Update, April 18, 2012: Today the Myrtle Beach Speedway held a media open house and three staffers from TheDigitel Myrtle Beach attended to cover the event and talk about what the new NASCAR Racing Experience means for the Myrtle Beach Speedway and the upcoming race season. Also in attendance was Andre Bauer, former Lt. Governor of South Carolina and current candidate for the 7th Congressional district.
During the event, folks were given the opportunity to drive or ride as a passenger in one of the stock cars used in the experience. None of my colleagues were up for more than reporting, connecting, and snapping pictures so it was my job to don the helmet and strap in. You can read my review of the ride-along here. Suffice it to say it was beyond fun.
Other media personalities were on hand and chose to get behind the wheel. When I asked how they were feeling after watching the training video and being given instruction, but before driving, three men expressed concerns about hitting the wall, not sucking, and damaging the cars. I'm happy to report, all fears were dispelled.
More importantly, the media had the opportunity to hear from and talk too Bob Lutz, new co-owner of the track and CEO of the NASCAR Racing Experience. I had the chance to spend a few minutes with him and ask questions that may have been a little different than my media cohorts.
While locals will, no doubt, enjoy the new attraction, it's likely the majority of its revenue will come from tourists. It's also likely, in my opinion, that this new opportunity will drawn in those who have either researched or completed similar driving/racing experiences but have not been to or don't regularly visit the Myrtle Beach area. With those thoughts in mind, I asked, "Given the significant deviation in track size and amenities compared to the other NASCAR Racing Experience locations, are there any extra accommodations or adjustments in price for those participating in the Myrtle Beach location?" Mr. Lutz talked a bit about how while the venue was smaller, the track was technical and achieving higher speeds (70 to 90 mph) requires skill. He also mentioned that the track time is the same here as it is at the larger tracks. That literally equals more laps. In addition, the prices are, indeed, lower. Ride-alongs are $69, compared to $99 at other tracks. Driving experiences begin at $199. At Charlotte Motor Speedway they begin at $399, for example.
I also asked a question about the local(ish) racing scene and how this transfer of ownership, renovation, and new attraction could impact it. Maybe it's just me, but when Darlington Raceway lost its second Cup weekend and had the remaining one rescheduled from the historic Labor Day date, it felt like something was slipping away. When Rockingham Speedway lost its Cup date altogether, I got worried. Mr. Lutz talked about his hopes for more events and bigger series racing in Myrtle Beach, which would not only give a nod to its history, but also its future.
Andre Bauer was also available for interview. During the event it was discussed how he worked with Mr. Lutz to take an idea to host the NASCAR Racing Experience in Myrtle Beach to one of track ownership. When I talked to Mr. Bauer, I mentioned his involvement in the race community. He says he's passionate about it. Whether or not he was running for Congress, he'd be involved. He was enthusiastic about the networking and business opportunities throughout the sport.
We talked a bit about his campaign and he felt strongly about being out and about, meeting the district residents. We all know Horry County leans to the right, but that's not necessarily the case throughout this new 7th district. He said he was hitting different locations almost every day, in an effort to give voters the opportunity to not only listen to him, but also talk with him.
May 5, 2012 marks the season opener at the Myrtle Beach Speedway. You can learn more about getting tickets, including a special for families, here. On May 10, Thursday before the Southern 500 in Darlington, the speedway will host Michael Waltrip and other NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers as they recognize Kyle Petty's Victory Junction Gang camp.
Update, March 26, 2012: Myrtle Beach Speedway has just announced their schedule for events for this season.
From drift racing to skid plate racing to school bus racing, the new owners really seem to be revving up the Speedway for 2012. Check out the full schedule below and make sure to hop on over to The Sun News for their full write-up on the upcoming season at the Myrtle Beach Speedway.
