It is interesting to note that some of the most iconic race tracks in sprint car and midget racing are half-mile dirt ovals. They include Knoxville Raceway, Williams Grove Speedway, Terre Haute Action Track and Eldora Speedway.
Each of these facilities have unique characteristics which add to their iconic status. Yet, when it comes to big, fast and imposing race tracks few may be more beautifully situated than Calistoga Speedway. Nestled in the stunning Napa Valley with Mt. Helena as a backdrop, the plant has been hosting racing since 1937.
As a place to compete it has never been for the faint of heart and it has been a source of elation and heartbreak for those who have pulled on a helmet and given it their all. When Rico Abreu captured the Vermeil Classic on Sept. 1, 2019, it was a cause for celebration. Not only is Abreu wildly popular wherever he goes, but he was a native son claiming the laurels.
Sadly, this was the last time a wheel was turned in anger at the venerable facility. The future of the track is uncertain. Tommy Hunt has spent his entire life in racing. He has been a participant, an official and a promoter. With a family racing legacy generations deep, he cares deeply about the sport.
“Manzanita (Arizona) Speedway is long gone and in California the only two half-miles left are Perris (Auto Speedway) and Calistoga. There is just so much history at Calistoga.”
The chance to save Calistoga Speedway at this point appears to be relatively straightforward.
The County of Napa would like to unload the fairgrounds.
Included on the property beyond the race track is a golf course, an RV park and various buildings. According to many, the upkeep of some of these assets has been lacking. On the flipside, correcting these problems is not difficult. The City of Calistoga holds the right of first refusal to purchase of the property. This much land in this locale naturally isn’t cheap.
Discussions on this matter bogged down due to the COVID pandemic.
However, conversations have since reignited and in many ways the fate of the race track rests with the voters. Again, cutting to the chase Hunt said, “The city council put a program together which ended up being a taxation issue for the community. Some are for it, and some are not.”
Tax issues are rarely popular, which makes this such a tense moment for those who love this speedway. Up for debate and a vote is a bond measure (Measure E) which, if approved provides the funds necessary to finance the acquisition of the fairgrounds. The issue will be decided in an election slated for March 7.
The rub is that a two-thirds majority is needed to pass the measure. Hunt and others are very clear. He believes the overall facility including the raceway have, and can continue to be successful, and if properly managed the debt service can by paid in short order.
Longtime fans understand the mystique of Calistoga Speedway. For those who call Northern California home it goes well beyond that. One of those who cares about the future of the track is NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, who remains loyal to his home state and his racing roots.
“I think every track in California is special,” he said “So I don’t want any of them to go away. I mean California feels like two different states, so for Northern California, Calistoga is the only half mile. But Calistoga is really special because I went there a lot as a kid.”
As for a special memory, that is easy to pick out.
In 2013, Larson swept the card in a traditional sprint car and a midget during the Louie Vermeil Classic.
The issue facing supporters now is getting a favorable vote. One group trying to spearhead this effort is the Friends of the Napa County Fairgrounds. The first order of business is soliciting contributions to generate support for the approval of Measure E. Interested parties hoping to aid this effort can mail contributions to M. Towey, Treasurer, 1271 Bentley Dr., Calistoga, Calif., 94515.
If this measure fails to pass Napa County will seek another interested party to purchase the 70-acre property.
If that happens, most agree that Calistoga Speedway’s chance for survival is slim.