Historic venues in any sport are viewed by fans and competitors with a certain reverence. The opportunity to watch or compete on the same grounds as legendary athletes before them draws a certain alure. One of those historic venues in our sport, is the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track.
The half-mile oval at the Vigo County Fairgrounds could fill multiple Halls of Fame with the legendary drivers who have raced there. Everybody from A.J. Foyt to Kyle Larson have turned laps on the wide half mile oval. Generations of people in the sport have witnessed some of the most historic moments in our sport on television broadcasts such as Wide World of Sports, ESPN Thunder, TNN and other networks.
In January, it was announced that legacy would be guided over the next several seasons by Bernie Stuebgen and Scott Ronk. Stuebgen is best known as the proprietor of Indy Race Parts and Ronk as the owner of Chalk Racing Stix. Both have dabbled in race promotion in the past, renting other facilities. Now they can use the track at Terre Haute to truly mold their vision.
That molding started immediately with a bold, visible improvement with the removal of the concrete-block wall around the outside of the corners of the speedway, with a nine-foot guardrail similar to the one at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway installed in its place. Some of those blocks have been relocated to the backstretch to form a tall barrier level to the racing surface with proper anchoring.
Stuebgen and Ronk had crews working late into the night this offseason to complete the task before the opening event of the season.
For track preparation, Stuebgen and Ronk enlisted one of the most respected and sought-after track preparation experts on the planet, Reece O’Connor from Kokomo Speedway. With O’Connor doing the preparation, it is safe to state that watching sprint cars slide sideways from Terre Haute’s infield, which is a rare feature available with general admission in the Midwest, will be as spectacular as ever.
Other facility improvements included tearing down the turn-one tower. While providing the iconic view for most of video you see of Terre Haute, the tower had become dilapidated in recent years and needed to go for safety reasons. Cleaning up the pit area and tidying up other aesthetics to help give the facility a cleaner, more polished look have all been accomplished.
Improvements are evident on the schedule as well. For example, the Tony Hulman Classic featuring the USAC National Sprint Car Series was at one time one of the highest-paying sprint car races in the country, along with one of the most prestigious. To help raise the event’s profile, the Hulman Classic will feature two nights of racing with a $10,000-to-win finale for the USAC sprint cars.
From the fan side, the group immediately started reaching out to the fan base to find out what they were looking for in the facility. Using social media channels, the promotional group sampled what their fan base was looking for in concessions and even organizing a paint day with fans to help spruce up the grounds.
Considering the deal was not formally announced until late January, the new promotional group has made tremendous headway in a short amount of time with less-than-ideal weather. The ambition does not appear to stop this year, as there have been discussions of more improvements to the facility in the future, including an attempt to revive some events such as the Hut 100.
The result of all the hard work is the most hype I’ve seen for a season at Terre Haute since the days of the Non-Wing World Championships during the late 1990s. Most of this hype has been built using social media with standard tools available to anyone with a basic computer or smartphone.
The most impressive aspect of this is that Stuebgen, Ronk and O’Conner didn’t have to take this on. All of them have more than enough on their plate racing wise to keep them busy. Instead, they all chose to take Terre Haute Action Track and make sure it has the improvements needed to help ensure it will be available for future generations to enjoy.