In anticipation of larger racing fields than last year, Cocopah Speedway set out to expand its pit area.
And from the way it looks right now, the move couldn't have come any sooner.
As of Tuesday, five race cars were already lined up at the gate waiting to get in for this weekend's 2013 Cocopah Speedway IMCA Modified Winter Nationals presented by Sun Graphics.
A year ago 52 IMCA Modified cars showed up for the inaugural event, and when the support classes are factored in, things were a little snug down in the pit.
This year, organizers are making a conservative guess when they say 60 cars are expected to be on hand for the event which kicks off Thursday night and concludes Saturday.
“Everyone is buzzing about this event,” said Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway's director of operations. “I have to be honest when I say I thought last year's race was better than anyone expected, especially me, but I think what we're going to see this year will make a lot of people forget about 2012.”
The first green flag is scheduled to fly at 7 p.m. Thursday, with another 7 p.m. start Friday. On Saturday, however, the show will begin at 4 p.m. The special, early start is to give race fans the opportunity to take in the show at the track and still be able to take in the Mark Chesnutt concert Saturday night across the street at Cocopah Casino.
“We've got two great venues working together to give everyone the best of both worlds,” said Burgess.
In the world of race cars, Burgess related how when he was a race fan, not a promoter, he looked forward to the big shows in his home state of Washington.
Now, he's on the other side and he's enjoying every bit of it.
“My favorite part used to be hearing the drivers' states and home towns. It is just fun to learn where they are from and how far they traveled to come and be part of a big show!” said Burgess. “And now, it's our big show!
“It's really exciting to see the racers who run here for points all year long, run against guys that have been on the road traveling to get here.”
At the top of the list is Jesse Sobing, from Glenwood, Iowa, who arrives as the Winter Challenge Series point leader after four racing events at Canyon Speedway Park outside Phoenix.
The Winter Challenge Series will conclude at Cocopah Speedway.
Sobing was the 2012 IMCA Northern Sport Mod National Champion and the 2012 NASCAR Division IV Dirt National Champion.
By the way, Sobing is also one of those five drivers already in line at the pit gate.
“That is the caliber of driver and competitor we are attracting for this event,” said Burgess.
“But that's not to say we haven't got some drivers around here who can compete at that level, because we certainly do. Don't ever let anyone tell you that the drivers we see almost every Saturday night out here are second to anyone, because it's just not true.
“Our local racers will do well. They have a challenge ahead of them but I expect them to do well. Most of the challenge comes from seat time ... our local racers will get in 20 or less races a year while many of these guys will have two to three times that amount. Each race is a learning experience so you give a guy three times as much driving time and he is going to gain a lot of valuable knowledge.”
The Somerton oval will officially unveil its new, larger concrete grandstand at this event. A Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series official in Phoenix, Roger Toops, the Southwest Region director, said from what he's seen, the grandstand elevates what he feels is already an outstanding facility to the head of the class when it comes to dirt track racing.
“The new grandstand looks amazing,” said Burgess. “It will be fun to hear from the racers and fans what they think of the transformation. I am really happy for community and the Cocopah Indian Tribe. This is an absolute beautiful venue.”
Down on the track, the fans will be equally impressed with the show, added Burgess, again referring to the caliber of competition he is expecting to see.
States expected to be represented are Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada, California and Arizona, along with Canada.
“The hardest part is guessing what the best night of racing will be,” said Burgess. “It could be Thursday when everyone's equipment is fresh; it could be Friday after the travelers get a night in on the track; and no doubt Saturday, the ‘big money' show is not to be missed!”
The Thursday night show is a first for the facility, and Burgess is anxious to see how the community and fans respond to an event scheduled on a weeknight instead of the weekend.
“I believe we have the fans to support this format,” said Burgess.
Also on the racing card with the IMCA Modifieds are the IMCA Sport Mods, which are a new division in the 2013 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.
The four-day 2013 event officially gets under way tonight with a Fanfest Car Show and autograph session at Wild River Family Entertainment Center, across from Cocopah Speedway. Drivers and cars will be on hand. The event starts at 6 p.m. Admission is free.