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In the Groove with East Bay Raceway Park by Rebecca Richards

East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa, FL has become a stellar track under the new ownership team of Al Varnadore, Todd Hutto, Dean Varnadore and Fred Lay according to racers, employees, fans, vendors and sponsors.
The atmosphere when entering the facility is friendly and fun while maintaining professionalism and safety. The stands are always filled with fans of all ages and the pits roaring with life. The staff know their jobs, yet if a problem arises they also know that help is on the grounds and a radio call away. The owners are always in attendance. Brenda Hampton, a long time employee put it this way,"Under the new owners everything has completely turned around, they are supportive, always present at the track and very friendly."  She is not alone in that sentiment. Talking to every employee I could find, not one had a different version.
I then began to question racers, all classes, and all budgets. I came across one who was unsure what to think. He is a rookie this season and new to the track. Other racers though commented openly. A non-wing sprint racer on a low budget, has a deep respect for the new owners and said,"They were racers, they are making it better for us-not just them. They care and are easy to talk to. He (Al Varnadore) is there every night and helps out on the track. They all are involved."
A Modified racer, also spoke highly of the many changes that made East Bay Raceway a better place to race than his previous years. The track surface had been improved, the atmosphere of working together between owners and racers was a definite plus. Unlike years past and other tracks he goes to. East Bay, he said is head and shoulders above the rest.
Many of the Pure Stock racers stated that before the new owners took over, they often felt that their class was treated as "low class citizens" and now the attitude has changed. They feel the new owners treat them just like they treat the late model racers and sprint racers. Evidently the word must have spread as the car count rose steadily over the past season.
One major thing that all the racers I spoke with shared is the fairness of the officials and the tech inspections. At many tracks this has always been a major issue with racers. At East Bay Raceway, I couldn't find one racer in any class or budget who felt that there was any partiality to one race team over another when it came to the tech inspector. The rules are set and stand, they hold for all teams with no exceptions. There have been occasions when it was an unfortunate and sad call to make, especially when the Feature Winner was unaware of losing a part after leaving victory lane. Yet, the rules cannot be bent, or they would have to be bent for all. Racers I would heed this advice: Don't even think about cheating at East Bay Raceway, Roy Campbell KNOWS all about teching and you can't fool the man. You can't buy him off and you won't budge this man of morals. His love of racing keeps him doing the job he does best and it is appreciated.
Sponsors of East Bay Raceway find it easy to support the track. They cite many reasons, from the respect they have for the owners to the standards set. One sponsor said,"The family atmosphere just makes you feel good. There aren't many activities around that an entire family can go to on a low budget and everyone has a good time."
Vendors say the staff and owners are easy to work with, you just have to follow their rules. One vendor from North Carolina attends the Winter Nationals and said,"I think the rules to be a vendor at East Bay are reasonable and I would not expect less. It keeps the fly by night vendors out, which is good as they are a poor reflection on those of us who are honest."
Fans too feel the difference in the atmosphere at East Bay Raceway Park, they used to pay a $14 admission fee to the stands and now it's $12 for a regular show, senior citizens pay $10 and teens ages 13 to 17 years only pay $7 for an action packed night of racing. For families there is even better news, children under 12 years are admitted free to the stands. Handicapped fans had a nice surprise as well since the Winter Nationals 2003, East Bay Raceway added a new section for wheelchair accessibility above the walkway. As I strolled by I saw sheer delight on their faces as they enjoyed the racing action. They commented that it improved their view 100%! All of this, despite the hike in insurance rates, and the owners still lowered admission fees!
A new addition came along March 28, 2003, a new 1/5 mile go-kart track that runs every other Friday night. The admission to watch is $8 and to race it's $20. Racers from 6 years and up can now enjoy go-kart racing on a track without driving almost 100 miles to do so. More changes are in store for the go-kart track 2004 season, as the go-kart track will undergo a slight face lift changing the size to 3/16 of a mile and giving it an egg shaped oval transformation.
"Racing Into The Future" is a new program for 2003-2004 that began at Palmetto Elementary in Hillsborough County. The school theme was "Racing the Race" referring to the race of life and adding a little fun while encouraging students to apply themselves to their studies. We all know racing is not just hopping into a car and going fast, we have to utilize math skills, reading skills and cause and effect. As most young people are only acclimated to NASCAR racing, Todd Hutto, Fred Lay and The Varnadores decided it was time to introduce youngsters to the great sport of dirt track racing, and looking ahead for the future of the sport. They were joined by East Bay racers Jim Greenwood "Psycho Dad" and family, Tim George and racing daughters, Susanne and Becky, Clyde Poole and his crew, Paulie Milum and son David. The East Bay team had the opportunity to help children and parents learn about how to apply their education in putting a race car together for racing action and the items necessary for safety.
One of the most important priorities at East Bay Raceway Park is safety.
Safety, the topic at many race parks today. Which track is responsible and is insured for spectators and racers? That is a question on many race fans and racers minds today after the number of horror stories in the last three years. East Bay Raceway has high standards in regard to safety. It is the TOP priority at the raceway. All the track vehicles are inspected thoroughly before any racing event. If any vehicle is reported to have a mechanical problem it is parked until it can be completely gone over. Emergency crews are always present. The catch fences are double lined. The new flagstand is incredible with catch fence around the bottom half. The walls are solid around the track. Security officers patrol the to make sure fans remember that standing next to the double catch fence is NOT safe. The stands have aisles and are clearly marked. The pits are well lit. The safety rules are posted clearly and repeated on the PA system throughout the night. Should there be an accident on the track, the racing has often been stopped if necessary to make sure emergency personnel can do their jobs and thoroughly check out racers. Fans don't mind any delay under these circumstances and if the racer gives them the "thumbs up" the fans go wild with JOY! 
Track preparation is a 24-7 job at East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa. The track surface is clay and prepped prior to every racing event. The owners themselves inspect the surface for roughness and repair it. When it's time to turn the surface over it requires 120 loads of new clay.
The weekly grounds maintenance includes cleaning drains, mowing the grounds, doing many repairs on fences, vehicles, walls, stands, bathrooms and parking facilities. This list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.
If you haven't visited East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa, FL yet, I highly recommend that you do so. I guarantee it will be FAST, FUN and DIRTY!
Their website address is: www.eastbayracewaypark.com

A side note by the author: I researched this article over several months and interviewed many people, in order to protect the racers, employess and sponsors I did not use their names (not from the owners but others). Thanks to all across the US for your input on my article. See you at East Bay Raceway Park!

 

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