The Surfnsprint Interview
Don Kazarian
October 27th, 2010

Prologue by surfnsprint:
I must say I am aligned with the promoters. The drivers are important, but discretionary; they can come and go at will. The fans are even more important, but also discretionary in the sense that sprint car racing is not experiencing a wave of popularity. But for this time honored sport to survive, you must have promoters who are committed to a career of producing races. Under the dark economic constraints of a harsh recession, I sat down with the owner of Perris Auto Speedway and discussed the current state and future prospects of sprint car racing in Southern California. Listen to the pain and the pride of the last 410 non-wing promoter west of the Mississippi. Will the wolf survive?

" look at the car inventory of the 360's versus the 410's, doesn't take a genius to figure out that eventually it's all going to be 360's. It's just a matter of time. How long can I hold onto the 410's with the lack of car count and the lack of huge fan support, I can't answer that question."

Don, what is your sprint car program for 2011?

As of right now, we are staying with USAC/CRA 410ís. There havenít been any official changes to that. I donít know how many shows weíll have this year, I am in preliminary talks with USAC and I donít expect to release a schedule probably until mid-December. Historically I have always released the schedule on Saturday night of the Oval Nationals but with everything thatís going on between the economy and everything else, Iím going to wait until the middle of December to release the schedule.

Do you hope to have more shows next year or might it be less?

Odds are that itís going to be less. What Iím looking to see is where USAC can place more dates with other racetracks with the 410ís. Itís been tough to book 410 shows. I think weíll get into that a little further down, but, you know the economics of the 410ís as far as the events isnít working for the other promoters. Half the time it isnít working for me and there is a whole set of issues there. So, I expect to meet with USAC by next week, Kevin Miller will be here and we will be talking about all of the aspects of the shows from the purse structure, from the sanction fees, to the end of the years points fund for each show and weíll look at the whole thing and see what we can come up with. The purse itself, it probably needs to be cut for tracks to survive. Paying a purse thatís basically on a thirty two to forty car field for a twenty two car field doesnít work; the pit revenue isnít there to offset the purse. I know that the car owners and drivers arenít eager to cut the purse, but itís a fact of reality. Itís just the way the times are. But again, as of right now, I have no other plans than to bring in the USAC/CRA boys next year, ten, twelve timesí maybe maximum and thatís including the three days of the Oval Nationals. So it will probably be once a month and I donít plan to open the race track until the middle of March next year, Iím not going to run in February.

That was a reduced schedule this year, did that help?

It actually helped more last year, because we went to the reduced schedule actually two years ago and the attendance was up more than this year. I think the economy is hurting people more this year than last year and weíre seeing it both at the back gate and the front gate. Three years ago when we ran every other week, that was a total disaster because it gave the fan more of a chance to miss the show and know that they could come back in two weeks and see the guys again. It gave them more choices and the attendance was down even further at that point. Now if they miss a show, now theyíve got to go another month so theyíre going to go two months in between seeing the USAC boys. One of the aspects thatís hurt the USAC show by running twenty two to twenty five events a year, the ďstarsĒ have gone off and run other series. Youíll see them at Victorville or Santa Maria or Ventura, Hanford, Tulare. The days of the USAC/CRA of going back to SCRA, of going back to CRA, of this is the big leagues, this is where the stars are, isnít there anymore. And thatís also hurting USAC/ CRA because you can go see these guys race anywhere else. You canít blame them, because if there are only four to twenty races a year where they used to race forty two, they gotta make a living. You know some of these guys are looking at this as a source of revenue; they gotta go run forty two times a year. But the days of 2003, 2004, going back to 2003, the last year CRA was running forty two to forty four 410 shows a year, theyíre over. Theyíre over. There arenít enough racetracks to run them. Weíve lost Manzanita, we used to run them seven, eight times a year. Guys donít want to travel that much. One racetrack canít support it. I tried it in 2006 was the last year, in 2008 was the last year I tried to run twenty two to twenty four 410 shows for the year, it did everything but break me. Tough economics.

Where do you hope to see sprint cars and Perris in two years, in three years?

I want the sprint cars to return to be the A show, to be a special show, to be something that people are looking forward to. I think this industry is going to go through some major changes in the next two to four years. I think itís only a matter of time before 360ís become a reality here. Iím one of the last tracks running a continuous 410 non-wing program. I donít know if it can survive. Whether itís the economy that gets it, the lack of sponsorship gets it, lack of support from the fans, or the car count. Realistically, there is probably only thirty to thirty five 410 cars inventory in this market place now, where five years ago, there were probably sixty. And then you look at the car inventory of the 360ís versus the 410ís, doesnít take a genius to figure out that eventually itís all going to be 360ís. Itís just a matter of time. How long can I hold onto the 410ís with the lack of car count and the lack of huge fan support, I canít answer that question.

