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Thursday, Mar 21 2013 11:09 PM

Permit issue could delay opening of raceway

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BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer mgriffith@bakersfield.com

Four weeks from now James Vernon would love to see the grandstands full and the pits crammed with race cars and crews as Kern County Raceway Park is set to open April 20.

It will be a rush, he said, but everything inside the gates at the track located just off Enos Lane and Interstate 5 will be ready to go.

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He's got his fingers crossed on one loose end he can't control: Getting the final permit from the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, to widen Enos Lane to accommodate race traffic.

"It's a race to go racing, that's what it is," said Vernon, one of the investors who purchased the long dormant and partially finished track and started work to bring it to life just over a year ago.

Vernon said Caltrans wants the track to provide 1,350 feet of additional lanes on Enos Lane in both directions -- 350 feet running north of the track entrance and 1,000 feet to the south. All the track is waiting on is a permit to start construction and the work will begin, Vernon said.

"Thats our biggest hurdle right now," he said. "The stuff that we're in control of we'll make that happen. The stuff we're not in control of is all we ever worry about."

Vernon conceded the road widening, which will include turn lanes and a median, is "a big project," but said road construction crews should be able to finish it in a three-week span. They just need the go-ahead to get started.

In the meantime, crews are working feverishly on a wide variety of projects -- the four-story tower which houses concession stands, restrooms, offices and suites -- the tower grandstand, parking lots, landscaping, fencing and a few final touches on the half-mile track itself such as installation of a flag stand and caution lights.

"Just really busy," Vernon said of what was happening. "We're on a seven-day-a-week program now trying to get it all finished. We've got a lot of stuff going on ... we've got a lot to do."

Vernon said he expects the infield and track portion (including a seven-bay shop with restrooms at one end and concession stand and restrooms at the other end) to pass final inspection next week. Work is going on daily on the suites and concession areas and restrooms and paving of the parking lots (the long entry road that winds into the main lots is already done) will begin next week, he added.

With the addition of the tower seating (1,400 seats), the track will hold 6,600 fans and Vernon said they will bring in another 4,000 temporary seats for opening night. But they are holding off on selling tickets just yet.

"We don't want to sell you a ticket and can't provide what we're supposed to," he said, noting they hoped to start selling tickets in "a couple of weeks."

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