By Brian M. Howle
Sometimes those phrases you hear all the time have a renewed meaning when recast with an appropo twist. Case in point: What goes around, comes around, and goes around and around again.
And this time, it brought a new friend along for the ride.
Such is the case for the historic Myrtle Beach Speedway, which was recently purchased by a new group of owners. Renovations to the racing facility are nearing completion just in time for the kickoff to the 2012 Short Track season at the May 5 Grand Opening Night, featuring Late Model, Charger, Mini and Drifting Classes.
The biggest addition is the NASCAR Racing Experience, an all-inclusive racing school where anyone with a valid driver’s license can drive a real NASCAR stock car, available in 4 price-point based, incremental 8-minute sessions. The “Driver’s Special” is a 5-minute session for $199.00.
Just want to ride around the track? Well, If you’re at least 5 feet tall and weight at minimum of 100 lbs., for $69.00 you can ride as a passenger with a professional driver. The NASCAR Racing Experience operates almost daily throughout the spring and summer months
The speedway was originally named Rambi Raceway, and was built in 1958 and boasts a 12,000 plus seating capacity. The 0.583 mile, semi-banked, asphalt oval track is former host of the NASCAR Busch Series (now the Nationwide Series) and is site to the largest single-day Horry County sporting event in history.
From the beginning, it has been the training grounds for NASCAR luminaries. Four successive generations of Pettys (Lee, Richard, Kyle and Adam) and three generations of Earnhardts (Ralph, Dale Sr. and Dale Jr.) have all run this storied track, where our renowned heat, humidity and ever-present sand combine for grueling race conditions.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., raced every weekend here while he was coming up through the ranks as part of the Late Model Stock Car Series. At 21 years of age – and without a sponsor - Junior made his debut on June 22, 1996 in car #31, finishing 14th.
The Newest Chapter Begins
Myrtle Beach Speedway fastidiously caters to its loyal area race fans. The track will host the 20th Annual Myrtle Beach 400 Weekend Nov. 15-18 this year; the 2012 race schedule of 17 currently slated races includes NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stocks, South East Late Models, Super Trucks, Chargers, Street Stock, Mini Stock – plus Train Racing, Trailer Racing and School Bus Racing.
Yes, you read that correctly. Train Racing, Trailer Racing and School Bus Racing.
The official Grand Opening will take place May 5, which has been designated as Kid’s Night with free admission for kids 12 and under, with free games and prizes. There will be an unveiling of the pit wall artwork which was painted by kids from local schools
Other May events slated are on Thursdays: May 10 is Victory Junction Gang Night and includes a special appearance by NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip, along with other NASCAR celebrities as well, and featuring Late Model, Charger, Mini and Skid Plate Racing classes. May 31 is Chamber of Commerce and Industry Night, featuring a 100 Lap Race with Late Model, Charger, Mini and Drifting classes.
Local dog owners and charities will benefit from the Saturday, June 9 promotion, “Walk the Dog Around the Track.” Bring your pooch and donate pet food and supplies, and save $3 on a race tickets. Donations go to charity. Races featured are Super Truck, Charger, Mini and Trailer Racing classes.
The new owners consist of Bob Lutz, Ray Watts and André Bauer. Lutz is Owner/Promoter/CEO of Speedway Group Inc. and founder of NASCAR Racing Experience. Watts is owner of Apex Homes in Cornelius, North Carolina. Bauer is former South Carolina Lt. Governor (and newly-announced 7th Congressional District for S.C. candidate).
While visiting the Strand, Lutz was introduced to Watts via Bauer, who said when he heard his two friends talking about two separate but race-related subjects “a light went off in my head” about getting them together to purchase the track.
The economic impact on Myrtle Beach will be immediate and could potentially infuse a noticeable increase across the board for the county and state, as well. Hotels, resorts, restaurants, retailers and other entertainment venues will all benefit from the influx in race fans who are drawn to the facility.