My next question was ďAre 410ís viable in the current economic conditions?Ē I think you just answered it.

No, no they are not. Weíve run to date, what, I think twelve shows, weíve lost money on eighty percent of the shows, theyíre not economically viable. Thatís why the other promoters, when we went from SCRA to USAC in 2004 I had Manzanita on board, I had Jimmy Naylor on board, Keith Hall was still promoting at Manzanita, he had agreed to take seven dates, Jimmy had agreed to take his four dates at Ventura, we had Bakersfield on board, we had Santa Maria on board, we had Hanford on board, we had Tulare on board. Three years after running USAC, there was no Manzanita, there was no Bakersfield, there was one day at Santa Maria, there was one possible day at Ventura every other year and I was left holding the bag. Thatís when I went from fourteen events to twenty two trying to take up the slack. And that was the biggest mistake I ever made, the biggest mistake. The reason why the guys quit running, they lose money. Every other track has got a 360 division now or some type of 360 sanctioning body to go to. As a promoter, whatís a promoter going to do, heís a businessman. Heís going to bring in the 360ís knowing heís going to make money, or break even, or lose a little, or bring in the 410ís and know heís going to get killed. Itís a tough scenario; it just became uneconomical to run them. Iíve tried to explain that to the car owners and the drivers of USAC, itís just a fact of life.

What are your personal feelings about 360ís versus 410ís, thereís a lot of 410 purists‚Ķ

Iím a 410 purist. Thatís where my family came from when we were car owners. I think a long as they donít run together, on the same night, Iím not saying on the same racetrack but weíve done it here before where weíve run 360ís and then you run the 410ís, I think from a purist eye, yeah, you can tell the difference between a 360 and a 410. Come main event time, you canít tell any difference, theyíre running the same track times. You know once the track slicks off a little bit, then the 360 can hook up, they can get that car hooked up, itís the same show. Do you hear the same rumble of the car, maybe not. Are they still racing side by side or three abreast in the corners, yes. The two ASCS shows we had here this year, they were great shows. From the heat races to the main events, they were great shows. From a 410 purist, I would still like to see 410ís.

What is the basis of your 410 purism?

Itís the extra power, itís knowing itís the best, the most powerful piece of equipment you can put on the racetrack. But, like I said, when your pushing the corner, eventually youíve gotta make a decision. Being the last 410 non wing sprint car track that I know of west of the Mississippi, you know, itís tough! Itís tough.

Are you considering a 360 program?

Thereís been discussions. You know Iíve talked to everybody from Emmet Hahn, Iíve talked to Jim Naylor, Iíve talked to Chris Kearns, Iíve talked to USAC. There hasnít been anything put in concrete in this point or any proposals, but I think Iíd be a fool not to listen. The problem with the 360ís is itís too fragmented right now. Thatís the problem throughout all short tracks, starting from factory stock divisions, through Modifieds, through street stocks, all the way to sprint cars. Thereís too many choices. Thereís too many classes. Thereís a pool of x number of racers out there in the marketplace, whether itís a hundred or a thousand. When we started this racetrack in í96 we had a street stock class. That was it and we averaged close to sixty street stocks a night. From there we went into five different stock car divisions. We took the same pool of racers and spread em over five divisions. The same thingís happened in sprint cars. Thereís x number of teams out there in sprint cars and sprint car drivers. Then we fragmented. Youíve got ASCS over in Arizona which now basically controls Arizona. Back in the good ole days Arizona boys had 410ís and they come run here and the California drivers would go over there. Those days are gone. You donít get Arizona guys coming into California any more. You got Jimmy up in Ventura with his stand alone set of rules, that donít conform to anything. So heís got his toys to stay within his backyard. You got Chris Kearns that started the West Coast 360ís under USAC with a set of rules that, ok, yeah, the ASCS guys can come and run and yeah, the USAC guys can go run ASCS, in reality thatís not happening. Thereís no cross pollination there. When we ran ASCS here, we had a few of his USAC 360 guys come down, we had guys from Victorville come down, of course we had as many as twenty two Arizona cars show up. So that was the first time we had any cross pollination of sprint cars, itís just way too fragmented and specifically the last night we ran ASCS here we had I think twenty nine cars here, Jimmy had twenty nine or thirty and Chris Kearns had about equal the same. That one night we had eighty three 360ís running in California, within five hours of each other. Now, as a promoter, that tells me that if you could get everybody to work together, which is tough to do in this business, Iíd be happy to have eighty sprint cars here once a month. Thatís a dream! Knowing that without one person sitting in the grandstands, youíre going to be profitable, youíre going to make some money. It takes the pressure off you to get the fans in, which is a tough deal right now. You see it in Nascar all the way down to the short tracks. People arenít letting go out of their wallets right now. The 360 deal needs to be consolidated to make it successful, otherwise itís going to be in the same boat, everybodyís going to be fighting over not only the race cars but the fans. And nobody wins.

