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Big league sprint car racing arrives
by Dan McGee
Dec 10, 2012 | 16376 views | 1 1 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Dan Simpson, owner of the King of the West sprint car series, has moved his headquarters to Northern Nevada and the 95A Speedway. Next season he's bringing big time sprint car racing here as well as making many improvements to the track.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Dan Simpson, owner of the King of the West sprint car series, has moved his headquarters to Northern Nevada and the 95A Speedway. Next season he's bringing big time sprint car racing here as well as making many improvements to the track.
FERNLEY — Big things are going to happen next spring when the oval track season begins. The King of the West sprint car series is now based out of 95A Speedway in Fernley.

Asked about the move, owner Dan Simpson said, "I think there is a lot of room for us to grow in Northern Nevada. And my feeling is there are more motorheads here than there is in all of Central California."

A veteran racer himself, Simpson grew up in Spokane, Wash. where his father worked on a crew for a dirt track racer. However, when it was time to start racing, he chose to be a road racer and mainly campaigned with the SCCA.

This all changed when his daughter Danielle was born. After that he spent the next two decades focused on his business ventures and raising horses.

When his daughter turned 21 he started looking for something they could do together. One of his employees suggested racing a Dwarf car but Simpson wanted something different.

Then he discovered Spec Sprint Cars, which are wingless cars that use an engine rule to keep them inexpensive. To help his daughter get started, he built a practice track on his property.

It was an interesting and somewhat scary proposition watching his daughter race.

"Her skill levels weren't there and boom, she was out there just hammering it," he said. "When you take somebody off the street that's never raced, it's scary and she's had some nasty wrecks."

Things changed when Simpson himself began to race a Spec Sprint Car.

"I said, 'aw,' this is it. I was 60 and it was just a lot of fun so I was hooked," he said.

After a year, he moved up to the winged 360 sprint cars but noticed there were many wrecks and much trashed equipment in that series. Then he took a look at the Golden State Challenge series that uses 410 sprint cars and noticed they didn't have so many wrecks.

He added that when they did, those wrecks were spectacular.

The 410 class uses winged sprint cars and are just like those used in the World of Outlaws. So both he and his daughter began to race these cars.

And over the years they've both been involved in some of those spectacular crashes but so far neither have suffered injuries.

Reflecting on the difference between racing on pavement and dirt Simpson said, "I honestly think dirt track racing is the hardest form anywhere. The skill level is amazingly high as the track is changing every lap, the turns are different, drivers are tearing it up in front of you and you're coming up on lap traffic in two laps.

"It's amazing to me, having driven some sophisticated road racing cars is that I thought we were pretty skillful until I got on the dirt. I will never in the remaining years of my lifetime be able to conquer and develop all these skills."

Any tire-to-tire contact in sprint car racing usually results in one or both cars begin launched. As a result the drivers are strapped into a containment seat, their arms are tethered and their knees are positioned in brackets to hold their legs in place.

In the sprint car world it's not of a matter if a person car is involved in a flip but when, so all the safety equipment keeps the amount of injuries to a minimum.

After a few seasons with the 410s, Simpson noticed the series was going downhill and losing cars.

"About four and a half years ago, Brent Kaeding, Maury Williams and others came to me," he said. "We were talking about how our car counts had gone down, promoters didn't want to pay any money and this was at the beginning of the season so it was already looking bad."

Thinking about the problem, and after a second meeting, Simpson told them a committee wouldn't work. Then he volunteered to be the turkey, or the guy everyone could scream at.

"As soon as I said that, we had the financial crash and the world went to hell in a hand basket. And no good deed goes unpunished," he said.

At that time it was called the Golden State Challenge and soon become the Golden State King of the West Series, which Simpson took over in 2008.

"I looked at it, could see what needed to be done but I wasn't sure we could accomplish it," he said. "I felt if I invested some money we could make it fly. Then Goodyear came along, gave me sponsorship and we couldn't have done it without them."