Lutz, whose father owned and operated a track in the Syracuse, N.Y. area for 35 years, founded the Richard Petty Racing Experience nearly 20 years ago and currently has 12 “schools” at NASCAR tracks across the country, including Texas, Michigan, Las Vegas, California and Homestead, Fla. He came to Myrtle Beach after establishing the most recent NASCAR Racing Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Lutz sold the Richard Petty Experience in 1998, but a noncompeting agreement kept him out of stock car racing schools for five years.
Then in 2005, Lutz founded the Jeff Gordon Racing School. Lutz and Gordon were roommates in North Carolina in the late 1980s, as both pursued their careers in racing.
Lutz’ goals include bringing an ARCA or NASCAR Truck Series to Myrtle Beach Speedway; however, he noted the track needs some major upgrades including SAFER (steel and foam energy reduction) barriers at an estimated cost of $600,000, before that can become a reality.
“All of the NASCAR drivers know Bob on a first name basis,” says Bauer. “I’m pretty sure you’re going to be seeing some big name celebrities here at the upcoming events.”
Initially, 100 employees have been hired for the renovations and improvements, as well as staffing the facility for regular races and the NASCAR Racing Experience. As the public’s support and patronage grow, they hope to hire more workers as the need increases.
“This is going to be an attraction that families will be able to afford,” Lutz said. “Most existing shows in Myrtle Beach are rather expensive for the current economy, at over $100, $125, $150 for a family. We’re looking at a range of $35 to $40 for a family.”
Work is at a fever pitch to have everything ready for the Grand Opening. The walls around the track are being repainted, inside and out, and the grandstands are being sandblasted as well. The infield buildings are being refinished with a stucco coating, which will then be painted with the track’s light blue theme color as another aesthetic change to improve the old girl’s appearance for the big debut.
Also handling day to day operations for the speedway are Joseph Cunningham, Sales Mgr. for M.B. Speedway; and Bill Hennecy, Marketing Manager, M.B. Speedway. Hennecy, (former G.M. of WKZQ-FM in its heyday, then located at 102.1 on the FM dial), was also a member of the former ownership group.
Patrick Wood is NASCAR Racing Experience Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, and Steve Zacharius is Operations Manager for NASCAR Racing Experience,
Promotional events are in the final stages of arranging, including appearances by racing legend Mario Andretti, Michael Waltrip and Kyle Petty.
Media Day was held on April 18 to allow local newspapers, radio and television outlets to come out and give the driving or riding experience a shot. For me, well, it was a no-brainer from the first email I received two weeks earlier.
To get a first-hand perspective on what the NASCAR Racing Experience is really like, see the latest entry to my column Along The Watchtower entitled, “Go Fast, Turn Left, Don’t Hit Anything!”
If You Go:
Admission to Myrtle Beach Speedway is very family-friendly: General Admission is $12 Adults (with Military ID $10), Students 13-18 and Seniors 60+ $10; and Children under 12 are FREE. Adult Pit Passes are $25 (Access to pits, General Admission seat – Closed toe shoes must be worn in the pits); Child Pit Pass (12 and Under, must be accompanied by an adult and supervised at all times, General Admission Seat – Closed toe shoes required); and the Season Pass is a great value at $149.99!
Suite Tickets are $50 and include food, drinks and pit pass; Kids Suite Tickets $35, same amenities, must be accompanied by an adult and supervised at all times.
On race days – Primarily Saturdays with some Thursday events – Pit Gates open at 4 p.m., with Practice beginning at 6 p.m. Qualifying will start at 7 p.m.
Myrtle Beach Speedway and NASCAR Racing Experience are located at 455 Hospitality Lane, Myrtle Beach, S.C.; on Hwy. 501 adjacent to Tanger Outlet to the west and at the intersection of Hwy. 31 (Carolina Bays Parkway) to the east.
For Myrtle Beach Speedway information and tickets, Monday - Friday, 8 .m. – 5 p.m., call 843-236-0500 locally or visit the website www.myrtlebeachspeedway.com
NASCAR Racing Experience Office hours are Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The “Driver’s Special” 5-minute on-track session is $199.00; and the “Ride Along” passenger session is $69.00.
For reservations or gift cards, call 1-877-RACE-LAP (722-3527), or visit the website www.nascarracingexperience.com
This article was originally published at www.bhowle.wordpress.com