So is there going to be coordinated sprint car rules and schedules with Perris and Ventura and Santa Maria? Will you be meeting with those track operators?

Iíve talked to Jim a couple of times, I will meet with him if he wants to meet, I know he wants to meet. Iíve talked to Chris Kearns numerous times and Iíll be talking with him this afternoon, not only on 360ís, I want to find out how his spectator races are going, where heís actually allowing people to come out of the stands and race a couple of laps on match races. Do I think it can happen? At best, I think the West Coast USAC 360ís, and if I run 360ís next year on a limited basis or full time basis, I know I can get together with Chris. My goal is to not only get together with Chris but also with Arizona cars under ASCS somehow. I think Jimmy is going to be a tough sell, he always has been. Iíll be blunt; Jimmy always does whatís good for Jimmy. Heís got a decent thing going there with his 360ís and I donít blame him. You gotta do what you gotta do. But I just think heís going to push his hard tire on everybody, I donít think thatís the answer. But weíll see, weíll see.

Would you include Victorville, Hanford, Bakersfield and Tulare in those discussions regarding coordinated rules and schedules?

Sure, Iíd love to talk to Mike (Victorville). I donít think, heís not on the same level as those other racetracks. I donít think he can afford a legitimate 360 purse whether itís from seven thousand to ten thousand dollars, I donít think his track can support it. All the rest, sure they can. But in a perfect world it would be nice to have one series like there used to be back in the old CRA days, where cars travelled throughout those racetracks and everybody had their dates and nobody was stepping on each other. In reality, itís going to be tough to do with all the fragmentation of the different series that are out there. And scheduling is tough.

In regards to sprint cars, you can be USAC/CRA, ASCS or form your own sanction. Do you have any comments regarding those options? Are you interested in your own sanction?

Weíve taken a look at it. But I still go back to when we switch from CRA to USAC, to be successful, youíve got to have five or six tracks in your sanctioning body. I have no interest in being a Ventura right now, just running my own sprint cars. That doesnít interest me. I donít think in the long term my racetrack can survive doing that. My racetrackís got its own set of economic hurdles to get over. You canít compare this track to say, a Ventura, or Victorville, where people say you charge this much in Victorville, why canít you charge this much. Well my electrical bill is different than Victorville, my insurance is different, everything is different. I pride myself on trying to look at the big picture, because we built this place to showcase sprint car racing, Iím not putting down VRA or anything, but, to just have a series that runs here only, I donít think long term can survive. You donít develop fans in other regions where you can bring them together two or three times a year for one big show like the Oval Nationals. Otherwise, it just becomes another race.

What are your feeling on handicapping the 410ís and running them with 360ís?

If it be done and be competitive, I think it a way of possibly allowing the guys to burn their 410ís up but I donít think itís a long term solution. Everyone that Iíve talked to, and Iím not a motor man, I mean you can reduce the horsepower and get them on an even keel. But thereís the bottom end torque that the 410ís are still going to have and on this racetrack, theyíre going to be highly superior to a 360. Racetracks like Ventura, you can probably make them competitive, but likely here with the corner speed you need, 410ís will always kill 360ís no matter what they do. Itís been done, itís been tried to be done years ago, unless somebody comes up with something new. Like I said, I think its a way of allowing guys to use their 410ís up and not pushing them to go out and buy 360ís. Whether it will give them a half a year or a year to burn up their 410ís, I donít know.

What is the viability of Perris in the face of this recession and these encroaching tract developments around you? Do you feel endangered?

No. From the development..not at all. Weíve had one noise complaint in the last ten years. And that was the year we ran the Oval Nationals, I think the checkered flag went down at 12:45! We deserved to get noise complaints running that far past curfew As long as we stay within the curfew, try to stay within the noise limitations; weíre not going to see any problems.

How about the recession?

