Burgess reflects on Cocopah Speedway season

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.”

Share this post