Are you ready for some racing?
By Randy Hoeft @YumaSunSports
It has been a long standing tradition in America to turn on the television on New Year’s Day and watch a cornucopia of college football bowl games.
Greg Burgess has something else in mind.
On Friday, the first day of 2016, Cocopah Speedway will present the opening night of the second annual Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown, featuring some of the country’s top open-wheel racing talent, including NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson.
“I personally am anxious to do this. I think this will be a great new tradition for the track, the drivers and our community,” said Burgess, director of operations at Cocopah Speedway.
“Many times people are staying home as there is nothing going on on New Year’s Day. We fixed that. This is going to be a great, not-to-be-missed event. We are lucky to have it and I am proud to be part of it.”
The New Year’s Day show is the first of five nights of racing on the Somerton oval, with the second show scheduled Saturday night, followed by racing on Tuesday and Jan. 8 and 9. Each show begins at 7 p.m.
The Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown is the brainchild of three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, who fell in love with Cocopah Speedway while racing at the track in 2013 during a Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series national tour event. Before that two-night show was over Stewart asked Burgess about the possibility of putting on a winter sprint car series, with the intention of giving open-wheel racers a place to play during the winter months without having to travel all the way to New Zealand and Australia.
And the idea was greeted enthusiastically with a field of nearly 40 racers showing up for the 2015 event, including Kahne, Larson and a who’s who of the best sprint car talent in America, led by 20-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser.
“It was a success, there is no doubt about it,” said Burgess. “It was a gamble that paid off economically for everyone involved, including the track and the community.
“Now we are excited about presenting the second Winter Heat with the intention of making this event a tradition for everyone — the racers, the crews, the fans and the community. We want this to be a ‘vacation destination’ if you will, an event that people will mark on their calendars as an annual don’t miss event.”
Some of the racers who competed in the 2015 event, marked the dates for the 2016 event almost before leaving town a year ago, they were that excited about getting back here for the next one.
“I’ve been counting down the days to this event since we left last January,” said Aaron Reutzel, from Clute, Texas, who won his first career 410 feature event on the last night of the 2015 Winter Heat. He then went on to win the 2015 Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series national championship for winged 360 sprint cars.
“Getting a win out there was pretty special. It’s pretty cool knowing I’ve won one of them. It put my name out there. I wasn’t known. In the 410 world it’s a different deal. That event did a lot for my career. It’s definitely a great event.”
Seth Bergman, from Snohomish, Wash., also is anxious to get back to the Diamond in the Desert after finishing fourth in the 2015 ASCS national tour standings.
“It’s important to stay fresh and there’s no better way to do that during the offseason than to race against the top drivers from across the country,” said Bergman. “I’ve always enjoyed racing at Cocopah Speedway (in ASCS events) and I think the Winter Heat is turning into a can’t miss event. The money is great and you know the track will be racy. It’s also great from a learning standpoint to race five times in nine days at the same track. There are a lot of advantages to competing during this event.”
Johnny Herrera, from Albuquerque, N.M., is also familiar with the Cocopah Speedway oval, having raced here numerous times with the ASCS national tour. He is headed back for his first Winter Heat event. It will be his first time on the track in a 410 sprint car.
“You can move around and there’s a lot of racing (at Cocopah Speedway),” said Herrera, recounting his previous experiences on the three-eighths-mile oval. “Plus, the format is good. Sometimes you don’t qualify well and you get behind. At Winter Heat you have the qualifier so if you draw bad you can put yourself in position for the feature by passing some cars.”
As hard as it might be to imagine, Burgess said he’s anticipating an even better show in 2016 than the inaugural event.
“I think as far as the racing goes, it could actually improve,” said Burgess. “I know that is hard to believe with what we got to see last year. But it was a lot of the drivers’ first time at the track, and this time around I think their comfort level will be greater and they may push the limits more and back it up with the knowledge they gained at the first event.”
Cocopah Speedway is located at U.S. 95 and County 15th Street; the general admission gate opens at 2 p.m.; pit open for fans from 2-5 p.m.; first race is at 7 p.m. Tickets are: adults – $32; adult military with ID – $30; senior (55 and over) – $30; children 12 years old and under – free (main grandstand). Tickets can also be purchased on-line at www.cocopahspeedway.com or at www.cocopahwinterheat.com. Fans can get live racing lineups during the races and results afterward by going to www.cocopahlive.com. Fans can also access live in-race scoring and lap times by going to mylaps.com. For more information call 344-1563 or go to www.cocopahspeedway.com.