Itís been tough, real tough, for everybody. Trying to get money out of sponsors, and this business, our business, we pride ourselves on sponsorship revenue, itís not there anymore. Out of the thirty-five or thirty-six signs we have up around the racetrack, eleven of them have some sort of revenue source tied to them, the rest are trade outs or favors and the revenue thatís tied to those boards is about twenty cents on the dollar compared to what they used to be. Thatís tough, really tough, which puts the pressure on the back gate which puts the pressure on the front gate. We donít get any parking revenue here. We have concessions but by the time we pay the fairís percentage, which is twenty-two on alcohol, twenty-five percent on food and then pay my concessionaire, we make about ten or twelve percent on concessions. So people always tell me, why donít you give free tickets away and make more on concessions like a movie theater, itís not there. If I sell a twenty dollar ticket at the front gate, I have to give the fairgrounds twenty percent of that. So they get four bucks, so I got sixteen dollars left over. To make that sixteen dollars in concessions, that person has got to spend one hundred and forty to one hundred and sixty dollars in concessions. So it isnít there, itís not there. Concession sales this year are way down. We have given a lot of free tickets away through sponsors and through promotions whether we are at California Speedway or Route 66, I mean thereís some nights weíll have ten thousand free tickets out. Do we see them back, weíre lucky to get less than ten percent or maybe five percent. When we get them here people arenít spending money, theyíre not buying concessions, concessions are down over fifty percent from historical numbers. Yeah, I mean, itís tough. The only to survive is if you keep cutting your costs and overhead and your support staff and everything you can down to the toilet paper and paper towels. You look for the best deal you can! Thatís the only thing you can do. But is this track going to be profitable this year? No way. Last year it was, this year, no.

Is the track going to survive?

With the support of my family, primarily my father and myself, yeah itíll survive. There are five Kazarians in this company. Without myself or my father; this track wouldnít survive, because the other three Kazarians have not supported it in almost eight to ten years.

"...... there's always that hope that maybe there's a partner that comes along, maybe there's a Tony Stewart, maybe there's a Jimmy Johnson, Kevin Harvick that will come in, whether they buy one-hundred percent of it, whether they buy a percentage of it, but just put their name on it, now you have something that millions of people in LA can relate to."

Was Ascot profitable?

I think in itís mid to early years it was very profitable, I think towards the end, you know. Iíve asked the Agajanians, you know when JC Sr. passed away, I think when the boys took it over, I think it slowly deteriorated, but they had a whole different business model. Different time, different location, definitely different location. When we did our business plan on this venture in late í95, í96, we thought we were going to run sixty-three to seventy events a year. We thought we were going to be like Ascot or like a Mid-Western track. We thought when school is out, we would roll into racing Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night and run a Sunday program. We tried it the first year, disaster. Number one, you canít get here on a weeknight. Sundays are tough. Early í96, í97 we had a fan base that was commuting, the old Ascot Gardena fan base in South Bay, Manhattan Beach, that area, they were commuting out here. We had two, three years of them driving eighty five miles each way, you could see that fan base dying off and eroding and we had to replace it with a new fan base out here. Now that new fan base is hurting because weíre sitting in probably eighteen to twenty percent unemployment in Riverside County. They donít have the funds to come out here on a continuous basis. They may come here two or three times a year when they used to come here ten or twelve times a year. So, itís a very, very tough market place. When I look at my financials, this will tell you how tough a market place it is, and we run very lean here. Weíve found a way to run very lean, because we donít have a whole lot of employees. But when you take a look at my financials and you take a look at front and back gate revenue versus what weíve played out in purses, it almost equals itself. Then you pile on insurance, utilities, ambulance, fire truck, thereís a host of about sixty different cost items to an event all the way down to the toilet paper supplies. If you took the purses and the racerís racing for free here and not the four hundred thousand and odd dollars we are going to pay in purses here, the racetrack is still not profitable this year. So that will tell you the economic situation.

Do you foresee any changes to the Oval Nationals format in the coming years?

