Thursday, April 26, 2012

1992 - Erickson gears up for speedway’s debut

Oregon, Wis. (April 26, 1992) - Wayne Erickson figures he’s the right man for the job. His resume offers further proof.

Erickson purchased the former Capital Super Speedway and IMPACT Speedway last October, renamed it Madison International Speedway and, he hopes, made a solid investment in the future of auto racing in the Madison area.

Erickson is revamping all facets of the facility, located halfway between Oregon and Stoughton off Highway 138 on Sunrise Road. It’s a bold move, but one Erickson feels confident will succeed.

“I just think the place is set up unique as a half-mile track,” Erickson said. “The reception I’ve got since I’ve been working there has been great.”

Erickson will repave the half-mile oval as soon as the weather cooperates. Opening day was pushed back to May 15 because of uncertain spring weather and the recent rains have slowed the process.

“I’m still concerned about (the weather),” he said. ‘But if we get 10 days of decent weather between now and the 15th, we’ll make it. I want to live up to the opening date by all means.”

When it comes to racing in Wisconsin, Erickson carries a solid reputation. He worked his way up from racer to promoter and owner, nurturing relationships with top-notch drivers along the way.

In 1973, he leased Slinger Speedway before buying it two years later. Slinger serves as his model for success, but Erickson hopes his new track eclipses his success there.

“I have a vision; It possibly can pass Slinger as far as interest and spectators,” Erickson said. “I never realized there were that many racing fans in the Madison area. I was very surprised.”

Erickson’s expertise in the field is respected among drivers.

“He’s probably one of the best promoters in the country,” said driver John Ziegler of nearby Brooklyn, who plans to be a regular in the Friday night super late model stock car racing program. “He’s gone through his ups and downs and been on both sides of the fence.”

Ziegler, who raced at Capital Super Speedway, had grown tired of the weekly racing grind and was about to retire when Erickson announced his purchase. He's now eager to race and feels many people in the area are anticipating the opener.

“People down here are all excited,” he said. ‘Everybody hoped it would (reopen), but nobody knew.”

The uncertainty can be linked to the track's shaky past. Built by Sam Bartus of Wausau in 1963, the track was originally a quarter-mile. It was extended to a half-mile in 1969.

The track provided a testing ground for many of the Midwest’s top drivers. National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing Winston Cup drivers Dick Trickle, Ted Musgrave and Alan Kulwicki were once regulars. Despite locking in top drivers, Bartus had a difficult time turning a profit.

He eventually sold the track in 1980. It went through a number of owners until it was purchased by a Milwaukee investment group in 1987 and renamed IMPACT Speedway.

Besides the name change, the new owners switched from asphalt to a dirt track and from stock cars to sprint cars. Interest in the sprint cars quickly waned and the track closed in 1988.

Bartus, a longtime friend of Erickson's, said he was glad to see the track reopen under Erickson's guidance.

“I didn’t like to see it get dilapidated,” he said.

But Bartus also said Erickson might run into problems. Finding enough drivers to keep a half-mile track going proved difficult for Bartus. He said many local drivers did not have the money to invest.

“Local people, even today, cannot afford the machinery to run on a half-mile track,” Bartus said.

Erickson said he has accounted for that by incorporating a high-banked quarter-mile track within the half-mile course to accommodate the less expensive cars.

Bartus also said area sports fans did not always embrace racing. “I would say it won't be the easiest,” he said.

However, Bartus also feels Erickson is best suited to make the track a winner because he's developed a good rapport with the drivers.

Said Erickson, “A lot of the drivers that started out when I started promoting Slinger are still with me. I have a good relationship with all my drivers.”

Erickson conservatively estimates 60 to 70 drivers for every Friday night. For now, however, Erickson's main concern is completing work at the speedway.

Among the improvements are revamped concession stands and press box. Erickson is also putting in new lighting in the pit area and all new fencing.

His outlook is positive. “Not one person since I've been working down here has walked up and been negative. I think that’s fabulous,” he said.

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