(WOMR file photo)
Last year Tony Stewart brought his 360 sprint car race team to Yuma during the ASCS Sprint Car National Tour weekend in 2013. In January of 2015 he is returning, and he is bringing a bunch of his friends, and “The Winter Heat” to Cocopah Speedway!
The brainchild of the three-time NASCAR champion, the inaugural Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown, is scheduled the weekends of Jan. 2 and 3, and Jan. 9 and 10 at the Somerton oval, and is expected to attract the top racing teams from across the country, including the Tony Stewart Racing World of Outlaws team.
“This is going to be the biggest event ever hosted at this race track, and with the exception of Yuma hosting Major League Baseball spring training some 20 years ago, I’d say it is the biggest event ever in this area,” said Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway’s director of operations.
“This series is going to be huge. I am so exited that it has finally come together. I have just pure happiness for the Cocopah Indian Tribe and the many, many volunteers and supporters who have spent so much time and money to first, just get the track open again, then to not only have their efforts rewarded with such a beautiful facility, but to have people of this caliber in the racing world encourage and want to endorse such an event. It really doesn’t get any better than that.”
“I have spoken many times about a large signature event for Cocopah Speedway and the community. This can and should mean so much to the entire community. This is the type of event that a town should rally around and make sure that this home run turns into a grand slam, Burgess gloated.”
The sprint car show was initially proposed by Stewart when he raced at Cocopah Speedway for the first time in March of 2013 with the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series National Tour.
Burgess said that one of his (Tony Stewart) staff contacted him, and said he was asked to visit Stewart in his trailer, where Stewart asked Burgess about the possibilities of hosting a winter sprint car series at the track.
“My initial reaction was, ‘This is big!’” said Burgess, “and, ‘We can do this!’”
After that meeting the proposed series started to gain ground until Stewart suffered a broken right leg in a sprint car crash at Southern Iowa Speedway, in Oscaloosa, IA that August.
“After that all of the parties involved agreed it would be a better idea to wait a year,” said Burgess, explaining that everyone involved wanted to wait for Stewart to be able to actively compete in the series.
Now, the Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown has become a reality, and is moving forward.
“This is mainly for my boss and his friends, so they got somewhere where they can go and race,” said Jimmy Carr, director of racing for Tony Stewart Racing.
“They have a small window of opportunity and the weather is perfect in Arizona. This is pushed by Tony and if Kasey (Kahne) is allowed to race it he would like to race too. And I know Kyle Larson would love to race it too.”
The four races will not be sanctioned by any sanctioning body, but will likely follow the rules used by the World of Outlaws, said Burgess and Carr.
Also, 23-year sprint car racing veteran and former competition director for the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series, Tommie Estes has been named the Winter Heat race director.
Going without a sanctioning body, (Estes) is somebody we can really lean on for running the program,” said Carr. “There isn’t a guy who will be there who won’t know Tommy Estes and doesn’t respect him from being a racer from years ago when he did it. He is definitely a great guy to have on board, from drawing people to running the program, he’s probably the best guy.”
Although the official announcement of the Winter Heat is not scheduled to be made until this week, Carr said there is already interest brewing.
“Everyone of the Outlaw teams that I’ve talked to is really excited about going out there and racing for more money than they are racing for with the Outlaws,” said Carr, referring to the $12,000 payout to each of the four nights’ feature event winners.
“And they are really excited about logging that many days of racing without traveling and without having to spend more than two weeks in a motel,” continued Carr. “Everybody is waiting for the official announcement. Then we can really get a feel for what’s going on.”
Carr said he was impressed with Cocopah Speedway from the moment he entered the pit in 2013, and choosing to make the track the home for a new winter series was easy.
“You know what, it’s the best race track in the West right now as far as I’m concerned,” said Carr. “There are good people there, a good fan base, the way the track is prepared and the people who are there running it, it’s just drawing the people. So it’s a no-brainer to come there.”
Looking even further ahead to 2015 Carr said he’d like to see the series add a third weekend.
“Hopefully we can expand it, but everyone’s schedule is so tight,” said Carr. “I know my boss would love to get three full weekends in, or even a possible midweek race would be cool too. We’ll have to see how it goes.”
Burgess said the original plan was for three weekends of racing, but scheduling conflicts with NASCAR drivers expected to compete, led to a revamped two-weekend schedule.
“We could not get three consecutive weekends anytime from the end of November to the end of January, because in December they have the NASCAR banquet that they deal with, and PRI in Indianapolis, the big trade show where Tony and Kasey’s teams have numerous sponsor appearances and stuff, so that took December out of the mix, with the holidays and stuff,” said Burgess.
“And the first of February they all have to be in Florida to start racing because they start their speed weeks down there. And we did not want to go on top of the Chile Bowl Nationals, which is the weekend after our second weekend of the Winter Heat.”
Burgess said the potential for an event like this is limitless.(yumasun.com)
This news of the impending “Winter Heat Showdown”, here at Cocopah Speedway just south of Yuma, AZ, is going to be a huge deal! This community really supports the racing venue here. The seating capacity of the race track is approximately 3800. On any given race night whether it is January, March, September, or December, is about 3000 people. When the special events come through town like the ASCS Sprint Car National Tour, there is a butt in every seat!
So if, this January, you are suffering from some great dirt track racing withdrawals, get on a plane, get in your car, get in your RV, or anything that can make it to Yuma,AZ, you will not regret the trip. This facility, racing surface and grandstands, is one of the finest facilities on the West Coast!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!