Legendary Emmett Hahn Tries a Turnaround
By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
ECO-TECH: Emmett Hahn will go to smaller cars in an attempt to revive racing at the Creek County Speedway. Above, the eco-tech midget, driven by Gary Taylor at the Tulsa Shootout, is the type of smaller racer that Hahn thinks will revive racing in the region.
There was a time when dirt track auto racing was a major player in the local sports calendar. But just like a plodding dinosaur, the so-called “roundy rounds’’ are nearing extinction, grinding to a slow, painful demise.
“The economy has a lot to do with it,’’ says Emmett Hahn, a Tulsa racing legend who will return to promoting Creek County Speedway near Sapulpa when it reopens next month. “And a lot of people want to be a promoter for whatever reason. They have to hold down a 40-hour a week job and also promote a track. You get out of it what you put into it.’’
Creek County Speedway, open for 26 years, closed its doors in mid-June after attendance dropped to just 200 fans per week. Other area tracks have followed. Tri-State Speedway near Pocola is closed along with Enid Speedway and, briefly, West Siloam Springs.
Reports indicate that Caney and Mid-America Speedways north of Tulsa are losing money and Muskogee Speedway and Thunderbird Speedway near Wainwright are fighting each other for survival. Tulsa Speedway, the jewel of area tracks since the 1940s, shutdown in 2005.
“We don’t get the coverage we used to get 20-25 years ago,’’ says Hahn. “In its heyday at the Tulsa fairgrounds we were on the front page on Sunday and we had press conferences for TV and newspapers. We were getting 10,000 fans and high school football was getting 200-300. The newspapers got on to high school football and it’s completely turned around.
‘’The promoters don’t prepare tracks like they need to and they have too many classes and they run too late. You need a good, quick show so people can come out and stay and watch it. It comes down to common sense and a lot of work.’’
Hahn says that when promoters schedule new classes of cars they don’t realize that it increases the purse they must pay, lengthens the show. Frequently new cars aren’t added, they just move from one class to another. And more classes equal fewer cars in each class. Frequently, there are six to nine cars in each class and “that’s not a show,’’ says Hahn. “You can’t stay in business doing that.’’
In an effort to practice what he preaches, Hahn will return to Friday night racing, reduce the number of classes and add new ones. He says Port City Speedway in Tulsa, which features smaller cars, is doing well and he will follow its lead.
“Port City has one of the best shows in the state as far as watching racing,’’ Hahn says. “It’s competitive and clean and they have a good group of cars. I’m thinking of running micros, eco-tech midgets and two-barrel sprint cars. The eco-tech midgets run stock GM engines and are inexpensive ‘’
That means Hahn will drop the current lineup, including factory stocks, mini-stocks, super stocks, front-wheel drives and modified classes. That could leave up to 70-80 drivers with no place to run close to home.
“I might be open to renting the track if someone wants to run them on Saturday nights,’’ says Hahn, who admitted he’s again searching for someone to take over Creek County Speedway on a full-time basis. “Most of the tracks running them (the dropped classes) aren’t making any money on them. Everybody wants to run NASCAR, but they can’t afford it.’’
Hahn says he’s installing physical improvements to his track and he’s a man who knows how to establish a chain of command. He says rookie promoters who are inconsistent with enforcing rules, and who give the wrong people authority, are a major part of the problem.
“Creek County is for hobby racers who race to have fun’’ Hahn says. “We want it to be friendly and open to people who want to have fun. We won’t get into any hurry (to find a new promoter). We’ve got a lot of work to do out there.’’