PETALUMA, Calif. – Rick Faeth might have been put into promoter mode at an early age when he was legendary promoter Bob Barkhimer’s paperboy.
During his life, Barkhimer went from midget racer to Senior Vice President of NASCAR and promoter of 21 tracks in the Western United States.
“I was always into racing,” recalled Faeth, “and got involved with Dave Thurston and BCRA midgets and became a mud scraper, mechanic, crew guy, and he gave me the opportunity to race in 1996. I raced for 15 years, BCRA and USAC midgets, wasn’t very good, but somebody’s got to finish 10th. I was Mr. Tenth Place.
“I was eight years on the BCRA Board of Directors and developed relationships with promoters and became friends with Bob and Nadine Strauss of Lakeport Speedway. We would race there and then I would ask questions and one time Nadine said that Bob and she thought I would make a good promoter.”
When asked why she thought that, Nadine replied, “Because you’re not a very good racer.”
Eventually Faeth moved from the Bay Area to Anderson, Calif., where he raced at Shasta Speedway, and met George Wade, who was the general manager at the time but was planning to leave. When the track ownership opened bidding to potential new promoters, despite being told by Wade that he would never get it, Faeth became a rookie promoter when he won the bid despite others with more experience seeking to take over.
From 2007 through 2011, Faeth ran the Anderson track, putting on 99 races during that period.
“I became a promoter at the worse possible time, when the recession hit in 2008,” Faeth said. “It was difficult, a struggle, and I wasn’t really making it. I became a promoter at age 39, a relatively young age.
“I knew the Soares family from racing in Petaluma, Jim Soares told me he wanted out and I could have it. I took over as general manager in 2012 and became the promoter in 2014. I’ve got this year and next year and then we don’t know after that.”
Past years has seen some rumbling about the track closing with ideas such as a minor league baseball stadium being built, but the track has always continued. After the 2022 season, a different and more significant challenge faces the entire fairgrounds.
“The unique thing about this is that the city owns the property and the fair board pays $1 lease per year to the city,” Faeth said. “That lease was signed in 1973. There are seven businesses here and I’m one of seven lessees. There is a charter school, paint ball, doggie day care, etc. and we’re all lame ducks now.
“The city has gone on record as wanting to develop it. In 2017 the 60.5 acres here were valued at $284,000 per acre and that was four years ago. Right now the city is refusing to negotiate with the state for an extension. So we’re all sitting here like it’s a doomsday clock. The city holds all the cards. I’d say it’s 50/50 (closing the fairgrounds). The significant wheels in bureaucracy turn very slowly. I believe the city wants to develop it, but at what rate?”
Things are moving very slowly in Petaluma, if at all. Knowing if next year is the last may be an unknown until the 2022 season is almost over. It makes it all the more difficult for the seven businesses on the property.
As the well known surface of tacky Petaluma Speedway faces uncertainty for the future, Faeth is determined to keep the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds and Event Center continuing to host weekly racing.
Faeth will do whatever he can to keep the track going, but the Petaluma city council will be the one waving the flags, either green or red.