BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Kern County Raceway is bringing NASCAR competition back to Bakersfield.
NASCAR announced Saturday that a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race will be held Oct. 26, 2013, at the high-banked, half-mile track near Enos Lane and Interstate 5. The track is in the final phases of construction with a planned opening in late March.
Original developers started the project in 2007 but the project ran into financial problems that led to bankruptcy then foreclosure. It sat dormant for nearly four years until a new investment group, headed by James Vernon and Daniel Smith, purchased the property.
Vernon said he was lobbied to hold a West race, and not just by NASCAR.
"It's something the K&N West drivers and crew chiefs wanted real bad," he said. "I can't tell you how many phone calls I got from drivers and crew chiefs asking me if they were going to race here. They'll be real happy."
The once-tumbleweed-covered property has come a long way since Smith and Vernon literally had to plow their way through tumbleweeds to reach the track 10 months ago.
“It's real close,” Smith said. “We can smell exhaust fumes now and it’s just not from tractors.”
Though there is plenty of heavy equipment still operating — moving dirt, doing landscaping and putting down road base for the entry road and parking lots — a couple of race cars have actually been driven around the half-mile oval.
Paving of the track and infield was completed a few weeks ago and Vernon had some of his cars testing the big track as well as the quarter mile track, which uses a portion of the half-mile front straight. Donny St. Ours drove a SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series car on the big track and a Legends car on the smaller track.
“It's very fast, even the quarter-mile is fast,” Vernon said. “We had our own stuff out here. We want to make sure everything is safe before we open up for (general) testing.”
That testing could begin as early as next week.
“We have cars ready to test,” Smith said. “Weather permitting we may be testing for track's purpose — to get tire and gear rules in place — next week.”
The track will run several divisions — Pro Late Models, Late Models, Spec Modifieds, Mini Stocks, Legends and Bandoleros — as well as some touring series events.
Smith said a rules package for all divisions should be in place next week with a race schedule ready before the New Year.
Smith said the outside retaining wall of the track will be painted this week as the track has already booked for some commercial shooting which will take place after Jan. 1.
While the racing portion of the facility — the track and two infield buildings — are basically finished, much works remains to be done.
The most complicated project remaining is finishing the four-story superstructure that will house concession and restroom areas on the ground floor, two levels of suites and a floor for race operations, offices and media.
On Friday six different sets of subcontracters, including plumbing, welding and heating and air conditioning workers, were busy on that project.
“It's moving forward like crazy,” Vernon said. “There's always something going on.”