For the past few years, fans filled the stands at the Cortez Fairgrounds Speedway.
Modifieds, sport mods, stocks, and mini and hobby stocks started their engines and raced for the checkered flag on the dirt oval track. Motors howled into the night. Drivers tried winning that coveted trophy and the prize money that came with it, while moving up the International Motor Contest Association point standings. Pit crews worked tirelessly to keep cars running and competitive.
Fans kept coming, filling the seats. The racers kept coming, loading families up in RVs and pulling race cars in trailers.
That won’t happen this year.
Promotion for stock car racing at the Montezume County Fairgrounds Speedway was not picked up. There will be no racing season in 2012.
“It’s terrible. We had a really good venue there,” said Aaron Spangler, IMCA modified racer and Dove Creek native. “It took a lot of years to build it up. To lose it like that, It’s going to take a hit on racing in the Four Corners here.”
For others, it’s not just racing, it’s business.
“It’s a big deal to my shop,” said Tony Hill, IMCA stock racer and owner of Victory Engine & Machine, Race Winning Performance in Cortez. “It’s big for my shop to make it through the winter to make engines for drivers out there. People don’t want to travel to Aztec (N.M.) or Olathe every week because of the cost. It’s hurting my business.”
Fifty percent of Hill’s business revenue comes from building race car engines.
The local economy received a boost from racing. Especially, when the annual Wild West Modified Tour was in town every August when as many as 60 racers competed. Extra grandstands were used to accommodate people’s need for speed.
“That track brings a ton of revenue to this county,” Hill said. “They were staying in hotels somewhere, buying gas somewhere, eating somewhere. It was great for the county. It doesn’t seem like the county (commissioners) wants to mess with it.”
Jack Nelson, of Farmington, N.M., had been the track promoter the last four years. He decided to take some time off, according to fairgrounds manager Tanner Young.
“Jack Nelson just wanted to take a year off,” Young said. “He didn’t guarantee they would be back next year, but he didn’t say they wouldn’t. They wanted to step away from it. It’s great for the community. Hopefully, they come back.”
There are rumors that Nelson and the Montezuma County Commissioners had a dispute over the rights to the racetrack. Those claims have been denied.
“There were no issues with Jack Nelson,” said County Commissioner Steve Chappell. “It could have been promoted better as a fan base. I don’t think the income was enough for the events he was running. He got the racers there and the fans were great, but the fan promotion wasn’t great.”
Guidelines required to promote an event at the Fairgrounds Speedway are to meet with and gain approval from Young, must have at least liability insurance, and then approval from the county commissioners.
“If someone has a good idea at the track, we’re willing to look at it,” Chappell said.
Young welcomes anybody to use the track.
“We’re not against anyone else coming in. It’s great for the economy. It’s great for the people,” he said. “They (Jack Nelson Racing) did an excellent job with it. We’d love to have the facility used. It just takes the right person to do it. It’s expensive. It takes the right person to do it.”
Richard Cox, a retired local sprint car racer, showed interest in taking over promotions of the speedway. However, after thorough financial examination, it was estimated Cox would lose between $2,300 to $3,000 a night.
“I don’t think I can afford to do it,” Cox said. “I wasn’t looking to make a lot of money, but I’d like to get by. You have to pay the county, paramedics, security, every night. When you add it up, you have a lot of expenses added up.”
Still, Cox would like to see someone be able to promote racing in Cortez again.
“I feel like that racetrack brings a lot of money into the community. You hate to see that all go away,” he said. “It’s not just the races, he (Nelson) did a good job promoting the racers. He didn’t do a lot of promoting the spectators.”
Despite Cortez losing the race season, racers will still race. It is just more difficult for some.
“I hate to see Cortez close up. I thought it was a really nice facility,” said Spangler, who also maintained the speedway with his wife, Shawna. “It’s just mostly racing close to home. We saved tons of money to race in Cortez. It makes it awful hard to go racing. The purses aren’t big enough to justify the fuel prices. We just can’t afford to go like we used to go.”
Spangler plans to race in the WWMT as much as he can and will attempt to complete the Nevada Ironman Challenge Series. The June series is 10 races in 10 nights spanning from five Nevada tracks in Fallon, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain and Ely. The purse is $1,000 each race. It’s two nights of racing at each location.
As for the local speedway, the Xtreme Rock Racing Association is looking to make its return there after a one-year hiatus. The association raced at a location south of Cortez but has expressed interest in using the speedway in the future. Young has also been approached about mud bogging and truck racing events, but nothing is official. The demolition derby is scheduled for the county fair in August.
As for the return of stock racing, that remains to be seen.
Phone calls to Nelson weren’t returned to the Journal for comment.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at firstname.lastname@example.org.