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Burgess reflects on Cocopah Speedway season
Greg Burgess is no jeweler.
But he recognizes a diamond in the rough when he sees one.
The director of operations at Cocopah Speedway, having just completed his first season at the controls of the Somerton oval, is anxious to get his second season under way. It is a season which he predicts will be bigger, more exciting, and a catalyst in the track's evolution into a “true diamond in the desert.”
“This venue is and can be such a great thing for everyone in the future. I look forward to some large, positive steps in 2013 and beyond,” said Burgess this week as he looked back at the 2011-2012 season and talked about what lies ahead.
The just-released 2013 schedule, said Burgess, “for any motorsports enthusiast, it really is a dream schedule. There are no fillers, just quality events throughout the year, exactly what this facility should have for its fans and competitors. I am really looking forward to every bit of it.”
No doubt the fans will be just as excited when one considers the gems include the three-day Cocopah IMCA Modified Winter Nationals event (Feb. 7, 8 and 9), and the return of the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series National Tour (March 1 and 2). And that only gets you into February.
In April the USAC CRA 410 Non-Wing Sprint Cars return; the Lucas Oil Short Course Off-Road Series drops in on June 8; a demolition derby is scheduled July 4; and then the schedule gets real interesting.
The Lucas Oil American Sprint Cup Series National Tour comes back to Cocopah Speedway to close out its series Nov. 8 and 9, and then conducts its championship banquet Nov. 10 at Cocopah Casino.
Two weeks later, the West Coast Late Model Shootout series rolls into town for a two- night show Nov. 22 and 23, followed by the series' championship banquet, also at Cocopah Casino, on Nov. 24.
And all of these events compliment the 2013 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series, which will feature 14 nights of racing from January into December.
Is there one highlight on the schedule?
“I truly can't pick one,” said Burgess.
He then said the real highlight, in his mind, is the construction of a new main grandstand.
Work is already under way to demolish the existing wooden, main grandstand, which was erected in 1968 when the track first opened. It is being replaced with a safer, concrete structure that will also increase the track's seating capacity.
The project is expected to take up to five weeks to complete, which has forced Burgess to reschedule the track's original 2013 opening event. The season opener in the 2013 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series will now be a two-night event, with the grand opening Jan. 18 and another night of racing scheduled Jan. 19.
The new grandstand is no doubt the exclamation point in Burgess' still relatively short tenure as the track's director of operations, but in reality it is only the next item to be checked off on a lengthy to-do list that Burgess embarked on beginning with his first day on the job in June 2011.
He started with a 13-month racing program that included two national events and national television coverage.
“Our schedule and shows were quite ambitious for a facility that had been open less than one year after a long closure,” conceded Burgess, referring to the track's re-opening in 2010. It had been closed since 1999.
“But we saw some great racing and some great events. We saw rookie drivers; we saw veteran drivers; we even saw drivers come out of retirement. And we had some controversy on and off the track, but most of all we saw a lot of darn good racing.”
Also in his first season, racers and fans saw the removal of the 23-year-old crash fence and the installation of a safer concrete barrier that now encircles the racing surface. And there has been a noticeable effort to improve the facility's overall aesthetics as well as what is available for the fans' consumption at the concession stand.
“I really think everything has gone according to plan,” he said. “You always look back on things and can recognize how things could have gone better but I am very happy. With the amount of change, the amount of improvements, number of events — some being large events — I really think it has been great. I know I truly enjoy being here and have met and work with some really great people.
“Minor things that would be great to have a second shot at I'm sure exist, but I'm not one that spends a lot of time looking behind me. Sure, we have areas to improve, and that's where my focus is going into 2013. There is more work ahead, and that's exactly where I am focused on going.”
As large as the grandstand project is, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Burgess' long-term plan for the facility.
“I envision a great community venue that the Cocopah Indian Tribe is proud of and that the community appreciates and supports,” he said. “I truly see it being a great social outdoor gathering place to view quality events, enjoy great food and beverage, spend time with friends, family and take in the great Arizona weather.
“It will be clean, comfortable and professional. People of all ages will look forward to a visit to Cocopah Speedway and will leave with smiles and great memories.”
Projects Burgess has penciled out include a grassy knoll on which to sit and view events; VIP suites; party decks; pit parties; tailgate parties; camping; souvenir stands; expanded concessions in the concourse and pits; concourse activities; and racing for children.
“All of those things may have a place in the future here,” he said. “Some of this may come relatively fast and other parts may be years away. We will just keep pressing forward trying to have a positive impact on the community in every way we can.”
When he first arrived at the track after a 20-plus-hour-drive from Washington, Burgess recalled how anxious he was to see the facility. But it was the middle of the night, and when he finally got his first look in the daylight, it was worth the wait.
“I really came here not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised,” he recalled. “This place had a great foundation to build from.”
The biggest change Burgess has had to adjust to when comparing Washington and Arizona is the change of climate. But he's not complaining, and it's not necessarily the heat he's talking about, but rather the lack of rain.
“Weather affects not only track conditions, which I have learned a lot about, but it also affects moods and attitudes, let it be racers, fans or staff,” said Burgess. “I get a much better feeling from events here than in Washington, in part I am sure which is about not having a fear of rainouts. It takes so much time, effort and money to put on events, and then if you get to race day, with racers in the pits and fans in the stands, and it's a rainout … you get a huge feeling of depression and defeat.
“I'm happy to say that we put on 33 events this past season, and not one of them was rained out. Now I am able to take that time and emotion and apply it in a positive way to my work and hopefully relay that to the Cocopah Indian Tribe, the racers and the fans.
“Does this track still have needs? Sure, it has lots of needs and they will take time. But we make progress every week. Sometimes it may be something small and other times it could be major, but each week there is something done to progress Cocopah Speedway toward the future.
“Keep watching, and I believe you will see a true diamond in the desert appear.”