I know that variations of this story have been told several times already, but here’s my view of how the dream of one man made the dreams of every racer and fan in the area come true. Not much more than a year ago the area racing world was buzzing with rumors and stories about some “crazy guy” planning to open up an old overgrown race track that had been closed for over 30 years. I remember some of those conversations quite well, and many of them weren't very positive in nature. Most of us didn’t quite understand how the hell somebody could even think about competing with the established tracks in the area. After all, there are only so many racers in this area, and only so many nights a week open to racing. If this was to really happen, this new track would have to offer something that the other tracks didn’t offer. Well, there was something missing the past few years at some other tracks, and most racers and fans were more than aware of it. Apparently, this “crazy guy” was aware of it too.
Curiosity got the best of me and I made the trip down to see the progress for myself last fall, and I remember thinking this thing was years away from being opened up. I couldn’t help but wonder if the owner would actually see it through to completion. There were junk cars and trucks as far as I could see, and the outline of the old track was barely visible. What made a man think he could turn this into a race track, much less a successful one, by next season was beyond me. When the start of the ’06 season was creeping up on us, and we heard one delay story after another, it was easy to write this thing off as a dream that wasn’t meant to be. I remember shooting the breeze in the pits of the other tracks, trying to keep up with the latest rumors of this new track. Hell, we heard everything from they would be the first to open in 2006, to they would never get opened up. I remember discussions of how this was all just a pipe dream. We heard that the new owner was also once a racer and we hoped that it wouldn’t turn out like the situation at “some other track” where the owner’s racing preferences seemed to interfere with running a race track fairly. No, we were told that this guy was different, and that he didn’t wear “late model goggles”. I guess most of us have learned not to trust track owners so much over the years, so I know that I wasn’t the only one that was less than eager to believe that this new track would become this “racer’s paradise” that we were hearing about, even if it did finally open up. Over the years, we have all heard people hype a track with new owners and such, only to be lead further down hill when it was all said and done. Why would this one be any different?
This one would be different because of the attitude of this “crazy guy” and the attitude of all of those that he surrounded himself with. I’ve always said that in order for any owner to have a successful race track, that they must focus on the racing program first, and the business end of it will certainly follow. That means make the racers and fans feel at home and like part of the family, and the money situation should take care of itself. Other tracks have tried to use the racers as their promoters in the past, but when the racers figured out that it was a one way street, that quickly failed. Now, no race track can keep everybody happy every week, but this is where they need to put their strongest effort if they want to be successful in the long run. The owners and staff had a totally different attitude than any other track in recent history. They actually cared more about putting on the show, than just making money. I honestly believe that this is exactly what helped to put this new track on the tips of so many tongues all season long. Word of mouth is the cheapest and most effective form of advertising, especially in the days of racing websites and forums. Of course that works with good news as well as bad news, as other tracks have learned the hard way over the years. I can’t remember any track in the history of my website that survived an entire season without at least one story hammering them for something major. That was until this “crazy guy” turned a rundown junkyard into the race track we’ve all been waiting for. Hats off to Hilltop for pulling that off!
By now you know that “crazy guy” is Jeff Norris, and the track is Hilltop Speedway. I recently asked Jeff just what the hell made him decide to take on this task, and he couldn’t have said it any more bluntly. He said you either act on your dreams or die wishing you had. Well, there’s a lesson there for all of us I guess, and I for one, am very glad that he stepped up and acted on his dream. His dream turned out to become what all racers had been dreaming about for years. A race track with a true family atmosphere, and awesome racing action. The proof of this winning formula could be seen each week on the track and in the stands. Hilltop drew some big guns from all around the area, and they put on one hell of a battle with the best of our local guys every lap. The involvement of the racers and the fans was clearly shown on special event nights such as Kid’s Night. While most tracks manage to get 10 or 20 bikes donated for their giveaway, Hilltop was able to give away over 100 bikes, along with many other prizes, due to the support of the faithful Hilltop racers and fans. Jeff is always clear about sharing the credit for the success of their first season too. He had plenty of help in making this all happen, and he’s humble enough to know it. Without a great staff with the right attitude, and the most loyal fans and racers I’ve seen in years, this season could have gone in a totally different direction, and Jeff is fully aware of that. I suppose all of this sounds like a fairy tale or something, but that might be because it’s not what we’ve come to expect from our local race track. Years of disappointment have lead us to believe that we just had to learn to live with what they offered us, and should be happy that they offer us a place to race. Well, as long as Hilltop can keep up their current business plan, the others will have to look into making some changes of their own if they want to keep up. Here’s to hoping this ride never ends!
You would think that the folks at Hilltop might see the success of their first season as a chance to coast a bit, and everything will be fine for next season automatically. That’s not the case. When I stopped by recently, it was clear that they have bigger and better plans for the future. The seating they installed just last year has all been removed to make room for improved seating arrangements. They’re also working on expanding the parking and pit areas. The expansion will certainly be needed if Jeff’s plans for the ’07 season work out. He’s working on lining up some major shows while still focusing on taking care of the local racers that support his track. He understands that while it’s nice to see the big names show up for special events, it’s the weekly racers that keep the stands full the rest of the year, so they’re never neglected in any of his plans. Now, that’s a nice change of pace if ya ask me. I'll be heading back down to the track soon to catch up on the latest developements and I'll try to keep you all posted. Is it racing season yet???
Thanks goes out to K-Race Photo for the great action shots as always!