Weíve got one this year! I put it out about four weeks ago and the only comment I got was how are they going to give away B main points here and we havenít really figured that out yet. On Saturday night instead of running the traditional B main, starting twenty four cars and taking the top twelve out of it, I guess you call this the new Dave Darland format, because Dave got taken out in the B main last year and I think he took a provisional in the Main but started way in the back, but his car was hurt so bad he wasnít competitive. Weíve decided to take the twenty-four cars that qualify for the B Main and run three 8 car heat races and split the field up. Thereís probably nothing better than the heat races here Thursday and especially Friday night, where youíve got all the guys from the Mid West and the hall of famers, I mean the line ups are incredible! The stands are pretty thin on Thursday and Friday nights, traditionally always have been. Itís an idea of trying to show the fans the quality of the heat races theyíre missing on Friday night and Thursday night and also eliminate the collateral damage to some of the cars that more than likely should go to the A Main. I think it will make for more of an exciting show on Saturday night, because just running a C, a B and an A can kind of make for a longer evening whereas the fast pace of heat races and action within the heat races I think will energize the show a little more, so we made that change. How we are going to award B main points, I think we can figure that out.

Do you see it staying as a three day show or might you trim it down?

I was asked this year to trim it down and I refused to do it. I think it kills the show, part of the show is watching the guys having to work through three nights of racing. Typically, promoters will split the field and half the cars will run one night and half the cars will run another night and then they bring them all back together Saturday night. This is the only show that I know of in the nation that forces the guys to run all three nights. There is a lot of drama in watching the guys run all three nights. When we instituted the point system that made for even more drama. Thereís a lot of emphasis on not only qualifying, but the points awarded in the qualifying and the points in the heat races, thatís what drives the quality of the heat races. There is no other qualifying session that I look forward to more than the Oval Nationals. Watching fifty cars qualify and watching how close it gets and they know that ten points is huge to be fast time, itís huge. As long as we can get upwards of fifty cars, I think weíre sitting on fifty or fifty-two cars right now; itís always going to be a three-day show.

Youíve been a promoter for fifteen years now, how are you holding up?

(laughing) Iíve got a lot more gray hair. Iíve learned a lot. Itís a tough business. This is, again, when we started this I thought, weíre going to run sixty-three days a year, well, Iíve only got to work sixty-three days a year! Wrong. Its seven days a week, thereís always something that has to be done, especially in these tough times. Iím the maintenance man, Iím the janitor, Iím the plumber, Iím the pseudo electrician which I donít like to deal with electricity but I will change the light bulb. Iím not going to change the breakers, fixing fuses and all that stuff. Iím the equipment operator, Iím the mechanic and Iím the lube guy. Every once in a while Iíll bring Charlie (Watson) out to help me, but itís a tough, tough business.

Are you still happy doing it?

Iíd be happier if the business was profitable. Itís hard to be happy when you know youíre going to work and youíre paying to work there. Itís tough to get up in the morning sometimes and go and say ďoh, Iím paying myselfĒ.

The one thing that amazes me at Perris is your fire and safety crew, itís the most professional, organized, aggressive track rescue team Iíve ever seen. How did this come about, tell me about them.

For years we had MedEvent service the track, Carl and Janet, they were highly professional. They ended up selling their business out to a company up in Bishop, California and that service just went downhill. I got a hold of Carl in Idaho and he then turned me onto Dan Gold at Mission Ambulance Company, which is basically an ambulance company, they were not into fire and rescue or race track or event business at all. I met with Dan, the owner of the Mission Ambulance Service, he and Carl were good friends and he decided to get into this industry. All of his personnel are either active Fire Captains, Chiefs, very high up in fire departments or retired. All of his EMTís are highly trained and specialized EMTís. Dan has spent over a hundred thousand dollars outfitting the fire trucks. Having everything he can possibly have to fight whatever type of fire. Mission Ambulance owns those fire trucks. And heís brought some of Carlís old employees back when MedEvent was here as part of the core group and then he has put together his team of people. A lot of the guys are volunteers on the fire trucks. I pay them a flat rate and theyíre good. They take it extremely serious which as a promoter I want them too. The last thing I want them to do is be sitting in the truck eating a hot dog or drinking a Pepsi, not even listening to the radio or watching the races. From saluting the flag during the National Anthem to their cleaning up of an accident and extracting someone out of a car, I have total confidence in them, which is nice.

You have an exceptional trio of track announcers in Scott Daloisio, Chris Holt and Ronnie Everhart. How did that evolve?

