can see all races from the air-conditioned comfort of their homes. To make matters worse, NASCAR invaded local track racing with a lot of Saturday night live TV coverage of NASCAR cup races. Many local tracks dont even try to compete. They just turn off track lights. What a good deal for the spectator What a bad deal for the local asphalt track. Entertainment values and habits have changed. Times and technology has changed almost everything. Local Saturday night auto race tracks have come to the end of providing wanted entertainment. They are no longer a viable business. Just compare the Ringling Brothers circus which recently closed after touring 146 years because it is no longer a viable business. Thank you for reading my article about Texas asphalt short track racing history. I am proud to have been a part of Texas racing and to have written about it and posted this piece of Texas short track asphalt racing history for your study and consideration. It is unlikely that we shall travel this road again. NEARLY ALL TEXAS ASPHALT SHORT TRACKS ARE GONE - Was written by - Neil Upchurch Founder Texas International Drivers Association Late Model Series (TIDA 10 years) Founder Texas Pro Sedans 4 Cylinder Stock Car Series (TPS 41 years) Texas World Speedway Race Director Texas Race of Champions (20 years) PA Announcer at 5 Southwest Asphalt Race Tracks (20 years) Race Car Driver (20 years) Following is a list of some very qualified people who helped me in the researching and providing material for this article: Thomas "Tex-Tom" Taylor The entire Texas Racing Scene Mike Haag San Antonio Speedway and Texas Racing notes via the San Antonio Express News Russ Martin Corpus Christi Speedway & TIDA-LM Series PA Announcer David Umscheid Austin Speed-O-Rama, Longhorn Speedway & TIDA-LM driver Rodney Rodriguez Central Texas Speedway & Thunder Hill Raceway PA Announcer Debbie Williams Houston Motorsports Park race coordinator & official Cotton Sherland San Antonio Speedway & Texas Race of Champions at Texas World Speedway race official