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Front Page » April 28, 2005 » The Business Journal » The Speed Business
Published 3,434 days ago

The Speed Business


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By RICHARD SHAW
General manager

From the minute the horseless carriage showed up in America, if there were two vehicles in the same town, one can be sure there was a race. And as people raced one another, they found ways to make their cars go faster and faster. For some the obsession with speed became greater as the power of the vehicles increased. Today racing, in it's many forms is one of the most popular sports in America ranging from the National Hot Road Association Drag Strips to the NASCAR tracks.

But the heart of the race scene is still the small dirt track that exists in towns all over the rural United States. It is, where many a racer began their career. And those tracks, largely owned by those who love the sport and usually have visions of something better in the future, are the foundation of the racing game.

Harvey Howard is one of those people. As the owner of the Desert Thunder Raceway on Airport Road, he has to have vision to run a business that improves in attendance every year, but that also whose cost increases almost by leaps and bounds.

"We are doing a lot of good things at the track," says Howard. "For instance this year every night we race we will have every class in competition. A big addition to that will be the go-cart racing. People like that."

But the track that now exists northeast of Price, wasn't always there. In fact the dirt track for this areas racers has been in a few different places over the years.

The original 1940's speedway was near where the fairgrounds are now. It was run by Jack Birch.

Then in the late 1960's a track was built where the ballfields are presently located and racing went on there from 1970-1980. However, nearby residents started to complain about the noise and political pressure mounted to move the track.

Another track was constructed by the fairgrounds when the county gave the Central Utah Stock Car Association some ground to do that. Other than the ground the county gave the association no money for the track. Racing went on there from 1980-85.

"That track was a little bigger than we could handle and a lot of engines were blown on that raceway," says Howard.

Harvey Howard looks over some of the entries before the race begins. Howard is an active part of the race scene at his track, watching over things and making sure things are running smoothly.

At the end of that period racing in Carbon County disappeared, at least officially. Then in 1990. Moab started to have races again and that stimulated the sport in the local area.

"We built a practice track in Carbonville," says Howard with a smile on his face. "The county commissioners weren't impressed by where it was so they offered us the use of the old track again."

Howard became president of the CUSCA with the help of Carbon Recreation brought racing back to life in Carbon County.

The track on Airport Road opened in the early 1990's and in 1997 the county sold the track to Chuck Buchanan, a business man from Helper and he ran it until 2001. It was then that Howard bought the track.

"There was a time in the 1990's when we were only averaging 150 spectators at a race, but last season we generally had between 600 and 650 at each race."

At one race in 2003 the facility drew 1300 spectators.

In the last four years Howard and his crew have doubled the spectator capacity, but more importantly, they have tripled the participant capacity. That's important, because the more racers, and the more kinds of racing, the bigger the spectator crowds, with many coming from out of the area.

Many of the races are sanctioned by the Western Dirt Racing Association, which is important because that draws racers from outside Carbon County. Racers who come in from out of town, not only race and draw fans in from other areas, but spend a lot of money in the area for lodging, eating and even parts.

In the last four years Howard has done $150,000 in dirt work at the complex and almost doubled the spectator capacity.

"I am just trying to make this business work here and it hasn't been easy," he said. "The economic feasibility of a track like this is difficult."

At one time he pictured an entire racing complex, including a drag strip at the same location. But logistics and land issues changed some of that as well as a proposal by other local residents who want to build a drag strip elsewhere. They are presently working on funding for it.

Sprint cars race around the Desert Thunder raceway during a race toward the end of the season last summer.

But even with his struggles the economic impact on the local area because of the track is large. Every race takes at least 32 people to put it on.

"It's been a learning experience," he says. "We pay those people between $6 and $10 per hour. Those are good part time jobs."

Howard says that the racing business is much bigger than what actually shows on the track too.

"There are a lot of support industries involved," he says. "And racing gets a lot of new businesses started. It's the idea of using a raceway as a long term economic impact on the area. We haven't scratched that surface yet."

Howard says he knows of at least two companies in the area that are manufacturing modified race cars that are being sold. That along with the advertising to bring people from outside the area to race adds to the areas economy.

"We spend approximately 50 percent of our advertising budget on promotions outside the area and on out of town promotions," he says. "That has paid off."

He utilizes the internet for some of this with the raceways website at www.desert-thunder-raceway.com.

Each year things get better and Howard sees the future with a gleam in his eyes.

"I would like to get the community more involved in this," he said, picturing the racing scene as a family activity. "I see a lot of improvement in the facility and expansion of the spectator areas as we grow."

But the racer in Howard also lives on as he thinks about the 75 race cars that show up at the speedway on race day now.

"Maybe we will have some nights with 100 cars soon."


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