When we first opened we had Bruce Flanders as our main announcer, because he was the voice of Ascot. Chris Holt was an infield announcer and Scott was an infield announcer, that was the first trio. When Bruce told us he was going to announce at Irwindale, when Irwindale opened up, we offered the job to Scott. He was kind of sheepish and shy about possible taking it, but we said give it a shot, see what happens. He has evolved into probably the best track announcer in the country. He not only does well in the booth, but, he does his homework, he shows up here every day by two oíclock to go down and talk to the drivers and the teams, find out what the latest scuttlebutt is, he writes articles for the program, he does all of my press releases, heís a godsend. He is basically our publicist and does a fabulous job. Announcing, I give him the grief every once in a while when he gets excited heíll trip, but hardly ever do you hear him trip. Heís just groomed himself into a highly professional announcer. Chris Holt has been here since day one, he was the infield announcer at Ascot for years, just a wonderful guy. Heís been a part of this sport for close to thirty years, heís got a history that goes way back. Now Ronnie, Ronnie started racing here as a Sport Compact driver, was basically a driver. She was probably one of the few women that had any success here. Carol Laney was the first, she won the first stock car race here ever and she was Mike Kirbyís sister. She won the first stock car race here ever in the history. When Ronnie started having success and won the championship in the first year of the Hornets, as we called the Sport Compacts, I asked Scott to ask her about going on the mic, because I wanted a women announcer for the infield. Believe it or not, forty-eight percent of our audience is women, which is incredible for a dirt track. I wanted the women to relate to somebody. So Scott asked her, she and I had a real quick talk. She was reluctant about going on the mic because she had never done it before, but now its six years, what, seven years sheís been doing it, sheís awesome. Sheís developed her own fan base, all the driverís are comfortable with her, itís just, you get the three of them all working together and itís something pretty special.

All of that aside, with Scott, youíre born with a voice like that, thatís an amazing voice.

That is his voice. With some announcers, theyíll talk to you and once the mics turn on theyíll flip to a different voice. Thatís his voice all the time. I call him... I relate him to... heís as good as Vin Scully the baseball announcer, I think Scottís as good as to short track racing as Vin is to baseball.

Who are some of the other significant personalities at Perris; I donít want to put you on the spot because you probably canít mention them all?

Letís start with the tractor, thatís a gentleman by the name of Ray Sheets. He has worked for my family for over thirty-five, thirty-eight years. He was our original race car mechanic when we campaigned the sprint car, when Bubby drove for us and Buster Venard. Ray goes way back to being the crew chief for A.J. Foyt on his dirt cars so his roots are deep into racing. He now only works on race days but he been with me and helping me prepare the race track since day one. I do all the preliminary track prep until race day and then Ray comes in and the two of us take care of the racetrack on Saturday or whatever the race day is.

Who came up with the contraption that he drags around behind him?

In í96 we tried every piece of equipment known to John Deere, Case, Caterpillar; we were looking for something to fluff up the clay. We actually built that ourselves. At that time, we were still in the waste management business, we had a number of welders working in our different operations and Ray and I designed that piece of apparatus and built it. Thatís a homemade job. We bought different implements from John Deere, they wouldnít hold up in the clay, some of them would make two laps and they be destroyed. Thatís our track rake as we call it. It can go down anywhere from a half an inch to a couple of inches, if you just want to fluff it up. Because itís funny, if the track glazes over or caps over, you can still go out there and stick a screwdriver in it four to six inches, with minimal pressure. Itís just that that top will dry out, its paper thin and itís done. The tires wonít break through it and itíll just sit there and glaze over and you take that rake out there and just lightly touch it up and the racetrack will come right back.
My wife Kim works here, she has been here since day one; she handles everything in the office to basically running events. Everything outside of the racetrack she basically takes care of; couldnít do it without her.
Thereís Tanner Watson who is basically in charge of marketing. She has been here since day one; she started working here when she was fourteen. She is now actually doing her internship to be a school teacher but still comes in on Saturdays. She was here yesterday morning at 5:00 am before school taking care of some work. And then we have Charlie Watson which is Tannerís dad. Charlie was here the day we put the first shovel in the ground over there in 1996. We hired Charlie as a construction superintendent when we were crazy enough to build this place in forty-three days and forty-three nights. Charlie ran a lot of the construction crews and was able to get bids from different contractors and then came on board as a sort of facility manager. From there, he not only take care of the facility but instrumental in selling more sponsorships than anyone in the history of the organization. At that time was writing all of the press releases, was kind of a jack-of-all-trades. Go back five years ago, he walked in and decided he was going to move to Vegas, so he left five years ago and moved to Vegas and three years ago moved back to Hemet and about a year ago this time, right at the Oval Nationals he came in the office and said ďI want to come back to work.Ē So I hired him to come back to work and heís basically in charge of promotions and working with Tanner on selling sponsorships. His first chore was to try helping get bodies back in the seats. Get racecars out to different sponsorship locations; get personal appearances because when you get right down to it, thatís what weíre selling. You can buy all the radio, television ads, billboards, newspaper ads, if the people that you are advertising to, donít know who you are selling, you are selling to a blind audience. You have got to get the racecars and the race drivers out into the public. You can go all the way down to marketing 101, when you carve this thing down, thatís who you are marketing. You can have all the screaming ads, come see the greatest daredevils in the world, cheat death lap after lap, it goes in deaf ears. Because if they canít recognize the name of Tony Jones or Mike Spencer or a face, you canít reach that person. This year, I went out on a limb and spent thirty six thousand dollars from June to September, two different advertising medias, radio and cable TV, saw no bump from it, none. And we went with a different type of cable ad that USAC back in Indianapolis cut which I really liked but it failed to reach the audience. I would have been better off advertising or putting on my schedule, Iím going to give hundred dollar bills to the first 360 people that come to the gate or Iím going to burn thirty thousand dollars cash on the front straightaway. I would have been better off doing that, because the fans have lost track of the drivers. Is that my fault? Partly, yes, as the promoter, but itís also partly the fault of the sanctioning body. Theyíre the ones bringing the show. Theyíre the ones that have to create the stars along with the promoter. Itís a partnership. I had somebody tell me the other day ASCS doesnít create stars. Itís up to the track along with the sanctioning body to create the stars. But if I canít get the cooperation of the drivers and the race teams to go out to locations, how do you sell them?
The flagmen Eddie and Bobby Ramirez have been here since day one. Theyíre brothers. Quietly theyíve told me theyíre going to retire, but theyíve told me that the last three years. They used to flag every race here, whether it was stock cars, flat track sprint cars, primarily they just flag USAC now, because like anybody else, they originally started off with three brothers, one of them got divorced because he was at the race track every Saturday night, and thatís the honest to God truth. Well letís see, out of the three people that are in this office right now, when we started this business all three of were married to different people. All three of us went through divorces because we were working every Saturday night and every day and it causes a huge strain on your personal relationships. It just so happens, Charlie was the first to get divorced, I was the second, Kim was the last. Kim and I went out on a date and four years later we got married.
Jeff Kristensen, this is the first year he is our official videographer and he has done an incredible job for us this year.

