By Mike Adaskaveg
From Merced’s business counters to its hotels, and to the eateries where race fans hang out, the talk of the town has been the return of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series to the Merced Speedway on March 29.
This year’s third annual visit by the racing series almost didn’t happen because a dog show was scheduled at the fairgrounds on the original date the World of Outlaws was supposed to come. Some quick negotiations with the Charlotte, North Carolina organization by track owner John Soares resulted in securing the only date left open, a week earlier than first scheduled.
“The World of Outlaws is the NASCAR of dirt track racing,” says Derrick Bradley, branch manager of Volvo Rents Merced. “Some people may not realize how big this is. It puts Merced on the map, in the national spotlight.”
Bradley jumped at the chance to be a sponsor of the event.
Local hotel managers are sharpening their pencils with special rates to be offered to the influx of approximately 7,000 visitors to the city that day, many of whom will stay overnight.
“Any event where people stay overnight is great for the community of Merced,” said Elaine Davis of Holiday Inn Express. “We had the crews and workers staying with us. They shop in Merced, eat in Merced, and buy gas here in Merced.”
Roy Mercado, owner of the BBQ Pit on G Street welcomed the good news.
“Anything to do with cars, and the people find their way to the ‘pit”,” he said. “People from out of town learn about us from other race fans. I’m expecting a big bump in business.”
Over at the Merced Visitors Center, Karen Baker said the City is looking forward to the World of Outlaws event.
“The race provides positive exposure for Merced, while at the same time boosting tourism,” Baker said. “Team members have stopped in for brochures and information in the past, wanting to learn about the town they are staying in.”
Jennifer Krumm, COO of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, grew up in a racing family, and is excited about the event.
“As a teen, I would go to the races almost every weekend. Later in life, I married into a racing family,” Krumm said. “Uncles, cousins and friends were all part of the racing fun at Merced Speedway.”
Krumm said the race would bring a “spark” to the Merced economy.
“This is just the thing needed for Merced,” she added.
For the race fan, the World of Outlaws offers a chance to see the nation’s top sprint car drivers. Drivers like Steve Kinser, and last year’s winner, Sammy Swindell, are the superstars of dirt track racing.
The nation’s hottest driver, on dirt or pavement, is Elk Groove’s Kyle Larson. At 20, he’s the NASCAR K & N Pro Series East Champion. He’s won in ten different types of racecars last season, and he wants to race at Merced Speedway. He raced in the Merced World of Outlaws event two years ago.
“I heard they made improvements to the track, and it is looking really good,” said Larson Wednesday. “I’m waiting for my NASCAR schedule to be confirmed to see if I can race at Merced.”
Larson has dirt track sprint car racing roots, rising up through the ranks in California before making it to the national stage. Now, he’s considered the top auto racing prospect in the nation.
“My home town is an hour and a half from Merced,” he said. “Nothing beats racing in California and in front of the local fans. I’m hoping I find out what my schedule is soon. I want to be there.”
The World of Outlaws sprint cars will race at Merced Speedway at 7 p.m. on March 29. Tickets are now on sale by Ticketforce on the World of Outlaws website: woosprint.com. Reserved seats are $40, general admission is $35, and children 12 and under general admission is $15.