When you think of Alaska, the first thought usually is snow. However, they are slowly becoming known for something else – racing.
“I think it’s a great sport as you can get the whole family involved, and it helps keep the kids off the streets, too, as you can’t be doing drugs and wasting money there,” Alaska Raceway Park owner Earl Lackey told POPULAR SPEED.
Lackey heard about people wanting to have a place to race, so he went forward with a plan of action, buying the property and working with businessman, Dana Pruhs. The construction came together easily, as he used previous experience from working in the climate on roads and airport runways. The knowledge helped, as the big thing with projects in Alaska is the logistical challenge.
“We’re 1500 miles from Seattle, so any materials that you have to bring in from the lower 48 have to be by ship or plane to get up here,” Pruhs said. “So I think the bleachers came from Florida, and we manufactured all the gravels and stuff on site. We used local refineries to find what we wanted.”
He noted the biggest challenge was figuring out the right design for competitive racing and making sure it would hold up over time.
“Since I raced and looked at tracks in the lower 48, I kind of took what I thought was pertinent good designs and good ideas, and worked with Earl and came up a plan to build the track,” he said. “With the land available, I think it turned out pretty good, too.”
Last year, they opened a third-mile oval with four to 12-degree progressive banking to be built in Palmer, Alaska. Pruhs says the size is enough for the cars to be quick while keeping the costs in check.
“The cost of racing was one of our primary objectives to keep down,” he said. “So the top surface of the track is designed for fairly good traction, but the tires don’t wear out that much. So you can get a couple (of) race weekends out of a set of tires, which drops the cost of racing.
“It was about making sure that you could attract as many participants as possible, given obviously the type of racing this is. So that was a primary objective, so the track is designed so that way when you go into the corner, you have to brake. So the idea being is cars have to slow down to get through the corner, which reduces the speed and typically your fenders benders are in and out of corners. So if you can focus on getting the cars where they have to brake and reduce some of the speed, versus a sweeping corner, that helps the reduce of cost of racing when they crash, and it allows people to focus on the handling of their car versus spending big money on big horsepower engines.”
The track has seen a variety of competitors take part in events, including Bobby Reuse making the trip up there from Alabama.
“My very first impression was when we were sitting in the truck waiting to get in being 46 degrees, and I jump out of the truck,” he said. “I’m standing there and realized this was the first race track that I’ve been to that has a drive-thru pit window because nobody got out of their truck. Everybody just leaned out the window and handed money, and signed papers. It was cool.”
Comparing the speedway to the lower 48 states, he says it drives like Birmingham International Raceway.
“It’s flat in the corners,” he said. “I grew up racing at Birmingham, and I think that may have had a positive effect for me to get around that track without any problems. It’s real short. You’re on the gas, and then back off, but there’s almost no banking.”
The event turned out well for Reuse, who was able to score the victory that night he was in attendance.
“I was super excited with the fan participation up there,” Reuse said. “Nobody knew who I was, but when I got out of the car in victory lane, they all hoot and hollered and yelled my name through the fence; I was waving at everybody. I mean, it felt like I was at my home track.
“I phoned my wife, and she asked if I was going to do that again. I said if I can free up some time next year and Dana has a car that I can drive, then we’re going back as that was a lot of fun.”
So far, both Lackey and Pruhs are pleased with what they’ve seen so far in the growth of the speedway – and are hopeful for a possible NASCAR K&N Pro Series event one day.
“This is the second year, so we have more cars racing this year than last year,” Pruhs said. “The fan base is growing. For us, in the last two race weekends, there’s been a 1000 people at each event. So that’s encouraging, and it’s just a focus on building the base. When you’re starting from scratch, it takes a while.
“From my perspective, it’s doing pretty good.”
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