With Goodyear's departure from dirt racing this year, Simpson is very appreciative of their support. Now, he looks forward to working with the Hoosier Racing Tires, as they will supply tires for dirt racing.

The first year was a struggle but now things have turned around. The average car count is 28 per race, up from 14 and while it can vary from 50 to 26 cars, Simpson said the perfect car count is 32.

This move to Northern Nevada came from an inquiry by the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. They asked if it was possible to put a dirt track for a race in one of their parking lots.

His answer was, "Yea, I could put it there but it's going to be a mess, it'll be awful, no body will be able to see anything and you'll have dirt everywhere. And after we're done, you'll hate us."

Next suggestion was a stadium but that didn't fly so one of his staff began to inquire at towns in the region that had tracks. The best response came from Fernley and then the tourism people got involved.

"I'm not thinking we're not going to turn the world upside down and we're going to have to try really hard. But I think what we've got that Rich Cable (who built the track at Fernley.) didn't have is a form of racing that is super, super exciting. It's the best fan based racing in the world," he said.

Simpson now has a 10-year lease on the track. He's also changing the name to the Reno, Tahoe, Fernley Speedway and the when the usual car classes run, those events will be called the 95A series.

The longer name includes both Reno and Tahoe so when people query this area his series might also be listed.

With spring not that far away, there is a lot of work being done to the facility. The goal is to make the racing safer and the fans more comfortable.

Replacing the track lights with LED units will make it brighter and better for video. Eventually, there might be large screens and a LED billboard at the track's entrance.

The track itself is being reshaped to bring the inside edge lower to make it wider with more banking, improving the fencing as well as moving the Outlaw Kart track more to the center of the infield.

"We're going to try and have the track like they've never seen it before and all the races can be followed on a smart phone," he said. "But big plans are always superceded by the ones you don't get done."

The coming winter will determine just how much of those changes, which include extending the bleachers and adding nice bathrooms, will be finished for the season opener.

As far as the KWS shows go, he said, "We're trying to get it all down to where we can get 'em in and out in two and a half hours. And then if they want to stay and come over and visit with us in the trailers and get us to sign autographs and do all that it's great."

He knows when families attend the races, their children are only good for about three hours. So before the racing begins, he'll have drivers go up in the stands to meet their fans, both younger and older.

On the KWS race nights, the Outlaw Karts will be the filler event for intermissions and Simpson plans on using one of the regular car classes to round out the program.

There will also be a T-shirt trailer that sells not only shirts but will offer model cars for the younger fans.

He'll also bring in some names to help the season get off to a good start.

"We're going to try and open up in May and I'm hoping to open the series up here," he said. "I think what will happen is that we're going to bring fans good entertainment."

Helping the cause are two drivers from the World of Outlaws, Jac "The Wild Child" Haudenschild and two-time Outlaw champion Jason Meyers. Others include the Kaedings and veteran Jimmy Sills.

"The names will help draw the people but what really will get 'em is after they see one race and see these guys swapping the lead four and five times a lap," he said.

One thing in his favor is that the King of the West series has some devoted fans, some of which attend every race while others will attend many of them. So larger crowds are anticipated for these events.

While Simpson knows there are challenges ahead, he's optimistic about the future.

"The entertainment value I think is phenomenal but what we've got to do is get it introduced properly," he said.

So this coming spring Northern Nevada will see some really hard core, exciting and action packed racing, 410 sprint car style.


•It's a sad time for Northern Nevada's motocross family. On Wednesday veteran racer Harry "Butch" Trainor Jr. lost his battle with cancer. The 49-year old was member of both the Old Timers and Over the Hill Gang clubs and had competed several times at the Virginia City Grand Prix.

Services for Trainor are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, December 14th at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley. We here at the Daily Sparks Tribune offer our condolences to his personal and extended racing family.
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December 18, 2012
It will never fly. This will be the beginning of the end for KWS.
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