Kern County Raceway Park owners: action by March

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The new owners of a long-planned racetrack say they'll be ready for action by March. The Kern County Raceway Park now has pavement on the track and suites under construction.

Co-owner James Vernon said Tuesday that they're planning for at least 22 races in 2013. He said they're in talks with NASCAR, but nothing has been signed.

"You have days where it's really good, and days that you wonder why you're in the middle of it," Vernon told Eyewitness News. "But it's a pretty exciting time." An investment group led by Vernon and Dan Smith got the sprawling property at Interstate 5 and Enos Lane just seven months ago.

"Granite Construction got done paving the track last week," Vernon said. And after a couple test runs with their own cars, the owners are very happy with the results. "The track's very good," he said. "The track's going to be really fast. The little quarter-mile here, it's awesome the way it turned out."

The new facility has a half-mile paved oval, with a quarter-mile oval inside. Vernon showed off the infield, complete with a facility for race car fueling, tires and techs. At the other end, there's a snack bar in the infield. "They're mostly 90 percent done now," Vernon said. "So, it won't be long before they're done."

Seats rise up on one side of the oval track, with a four-story building under construction behind them. Vernon said the bottom floor will include a concession stand and rest rooms for fans. The second floor will have offices, and the top two floors will hold 20 VIP suites.

Vernon said they'll put in more seats than the first developers of the site had planned. His group will start with 5,500 seats, with the possibility of expanding up to 15,000.

The original developers started the project in 2006, but it stalled in 2008 -- thanks to the downturn in the economy. Before this, local race fans had filled the old Mesa Marin facility northeast of Bakersfield. It was torn down in 2005. Since then, fans have hoped for the return of NASCAR events.

"We've had talks with NASCAR, we have not signed anything with NASCAR yet," Vernon said Tuesday. But, he said they have other events lined up.

"We're going to run late model and super-late models, and legend cars," he said. "Special modifieds and probably a couple touring divisions." Vernon is confident the first event can be in March 2013. "We're planning on running at least 22 races next year," Vernon said. And, the group also hopes to have ten other events, which could include things like concerts, monster truck and motorcycle races.

On Tuesday, Kern County Supervisors took up some zone changes for the track site. Vernon described those as minor and technical.

In 2007, studies were done on the possible economic impacts of a race track project, estimating "millions of dollars" would be created for businesses and a boost to tax revenues for local governments.

On Tuesday, Kern Economic Development Corporation president Richard Chapman said the new project would likely have a positive impact on investment into hotels and retail. "It'll be important to see if they get the races people want," Chapman said.

Vernon believes their project will be a local economic boost. "It's going to be in the millions," he said. "It's going to help the whole economy, help the tax people, help everything that goes on."

The track owner said they may start selling season tickets in about a week, and said they've already been leasing out suites.

Vernon declined to talk about what the project's costing. "Whatever you think it is, it's twice that," he said. "Till it's done, we don't really know."

But, he's sure the project is worth it. "There's no racing around here, we need some racing," Vernon said. "There's a lot of people who really want to race, and that's what we do, it's what we did our whole lives. So, I don't know any better."