SOMERTON, Ariz. — Drivers, start your engines! As fans returnd to their favorite spot on the bleachers of the Cocopah Speedway in Yuma for opening night on February 5, drivers were going over last minute details with their race teams before hitting the track.
This is the speedway’s second season under the Cocopah tribe’s ownership, which purchased the 100-acre property the track is on in 2005. Bounded on three sides by tribal land, the mesa the speedway is located on was originally purchased to ad to the tribe’s existing land base.
The track is a long 1/8-mile dirt oval, which, according to the tribe’s Director of Communications, Cheryl Bradstreet, can get pretty exciting on the turns as the dirt flies and fans cheer. Speeds on the track range from 55 mph for the factory stocks up to 110-plus mph for the modifieds.
Over 100 volunteers, local business and tribal members donated their time, services and products to help with the racetrack’s renovation, which began in January 2010. In addition to volunteers, the tribe hired local contractors for some of the bigger renovations. In order to provide another family-oriented attraction for the community to enjoy, new bleachers were installed with metal hand rails on the stairways, concession stands were built, a new sound system was purchased and installed, the electrical infrastructure of the facility was totally rehabilitated, the pit area was expanded and the tower received a new air conditioning unit, drywall and bathrooms. The entrance to the speedway also received a facelift with the installation of a sprinkler system used to maintain a beautifully manicured grassy area.
Tribal Chairwoman Sherry Cordova, said, “After the tribe purchased the former Yuma Speedway it became evident that a lot of refurbishment was necessary to get the track operational again. Over a period of months, a dedicated group of volunteers, along with the tribe, worked tirelessly to bring the facility back to competition worthy status. The Cocopah Indian Tribe is pleased to announce that dirt track racing is back in the Yuma area!”
Kermit Palmer, acting tribal administrator and business development manager, said he has never seen a community pull together the way Yuma did when the tribe asked for their help. “It all ended with standing room only attendance for the opening race held September 11, 2010, with attendance averaging over 2,000 a race.”
Yuma residents and race fans know who the rivals are on race night and as the excitement grows so does the fan base. Drivers to watch this season include Ken Rosevear in modifieds, tribal sponsored Adlopho Noriega in street stocks and Oscar Duarte in the factory stock division. The cost of racing goes up with the speed of the car; to get a car into the modified division costs about $15,000 to start with a minimum upkeep of about $1,000 a month to race competitively. As the class of car and speed decrease, the cost drops by $300 to $400 per class.
The spring 2011 Napa Auto Parts Racing Series schedule runs from February to May and includes factory stocks, street stocks, pro stocks and modifieds. Although there are no tribal member drivers/owners yet, Palmer said it’s still early in the tracks history and he hopes to see some interest from young tribal members in the next few seasons. The minimum racing age at the track is 14.
Prior to the newly renovated track opening, the last time the oval saw action was in 1999. The primary individual’s behind the Speedway’s re-opening are Palmer and stock car racers David White and Gerald Hall. White began talking with a tribal spokesperson in 2009 about re-opening the track, and in February 2010 a proposal was presented to the tribe’s council by White and Palmer, which was later accepted and put into action. Palmer said, “I really appreciate that the Cocopah Tribe has provided this opportunity for me to do this project. I also really want credit to be given to the tribal council, because without their support none of this would have been possible.”
The Cocopah reservation, located 13 miles south of Yuma, comprises three noncontiguous bodies of land known as the North, West and East Reservations and are home to the Cocopah Casino, Cocopah Resort & Conference Center, Cocopah Rio Colorado Golf Course, Cocopah Museum and Gift Shop, Cocopah Korner, Cocopah RV & Golf Resort, the Speedway and Wild River Family Entertainment Center.
The Speedway is located at the northwest intersection of County 15th and Highway 95 in Somerton. Overnight camping is allowed at the raceway in the upper parking lot only. The Cocopah Resort is located across Highway 95 and offers over 100 air-conditioned rooms with satellite TV, a pool and Jacuzzi.
“Tribal members are proud to own and operate this facility,” said Palmer. “It’s something that not many tribes have.”