116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Benton County Speedway ready for big season
Ogden column: Vinton racetrack is one of the lucky ones in Iowa, thriving with it’s Sunday night program
The forecast looks good.
For Sunday night’s season opener — and the 2023 racing season at Benton County Speedway, aka “The Bullring.”
Local auto racing in Iowa — and around the country — continues to struggle, at some tracks more than others. There are issues with car counts, fans in the grandstands, the cost of putting on a show, not to mention the cost of racing and maintaining a racecar.
Oh, attracting younger drivers and fans also is a concern.
It’s a problem with many sports not called football, basketball or, in these parts, wrestling. Why do you think baseball took action to speed up the game and add more excitement this season?
“Racing is changing,” said Rick Dripps, general manager and promoter at BCS. “Most of the tracks in Iowa are suffering, suffering hard.”
While acknowledging the issues local racers and tracks face, Dripps sounded excited and optimistic about what’s ahead at BCS.
“We would love to get some racing in,” Dripps said after three attempts to run the “Spring Thunder” event were wiped out by weather.
He said you have to take weather issues “with a grain of salt” and move on.
“We’ve got plenty of time to get racing in,” Dripps said.
Taking a hit and getting back up seems to be the way to survive these days in the auto racing game — as promoter or driver. Control what you can and move on to the next race.
Dripps, 71, is old enough to know there are ups and downs in this left-turn world, but he’s young and smart enough to know you have to adjust.
He and his crew — wife Kim, son Corey and Corey’s wife Suzanne — are making “tons of improvements” at the facility and have “long-term plans” for its future.
They have completely refurbished the grandstand, he said Wednesday while taking a break from putting in an outdoor patio “beer garden” that will seat 30 to 40 people.
“We want to completely renovate this place ... make it a showcase,” he said. “Give (fans and drivers) a reason to come. They’ve got to have more than just the races ... good food, fast paced” action.
Benton County Speedway is one of the lucky ones in this business. The car count each Sunday is “close to 100” and the grandstand is typically filled with 600 to 700 fans.
That helps offset the approximately $25,000 it takes to put on a show each week.
“If you don’t have a lot of sponsors, you’re doomed,” he said.
That’s why Dripps wants to tap into that younger audience and see this sport he’s been part of “my whole life” thrive for years to come. He sees the beer gardens as a good place to get the younger adults interested and has a Lil Racer Car Club with about 100 kids.
He even has “Power Wheels” — small, battery-operated cars — kids race in front of the grandstand.
“That’s getting the young kids here,” he said.
Getting their parents to come — and come again — is the key. He doesn’t expect the 18- to 45-year-old crowd to come out every week, but “if we can get them to come out four or five times a year” it’s a win.
He also needs cars on the track to entertain those fans — from late models to stock cars to sportmods. He feels lucky there, too, because “we have a lot of race cars in the 30- to 45-mile radius.
“That really helps us.”
But like those who run the tracks, the drivers have increasing costs to keep the wheels turning. A former driver himself — as was his dad before him — he knows times are tough because his son, Corey, now gets behind the wheel.
“The cost is just phenomenal,” he said of maintaining a racecar.
Late model tires, for instance, cost around $200, he said, and “you’ll go through two each night.” He said late model fuel is $14 a gallon.
“If you knock the front end off your car, that’s $1,000,” Dripps said.
Cars can be found online at a reasonable price, but “you can’t afford the parts and pieces to race.”
But a man who once was concerned “racing was going to die” remains optimistic. He’s making improvements, he’s working with other promoters in the area and, most importantly, he’s ready to put on a show Sunday.
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