CHICO — Sprint cars and hobby stock car racers returned to the Silver Dollar Speedway Friday night, for the first dirt track race since Oct. 1, 2021, for the John Padjen Classic Silver Cup.
When race fans last came out to the speedway for the Fall Nationals event, the speedway may have looked slightly different. New promotors Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet and Colby Copeland and SLC Promotions took over for the previous promotor Dennis Gage and the group is looking to revamp the fan experience at Silver Dollar Speedway.
“I think it’s just a whole new era, a whole new personnel, a whole new mindset. We’re trying to be very fan-friendly, try to curate an atmosphere and environment that’s keeping up with how things in the world are changing,” Sweet said. “The younger generation is looking for a different type of entertainment than maybe the old traditional race fans, so it’s a balancing act. We want the traditional fans that have always come out and supported the races to come out and have a good time, but we want to add some elements for the younger crowd.”
One of the biggest changes the group is aiming to work towards is an earlier finish time, in addition to new food and beverage options around the track. The early finish time was made difficult Friday night due to the sporadic rain which began at approximately 3:30 p.m., causing more track preparation to be needed to prepare for the main event.
Just as hot laps and qualifying were beginning, a hint of rain fell for approximately 15 minutes, but it did not delay racing. Still, race officials did all they could to speed up the time of racing, including having two racers qualify at a time instead of the usual one.
“The days of race fans coming here and spending six hours, from 4:30-11:30, those days are over. Whether it’s young or old, California fans are different than maybe a fan in Ohio,” said Silver Dollar Speedway track veteran Andy Forsberg.
Forsberg discussed that it’s a balancing act not just for young and old race fans, but also between pleasing the drivers and the fans. Forsberg said either racers get all the time in the world and fans sit around until the main event, or “shortcut us and you put on a quick show for the fans, so it’s kind of a win versus reward deal and nobody’s happy.”
“If we get no fans then what the heck are we doing this for,” Forsberg added.
One of the other big changes at the racetrack Friday was one of the speedway’s largest food and beverage sponsors in 2022. Farmers Brewing Company will not just have a 360-winged sprint car racing in most races, but their beer is one of the first local beers to be offered at the speedway and the official beer sponsor for SDS in 2022.
At Saturday’s race, there will be a happy hour with one dollar off beers from 3-5 p.m., with a DJ before races begin at 6 p.m. Chef Julio Mojica has been hired to revamp the menu at the racetrack as well. A kid’s zone with a bounce house will also be a part of the new-look speedway.
Friday’s event featured 45 360-winged sprint cars, including the Fall Nationals winner Caleb Henry and SDS track veterans Forsberg, Justin Sanders, Willie Croft, Ryan Bernal, Sean Becker, Korey Lovell and Shane Golobic. Other racers included those from all around California, Oregon, and Idaho, as well as DJ Freitas from Kapolei, Hawaii and Dillon Paddock from Savannah, New York.
The crowd watches the 40th Silver Cup Race of Champions at the Silver Dollar Speedway March 4, 2022, in Chico, California. (Matt Bates/Enterprise-Record)
Fred Dickey races around the track during the 40th Silver Cup Race of Champions at the Silver Dollar Speedway March 4, 2022, in Chico, California. (Matt Bates/Enterprise-Record)
The Fall Nationals champ Henry finished with the fastest lap in qualifying for the 360-winged sprint cars and began the 24-car main event in the front spot. In the 30 laps main event there were four restarts due to crashes causing yellow flags, before Justin Sanders in the Farmers Brewing Company car crossed the finished line first. Kaleb Montgomery finished second and Forsberg finished third.
Looking forward to the rest of the season of races, Forsberg said he’s excited to see what SLC Promotions can bring to the racing season at Silver Dollar Speedway.
“The previous promoter he pretty much just opened the doors and made things work as good as it could and just kind of rinse and repeat it. These guys they’re in it for the long haul,” Forsberg said. “They want to raise things progressively better race by race. It’s not much different tonight than it was at the fall nationals, but the next time we come back it’ll be a little different, and the next time we come back it’ll be a little different…You got to eat an elephant one bite at a time so that’s what they’re trying to do.”
The Silver Cup will continue at 6 p.m. Saturday, with gates opening at 3 p.m. for happy hour.
After Saturday, Silver Dollar Speedway’s next event will be a two-day Monster Truck event on April 8 and 9, before the first 410-winged sprint car race of the season on April 29 for the Bill Brownell and Tommy Herseth Classic. Sweet said he will be present and racing for the 4th of July race in Chico, as well as the Gold Cup beginning September 7.