Chaz Baca poses in victory lane at Cocopah Speedway after a recent victory at the Arizona track. (Bobby McMorris Photo)
Chaz Baca poses in victory lane at Cocopah Speedway after a recent victory at the Arizona track. (Bobby McMorris Photo)

RODDA: Whitfield & Cocopah Speedway Work Well Together

LINCOLN, Calif. – Brad Whitfield and Cocopah Speedway are proving to be an excellent combination. 

He has brought the track back from a period of dormancy and the short half-mile located south of Yuma, Ariz., has provided him with a task he truly enjoys doing.

As general manager of the Cocopah Indian Tribe-owned facility, Whitfield has enjoyed record car counts, tremendous community support and a larger schedule of events featuring just about every class of race car.

At 17 years old Whitfield first got into a race car, his brother Gene’s factory stock, just to see what it was like. A few laps around Central Arizona Speedway and he was hooked on the sport. In 27 years of racing he has driven everything from factory stock, street stock, modifieds, late models, and bombers, with the only thing he hasn’t driven being a dwarf car and sprint car, stating, “I’m afraid of both of them.”

He summarized his racing career by saying, “I was fortunate enough that we won in every class we ever participated in and I’m pretty proud of that. I’ve won over 100 and that is racing over Arizona, Southern California, Colorado and a New Mexico trip.”

Whitfield can also claim to never having lost a race on pavement. Well, he only raced on pavement once, but he did win that one from last.

Whitfield recalled that race. 

“A buddy of mine took me to Tucson to the pavement track and put me in a pro stock and I remember there were 15 pro stocks that night,” Whitfield said. “I was a rookie so they made me start in the back. On the start the outside line was up against the wall and the inside line was down to the curb. They threw the green flag and I drove right through the middle of them. I dirt tracked it through one and two and had the lead coming off of two. We won on our first try on asphalt. About three laps to go I thought I had a flat tire so I eased up, they were catching me but we won the race. I got out and the right rear tire was showing cords. It was a one and done pavement career.”

Whitfield lived eight miles from Central Arizona Speedway and did well there, but always seemed to struggle at Manzanita.

“We would go to Manzanita,” Whitfield noted “It was the race track I was afraid of the most just because it had so much history. I felt like so many eyes of legends were on that place, it was just a very intimidating race track for me. I never felt like I was worthy enough or good enough to race there. I raced a late model at the last race at Manzanita.

“There is so much history there with Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart, Leland McSpadden, the Madrid family, they are legends of Manzanita Speedway. Growing up I watched Carl Trimmer, Mike Buckner, Terry Belcher, those guys are all legends of the sport.”

A career in racing changed paths in 2017 after Whitfield’s brother, with whom he had raced for years, passed away. Losing Gene made his racing interest just not the same.

“I started racing with Gene and we raced together,” Whitfield recalled.  “I raced more than he did. If I was racing, Gene was there. It didn’t matter if we were racing Tucson or Prescott or El Centro, Gene was there.  I went and raced after he had passed away and I pulled into staging and thought what am I doing. This just isn’t fun. My big brother was my confidence factor and he was my biggest cheerleader.”

After some time away from racing, an opportunity was presented to Whitfield that has proven to the right option at the right time.

As to becoming Cocopah Speedway general manager, Whitfield said, “I am very content, I love the promoting side of things, I love the relationships I have built with racers, sponsors, the people nationwide I have met, there’s not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for what I am doing. Losing my older brother and mother in the same year, I needed to be in a positive environment  Being general manager of Cocopah Speedway is not a job to me. I eat, sleep, and breathe it.”

The track was closed the last half of 2018 and all of 2019 before reopening last year. The rebuilding process culminated in all-time record car counts in January of this year when the Winter Nationals was held with IMCA sanctioning. Various clubs have worked the concession stands and that has been very successful, raising the concession part of the track to what was described as a whole new level.

Sponsorship is at an all time high for the track, something that took time to build, but now has led to a need for more billboard space to accommodate the interest.  

Whitfield plans on increasing the number of sprint car events, starting with the third weekend in November hosting a two-day ASCS event.  After the January Winter Nationals are concluded, the track will showcase 360 sprints, racing Thursday through Saturday the last two weekends of the month.

Whitfield summarized the atmosphere at Cocopah Speedway by saying, “Our community, our people, our staff, and fans are just amazing people. You see them, they know who you are, you know who they are, it’s a pretty unique dynamic we have. I come to Yuma and it’s a small town atmosphere and I want to keep it going.

“I do want to bring back the driver-fan interaction,” Whitfield continued. “We’re going to work really hard on that for years to come.  I think that has been lost through the years with the hustle and bustle of life. There are nine class race nights instead of three or four and we’ve lost our way, we’ve lost our touch. We’re going to have a vendor row at next year’s Winter Nationals so drivers can sell their t-shirts and get involved with the fans.”

Just 22 feet short of a half-mile measured in the middle, Cocopah Speedway will continue to receive the benefit of having Whitfield in charge, and he will be able to continue enjoying being connected with the track and the city of Yuma.

 

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