‘Dream job’ for Dalen, who was named Cocopah Speedway director of ops
By Randy Hoeft
When Tom Dalen was old enough, he got a job selling Coca Cola at a dirt track near his home in North Dakota.
He earned hardly any money, however, because he spent more time watching the races than he did selling the beverage he was lugging around the grandstand.
Now, Dalen is in a position to hire others to sell the beverages while he still gets to do what the loves most, watching dirt track racing.
“This is my dream job,” said Dalen, who has been named the new, full-time director of operations at Cocopah Speedway.
Dalen replaces Greg Burgess, who resigned the position in February to take another position in Oklahoma.
Dalen, who was already on the Cocopah Speedway staff, serving as head flagman, was moved into the interim director of operations position when Burgess left. At the same time, Dalen also submitted his application for the full time job and waited patiently to find out who the tribe would hire while overseeing the operation of the track, starting with the March 12 event.
“I understand the board, they took their time in making their decision, they wanted to see what I would do, and how I would handle the situation,” said Dalen. “So that worked out great. They gave me the position and they’re satisfied with what I’m doing and said it’s absolutely your game, you let us know what you need, we’re behind you 100 percent.
“And the people at the tribe are just wonderful to work for. It’s been really good. Whatever I need they have been more than willing to help me with.
“They want to see this survive and succeed, and that’s my goal too.”
Dalen said he was nine years old when his uncle took him to see his first dirt track race, “and it was awesome! I loved it! I fell in love with racing and it’s just been my passion ever since. I absolutely love being a part of it and just want to be involved.”
He first got involved at Cocopah Speedway when he answered Burgess’ advertisement for help at the track. Having experience as a flagman in North Dakota, he said he was offered the flagman position here.
“I thought I’d try it out and see how it worked and here I am.”
He said the leap from flagman to director operations was actually Burgess’ idea.
“He is the one who approached me about it,” said Dalen. “Greg was the one who asked me, who texted me and said, ‘Tom do you think this something you’d want to do?’
“And I said yeah, it’s perfect for me. I was looking for something else to do and like I said I just love racing and he said I think you could do an excellent job here.”
With the new job also come new challenges, such as members of the staff resigning. In September, when Dalen oversees his first show as the full time director of operations, he will do so with a new head flagman, new racing director and new tech inspector.
The new flagman will be Troy Batura, who has already put in time on the staff, while Brian Kerwin, who came on board and flagged before the summer break, will step in as racing director, replacing Lenna Miller, who will now assist with scoring. The tech inspector position, previously held by Mike Erwin, is yet to be filled.
“We’ve got wholesale staff changes,” said Dalen with a laugh. “There’s lots of them, like rats leaving a sinking ship.
“So yeah we’re going to have a whole new staff, we’re going to have lots of things that have changed, but I am confident in the people that I have, who are here.
“The people who are taking over these positions, let’s face it, we all have to have a love for racing. I mean, if you don’t have a love for racing you don’t have any business being out here on Saturday night. That’s why we’re all here, because we all love racing.
“It takes everybody to pull together and put in a good show; that’s what our goal is, that’s my goal, to put on a good show.”
Dalen said he does not have a “to-do” list as did Burgess, who, during his tenure, oversaw the construction of a new concrete grandstand, new concrete retaining fence around the racing surface, guest suites, a new men’s restroom, a concrete concourse, new handicapped parking, and a pit area that tripled in size.
“As far as what Greg has done here, this is an awesome place,” said Dalen. “I’ve been to the other tracks around the state and we by far outshine every one of them. When they say, ‘Diamond in the Desert,’ that is exactly what this is.”
Dalen said he will instead focus on the day-to-day operation of the track and the quality of the shows. He said he feels the track needs to own its maintenance equipment, instead of renting, “and maybe get another wrecker down the road so we can make the program a little faster, smoother.
“I want to do a little old school racing too, back to the old school deal. My goal is to, I would like to do a couple of afternoon races, I really would, so people could sit here and enjoy it, especially in December and January, when the weather is a little iffy and chilly. It would be nice to have a couple of afternoon races where people can come out during the day.”
A couple of those afternoon races could be added to the 2016 schedule in December, said Dalen. As for the remainder of the 2016 schedule, it will be relatively unchanged, but the 2017 schedule will see some big differences.
At the top of the list is the elimination of the Winter Heat Sprint Car Challenge, which would have been in its third year. The two-weekend, five-race event, with a purse of $250,000, was dropped because of the expense.
“I would love to have it come back,” said Dalen, “but it’s going to take some major sponsorship to do that. There is no way you can do it without sponsorship and that’s something I need to work on, and that’s what I plan on working on, getting some sponsorship.”
And Cocopah Speedway’s annual IMCA Winter Nationals event, which also was a two-weekend, five-race event, will become a one-weekend, three-race event in 2017.
As for 2016, the scheduled inaugural appearance by the National Sprint League on Nov. 11 and 12 has been switched to a Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series National Tour event.
“I have visited with some people in the administration at the tribe and told them what some of my goals are and some of the things I want to do and they are all on board, they want this to succeed and keep on going,” said Dalen.
“I know there are all kinds of rumors out there that this is going to fold, and blah, blah, blah, and that’s not going to happen. The Cocopah Tribe is committed to racing in Yuma and the surrounding area. They want to see this go, they are fully aware of what it costs and they want to keep it moving and that’s my goal too.”