- May 5 = Sat Late Model / Charger / Mini / Drifting
- May 10 = Thur Late Model / Charger / Mini / Skid Plate Racing
- May 19 = Sat Closed
- May 26 = Sat Closed
- May 31 = Thu 100 Lap $2000 to win Late Model / Charger / Mini
- June 9 = Sat Super Truck / Charger / Mini / Trailer Racing
- June 16 = Sat Late Model / Charger / Mini / School Bus Racing
- June 23 = Sat Late Model / Charger / Mini / Drifting
- June 30 = Sat Closed
- July 3 = Tue 100 Lap $2000 to win Late Model / Charger / Mini - Massive Fireworks Display
- July 7 = Sat Late Model / Charger / Mini / Skid Plate Racing
- July 14 = Sat Late Model / Charger / Mini / School Bus Racing
- July 21= Sat Super Truck / Charger / Mini / Drifting
- July 28 = Sat Late Model / Charger / Mini / Vintage Cars
- Aug 2 = Thu 100 Lap $2000 to win Late Model / Charger / Mini / Skid Plate Racing
- Aug 11 = Sat CARS Series / Charger / Mini / School Bus Racing
- Aug 18 = Sat Super Truck / Charger / Mini / Drifting
- Aug 25 = Sat Closed
- Sept 1 = Sat 100 Lap $2000 to win Late Model / Charger / Mini / Skid Plate Racing
- Oct 6 = Sat 100 Lap $2000 to win Late Model / Charger / Mini / Bus Racing
- Nov 15-18 = Thu-Sun NASCAR Late Model Stock / Southeast Late Model / Super Truck / Charger / Mini
Update, March 2, 2012: A busier race track will, inevitably, mean more noise for those living near the Myrtle Beach Speedway, and they're not happy.
For years, the Myrtle Beach Speedway hasn't produced much noise on non-race weekends. Now that there will be more frequent activity with the new NASCAR Racing Experience, nearby residents are concerned. You can read the full write-up in this story from the Sun News. It also details the anticipated schedule of operations through the end of 2012.
An interesting note here is that the county noise ordinance law mentioned in the Sun News story gives exemption to sporting events. Noise coming from the track has mostly been limited to actual races, with only the occasional sounds of someone testing during the week. The president and CEO of the NASCAR Racing Experience has attempted to calm the fears of those who are worried, assuring them that the there will only be a few cars on the track at once and the engines being used aren't of the same caliber of those used in real Sprint Cup racing events.
I'll be the first to agree that a few cars on the track makes a lot less noise than a whole field of racers. I'll also agree that varying levels of horsepower will greatly affect the noise, as well. Still, I've been around enough tracks and race situations, including a similar driving school with comparable equipment, to know that the volume of even one car is considerable.
So here are the points to ponder as this story develops.
1. Should the operations of the race track still fall under the "sporting event" exemption since there has been a shift from an occasional to regular schedule?
2. How much consideration should the new owners give nearby residents given the reasonable assumption that choosing to live near a race track comes with noise?
One option mentioned in the story is a fence to limit the noise level. Hopefully this or something along those lines will help residents and new track owners reach a happy middle ground.
First report: Myrtle Beach Speedway has new owners, a coming attraction, and high hopes for more checkered flags flying high above the grand stands.
The Sun News reported that the Myrtle Beach Speedway was recently contracted for sale to the Speedway Group, Inc. That group is made up of Leonard Ray Watts, owner of Apex Homes; Bob Lutz, president and CEO of the NASCAR Racing Experience; and Marshall Biddle, president of the local Biddle Law Firm. With them they'll bring a new attraction - the NASCAR Racing Experience.
While a significant investment is required to bring the speedway up to standards that will allow stock cars formerly driven by some of the Sprint Cup's biggest drivers, the soon-to-be new owners are confident that the installation of SAFER barriers, new fencing, and a possible repaving of the track itself will raise the bar and bring in the dollars. The NASCAR Racing Experience currently runs at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Auto Club Motor Speedway (Fontana, CA), Charlotte Motor Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway (Joliet, IL), Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kentucky Speedway (Sparta, KY), Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, TX), our own Darlington Raceway, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. What's interesting about this line-up is that they all host the highest series in NASCAR, the Sprint Cup. Hopefully this is just step one in keeping our local racing series running throughout the year, adding a unique attraction for locals and tourists, and attracting bigger series, such as ARCA Racing or the Camping World Truck Series.
Read more about how Andre Bauer, former South Carolina Lt. Governor and candidate for the coveted 7th Congressional Seat, helped the project along in this Sun News article. Also check out TheDigitel's Myrtle Beach Speedway topic page for continuing coverage of events and news.
Below is a video, complete with a ditty from the Days of Thunder soundtrack, featuring one lucky driver's day on the track with the NASCAR Racing Experience.