I consider Perris to be a cultural icon in the same manner as Ascot. What are your personal feelings about Perris in relationship to the history of racing in Southern California?

I think that in just fifteen years weíve developed a pretty good reputation for trying to elevate the sport and trying to maintain it at a higher level. I think the Oval Nationals, just like the Knoxville Nationals, it took them from eleven to fifteen years before that thing really exploded. And back then, when that thing first started, that was a non-wing 410 sprint car show; it wasnít always a winged sprint car show. I can remember going back in 1979 with our car, as a car owner. It was a non wing 410 sprint car show and it wasnít huge like it is today. But itís always been my dream to have the Oval Nationals become, you know, the Knoxville Nationals, the Chili Bowl, one of the icon sporting events within the industry on a yearly basis. Itís getting there, its taken time, I think when we went from at that time SCRA to USAC and bring the USAC National guys out with their own teams, it helped elevate that event and helped elevate Perris because that just wasnít a regional race track anymore. Where it goes to the next level, I donít know. USAC is pulling back a little bit, theyíre not planning to bring the National guys back out here next February or March; the only time youíll get to see the National guys is the end of the year, which is ok because I wasnít going to open up in February anyway. It makes it more special. Am I happy with fifty cars? No. I think that race should have eighty to a hundred cars. That just tells you that the 410 inventory isnít there. When we go back four years ago to when the economy was roaring, we had seventy-eight to eighty-three cars entered. Which that is what I think it should be. With this economy weíve got fifty cars. But Perris itself: sure.¬ I think weíve put ourselves on the map, I think we have, especially in Southern California. Nationally? We get a lot of attention. We get a lot of attention in the trade magazines and everything else.

What is it about sprint car racing that is so special?

