Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1992 - Racing fans jam speedway

Oregon, Wis. (May 15, 1992) – Stock car racing is alive and well in the Madison area.

Any doubt regarding area fans’ interest in the sport was cast aside Friday night when an overflow crowd jammed Madison International Speedway for the track’s grand opening.

Owner Wayne Erickson poured close to $200,000 into refurbishing the former Capital Superspeedway and IMPACT Speedway and area fans responded.

When Erickson purchased the half-mile track last fall, he banked on the fact area race fans were hungry for the return of stock car racing. When the track closed in 1988, sprint cars were featured on a dirt track and interest waned.

The response of fans indicated at estimated 7,000 to 8,000 spectators turned out for opening night at the Madison International Speedway Friday, starvation for the sport.

An estimated crowd of 7,000 to 8,000 filled the bleacher seats and lined the track around turn one. Other fans sat on the hillside on blankets or stood, straining for a look. Basically, fans gathered wherever they could catch a glimpse.

"I think everybody missed it," said stock car driver Johnny Ziegler of Brooklyn, who was about to give up racing until Erickson announced his purchase. "They really missed the track and they're glad to see it back."

Racing was held in four classes: super late model, IMCA modifieds, sportsman, and street stock.

In the 50-lap feature event, Rich Bickle Jr. completed a successful homecoming. Bickle, a native of Edgerton, Wis, who now lives in Concord, N.C., and races in the Big Ten Series, won in dramatic fashion.

Starting from the 15th spot among the 21-car field Bickle slipped past Tony Strupp between turns three and four on the final lap to notch the victory and delight the crowd.

“I'm just a happy for them as I am for myself,” Bickle said. Conrad Morgan placed second and Strupp finished third. Bickle won despite racing the final 40 laps without front brakes.

“I won a lot bigger paying races, but this one means a lot to me,” Bickle said.

As with any opening there were a few minor problems. With the much larger-than-expected crowd, many people stood in long lines to park and buy tickets. The parking lot filled up and some cars were parked in.

Track spokesman Mark Gundrum said overflow parking will be addressed. The scoreboard balked at working initially, but kicked in for the heat and feature races. Drivers raved over the newly repaved half-mile and quarter-mile tracks, although they expected track speeds to increase as the track broke in. The track record for Capital was 17.823 seconds set by Jim Sauter of Necedah in 1984, and the consensus was that should shortly fall.

The only complaint mentioned was the front straightaway could use more lighting. “Besides that, it’s perfect,” said Bickle. “Wayne Erickson couldn't have asked for much better than this.”

Bickle, who was a two-time champion at Capital, posted the top qualifying time and then signed autographs for 1 hour before going back to work. “It feels good to come here and put a show on,” said Bickle, who proved to be the crowd favorite and posted the fastest qualifying time. “That’s what they come to see.”

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