The resurrection of one of Tucson's great sporting venues took a huge step in late April when the racetrack now known as Tucson Speedway entered into a deal with NASCAR to have its paved oval be part of a national competition circuit.
Starting in July, races each weekend at Tucson Speedway will award points that will help rank competitors at a local, state and national level. It's kind of like a minor league for auto racing, with drivers getting the chance to move up the ranks as they succeed, similar to what some of today's top NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers—such as Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Ron Hornaday Jr.—did back in the mid- to late 1990s.
But the track's owners and staff want more for it than to just be known as a racing facility. They want to turn it into a go-to destination for all forms of entertainment, whether it involves fast-moving cars and trucks—or not.
One such event is going down on Sunday, when extreme sports clothier Metal Mulisha presents The Crash Factory, a stunt show featuring performers from American DareDevils. The event will also feature a demolition derby, motorcycles jumping through flaming rings and plenty of other wild and crazy acts that take vehicle use (and abuse) to another level.
"This has always been a popular event at the racetrack; we're glad to have them back," said Ron Norman, a marketing assistant with START Tucson, the group that took over ownership and operation of the facility previously known as Tucson Raceway Park. "There will just be so many events going on that night, it will be very big."
Norman, who has also raced at TRP/Tucson Speedway for 18 years, won his eighth season championship on May 17 in the Super Late Models division. The 44-year-old has lived in Tucson since the late 1980s and says the venue seems to be inching closer to its heyday.
"We had almost 5,000 fans here last time out," he said. "I went out and won the race that night. I wanted to put on a good show for the crowd. And with every other race, I watched to see how (the staff was) moving things along. Things are going really well."
This Sunday's event is an example of what Norman says is the track's desire to become an "event center," one that someday could include non-sports-related shows such as concerts. The action begins at 6 p.m., but a prerace pit party that starts at 5 will give fans a chance to meet the daredevils.
An after-party will include a performance from local metal band Dirtnap, which will play while fans get another chance to meet the people they just saw risk their lives.
In between, children and families can spend time in the Kids Zone, an area along the track's first turn that includes a playground. Norman said it's a great place for children to get an up-close-and-personal look at racing, but also somewhere that parents can take the young ones if the racing doesn't hold their attention.
In other words, this isn't going to be a place just to watch vehicles go around a a loop over and over. The aim is for Tucson Speedway to offer something for everyone.
"We're trying to make Tucson Speedway an event center," Norman said. "We're planning to put together five to 10 major events a year, but we'll still let people know we're out there for racing. This is all still in the early stages. The facility is perfect for even a big (music) show."