NEWBERRYTOWN, PA – “This is just the beginning.”
That is Scott Gobrecht’s promise to the fans, drivers and car owners who turned out to inaugurate The Gobrecht Era in Susquehanna Speedway history Saturday.
Very little was left to chance on this night. Staffers were outfitted in bright red Susquehanna Speedway shirts.
The officiating corps was a balance of past Susquehanna people and Williams Grove Super Sportsman officials who have followed the SS show from its Saturday night Grove haunt to its new residence in Newberrytown.
Jim Salter ran the drivers meeting. He is a full time firefighter who has great command. There was little commotion during his address to the drivers.
“He knows how to lead people,” Gobrecht said.
Kolten Gouse, general manager under Gobrecht, is responsible for the day-to-day operations as well as sales. He was intimately involved with multiple operations throughout the night.
Gobrecht, who lives in New Oxford, Pa., about 30 minutes from Susquehanna, himself raced Karts, Micros and 410 Sprints as well as Legends up until two years ago when he decided to give up driving.
The completely redone grandstand was the product, indirectly, of the declining attendance at NASCAR Sprint Cup venues.
The individual chair section seats were taken from Charlotte Motor Speedway’s most recent downsizing project while the aluminum stands were part of the former backstretch grandstand at Daytona International.
“We just finished the stands last night,” Gobrecht said. “There is some cosmetic work left to do, actually, like filling in the gaps on the bottom of the stands with aluminum.”
Gobrecht’s purchase of seats from the two NASCAR tracks has left a considerable surplus of additional potential seating for future building and for long term maintenance.
The vast majority of the work on the grounds was performed by volunteer labor, with the exception of the seats.
“That was a contract job,” Gobrecht said.
Gobrecht is particularly proud of the work that has been performed along the speedway’s backstretch. That includes the replacement along the entire length of the steel rail with concrete barriers with a 20 foot high catch fence behind the new concrete. Of the 630 truck loads of new red clay that has been added to the track surface in varying depths, well over a third of it was applied to the track surface from turn two into turn three, along the backstretch.
Scott’s 70-year old mother Donna was a big part of the opening night festivities. She ran the ‘money room’, did payroll and the purse.
Mrs. Gobrecht also administers the Kevin Gobrecht Memorial Fund, which awards two educational scholarships annually to deserving area students. The Memorial Fund honors Scott’s brother, who lost his life in a Sprint Car crash 17 years ago.
For Donna Gobrecht, coming to Susquehanna on this night was a tough decision for her to make, though she knew she had to be at Susky.
“I was torn between here and Lincoln,” Donna Gobrecht confessed. “I love Kasey Kahne, I wanted to be there to see him race.” When informed that her favorite had actually won the Lincoln 410 feature, Mrs. Gobrecht exhibited an ear-to-ear-smile.
Just a few minutes later, Donna and Scott waved the green flag that turned loose the field for the first Super Sportsman feature of the Gobrecht-era at Susquehanna Speedway.
Gobrecht wisely came into the Saturday night show having run four practice sessions, the last one on the Wednesday before the inaugural. It attracted some 70 cars.
“The four practices gave us a chance to work out any difficulties with the track and to hear what the competitors were saying,” Gobrecht said.
Most of the raves about Susky were directed in the direction of the track preparation. And Gobrecht deflected the credit to his track preparation specialist, Bobby Weaver.
“Bobby lives right behind the track and knows this place better than anybody. He’s the right guy. What we have done for him is provide the right equipment. I bought a new power harrow from a local implement dealer, who gave me a smoking hot deal on it. The power harrow allows for Bobby and the track crew to till the track which can then be watered quickly and packed back down with the track packers.
“What this machine provides for us is more latitude in track prep. We can over-water a little and the power harrow can put the track back in shape.”
Some of credit for the magnitude and extent of the improvements that have been made to the facility that Gobrecht only took title to in November, 2015 has been due to the mild winter weather.
But the real force behind it all has been the outpouring of volunteers, willing to donate their labor and their materials, in many cases at or below cost.
“It has been a great asset,” Gobrecht said. “With the free labor, we have been able to do twice as much. What has been heartwarming is the fact that local businesses and some of the closest neighbors of the track have been heavily involved with support. For example, when we paved the area in front of the grandstands, we were able to do twice the paving we had planned to do because the paving company donated their work at cost.”
The volunteers were particularly adept at rolling paint: every inch of the inside and outside guardrail was painted by hand (no whitewash spray).
The traffic light safety system, which had been spliced numerous times over the years, was rewired. Well over half a mile of wire was laid underground to modernize the safety light system, one of many invisible improvements.
Several new poles were set on the outside of the track for lights and for the new catch fence in front of the pit grandstand in the backstretch. The Farmers Market, directly across the street from the first and second turns, gave Gobrecht the poles and Wintermyer Construction gave the track crew the machine to set the poles free of charge.
Gobrecht knows that other speedways in the region have had neighbor issues so the initial response from those in the immediate vicinity is sincerely appreciated.
Immediate plans call for the erection of mega-billboards, to be placed ten feet back from the third and fourth turn fence. Nine are planned; more will be constructed as sales interest develops.
The billboard plan compliments the signage on the inside wall of the homestretch.
An ambitious 41-race schedule has been planned with weekly racing continuing through mid-November. Dirt Modifieds, USAC Sprints and USAC Midgets will all run special events and seven 410 Sprint races are planned.
Though Williams Grove and Lincoln are firmly entrenched in the area with 410 Sprints, Gobrecht is confident that Susquehanna, properly marketed, can succeed.
“There’s plenty to go around. This is racing country out here. We know we aren’t a weekly 410 track. We also know the Super Sportsman cars are well established and that’s why we have them scheduled for the 18 or 19 shows we have. We are thinking about running one of the 410 Sprint races on a Thursday. Racing on Sundays after Labor Day is tough,” Gobrecht said.
It has been said in racing many times that ‘the first win is the toughest’. By this standard, Susquehanna Speedway’s future successes should come easily, based on the strength of this quality opening night beginning.