That is a really good question. I think itís just something that gets in your blood, gets in your soul. I equate sprint car racing to bull riding with auto racing, itís so unpredictable. You have no idea whatís going to happen in the next lap. Every race is different. Track conditions are always different. Do I want to see wrecks? No. But when wrecks happen they are highly unpredictable and somewhat violent. Am I glad guys walk away? Yes. Do I want to see someone get hurt? Absolutely not. Thereís no other form of motorsports where a guy can be running fifth and literally in half a lap can take the lead. I donít know of any other sport where, and this may sound corny, itís so Americana. These guys just work and work and work. When you get right down to it, the car owners arenít making any money, because I know what it costs to run a team. We did it forever. The only guy making any money is the guy sitting in the seat, whoís half crazy to do it because of the danger, although itís gotten a lot safer. Itís in the history, they go back to Parnelli Jones and A.J. Foyt in those days and when you look at the history and how many guys and where they came from, thereís something special about it. In the long term, are we going to be able to carry on that tradition, I think so but itís going to be a much more limited scale, because when you look at our demographic of our fan base, itís not young. When youíre here next time, look in the stands. Weíre talking forty-five to eighty. You donít see the twenty-somethingís here and the teens. You donít see a lot of kids, where dads are bringing their kids here. We missed generations of younger folks. Iíve got five kids between Kim and I. Iíve got a sixteen year old son. When he comes here on a sprint car night, heíll go home before the main event. He doesnít care to be here. Heís into extreme sports, heís into the X-Games, heís into surfing and heís not into motorsports. Young kids arenít into motorsports right now. Sprint car racing? You do this; the next time you go to the mall, walk up to ten strangers. Ask them one question. Do you know what sprint car is? Youíll be lucky to find one person that says I know what a sprint car is. As an industry, we havenít educated the general public what a sprint car is. But the lore of it, itís what keeps us all going. You know what I call it? Itís the cult. I donít mean that in a degrading fashion, but, thereís a sprint car cult. Weíre all members of it to some degree. I choose to be on the business side and try to make a buck out of it. But I still enjoy watching every sprint car race out here. I still get a kick out of it. I think Iíve only missed five or six sprint car races out here in fifteen years and thatís due to weddings or this or that, but I rarely miss one.

To be honest, I donít think you do it for the money, I think you do it because you love your job.

Right now I donít. My family has got millions and millions of dollars invested in this. I personally have millions and millions of dollars invested in this. Am I going to see a return on that? No. I can tell you that right now, after fifteen years of being in operation, never. Times are good, Iím lucky to get a paycheck. Iím fortunate that I have other sources of income that take care of me but they have an infinite time life when they run out.

But thatís my point, youíre doing this not for the money, youíre doing this for the love of it ....

When you get right down to it, yeah, but thereís always that hope that maybe thereís a partner that comes along, maybe thereís a Tony Stewart, maybe thereís a Jimmy Johnson, Kevin Harvick that will come in, whether they buy one-hundred percent of it, whether they buy a percentage of it, but just put their name on it, now you have something that millions of people in LA can relate too, that has name recognition, that will help thrive this place. You canít give up on a business that youíve got millions of dollars invested in because someday you may end up having somebody that walks in and helps you get a return on your money or helps take it to the next level, or make it profitable. Last year was our second best year in our history, we were profitable, but it was driven by off-road, wasnít driven by circle track. We got in the off road market, we were able to land a couple of key events, we had an off-road series that was successful. This year our off-road series was highly unsuccessful and we cancelled it after three events and Iíve had to live on circle track racing. We made a big point this year to go into demolition derbies; we did a roll over contest which the fans went nuts over. We produced auto hockey at the fair, which was the first time, which was crazy. We ran an RV demolition derby at the fair. Youíre going to see more of those types of events next year here. On the last night of the fair, Scott and I were sitting up in the booth, half an hour before show time and itís drizzling and there isnít an empty seat in the house and we have five RVís that are going to destroy each other on the front straightaway and weíve got a guy thatís going to jump a car through a thirty two foot motor home and I looked at Scott and said, ďWhatís this tell you? We might be concentrating in the wrong business here!Ē Itís an ever evolving business.

So although you are passionate about sprint car racing, you are passionate about making this track work?

Yeah. I personally have close to four million dollars invested in this. Iíd love to get a return on that money. I have three other brothers that walked away, they just flat walked away. Thereís no support. Iíve refused to walk away.

"I think itís just something that gets in your blood, gets in your soul."

Whatís the favorite part of your job?

The favorite part of my job is every Fourth of July knowing we are going to have a full house. Looking at the stands and being able to make a check presentation to the American Cancer Society for ten thousand dollars which was generated by the drivers going up into the stands with their helmets. Giving back and having fans give back. Knowing that the track has done something outside of racing that can hopefully help somebody. When itís working perfectly. And watching a show that has just been unbelievable. Thatís something to be proud of. Knowing the fans are happy, thatís something to be proud of. I do you canít make all the fans happy, I do know that thereís only going to be one happy race car driver at the end of the night. Heís usually the main event winner and sometimes theyíre not even happy. So trying to please everybody, you canít do it in this job; if you please eighty percent of them youíve done a wonderful job.