By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Wrtiter
Co-owner Todd Martin said the new Tulsa Speedway is on track to succeed. The Oklahoma City businessman has big plans for the facility which is experiencing its second rebirth in a span of 36 years.
From the Tulsa fairgrounds to 66th Street North in 1985 and now to Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park, Martin and partner Keith Haney appear to have the deep pockets necessary to make the new dirt track move forward.
“We didn’t get into this to lose money,’’ said Martin, the operations manager who opened the track in June, next to the drag strip both Martin and Haney also co-own. “We’ve had a good response considering we had no full season points race. It’s really surprising how the community and racers have supported us and wanted the track back.
“I’ve seen a lot of people here that used to go the old fairgrounds and they’ve been waiting years for this. I’ve been surprised at the number of spectators we‘ve had that went to the old track. There’s been a lot of them.’’
Tulsa Speedway was a cornerstone of the Tulsa State Fairgrounds until 1985 when it moved to 66th Street North and U.S. highway 75 north of town. The facility closed in 2005 and dirt car racing fans and drivers suffered. Until now.
Martin and Haney came to the rescue. After promoter Stanley Durrett sold the facility in the 1990s, there were a string of those who tried to carry on, but not have the finances or expertise.
“They didn’t know the Tulsa market and didn’t have the money behind them,’’ said Tulsa Speedway historian John Rittenoure. “The last owners got foreclosed on. No one ever thought this would happen in Tulsa. We had such a strong track and we had to walk away from it.’’
That shouldn’t happen with Martin and Haney. They saw the need for a dirt track and forged ahead, adding the Speedway to their growing racing resume. Martin said Raceway Park is designed to be a multi-sport facility and dirt track racing is the second most popular sport in Oklahoma. However, he’s still discovering the right formula to cash in.
”There is a learning curve, the right amount of clay and the right amount of water,’’ Martin said. “It takes a while for a new track to move in. In Oklahoma it’s difficult because of the temperature and wind
and humidity. It may rain one day and the next be 102 degrees.’’
With a background primarily in drag racing, that’s a new concern for Martin. He’s a former pro modified champion and SCCA driver. In the meantime, Martin has learned about the right way to build a dirt surface.
Our track is different than most,’’ he said. “It’s 66 feet wide with 12 to 15 degrees banking in the turns and six degrees in the straightaways. Most tracks in Oklahoma are pretty flat, but on ours you can run high or low with a wider groove.’’
Martin said he and Haney funded the facility out of their own pockets with no outside sponsorship and they’ve had a positive response from racers. But there are improvements planned, including more grandstands and better restrooms and concession stands. Also on tap is an expanded schedule.
“When we opened we had between 2,500 and 3,000 fans come out and we averaged about 900,’’ said Martin of his Friday night show that includes champ 305 sprint cars, A and B modifieds, factory stocks, mini stocks and dwarf cars. “If we could get between 1,500 and 2,500 weekly that would be good.’’
Martin discovered Tulsa Speedway as a kid when he attended races at the fairgrounds track. Perhaps it It taught him how to improve attendance. Under the promotion of old circus performer Dick Colvin, the facility average 8,000 fans a week in the 1960s and rarely dipped below 2,000 in the later years.
“There is a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar,’’ said Martin. “We plan on bringing in more classes and national event like the World of Outlaws and winged and mini sprints. Competition is a lot better today than it was for the old timers because of technology and track layout.
“We’ve had people who have called and wanted to be sponsors, people who want to see us succeed. In 2022 we will have a new sponsor who wants naming rights to the dirt track. Next year we may have flat track motorcycles coming in and we’ve had several racing organizations call us who want to race. We will do advertising through television and social media.
I would say right now we’re pleased with our start, but we’re not satisfied.’’