Over the past three days world-class auto racing arrived in the Inland Empire in the form of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which wrapped up its final round action on Sunday.
Chances are that if area race fans were looking for a big show they could find it at Spokane County Raceway as the facility hosted more than 10,000 spectators over three days of racing.
Bucky Austin, who was named operating contractor for the three-piece racing complex by Spokane County, clearly showed that he and his general manager, Jay Livingston, understand racing promotion and offer a top-flight facility when it comes to drag racing. The half-mile oval has also been part of the refurbishment as has the road course, but for three days the drag strip showcased itself to racers from as far away as Kansas, Southern California and Saskatchewan.
More than 300 teams took part in the Lucas Oil series, which featured new timing lights from NHRA stalwart Brainerd, Minn., which hosts an NHRA Full Throttle National Event and included track personnel such as Livingston working to keep the track clear of debris and the show moving smoothly.
It had been 37 years since the NHRA had run an event in Spokane. Past transgressions with former owners and operators had chased fans and racers away to the point that the strip had lost its luster as a premier racing venue.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series stop may have started to change some of that opinion, noted SCR Marketing Manager Cindy Gibbs-Arias.
“We have had people come up and tell us they came here 10 or 20 years ago and swore they’d never come back but this event brought them back,” she said. “They have stopped us to say thank you for bringing in a show of this caliber and that it was an enjoyable event to come and watch. Best of all they have shared with us that they’ll be back to watch more.”
Fans were not the only interested party that enjoyed the rejuvenated facility.
Lucas Oil-sponsored Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Jason Rupert made the trek from Yorba Linda, Calif., and was pleased with what he found at the new and improved Spokane drag strip.
“My dad (Frank) is from this area and having the opportunity to run an NHRA event here means a lot to me,” Rupert said. “We have friends and family who have come out here, some for the first time and even though we lost in the first round (in Sunday’s elimination final session) we plan to be back here next year because of the treatment we’ve received.
“The track used to be treacherous and now it’s so smooth with the new concrete launch area and all of the improvements Bucky and Jay and the staff have done to make it fan and racer friendly that I believe it’s one of the premier strips on the West Coast.”
Top Alcohol dragsters, Funny Cars and Comp Eliminator were just some of the professional classes featured during Sunday’s elimination rounds, but each participant got an opportunity to race for the coveted Wally – the NHRA champion’s trophy with the likeness of the organization’s founder, Wally Parks.
“This has been a huge success,” said Brett Lyons, NHRA field marketing manager. “They have turned things around here, gotten the community, the racers and (Spokane) County leaders excited about racing and winning here at Spokane County Raceway. This event is great for the city and the local economy and for NHRA drag racing as a whole to help build excitement for our sport.
“With so much that’s been done already to the overall facility and more to come the sky is the limit to what the facility can do be it drag racing, road racing or at the circle track.”
While everyone was basking in the glow of a rejuvenated effort to make drag racing exciting at SCR, drivers were busy trying to win their share of over $250,000 in prize money.
From dial-in drivers, who had to run certain times and not “break out” for fear of actually losing for going too fast, to Shawn Cowie’s Top Alcohol dragster that made several passes in excess of 265 mph, fans got their money’s worth of racing throughout the afternoon. The session culminated in Cowie’s final-round victory at 5.495 seconds, covering the quarter-mile at 264.29 mph as he bested Joey Severance, who had represented the NHRA’s Division 6 at last week’s JEGS All-Star showdown in Joliet, Ill.
The Top Alcohol passes were some of the fastest runs ever recorded at Spokane County Raceway, but the runs had to come to an end – that is, until next season’s NHRA event here.
Jay Sauls started last but finished first to win his first iRacing.com American Speed Association Northwest Late Model Tour feature in 2009 at Stateline Stadium Speedway late Saturday.
Sauls started last after a mechanical problem during qualifying but methodically worked his way to the front of the 125-lap feature on the quarter-mile oval.