From sprint cars to NASCAR, there’s something going on every summer weekend
at Douglas County Speedway.
Story by Doug Pedersen, Photos by Thomas Boyd
Nothing is simple about a left turn at high speed. Watching a skilled NASCAR driver barrel toward those oncoming corners, just inches from an unforgiving wall and six other drivers, can turn anyone into a racing fan.
At least that’s what Rob Thomas is hoping as he and his crew of volunteers get the Douglas County Speedway ready for another season of close calls and high-speed finishes.
The speedway at Douglas County Fairgrounds is a paved, slightly banked oval four-tenths of a mile around. During the spring and summer, it hosts everything from go-karts to a NASCAR Pro Series West race among its weekly Saturday events.
And a full racing calendar is just what Thomas likes.
“There’s a race of some kind every weekend all summer long, including sprint cars and fun events like the boat and trailer races,” Thomas says. “Plus, NASCAR comes to our oval every year with the K&N Pro Series West.”
Thomas is the guy who coordinates everything at the speedway. He’s currently the president of the Pacific Racing Association, which operates the oval. He’s also pit boss at every speedway event.
That’s when he’s not at his day job as program director and morning host on 101 KSKR-FM. Thomas is the heart, mind and soul of Douglas County Speedway.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West has raced at the Douglas County Speedway off and on since 1968. Originally known as Winston West, and later the Camping World series, it’s a regional tour of smaller tracks in the western U.S. Speeds can reach more than 100 mph, and several NASCAR drivers, including Kevin Harvick, are veterans of the circuit.
The 2018 event is scheduled for Saturday, June 30, and will feature Derek Kraus, the series’ Rookie of the Year last year and a fan favorite. Only 16, Kraus started racing NASCAR before he could legally drive a car.
“My dad took me to try go-karts when I was 9,” he says. “That’s when I got into racing.”
According to the National Speedway Directory, Oregon is home to eight oval tracks. But Douglas County Speedway is the state’s only paved oval and the only track to host an annual NASCAR event.
Racing at Douglas County Speedway has produced some local celebrities and stories.
“‘Grandpa’ Roy Harvey is one of our longtime local racers who crashed a few years back,” Thomas says. “He flipped his car over the wall and into the parking lot. Everyone thought he died.”
Harvey was 83 at the time, but it was only after that crash that he decided to stop racing. He’s become one of the speedway’s active volunteers and its go-to historian with 45 years’ experience on the oval.
A current driver is Monte Cox, owner of Oakland Auto.
“The first time I ever raced was in a sprint car,” Cox says. “I was hooked.”
Along with his automotive career, Cox is a past president of Pacific Racing Association and knows what fans want to see at the speedway.
People want to see something new every weekend,” he says. “That’s what brings them out.”
This season’s program includes fundraisers for local charities.
“The racing community is amazing,” Thomas says. “One of our longtime volunteers is currently dying of cancer. We’re going to be raising money for her family to help pay some of the bills. Race for a Cause will be here to help out, too.”
While they might be adversaries on the track, it’s clear that members of the racing community come together to help one another.
“A local racing family lost most of their cars, trophies, tools and a lot more to a fire last year,” Thomas says. “The community came together, helped them clean up and urged them to get back into the race.”
The Douglas County Speedway is part of the fairgrounds complex off Interstate 5. The racing schedule and more information are available online at douglascountyspeedway.com.