ELMA — Seated at the head of one of the long tables at the Elma Eagles banquet room, new Grays Harbor Raceway promoter Steve Beitler was one of the many who enjoyed the Elma Auto Racing Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday night.
Once the ceremonies were near their conclusion, Beitler stood and addressed the near-capacity crowd on the present and the future of Grays Harbor Raceway.
Beitler, the owner of Skagit Speedway in Alger, has had a busy several days talking about the Elma raceway. On Wednesday, he had meetings with the Elma Chamber of Commerce and the track’s drivers and car owners.
On Monday, the Grays Harbor County commissioners officially ratified the three-year promoter’s lease to Beitler’s promotion group, Fun Time Promotions. On Dec. 31, Fun Time Promotions was awarded the lease for the 2014-2016 racing seasons after terminating the raceway lease contract for Oregon-based Great Northwest Promotions in October.
“It is a real honor for me and it is a pleasure for me to be here (as the new promoter),” Beitler told the crowd on Saturday. “The Hall of Fame is really something special. I’ve heard about this over the last couple of years and I’ve sent some stuff (for the silent auction) in the past. When I walked in (tonight), I told myself, ‘Wow. This is something special.’”
Wes Cormier, the District 1 county commissioner, said Monday that Beitler’s group and county work crews are currently cleaning up and repairing the facility in preparation for opening day on May 10.
During the speech, Beitler listed several improvements, projects and ideas for Grays Harbor Raceway, first praising the facility’s development under former promoters Fred and Debbie Brownfield and the county.
“They did a fabulous job,” Beitler said.”It is still a fantastic facility. It needs a little bit of ‘TLC’ right now. We’re going to do a little bit of renovating out there and repair some of the wiring that was damaged out there. We’re going to clean it up.”
Those projects included: lower ticket prices; repainting the track walls white and repainting the “92” and checkered flag that honored Fred Brownfield in turn 3 on the wall; a complete overhaul of the pit area to minimize flooding and improve access; increased marketing and exposure outside of the area for the racetrack and the city of Elma; a bigger social media presence, including Facebook and Twitter; renovations to the concession stands and sound systems; resurfacing the clay oval; and, a mini-sprint car track in the infield of the main track that will be a next step for quarter-midget drivers to move up to before getting into the main track midget/sprint divisions.
Beitler introduced some of his new Grays Harbor Raceway management team, which included former Port Angeles Speedway promoter and Grays Harbor Raceway promotions bidder Bert Johnson and former Jodesha Broadcasting marketing and sales consultant Tony Halekakis, to the crowd.
Johnson will be a part of the operations team and Halekakis was named vice president of sales and marketing. Rick Terry, a longtime Northwest auto racing official and supporter, was also introduced as race manager.
Also noted by Beitler was the late start to the season — May 10 is the scheduled season opener for the 360 sprints, modifieds, street stocks, midgets and hornets — as part of the process. He said his team didn’t get onto the facility until March 3, despite winning the bid for the promotions contract. Work on the facility has already begun.
After the speech, Beitler noted that because he’s already been through the process of starting up a season at Skagit, setting up Grays Harbor will be tough, but not impossible.
“By the end of March, people will see a lot of progress out there,” Beitler said. “There is a lot of work behind the scenes with scheduling, marketing, advertising and tickets just to get it to town to use during the season. Everything we’re doing right now, we know what to do because we’ve done it at Skagit. Next year, it’ll be easier. This year is going to be tough and I knew it would be.
“We’re going to race on May 10, unless it is raining.”
One of the main points Beitler emphasized in his speech was the passion and the love of Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma and East County. He noted that the track is “not mine; we’re just hired to run it” and he wants the community to get involved in it.
And, Beitler got a taste of the community’s volunteer spirit as well. The race track’s first two historic configurations — the half-mile and the three-tenths of a mile — were created and built by volunteer work, supplies and planning.
“You go anywhere in this town and they love this race track; they want to see it do better and grow again to get the cars and the fans back,” Beitler said. “You can see the love for it and its history here tonight. Strangers were coming up to me offering help if I needed welding or painting or volunteer to help. There are a lot of people who want to see this track succeed.
“This is Elma’s and Grays Harbor County’s race track and I’m just the captain of the ship,” Beitler added. “I respect that.”