For those who love the roar of noisy engines, pedal-to-the-metal speed down the straightaway and cars skidding into a 45-degree turn while tossing massive dirt clods in their wake, another season is underway at the Cocopah Tribe’s speedway just outside of Yuma, Arizona.
The track, a ?-mile semi-banked dirt/clay oval in Somerton, recently kicked off its 2016 schedule with more than 50 drivers of hobby stock and sport modified vehicles parked in the pits and ready to race. Once drivers had tuned things up and tested things out, the first horn sounded and an evening of racing got underway.
Yuma racer Brent Wofford (with sole pit crew member Tara Wofford) said: “I’ve been a regular here for the past five years and have watched this place improve from splinter-filled wooden bleacher seats to the great track it is today.”
The speedway has history from its opening in 1968 as a quarter-mile dirt oval to its enlargement to 3/8 mile in 1988 as Yuma International Speedway. The Cocopah Tribe purchased the facility in 2005 and, according to The History of America’s Speedways: Past & Present, “The inaugural season of Cocopah started in 2010 after a dedicated group of volunteers and tribal members worked tirelessly to bring the track back to competition-worthy status.”
According to tribal officials, the time was right. “Our goal was to revitalize the track along with seating and concessions to provide a family-oriented entertainment venue,” they acknowledged. Eight months and a hefty investment by the tribe brought the dream to reality, an acknowledged success and a showcase for the tribe that celebrates its 100th year of establishment in 2017.
“The track, a long-time struggling private enterprise, was purchased as a tribal revenue generator,” says Gary Magrino, Cocopah Economic Developer. “The tribe is happy with the fact they could do something good for the betterment of the area and it’s been good for us because it’s brought additional revenue to our nearby casino, hotel, conference center, and golf course. It’s expensive to run a track correctly, but we’ve earned a reputation as one of the nicest speedways in the West with the sobriquet --- a Diamond in the Desert.”
The track now ranks among the showpieces of Western dirt/oval racing, with grandstand seating capacity of 3,700 (a concrete grandstand) along with a large pit area, an infield hot pit, plenty of spectator parking, and, according to track publicity, “one of the most scenic settings in all of dirt track racing,” surrounded by intensely-colored agricultural fields as befitting Yuma’s reputation as the largest wintertime grower of green, leafy vegetables anywhere in the country.
Publicity writers have had a field day building excitement for the site they promise offers “a mind-blowing racing experience. Speeds on ovals are crazy and the clay speedway lets cars careen to and fro, generating more danger. The octane-fuelled oval track requires careful driving among contestants that are in stiff competition.”
Among the competitors at this year’s opener were card-carrying Minnesota Ojibwa drivers Bob and Bobby Horton, a father and son team, racing two of three cars owned by brother-in-law Miles Morris who funds the racing effort through his day job of crop-dusting nearby agricultural fields. Competition among the three family members is friendly, but intense, with Bobby already a track champion in 2014.
For Tom Dalen, the new full-time Director of Operations at the speedway, it’s a dream job. “I’m the biggest race fan you’ll ever meet. I live for stock car competition, so this isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.”
Familiar with the track as its former head flagman, he’s been in the top job for seven months, getting things up to speed. “The tribe wants to see this place succeed. They are committed to racing and are fully aware of what it costs to keep it going and that’s my goal too because we all have a love for racing,” he says. “If you don’t, you don’t have any business being out here on a Saturday night because it takes everybody pulling together to put on a good show.”